Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November Reading Wrap Up

Another month bites the dust and yes only (31) for days left in 2010. How was your month for books? 

I read (17) books in November; but (7) childrens books (pretty much loved all the kids books). Overall, I was really happy with the quality of my reads this month. Here's the list:

  1. Strangers at the Feast; Jennifer Vanderbes - 5/5 (a favorite)
  2. Oh No She Didn't; Clinton Kelly - 5/5
  3. What We Have; Amy Boesky - 4/5
  4. Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That?; Ina Garten
  5. It's a Book; Lane Smith - 4/5
  6. Fred Stays with Me;Coffelt - 5/5
  7. Rescue; Anita Shreve - 3.5/5
  8. Shantaram; Gregory David Roberts - 5/5 (a favorite) (audio and print)
  9. By Nightfall; Michael Cunningham - 4/5  (audio and print)
  10. I Love Christmas, Anna Walker - 4.5/5
  11. Llama, Llama Holiday Drama; Anna Dewdney - 4/5
  12. Dance Dance Dance; Murakami - 4.5/5 (audio and print)
  13. Bury Your Dead; Louise Penny - 4.5/5 (audio and print)
  14. The Twelve Cats of Christmas; Kandy Radzinski - 5/5
  15. What Cats Want for Christmas; Kandy Radzinski - 5/5
  16. Night Tree; Eve Bunting - 5/5 
  17. Forgotten Garden; Kate Morton - 4/5
I completed (11) challenges in 2010 with one more to go, but unlikely to be completed (Books to Read Before I Die). I also completed my November Thankful list, which was a favorite part of my month.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mailbox Monday - November 29th- 2010

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, where readers share with others, all of the books that arrived in their mailbox for the previous week.  This month’s host is Julie from Knitting and Sundries.

Here’s what came my way:

A Cup of Friendship; Deborah Rodriguez  ......(Amazon Vine)....
(Amazon website) From the author of the “bighearted . . . inspiring” (Vogue) memoir Kabul Beauty School comes a fiction debut as compelling as real life: the story of a remarkable coffee shop in the heart of Afghanistan, and the men and women who meet there—thrown together by circumstance, bonded by secrets, and united in an extraordinary friendship.

After hard luck and some bad choices, Sunny has finally found a place to call home—it just happens to be in the middle of a war zone. The thirty-eight-year-old American’s pride and joy is the Kabul Coffee House, where she brings hospitality to the expatriates, misfits, missionaries, and mercenaries who stroll through its doors. She’s especially grateful that the busy days allow her to forget Tommy, the love of her life, who left her in pursuit of money and adventure.Working alongside Sunny is the maternal Halajan, who vividly recalls the days before the Taliban and now must hide a modern romance from her ultratraditional son—who, unbeknownst to her, is facing his own religious doubts. Into the café come Isabel, a British journalist on the trail of a risky story; Jack, who left his family back home in Michigan to earn “danger pay” as a consultant; and Candace, a wealthy and well-connected American whose desire to help threatens to cloud her judgment.

When Yazmina, a young Afghan from a remote village, is kidnapped and left on a city street pregnant and alone, Sunny welcomes her into the café and gives her a home—but Yazmina hides a secret that could put all their lives in jeopardy. As this group of men and women discover that there’s more to one another than meets the eye, they’ll form an unlikely friendship that will change not only their own lives but the lives of an entire country.

Brimming with Deborah Rodriguez’s remarkable gift for depicting the nuances of life in Kabul, and filled with vibrant characters that readers will truly care about, A Cup of Friendship is the best kind of fiction—full of heart yet smart and thought-provoking

Blind Your Ponies; Stanley Gordon West - (shelf awareness) ...Hope is hard to come by in the hard-luck town of Willow Creek. Sam Pickett and five young men are about to change that.Sam Pickett never expected to settle in this dried-up shell of a town on the western edge of the world. He's come here to hide from the violence and madness that have shattered his life, but what he finds is what he least expects. There's a spirit that endures in Willow Cree, Montana. It seems that every inhabitant of this forgotten outpost has a story, a reason for taking a detour to this place--or a reason for staying. As the coach of the hapless high school basketball team (zero wins, ninety-three losses), Sam can't help but be moved by the bravery he witnesses in the everyday lives of people--including his own young players--bearing their sorrows and broken dreams. How do they carry on, believing in a future that seems to be based on the flimsiest of promises? Drawing on the strength of the boys on the team, sharing the hope they display despite insurmountable odds, Sam finally begins to see a future worth living.Author Stanley Gordon West has filled the town of Willow Creek with characters so vividly cast that they become real as relatives, and their stories--so full of humor and passion, loss and determination--illuminate a path into the human heart.  

In the Woods; Tana French -  (win from Jenners) Irish author French expertly walks the line between police procedural and psychological thriller in her debut. When Katy Devlin, a 12-year-old girl from Knocknaree, a Dublin suburb, is found murdered at a local archeological dig, Det. Rob Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, must probe deep into the victim's troubled family history. There are chilling similarities between the Devlin murder and the disappearance 20 years before of two children from the same neighborhood who were Ryan's best friends. Only Maddox knows Ryan was involved in the 1984 case. The plot climaxes with a taut interrogation by Maddox of a potential suspect, and the reader is floored by the eventual identity and motives of the killer. A distracting political subplot involves a pending motorway in Knocknaree, but Ryan and Maddox are empathetic and flawed heroes, whose partnership and friendship elevate the narrative beyond a gory tale of murdered children and repressed childhood trauma. (May)

The Anatomy of Ghosts ; Andrew Teller .....( shelf awareness) 1786, Jerusalem College, Cambridge: they say Jerusalem is haunted by Mrs. Whichcote's ghost. Frank Oldershaw claims he saw her in the garden, where she drowned. Now he's under the care of a physician. Desperate to salvage her son's reputation and restore him to health, Lady Anne Oldershaw employs John Holdsworth, author of The Anatomy of Ghosts, an attack on the existence of ghostly phenomena. But his powers of reason have other challenges. Dreams of his dead wife and Elinor, the Master's wife, haunt him. At the heart of it all is the mystery of what happened to Sylvia Whichcote in the claustrophobic confines of Jerusalem.

Hope your mailbox was filled to the brim.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

155 - The Forgotten Garden; Kate Morton

Having read The House at Riverton, Kate Morton's debut novel, a few months back and enjoyed it, I was anxious to read her second novel The Forgotten Garden.

The Forgotten Garden weaves together the story of three women: Cassandra, an Australian woman, her grandmother Nell, and Eliza, a writer of fairy tales.  The novel opens in 1913 England where a little girl has been left on the deck of a ship and told not to tell anyone her name.  The woman who left her, she knows only as the "authoress", has instructed her to hide and wait. When she is discovered on the deck of Maryborough Australia wharf, the couple who find her have little to go on except for a book of fairy tales that she carried in her small suitcase.

 In 2005 Cassandra's grandmother, Nell dies and leaves her a Cornish cottage. Cassandra is also given a small suitcase containing fairy tales by Eliza Makepeace. In addition, she learns that her grandmother never knew who her real parents were. Cassandra, devastated by the earlier deaths on her husband and sons and now her grandmother, travels from Australia to the remote estate she inherited in Cornwall England to try and solve the mystery surrounding her grandmother, Nell's past. As Cassandra unearths the secrets of her grandmother's past, she in turn is able to make peace and move on with her own life.

MY THOUGHTS: The story jumps around quite a bit in both place and time, and for some this may be confusing and off-putting.  The clues revealed throughout the book make it relatively easy to figure out the mystery.  I found the detailed maps on the inside covers of the hardcover edition an added bonus that was great to refer back to. I liked this story, but did not love it.  I think it is one of those books that you need to experience for yourself and decide.

RATING - 4/5 stars
(personal copy)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saturday Snapshot

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce of At HomewithBooks

Here is what she has to say............To participate in Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. All I ask is that you don't post random photos that you find online.

April 2009 - Rhode Island Beach

Friday, November 26, 2010

154 - Night Tree; Eve Bunting

In this touching Christmas story, a family has made it a tradition to go and find a tree on the night before Christmas.....but, not just any tree, a special tree selected in the moonlit forest. Once they select the tree, they decorate it in the woods for all of the forest creatures to enjoy.

There is popcorn garland, apples and oranges, sunflower seed balls made with pressed millet and honey, and scattered under the tree for the tiniest of creatures to enjoy are shelled nuts, breadcrumbs and pieces of apples.

Once they are done decorating, the dad spreads a blanket for the family to sit briefly and drink the hot chocolate from their thermos. The listen to the birds singing in the distance. The birds are other forest animals watch from afar at the feast waiting for them. Soon once the family has left, and the animals feel safe, it is time for them to celebrate.

This book is fabulous. It is the perfect story to instill the true spirit of giving to for little ones during the holidays. Gorgeous illustrations in colorful design by Ted Rand, along with this beautiful story, makes Night Tree, a holiday book to be read year after year.  It was first published in 1991.  I Loved this book. Highly Recommended.
Rating - 5/5 stars
Library Book

153 - What Cats Want for Christmas; Kandy Radzinski

Author and illustrator Kandy Radzinski has created another holiday delight for children and adults alike.  In the whimsical treat, the Christmas cats have each written letters to Santa Claus.  Lucy the Cat wants "something sweet that goes tweet tweet". Feline Jade likes to cook and she asks Santa for a book that will help her cooking: "mice, sparrow spaghetti, pelican pie, woodpecker pizza and more".

Benny wants " a warm sweater knit from a red Irish Setter".

 Gracie asks Santa for a dish of silverfish

Check this book out, I think you and your little ones will love it. Aren't the illustrations awesome?

RATING - 5/5 stars
Library Book

152 - The Twelve Cats of Christmas; Kandy Radzinski

Most everyone has heard of the Christmas Carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, but now a delightful spin on that popular song, for children and cat loving adults alike: The Twelve Cats of Christmas, by Kandy Radzinski is just that.

In this adorable holiday book, the author features twelve cute as can be cats in various poses, playing, drinking milk, and just have a fun time. The story, a parody to the original song, is told in sing song rhyme:

On the fourth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
four Siamese,
three climbing cats,
two cats asleep,
and a white cat with a red bow.  

The author/artist Kandy Radzinski has created a page turning delight which rich, colorful detail that truly makes the book a keeper for years to come. If you have not had the opportunity to view some of Radzinski's illustrations in the past, you need to check out one her books. Highly Recommended.

RATING - 5/5 stars
Library Book

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Wishes

I know today is a very busy day for many of my blogger friends. Some of you will be celebrating with family and friends, and enjoying good good food. It is also a time to reflect on the many things that we have to be thankful for.  I've been focusing on my personal thankful list this month, and just wanted each of you to know, (not just those of you from the US, but EVERYONE who reads my blog), I am happy to have you in my life. Even though we have never met, I feel  many of us would be good friends if circumstances, and distance were not factors. Thank you for making blogging so much fun.  I appreciate you and I am THANKFUL to have you as blogging buddies.

Eat, drink, be merry and be thankful.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

151 - Bury Your Dead; Louise Penny

After having enjoyed Louise Penny's last mystery, The Brutal Telling: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel, I was anxious to journey with the charming, on his toes, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache once again. For those of you not familiar with this series, he is the top homicide squad detective of the Surete du Quebec. Previous books have been taken place in the not so peaceful town of Three Pines, but this time the story, actually (3) separate stories takes the reader outside of picturesque Three Pines.

As the story begins Inspector Gamache is relaxing and hoping to recover from both emotion and physical wounds of his last case which involved a shoot out which left his associate dead. While he is recovering, the body of Augusten Renaud, an obsessive historian, has been found in the basement of the library. Renaud had been searching for the remains of the founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain, but the question now is WHY would someone want him dead? Reluctantly, Gamache agrees to help with the investigation.

The third intricate story involves Penny's previous mystery, The Brutal Telling. In this story a local bistro owner in Three Pines was sent to prison for the death of a town recluse. Letters arriving daily indicate that the wrong man has been sent to prison. The Inspector has his doubts about the incarcerated man's guilt well. As a result Gamache sends his Deputy (Beauvoir) to reopen this case.

Now while a story with three plot lines going on is not easy to pull off, without confusing some readers, Louise Penny has no problem. She is a master at fleshing out all the details, evidence, and tying up all the loose ends. The author has a delightful talent for describing in vivid detail, the sights, sounds, foods, smells as well as the beauty of nature in her mystery stories. The often beautiful sense of place, particularly, rural Quebec in winter, gave me a chilly feel as I listened to this audio book. The reader, Ralph Cosham, did a terrific job as reader. I love Penny's characters as they are so well developed, especially Armand Gamache, a man with a big job and a big heart to match.

Louise Penny mysteries have quickly become favorites of mine. If you enjoy a good mystery series, and like audio books as well, I can highly recommend this one, but I would read The Brutal Telling: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel was glad that I did).

RATING - 4.5/5 stars
Audio Book sent for review

Monday, November 22, 2010

150 - Dance Dance Dance; Haruki Murakami

Earlier this year I had listened to Murakami's After Dark (audio) and liked it a lot, so I decided to listen to a few more of his books. In Dance Dance Dance,  an unnamed man wakes up from a dream, shaken as he heard an old girlfriend and lover calling out to him. Obsessed by what has happened, the man feels he must return to the Dolphin Hotel, where the two had spent time early in his relationship with Kiki. At that time, the Dolphin Hotel was a somewhat rundown place. He feels he must return to the hotel, because Kiki disappeared from there four years earlier, and he is wondering if this perhaps,  is her ghost calling out to him.

Our narrator has his issues. He's thirty-four years old, his wife ran off with his best friend a few years earlier, he is a freelance writer for a women's magazine who lives cheaply, and it seems pretty obvious that this man is a bit messed up. He is lonely, he has been abandoned by his wife, and now, as it appears, by another woman as well. When the unnamed man on a mission arrives at the old hotel,  he is shocked; it is all different. It has been redecorated, and has gone from seedy to luxury. The owners are not the same, but yet somehow it is still familiar.  He wonders why the new owners have not changed the name of the Dolphin Hotel, located in Sapporo, somewhere in Japan, and why is the receptionist so nervous as he questions her about the hotel? 

A lot of strange happenings occur. A eccentric photographer and her thirteen year old girl named Yuki, with psychic abilities sheds wisdom on the political climate of the 1980s, and helps our narrator sort out other thoughts as well.  And, pretty early on, references are made to the "sheep man", and it quickly became apparent that I should have read/listened to A Wild Sheep Chase first. There was no turning back at this point though, as I was too drawn into what was an addictive psychological mystery/ metaphysical experience of sorts. This story has much to hold the readers interest, dreams to be interpreted,  lots of symbols to pick up on, as well as a constant sense of restlessness and foreboding.  This novel was one wild ride.

This audio book was so good. The reader Rupert Degas made it all the more enjoyable.  If you like audio books and want to read some Murakami, try this book. It got me so hooked, I am now listening to Degas reading The Wind Up Bird Chronicle which I am also enjoying.... (hope they find the cat):

Have you read this one? What did you think?
RATING - 4.5/5 Stars
Library audio book

Mailbox Monday - November 22nd - 2010

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Julie @ Knitting and sundries (this month). It's where bloggers share what arrived in their mailboxes last week.  Here is my loot:
 (sorry for the grainy photo - poor lighting)
So many great books; so little time. I hope I can read The Last Train soon, as it looks great!