Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Top 10 Book Picks for 2008

I can't believe the year is over. The last 2 years I read between (185-187 books). This year my goal was 200. I finished the year with 206, so I was very happy.

Wishing Everyone a Happy and Healthy New Year and, of course, Happy Reading!
Here are my Top Picks for the Year.

Top 10 (FICTION) of 2008
  1. Tomato Girl; Jane Pupek
  2. The Art of Racing in the Rain; Garth Stein (audio)
  3. Molokai; Alan Brennert
  4. Every Last Cuckoo; Kate Maloy
  5. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle; David Wroblewski
  6. Purple Hibiscus; Adichie (audio)
  7. Testimony; Shreve
  8. Skeletons at the Feast; Bohjalian
  9. Unaccustomed Earth; Lahari (audio)
  10. The Commoner; Schwartz (audio)
Top 10 (NON FICTION) of 2008
  1. Chosen By a Horse; Richards
  2. Alex and Me; Pepperberg (audio)
  3. The Last Lecture; Pausch
  4. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid; Bryson (audio)
  5. Dreams of My Father; Obama
  6. Predictably Irrational; Arieley
  7. Forward From Here: Leaving Middle Age & other Adventures; Lindberg
  8. Do Dead People Watch You Shower; Bertoldi
  9. Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World; Myron
  10. The Numerati; Baker

206 - Time of My Life; Allison Winn Scotch

I wanted to wrap up the year with another light read, so I chose: Time of My Life; by Allison Winn Scotch. The premise sounded very cute, and one that probably many women have wondered about at sometime in their life----what if I had held on to the guy that got away?

The day after a deep chi-clearing massage, Jill finds herself seven years in the past when she was a highly paid advertising executive instead of a stay- at-home wife to her lawyer husband, Henry, and a devoted mother. Through trial and error Jill rethinks her biggest decisions and finds that rarely are life’s decisions black and white.

This was a cleaver exploration of the path not taken, however, in the end there were a few issues which were left unresolved.

RATING - 4/5 - COMPLETED 12/31/08

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

205 - As Good As it Got; Isabel Sharpe

I was looking for a light read and thought this book sounded like a fun story.

About the book:

Ann Redding has taken every lousy thing life has thrown at her and handled it very well, thank you very much. All she wants is to get her life back on track...but that won't happen till she makes her worried family and friends back off by spending two weeks at Camp Kinsonu, a retreat for suddenly single women. Now she's stuck sitting around a campfire, singing "I Am Woman" with a bunch of sandal-clad, makeup-boycotting women. If she doesn't get out of there soon, they'll be sizing her for Birkenstocks.

Kinsonu, an idyllic retreat on the coast of Maine, is supposed to be a place for new hope and new beginnings. But Ann doesn't belong in an estrogen Eden, she belongs in a corporate boardroom. Still, the camp has its compensations—she's grudgingly befriended some other "inmates," including Cindy, who honestly believes she's just killing time till her serial-cheating husband comes crawling back. And Martha, shy, overweight, and mysteriously silent about the man she's there to get over.

Maybe it was fate that brought them together at Camp Kinsonu, maybe just bad luck. But three strangers are about to bond on an adventure they didn't ask for—and discover that lives they thought were as good as it got could suddenly get a lot better.

I liked the setting of the book, a camp in the woods of Maine, and the fact that it was a story about women in their 40's trying to come to terms with a failed relationship. Although the story started out good, for the most part this book fell flat for me, and turned out to be very predictable.

RATING - 2.5/5 - COMPLETED - 12/29/08

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Winter Reading Challenge

COMPLETED - 2/3/09
The Winter Reading Challenge runs from December 21st, 2008 through March 20, 2009; there are 13 weeks in Winter.

The rules are very flexible:

1) Choose any number of books you would like to read and post them on your blog.

2) They can be fiction and/or nonfiction including e-books and audio books

3) They can overlap with other challenges that begin in 2009.

4) Sign up on Mr. Linky.

These are the (13) books I plan on reading:

  1. As Good As it Got; Isabel Sharpe - 2.5/5
  2. Frangipani; Vaite - 4/5
  3. Outliers; Gladwell - 4/5
  4. The Space Between Us; Umrigar - 4.5/5
  5. Women of the Silk; Tsukiyama - 4.5/5
  6. Never Tell a Lie; Ephron - 4/5
  7. A Golden Age; Anam - 4.5/5
  8. The Book of Bright Ideas; Kring - 5/5
  9. Kiss; Dekker - 4.5/5
  10. Mercy; Picoult-3.5/5
  11. The Wednesday Wars; Schmidt - 4.5/5
  12. Breadfruit; Viate - 4/5
  13. Time of My Life; Winn Scotch-4/5

Saturday, December 27, 2008

204 - Do Not Go Gentle: My Search for Miracles in a Cynical Time; Ann Hood

Author Ann Hood became determined to find a miracle cure when her father was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. She was the product of generations of Italian-American Catholics, and was determined to find some miracle to cure her father with whom she has a very special bond. She traveled to Chimayo, N.Mexico, where the Tewa Indians believe that the mud is curative and a chapel commemorates the healing miracles that have allegedly occurred there. She brought back the special mud for her father. Her father was willing to try anything, as he was not ready to accept his death sentence.

This poignant memoir of grief is also a love story: "My father," Hood writes, "was the love of my life." She loved the way he whistled, the way he smiled, even the way he carried boxes of doughnuts. Unlike many young adults who give up their youthful adoration of Dear Old Dad, Hood only grew to cherish her father more as a grown-up, and as she watched him die.

I thought this book was very well done. I especially enjoyed the beautiful descriptions of various places where miracles were to have occurred. Having a family member who is very ill, I thought this was just the type of book, I might need right now. I was disappointed in the fact that the miracle Ann Hood so desperately wanted to find for her father, did not help to extend his life.

RATING - 4/5 - COMPLETED - 12/26/08

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

203 - The Christmas Sweater; Glenn Beck

The Christmas Sweater, by Glenn Beck, is a heartwarming story of forgiveness and redemption.

When twelve year old Eddie receives a handmade sweater from his financial strapped single mother for Christmas instead of the Huffy bike he believes he deserved, it starts a series of events that will teach him life lessons about what is really important in life.

Based in part on the author's own childhood, it's a story of suffering, regrets in life, and redemption centered around his rejection of a gift from his mother. There are life lessons to be learned from this story for everyone; sometimes the storms we face in our own life are self created.

RATING - 5/5 - COMPLETED - 12/24/08

Monday, December 22, 2008

202 - The House on Tradd Street; Karen White

The House on Tradd Street , is the first in a new series by Karen White. The story is set in Charleston, South Carolina and has some great elements: part mystery, part Gothic ghost story and part romance. Real Estate agent Melanie Middleton inherits an old Tradd Street mansion from a virtual stranger she met a few days earlier --the stranger senses Melanie can help unravel some long hidden secrets. There is one hitch, the elderly man who left her the house states in his last wishes that Melanie is to live in for at least one year, and she must also restore the old house. Melanie prefers new homes--free from history or ghosts. Few people know this but Melanie has seen ghosts since her childhood, and at the Tradd Street property more ghosts are strutting their stuff. Jack Trenholm, is a good looking, true crime writer who believes that there are diamonds from the Civil War hidden on the property Melanie has just inherited. He convinces her to let him help her restore the property, and before long an attraction is formed. The author did a great job of giving the reader a real feel for historic Charleston. The ghosts added a fun element to the story in helping to unravel the mystery. The book was not perfect, but still a fun read. RATING - 4/5 - COMPLETED - 12/22/08

Sunday, December 21, 2008

201 - Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival; Bernd Heinrich

I have had this book on my shelf for a few years. Yesterday, after receiving about 10" of snow here in New England, it seemed like the perfect reading choice for me. I curled up near the fireplace and front windows where the bird feeder sits, and watched some of my tiny feathered friends brave the elements to fill their bellies. I quickly became fascinated with the book: Winter World; Bernd Heinrich.

The author is a biologist, and an illustrator, and this book has the most wonderful hand drawn illustrations. By exploring the the woods and studying the environment, mostly here in New England (Maine and Vermont) we learn some of the survival approaches employed by turtles, mice, squirrels, bats, bears, beavers, bees, beetles, birds and butterflies.

The general question is how do animals survive winters, when food may be scarce and temperatures extreme? We learn how birds, mammals, amphibians and insects are able to survive and some even thrive in the cold and snow covered lands. The chipmunk, for example, builds a 12 foot burrow system that includes a nest chamber three feet underground, several food storage chambers, and escape tunnels as well as the main channel. They hibernate not only when it's cold but, also when there's a low food supply.

This book full of amazing facts and details that answered a lot of the questions I've had for years about the challenges our furry and feathered friends face each winter. A perfect winter read. RECOMMENDED!


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

200 - Sing Them Home; Stephanie Kallos

I anxiously awaited the release of this book as I loved the author's first book: Broken for You. This book was scheduled for a January 2009 release but hit the stores and libraries earlier.


Sing Them Home is a moving portrait of three siblings who have lived in the shadow of unresolved grief since their mother’s disappearance when they were children. Everyone in Emlyn Springs knows the story of Hope Jones, the physician’s wife whose big dreams for their tiny town were lost along with her in the tornado of 1978. For Hope’s three young children, the stability of life with their preoccupied father, and with Viney, their mother’s spitfire best friend, is no match for Hope’s absence. Larken, the eldest, is now an art history professor who seeks in food an answer to a less tangible hunger; Gaelan, the son, is a telegenic weatherman who devotes his life to predicting the unpredictable; and the youngest, Bonnie, is a self-proclaimed archivist who combs roadsides for clues to her mother’s legacy, and permission to move on. When they’re summoned home after their father’s death, each sibling is forced to revisit the childhood tragedy that has defined their lives.

I usually love books about family sagas, family secrets and, stories with quirky dysfunctional characters. This book certainly contained those elements, but I found this book to be a HUGE disappointment. The only part I really enjoyed was reading the entries in Hope's journal right up to the time of her disappearance. The other criticism I had was that at 500++ pages the ending seemed to be rushed.

In summary, I found this book easy to put down and harder to pick up afterward. It took me about (2) weeks to finish this one. I am glad I borrowed it from the library.

RATING - 2/5 - COMPLETED - 12/17/08

Monday, December 15, 2008

199 - Feng Shui for Today's Living; Mary Lambert

I've heard lots of talk about the calming effects of Feng Shui, and since that is what I need right about now, I decided to try Lambert's 2008 book: Feng Shui for Todays Living.

Feng shui — which literally translates to "wind and water" — is the ancient Chinese art of placement. The goal is to enhance the flow of chi (life force or spiritual energy), and to create harmonious environments that support health, beckon wealth and invite happiness. At its most basic level, feng shui is a decorating discipline based on the belief that our surroundings affect us. (Based on personal experience this is so true for me at least).

All of us respond to colors, yet the use of some colors seem to work with more success than others. As an example, the Chinese believe that red brings luck, probably the reason that Chinese brides wear scarlett. They paint their front doors red as an invitation to happiness. Pinks, plums and purples would have the same effect. Green is considered to be a color of freshness, growth and peace, which makes it ideal for a bedroom. Dark greens, and other dark colors, are considered too heavy for indoor use. Light blues work well, but dark blue shades are thought to make one too introspective. Yellow, the color of the sun signifies longevity. White is a symbol of death for the Chinese. Overuse of white can deliver too much cold energy. It is important to add pots of colorful flowers and other touches of color to offset this effect.

Our homes and offices, in line with Feng shui philosophy, can be thought of as a metaphor for our lives. A cluttered house is a cluttered mind. Get rid of the old and make room for the new! Declutter, declutter, declutter to restore clam and harmony to your life.

Whether you buy into feng shui's philosophies or not, many of its principles simply make good design sense. Simple feng shui principles can make your interiors look great and feel fabulous to live in. Room by room, feng shui expert Mary Lambert shows you exactly what to do to achieve a look that’s cool, uncluttered, and truly you. She shows you how to combine element colors and shapes for a harmonious atmosphere, and how to let go of your junk to energize your space. I must admit that just reading this book and focusing on it's colorful illustrations lifted my spirits. It is a recommended book for anyone looking for peace and harmony in their home.

RATING - 5/5 - COMPLETED - 12/15/08

Saturday, December 13, 2008

198 - Blindness; Jose Saramago

About the Book

A city is hit by an epidemic of "white blindness" which spares no one. Authorities confine the blind to an empty mental hospital, but there the criminal element holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and raping women. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides seven strangers-among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears-through the barren streets, and the procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing. A magnificent parable of loss and disorientation and a vivid evocation of the horrors of the twentieth century, Blindness has swept the reading public with its powerful portrayal of man's worst appetites and weaknesses-and man's ultimately exhilarating spirit. The stunningly powerful novel of man's will to survive against all odds, by the winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature.

I first read this book in 1999, but since it has been made into a movie recently, I wanted to read it again. The first time, I enjoyed the book, but not the writing style. This time I had the audio version; it was very good. A few things that made this book unusual were that all the events happen in an unnamed city, in an unknown land. None of the characters are mentioned by name. The story evoked a sense of panic or tension, and the author, through this story reflects many of the deepest fears about ourselves. The author seems to be describing a world not simply as it might be but as it is and has been. He shows us the worst of human nature. But in the end I found the book to be an unforgettable lesson about respect and love, about loneliness and despair, about hope and forgiveness.

RATING - 4.5/5 - COMPLETED - 12/12/08

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

197 - A Cedar Cove Christmas; Debbie Macomber

Every year I look forward to reading a few Christmas themed books. Debbie Macomber is not an author I read (I only tend to read her Christmas books). A Cedar Cove Christmas this years book was a disappointment. It was just so predictable, that you could have just read the dust jacket and figured out the story.


Mary Jo Wyse who is very pregnant goes to Cedar Cove on Christmas Eve, searching for David Rhodes, her baby's father. He told Mary Jo he'd be in town, but he's no where to be found. Mary Jo is stranded and there is no room at the local inn so Grace Harding brings Mary Jo home to her nearby ranch. She and her husband, have a houseful of guests, but they offer her a room over their stable, which is currently sheltering the animals—including a donkey and a camel—for Cedar Cove's Nativity pageant.

Predictably, Mary Jo goes into labor that night. Mack McAfee, a paramedic, comes to her rescue, just as her brothers—the three Wyse men — show up in town. The people of Cedar Cove join them in celebrating the birth of baby Noel, and as far as Mack and Mary Jo well you can plainly see where that's headed.

RATING - 2/5 - COMPLETED - 12/9/08

Sunday, December 7, 2008

New York City for the Holidays

So yesterday was our annual trip to New York City for shopping, lunch and a visit with family.

ROCKEFELLER CENTER was a mob scene, but it was worth the shoves to be where the action was.

The SAKS FIFTH AVENUE, crystal infused windows were amazing, and what would a trip to the City at Holiday time be without a stop in SAINT PATRICK'S Cathedral. The warmth, beauty and tranquility of just being inside was worth the trip.

We also had to hit THE STRAND BOOKSTORE, and it's 18 Miles of Books, at 12th and Broadway. I was lucky enough to come home with (10) ARCS at just $1.49 each (they use to be 99 cents).
  • Seamstress; Peebles - 2008
  • Stone Creek; Lustbader (2008)
  • Kissing Games of the World; Shelton - 2008
  • Climbing the Stairs; Venkatraman - 2008
  • Schooled; Lakahani - 2008
  • Descendants; Hemmings - 2009
  • Apologize, Apologize; Kelly - 2009
  • Burning Marguretite; Brown - 2009
  • Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet; Ford - 2009
  • The Sky Below; Derasmo-2009
We finished our visit to NYC with a tour of the PALACE HOTEL, for something to drink and to warm up a bit. Pure Luxury. The decorations were so lovely for the holidays.

BTW>>>I resisted the knock-off bags sold by the street merchants.

196 - We Are Eternal; Robert Brown

Robert Brown psychic investigator and medium to the stars was born in London, England in the 1950's; his mother was almost 40 years old at the time, and he had several siblings as well. The first time he actually remembers seeing anything he was 5 years old. His mother was giving him a bath in the sink, when she had to leave to answer the door. He states that she was gone no longer than five minutes when he looked at the window and saw a man laughing at him. He started screaming and, of course his mother came running. He adds, "before you start thinking it was a 'Peeping Tom' we lived five floors up". This would not be the last he would see of the laughing man. The next time he was 8 years old. Looking through some very old photographs ( which he had a great fascination for doing ), he came across an old photo tucked behind another. It just fell out, he says and he knew instantly that he had seen the face before. He wasn't scared, just curious and went to ask his mother who the man was. It turned out to be his mother's brother whom he had never met. He had died a tragic death, some years before Robert was born.

Robert Brown answers a lot of questions about mediums and psychics, but honestly I had a hard time finishing this 256 page book. This book could have benefited by a good editor; very scattered and poorly written in my opinion. I have read many better books on this subject. I was happy I only paid $1.00 for this one at a book sale.

RATING - 2/5 - COMPLETED - 12/5/08

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

195 - A Dog Named Christmas; Greg Kincaid

A Dog Named Christmas, by Greg Kincaid is a uplifting book just in time for the holidays.

Todd McCray is a developmentally challenged young man who learns that the local animal shelter needs some temporary homes, over the holidays for its dogs since the shelter will be terribly short staffed. He begs his parents to allow him to select a dog to care for over the holidays. Todd's dad is reluctant, as he had lost two special dogs years ago and does not want the family to experience the pain he experienced.

Well although it comes as no surprise, Todd does get to select a dog, which he names Christmas. Despite the lack of a surprise element in this sweet little book (fewer than 200 pages), the book is more about the message: how small acts of kindness can make such a difference to both humans and the animals as well.

A Recommended read for the holidays or it might make a sweet gift for an animal lover.

RATING - 4/5 - COMPLETED - 12/1/08