Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 A Year in Review

What an amazing year this has been.

I started the year here:

With them:

I had better seats than Oprah! What an amazing experience!

As far as reading goes, I read 45 books this year and didn’t finish 1. Not too bad for a mom of three, part-time librarian, PTA vice president and someone who suffered a reading road block late in the year. Hopefully I will do better next year. If not, I’m totally satisfied.

So here they are – my books for 2009:

(Books in BOLD were book club selections for 2009)

1. Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
2. A Mercy by Toni Morrison
3. Mona Lisa in Camelot by Margaret Leslie Davis
4. The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
5. Prisoner of Tehran, by Marina Nemat
6. The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent
7. Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster
8. The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley
9. The Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
10. Confessions of a Shopoholic by Sophie Kinsella
11. Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell
12. The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan
13. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
14. Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

15. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
16. Live Boldly by Mary Ann Radmacher
17. Julie by Catherine Marshall
18. The Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery
19. A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson
20. The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton
21. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
22. Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler
23. Not Becoming My Mother by Ruth Reichl
24. Johnstown Flood by David McCollough
25. Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
26. Peace Like a River by Lief Enger
27. Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale
28. These Is My Words by Nancy Turner
29. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
30. Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles
31. Austenland by Shannon Hale
32. Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross
33. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
34. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
35. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
36. Betsy Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace
37. The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James
38. Betsy Tacy and Tib by Maud Hart Lovelace
39. Am I Not a Man? by Mark Shurtleff
40. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
41. Jane and His Lordship’s Legacy by Stephanie Barron
42. The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker
43. Rainwater by Sandra Brown
44. La’s Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith
45. Persuasion by Jane Austen

Did not finish:

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Happy Reading in 2010!!!

Book Review -- Persuasion

Persuasion (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) Persuasion by Jane Austen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anne Elliott, she’s been kicked out of her house (ok, her estate) because her Dad is bankrupt; she’s broken up with a boyfriend because of her friend’s “persuasion” (would someone explain to me who Lady Russell is, please?); she is burdened with two of the whiniest, most self absorbed, sisters EVER; she witnesses the head trauma of a dear friend (who takes, like, months to recover); she is courted by a cousin (isn’t that illegal?) who isn’t as he appears; and finally, she must do an 18th century, dialogue tango with her ex, who has now reappeared after 8 years. Whew! What’s a girl to do?!

Ah! The beauty of Jane Austen – somehow she can create all of the above dilemmas and make them all work.

Persuasion was the final book I picked for my Everything Austen Challenge. I loved Anne’s resolve, her level head and patience. At 28, she is for all practical purposes DEAD to society, but she still manages to get the guy in the end. Thank goodness! Take that Lady Russell!

Admittedly, I’m not an Austenphile – yes, I love her work (or at least the three books that I’ve read), but I’m not going to my grave with mummified copies. But what I liked most about this novel, compared to the others I’ve read, was the maturity of the characters. Anne is not on the verge of post adolescence, and not being sought after by a man 10 years (or more) her senior. She and Captain Wentworth are contemporaries – and that was very appealing.

I still think Pride and Prejudice is my favorite of her works, but I will take Anne Elliott over Elizabeth Bennett, any day.

Thus concludes my Everything Austen Challenge.

I read:
Austenland, by Shannon Hale
Jane and Her Lordship’s Legacy, by Stephanie Barron
Persuasion, by Jane Austen

I watched (but did not review):
Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow
Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet
Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightly (originally I was going to watch the entire BBC version with Colin Firth, but time was my enemy).

Thanks again to Stephanie’s Written Word for hosting the challenge.
Book source: private purchase

View all my reviews >>

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Thank you Santa!

Santa must have spent lots of hours at the book store this year, and for that I'm very appreciative!

Under the tree he had for me:

This is a huge volume -- and doesn't quite qualify for my recently mandated 300 pages and under book limit, but hopefully I will have the mind power to tackle it in the near future.

This book has been hammered in on-line reader reviews, but I love Colleen McCollough, and The Thorn Birds is still one of my favorite books, so in spite of the bad press, I'm still willing to give this a go. And if Stephanie's Written Word has an Everything Austen II challenge, I will already be ahead of the game!

From my favorite used book store, Santa found this:

I'm not sure where I heard about this book, but it does sound riviting:

From Publishers Weekly
In Gunning's latest colonial page-turner, seven-year-old Alice Cole travels with her family from 1756 London to the New World, dreaming of a big house in Philadelphia and a new life. Her mother and brothers die on board and are buried at sea; the ship docks in Boston rather than Philadelphia; there, her father indentures her for 11 years without a backward glance. Alice does housework for the family of Simeon Morton of Dedham, in whose house she is treated almost like a second daughter, becoming constant companion to 10-year-old Abigail, or Nabby. When Nabby marries Emery Verley of Medfield, Alice's indenture is signed over to him, but the Verley household turns out to be an abusive one. Alice flees and winds up on Satucket, Cape Cod, where Lyddie Berry, heroine of Gunning's The Widow's War, and her companion, the lawyer Eben Freeman, give her shelter and a job. Alice works hard for them, and they grow fond of her, but when Alice discovers she's pregnant, she embarks on a journey of deceit and lies, one that comes to a bitter end. Gunning weaves a horrifying, spellbinding story of colonial indenture's cruelties and a meditation on the meaning of freedom. (Apr.)

And finally, Santa knows what this girl loves:

With this and my FIL's birthday gift card, my book buying habit should be happily satisfied for all of 2010.

What books did Santa bring you for Christmas?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Review -- La's Orchestra Saves the World

La's Orchestra Saves the World: A Novel La's Orchestra Saves the World: A Novel by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The cover of La’s Orchestra Saves the World absolutely enchanted me – the blue/green patina background, antique bicycle, and chicken cage – I was ready to jump on the bicycle seat and peddle off into the world of Alexander McCall Smith.

When I did, I ended up in the English countryside, with La Stone, her cottage and garden. La was probably similar to most countryside residents during WWII -- trying her best to help the war effort however best she could, whether it was planting a victory garden, helping her neighbors, or in her case, organizing an orchestra, a social activity that helped distract folks from the ongoing carnage of war and gave them some semblance of normalcy.

La’s (short for Lavender) “road” to country peasant started with the death of her philandering husband, and the sympathy of her now former in-laws, as they bequeathed their country home to her. She meets neighbors and local military men that sustain her during the war effort. One of these is Feliks, a polish refugee who has been assigned to work a neighboring farm. La develops a deep interest in Feliks as he helps a disabled farmer and volunteers to help her with her own garden.

This was a calm, bucolic, novel, in spite of the WWII setting. It was beautifully written, although, at times I thought it was an overly plain book –plain characters that on their own seemed insignificant and ordinary, but when “planted” together they were much like the potatoes they were cultivating – plain in appearance, but nutritionally necessary to the inhabitants and ultimately, to the reader.

As much as this was a novel of survival – it was also a morality tale. Many neighbors were suspicious of Feliks and his polish ancestry – was he indeed a Pole? Or was he a German spy? La finds herself in the middle of unfounded accusations, and the fallout from those actions, suspicions and assumptions prove complicated.

I thought her organizing an orchestra was the stabilizing force for so many during the war– and La was reminded of this when she wanted to “quit and go home.” People needed the memories the music evoked – those of peaceful times when you could enjoy a concert without threat of destruction.

The ending, however, took a rather awkward “turn” with nuclear disarmament, and La becoming an anti-war protester. I thought that was odd, but it did set up the final meeting of Feliks and La and a satisfying conclusion.

In the end, this was a beautiful story of survival, friendship, and hope. A perfect reminder of what we can do when we depend on and help each other.

From the author himself, an interesting quote on why he wrote the novel:

I wrote La’s Orchestra Saves the World because I wanted to pay tribute to rather brave people. I wanted to say something about how ordinary people managed to get by during the Second World War. Most of them would not have regarded themselves as heroes and heroines, but they were. La (short for Lavender) was one of these. She worked on the land, helping a farmer with his chickens, and also started a little orchestra for British and American airmen. Music, she felt, helps. And it does--it inspires and heals.

The other group I wanted to pay tribute to was the Poles. Polish servicemen played a major role in the war. Their airmen, for example, participated in the Battle of Britain, that crucial battle that decided the fate of Europe. At the end of the war the Poles were betrayed and the contribution of their forces largely ignored. In the victory parade in London, the Poles were not allowed to march with everybody else (Stalin insisted on this). So those brave men stood at the side of the road and wept. This book is about them too.--Alexander McCall Smith

Book source: Public library

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas



Angelic ministrants herald the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem
1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Have a wondeful, blessed, Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Book Review -- Rainwater

Rainwater Rainwater by Sandra Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read absolutely nothing by Sandra Brown. Absolutely. Nothing.

I know she’s a prolific writer with dozens of titles to her name, but those are the writers I usually avoid – serial authors (Patterson, Baldacci, who spew forth a book every 6 months or so. I’m more of a “one book every three years or so-author” reader – I guess I’m kind of a book snob. Not that their literary talent it less than the others, but I like following my own trends.

Under normal circumstances, I probably would not have picked up Rainwater, by Sandra Brown except, my friends over at Reading for Sanity spoke highly of it and are offering a giveaway; I have checked it out for several patrons over the past few weeks; and it was SHORT, so that was appealing because of my continued reading funk (but I’ve finished TWO books in one week – I’m making progress!).

The great “swooshing” sound you now hear is me getting sucked into this book from page one.

Ella Barron is a working single Mom, who runs a boarding house in Gilead, Texas during the Great Depression. She is also caring for her autistic son without the knowledge that he is, in fact, autistic. Enter handsome David Rainwater, a new boarder who has come to Gilead to seek treatment for terminal cancer from a family doctor. And thus begins the romantic beginnings of this quiet, but socially responsible, novel.

Brown gives life to a period in history that forced many to endure hardships and injustices with dignity and strength. The struggle for survival during drought and economic Depression, as well as the turbulent racial tensions of the time are portrayed with historical accuracy. Her main characters ring true and have a depth and humanity that are endearing. Ella and Mr Rainwater will utterly charm and captivate you. Their qualities of honesty, morality, endurance, compassion and courage are refreshing and motivating at a time when many Americans face similar economic uncertainty. The relationship between Mr Rainwater and Solly, Ella's challenged son, is so believably tender and loving as is the relationship that develops with Solly's mother. Good versus evil is very well defined in this novel as we meet up with the despicable Conrad Ellis and his honchos. She also provides wonderful bookends to the novel that will surprise you.

For the cautious reader, there are a few scenes of violence that may cause concern. And the romantic interlude between Ella and Mr. Rainwater is more illusion than explicit. Both are done with a soft and temperate hand. I've seen worse on a TV commerical.

This gentle, tenderhearted novel brings us back to a simpler time when love could be so powerfully displayed by the simple act of drying dishes for a partner or going out for an ice cream cone together. Thank you, Sandra, for giving us this lovely holiday gift.

Book source: Public library

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Birthday Book Bling

Ok, I didn’t really get any bling, but I got books, and in my household, books are a lot more important than bling.

Thank you to my FIL for this:

There is nothing I like more than a Barnes and Noble giftcard!

From my husband I got:

In The Wordy Shipmates, Sarah Vowell travels once again through America's past, this time to seventeenth-century New England. From the British Library to the Mohegan Sun casino, from the nation's first synagogue to a Mayflower waterslide, Vowell studies the Puritan effect and finds their beliefs about church and state more interesting than their buckles-and-corn reputation would suggest.


An atlas you ask? Because we are getting ready to take a major road trip in the spring and I want to be prepared!

Finally, I bought myself this:

In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II.

This book has intrigued me since it was first published. I thought if I finally had it on my shelf I might be motivated to read it.

It was a great birthday!

Now, I need to go have some cake for breakfast!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Book Review -- The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For anyone who has experienced an LDS (Latter-day Saint) church dance, they are on the spectrum of the cheesiest thing you have ever participated in to the most magical experience of your life (however, I’ve only experienced the former and I really don’t think the latter exists). Elna Baker uses the reality of church dances as the framework for her memoir, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance. This infamous dance is now probably the single most popular activity in all the church!

As an LDS member who has chosen NYU over BYU, Elna tries to balance two worlds: One of devout Latter-day Saint member, the other of artistic, educated, attractive young woman. Throughout the memoir we are given intimate access to Elna’s struggles: her struggles with weight, her struggles with faith, her struggles with morality and her struggles with employment. Along the ride we meet her atheist boyfriend and love of her life, “Matt,” her member boyfriend and almost fiancĂ©, “Hayes,” and “Warren Beatty” with whom she almost has a one night stand.

Elna is an extremely talented writer. Her personal vignettes are tragic and hysterical all at the same time. She is an unexpected missionary – discussing sometimes difficult church doctrine with ease and straightforwardness and recognizes the “elephant in the room” when talking about doctrine that may seem weird to others. She is truly brave by allowing so many millions to read about her moral trespasses. I probably shouldn’t air my dirty laundry in a book review – but at times, this was a very painful book to read – I had similar experiences as a single adult (and sometimes inactive) member of the church. It was often a difficult journey. I wish I could recreate my single years in such a humorous and redemptive fashion!

A warning for the reader: Elna is very descriptive when relating her “flings.” She doesn’t mince words and doesn’t sugar coat her internal battles. Nor does she shy away from language that some might find inappropriate – especially for a member of the church. I, however, appreciated her candor and felt she was being true to herself. Others may not feel the same way.

Thank you Elna for sharing your life, knowledge, maturation, humor, and discoveries with us. And thank you for giving me back my reading mojo!

Book source: Private purchase

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Eggnog Spice Bundt Cake

My dear friend, Jen, invited a group over this morning for a Christmas brunch and gift exchange. It was delightful and I thoroughly enjoy being with my friends.

My contribution to the "pot luck" was an Eggnog Spice Bundt Cake that was truly delicious.

A perfect treat for the holidays.

Eggnog Spice Bundt Cake

1 box spice cake mix
1 small box instant vanilla pudding/pie filling mix
1 small carton (8oz) non fat vanilla yogurt
1/4 c. canola oil
1 c. eggnog
3 eggs
Powdered sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350; coat nonstick bundt pan with baking spray

  2. Combine cake mix, pudding, yogurt, oil, eggnog, eggs in a large bowl. Mix according to package directions.

  3. Pour into prepared pan; bake 40-45 minutes (it's a VERY thick batter, it may take longer); cool on wire rack; remove from pan, dust with powdered sugar.

Eat all of it yourself, or share with your family, but only if necessary.

Support Your Local Authors Book Challenge 2010

Since my foray into book blogging, I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with book challenges: I love the “challenge” of reading a certain number of books over a designated period of time for a purpose, however, I hate to feel “forced” to read a book, especially when I’m not “in the mood” or some other title is calling my name. Couple that with my normal reading schedule and my book club books, challenges then begin to overwhelm.

With that, I’m only committing to one challenge this year – Women Unbound (on my side bar) – I’ve selected 8 wonderful books (I think I may add a ninth) that have languished on my shelves for years, and I really look forward to reading all of those.

In spite of this, there is a challenge I stumbled across that really piques my interest, and if it weren’t for my prior commitment, I would sign up. It is Support Your Local Authors, sponsored by It’s All About Books. The beauty of this challenge is there are no rules, no set requirements, no floggings or guilt if you don’t finish.

Guidelines are:

The idea: Learn who your local authors are, famous and not so famous, and read their books! Then review their books and promote them to us. I'll have a different post for linking to your reviews.

The rules: No rules. Just have fun keeping up with and promoting your local authors! This is an ongoing, perpetual challenge with no time limit. Make a goal for yourself regarding how many books you'd like to read this year, then post about them.

What a great idea!!

I think most people have the impression that Arkansas is some hillbilly, illiterate wasteland – but I’m proud to say we have a vast literary heritage. There are so many authors to choose from:

The late, Donald Harington, whose works include, the Stay More, Arkansas series.
The legendary poet, Miller Williams, who spoke at Pres. Bill Clinton’s second inauguration.
National Book Award winner, Ellen Gilchrist.
Charlaine Harris – author of the the Sookie Stackhouse series; Lily Bard series and Aurora Teagarden series (among others)
Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Brief History of the Dead, Things That Fall from the Sky and The View From the Seventh Layer
Trenton Lee Stewart, author of The Mysterious Benedict Society
John Grisham, author of so many I’ve lost count
Charles Portis, author of True Grit, Norwood and Dog of the South, and others.
Dee Brown, author of Bury My Heat at Wounded Knee.
Joan Hess, author of the Clair Malloy and Maggody mystery series, “"Joan Hess has won a heap of praise for her wry and wildly funny series of whodunits set in the unforgettable town of Maggody, Arkansas. A small-town Arkansas dweller herself, Hess brilliantly captures the local color of a sleepy backwoods Southern community."

Gosh, I’m energized just listing all of these wonderful authors!

Although I’m not fully committing myself to this challenge, I will be adding more Arkansas authors to my reading repertoire this coming year.

And my challenge to you -- become an adopted Arkansan, by adding some of these worthy authors to your reading list too!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Guest Post at Booking Mama

Thanks again to Julie at Booking Mama for allowing my to share my "book group rules" with her readers. I hope they are helpful!!

And just in case you missed them, here they are:

Book Club Rules for The Big Love Book Group

I was asked by a friend recently how we started our book group -- I’m sure there is an official book group handbook out there somewhere (it probably has Oprah’s seal on the front)…but here are my rules (and I made them up as I went along):

1. Ask a lot of like minded friends to join. I sent postcards to nearly everyone in my women’s church group. Only 10 women came to our first meeting. You must have devoted readers, or people will drop out, or won’t read the book, or they will only come because there are refreshments. Which isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but for those who are there to discuss a book, secondary chatter is forbidden and non-participants eaten.

2. You need to decide at the beginning WHAT you want to read: Adult fiction/non-fiction/YA literature/Christian fiction. My group is an adult fiction/non-fiction group – they are very vocally opposed to anything that varies from those choices. It's easier as a group to start out all "on the same page" than to hear people complain about what you are or are not reading (been there, done that). If your members aren’t in agreement – they need to “go rogue” and start a separate group.

3. Pick something readily available and has multiple copies at the library, so people don't feel obligated to buy the book (we're in a recession folks!). The more people that have access to the book, the more successful the discussion. I absolutely hate the excuse, "I didn't read because I couldn't find a copy.” Our library has book group “kits.” They come with 10 copies of the book and discussion questions. They are extremely helpful.

4. We don't pick books that are only available in hardback -- again, the cost issue and access issue. The Help won't be on our "to-read" list anytime soon, because there are 50+ holds on it at our library system and only available in hardback. The only time we've made an exception to this rule was when we picked The DaVinci Code, and for some reason, enough people had copies, there were plenty to pass around.

5. This is not necessary, but I'm the unofficial book group leader -- so I assign months for every member to discuss a book. It eliminates the blank stares that plagued us when we first started, and the question, "whaddya want to read?" Fortunately, we have enough members that we each usually pick one book a year. Then we all volunteer to host once a month. For those of us with small children it's more difficult to host, but I try to host during the summer months when school/bedtimes aren't an issue.

6. Pick a night and stick to it. We always meet on the 3rd Thursday. Regardless if we have 2 members or 12. And we only meet 11 months out of the year. We take December OFF because of the holidays and reconvene in January. We try to pick a longer book to read during that time. Our greatest accomplishment was reading Gone With the Wind 5 years ago.

7. This rule is also optional, but we try to pick a book that someone has read before, so we don't have any surprise objectionable material. We have a fairly conservative group of women, so some graphic content (violence or sexual) is not welcome (although, I read just about anything in a binding).

8. Pick a snazzy name: We are The Big Love Book Group – don’t ask me why, but I promise, there isn’t a sister-wife among us.

9. Have LOTS of yummy refreshments! Because, really, it’s all about the food!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Happy Birthday Jane Austen!

It seems rather appropriate to wish the literary goddess, Jane Austen, a happy 234th birthday (16 December 1775), as I try to conclude my Everything Austen Challenge. Persuaion was started on Monday and I have 3 movies to watch this weekend.

What literature do you think future generations will be reading in 234 years? What will survive "the test of time?"

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Book Review -- Jane and His Lordship's Legacy

Jane and His Lordship's Legacy (Jane Austen Mysteries (Paperback)) Jane and His Lordship's Legacy by Stephanie Barron

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oh, poor Jane Austen, if she had only been born during the time of current copyright laws, her wealth would rival that of JK Rowling, and she would have been able to quash, or at least control, the secondary industry of knock-off Jane Austen lit proliferating book store shelves.

Part of the subset of Jane Austen lit is Stephanie Barron’s Being a Jane Austen Mystery Series, a sequence of 8 books, beginning with Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, and recreates the writer Jane as a part time detective solving unexplained local murders. I am not a reader of J. A. knock off lit – but my Everything Austen Challenge coaxed me to expand my reading preferences to accomplish my year end goal. I discovered these books while shelving mysteries at the library.

In Jane and His Lordship’s Legacy, Jane, her mother and sister have recently moved to Chawton, her final home and where she would pen most of her novels. Upon taking up residence at Chawton Cottage, Jane is shocked to find a rat-eaten corpse in the cellar of her home. From that point on, the mystery involves a recently deceased love interest, the theft of an ornate “Bengal Chest” belonging to her late paramour, a combination of Lords and Ladies, and a crumbling estate, Stonings.

My first mistake in choosing this book was starting with the 8th book in the series. Can you imagine starting Harry Potter with Deathly Hallows??!! I purchased this book at a used book store and was under the impression that they were stand alone mysteries. I would have been better served to start with an earlier book, so I would have some back ground into Jane Austen’s mystery life. In Lordship, Jane is obviously distraught over the recent death of a love interest – “The Rogue.” Through the first several chapters, I kept thinking “who the heck is this Rogue guy?” It finally occurred to me that their relationship and his subsequent death were detailed in a previous book. That knowledge would have been helpful.

However, even without the historical background earlier books would have provided, I thought the author did a commendable job in recreating Jane’s unique prose and her rural village life. I loved how she incorporated Jane’s real family – brothers, mother and sister – and their documented past (the property they owned and the places they lived). She has done meticulous research and her use of footnotes was particularly enjoyable. Conversely, I wished that Ms. Barron would have referred more to Jane Austen the “author” throughout the book – what novels she would have been working on while sleuthing.

All in all, a thoroughly pleasant read, but next time, I would start with book one.

Book source: private purchase/used book.

Everything Austen Challenge: 2 of 6 completed

View all my reviews >>

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Book review -- The Hundred Dresses

The Hundred Dresses The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In third grade, I was Peggy, the character in Eleanor Estes’ book, The Hundred Dresses. I don’t remember why, but I was mean to a little girl named Kristen. So much so, that my parents, her parents and the teacher all became involved in trying to resolve the conflict. Still, 30+ years later, I’m troubled by my actions, and why I acted so cruelly. Which is why The Hundred Dresses is such a timeless book – and shows us how the power of words can be used for such good and such harm.

Our third grade mother/daughter book group took the month OFF for the holidays – so my daughter and I read this book together, in lieu of Betsy –Tacy. I hope my daughter uses kind words with her friends in school and doesn’t follow in her mother’s footsteps.

Additionaly, the illustrations by Louis Slobodkin are ghostly and amazing.

I highly recommend reading this book with your school aged children.

Book source: public library

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bah Humbug!

Damn those Pilgrims – and the Indians too! Because of them I am forced to participate in mind numbing, excruciating, holiday rituals beginning at Thanksgiving. Although, before too long, I may have to start blaming the Founding Fathers and our Independence from England, for the holiday season seems to start earlier and earlier each year. Now before you jump to any conclusions about me colluding with Ebenezer Scrooge, I want to set the record straight, I generally like the holiday season, but I LOATHE all that goes along with it.

First, I hate anything that has to do with decorating: Fake leaves, fake trees, fake snow, fake flowers, glue guns, and styrofoam. You will find NONE of it in my house. I must admit, I do have Christmas decorations hiding in our attic. But I bring them out only because I have a sick obligation to do so, and, if I didn’t, that my children would suffer long term psychological harm from being raised in a home without holiday decorations – “So, Joey, what made you go and knock off 6 of your fellow employees at the holiday mart?” “Well, officer, it’s all because my Mother didn’t put up a Christmas tree during the holidays like the other Moms in our neighborhood.” You get the picture. If it weren’t for guilt – I would TOSS them all.

I mentioned to my husband, in a dire tone, that I couldn’t believe it was time to unpack all the decorations again. He looked at me gleefully and said, “Oh – I can hardly wait! Thanks for reminding me, I will get the boxes out next weekend!” Damn him too. What should I have expected? I married a man whose mother has a setting of dishes, towels, sweaters, flags, rugs, sheets, blankets, and goodness knows what else, to coordinate with every holiday celebrated in the United States. And, if I looked closely enough, she probably has Ramadan, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, gear packed away too.

Second, I hate lines. What has possessed people to get up in the middle of the night to stand in line with hundreds of others at the local electronics chain for a few discounted “Joe vs. The Volcano” DVDs? Following which, they must stand in line AGAIN with the same people to buy a movie that was bad when it was released – it’s not a bottle of wine folks – it hasn’t gotten any better over time.

On the day after Thanksgiving this year, my husband and I went to the local mega-toy store chain looking for the only pair of “PRINCESS” slippers my daughter says she would wear. After we found them, we were directed to the front of the store to get in line to check out. The line snaked through the store twice, with line “guards” (they might as well have been armed with AK-47s), stationed randomly to maintain order and to keep people from “cutting.” When asked how long it would take to purchase our priceless slippers, we were advised, “1- 1 ½ hours.” Immediately abandoning the slippers in a pile of Legos, under the glaring eye of the “line guard”, we dashed to the front doors to make our escape. My husband and I have come up with a formula for “line costs” – when the time spent in line costs MORE than the item in hand, all items are immediately discarded. Our formula won’t win us recognition like Einstein’s E=MC² -- but is serves us well.

Finally, I hate presents. Bows, ribbons, paper – they are immediately ripped off and thrown away. What a waste! Why can’t we just give gifts equitably throughout the year? Why do we have to indulge children, family and friends, with useless objects never to be used -- or in our home, immediately broken -- once a year?

One year I bought a sibling a DVD I just knew he would love. On Christmas morning, when the gift was opened, he immediately went into a tirade about how it was the WORST movie he had ever seen and he would NEVER watch again. Although I appreciated his honesty, I decided then I was never buying him a gift again. Not because I was offended – but that the guessing game involved in trying to find something someone wanted just wasn’t worth the effort.

So, to those Pilgrims and Indians who were celebrating a harvest and a year of bounty, you had NO idea what cycle you were setting in motion!

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Day That Will Live in Infamy

My friend Tracy M reminded me today was Pearl Harbor Day.

I don’t have any family members – dead or alive – that were WWII veterans. My Dad was a boy, and tells the story of listening to President Roosevelt utter those historic words over the radio.

In honor of today and of those who lost their lives, consider reading an historical account or biography of that fateful day.

Here are some suggestions:

Day of Infamy, 60th Anniversary: The Classic Account of the Bombing of Pearl Harbor, by Walter Lord

No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

"And I Was There": Pearl Harbor And Midway -- Breaking the Secrets, by Edwin Layton

Dec. 7, 1941: The Day the Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor, by Gordon Prange, et. al.

At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor, by Gordon Prange, et. al.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Theatre Review -- Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

If all bible stories were portrayed in dance and scored by Andrew Lloyd Weber, I think I could possibly get my Ph.D. in biblical studies and The Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat would be my first graduate school course.

Austin Miller, in the lead role as Joseph, and best known for his 2nd place finish as “cute Danny” in the Grease reality TV show, is beefcake with talent. I’m not sure if I’m more impressed with his biceps or his voice. I can see why his brothers tossed him in a pit – they were jealous of his package! And forget Team Edward or Team Jacob – I’m totally a member of Team Austin. Austin’s supporting cast is equally talented, if not quite as ripped.

Jenna Coker-Jones makes a sassy narrator, who transforms herself from a polite school-marm, to cow-girl, to secret agent. Her range is amazing and stage energy infectious. Joseph’s remaining 11 brothers make up a rag-tag, but extraordinarily talented men’s chorus, as they perform musical numbers ranging from country-western to disco. Finally, Pharaoh, played by Todd DuBail, is a dead ringer for a swarthy, Las Vegas Elvis, thank you, thank you very much.

Costume Designer, Rafael Colon Castanera, has created a visual masterpiece with his costumes. Joseph’s “coat of many colors” is truly stunning. And his loin cloth isn’t bad either.

If you are in the Little Rock area, seeing The Rep’s production of Joseph is a must!! So much so, I’m going back to see Austin, I mean the production, again!

Performances: DEC 4 - JAN 3 All Evening Curtains 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday Curtains 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. To purchase tickets call The Rep box office at (501)378-0405 or 1-866-6THEREP or visit

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Half Way to College

That's what a friend said to me when I told her today was my daughter's 9th birthday. Wow, does that put things in perspective. It hardly seems possible that it was 9 years ago when this precious girl came into our lives. And it seems even more impossible that she will be on her way to college in 9 more years (only if she can somehow manage her multiplication tables).

I want to hold on to every minute I have with her. Even if it will cause me endless hours of telling her to clean up her room!

Love you sweetie!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Big Read

Creating a Nation of Readers

The Big Read...inspiring people across the country to pick up a good book. Listen to radio programs, watch video profiles, and read brief essays about classic authors.

I was totally unfamiliar with this program until my husband mentioned it to me in association with his non-profit theater. Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), The Big Read is,
"designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest. The Big Read brings together partners across the country to encourage reading for pleasure and enlightenment...The initiative includes innovative reading programs in selected cities and towns, comprehensive resources for discussing classic literature, an ambitious national publicity campaign, and an extensive Web site providing comprehensive information on authors and their works."

They have a fabulous reading list that you should check out.

Also, there may be a community near you participating. Our non-profit theatre is trying to coordinate with our local library to become a participant.

This would make for a seriously cerebral book challenge!

And some people say that all government is bad!

Monday, November 30, 2009


Consider this free flowing randomness – because I am completely numb.

One of my sorority girlfriends died last night. No explanation. She was home for Thanksgiving and her Mom went into her room to wake her up, and found her dead. She had diabetes, but it was under control, and she was otherwise in good health. Angie – your laughter was infectious – and your craziness unsurpassed. You were taken from us too soon. We will miss you. So, for those of you in close proximity to girlfriends – go give them a big hug and tell them how much they mean to you!

(A picture of my girlfriends at our reunion last year -- Angie is the red head, front row, in the middle.

On to other things not nearly as sad:

I had a wonderful Thanksgiving. The food tasted particularly yummy this year. All the same “traditional” accompaniments, but the family cooks (my mom and sister-in-law) really knocked it out this year. The bad thing about traveling “out of town” for Thanksgiving – no LEFTOVERS! Oh, how I wish I had a big turkey/dressing/cranberry sandwich! And some cherry pie!

My reading funk continues – I did not turn a page over the holidays. And it was splendid. No pressure to post, no pressure to finish anything. I am working on a Jane Austen Mystery by Stephanie Barron (Jane and His Lordship's Legacy); it’s quaint, and normally I could have finished it in about 2 days. Oh well. But remind me, next time I start a “series”– I need to start with book 1 not book 7.

Bob Stoops announced today that he is staying at Oklahoma. Thank you Bob! Notre Dame isn’t good enough for you. It’s been a heartbreaking Sooner football year. Ten weeks ago, when I was standing in Jerry Jones/Dallas Cowboy stadium before the kick off to the BYU/OU game, I could never have predicted the misfortune to envelope this football team. But, a season is always redeemed when you thrash OSU! Take that Pokes!

PTA responsibilities have consumed me. Anyone have experience planning a major fundraiser? I need serious help!

We still have lice in our house. When will these pests leave us! Luckily, they remain happily on my daughter’s head, and no other family members. But after three treatments, they still won’t die. I finally got a prescription treatment (to the tune of $60!!!) -- this better eliminate them once and for all.

And if that wasn’t enough – when we got home from our vacation – we found RODENT DROPPINGS all over the kitchen floor! Good Grief Charlie Brown! Terminix is coming in the morning. I’m done with vermin and all other creepy-crawlies.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Going Unplugged!

I saw this logo on A Bookshelf Monstrosity and thought I would implement it too!

Thanksgiving is time for family and friends -- and a time to turn off the computer. Besides, my parents still live in the '50s and wouldn't know what to do with a computer even if they had one (and I don't get my laptop for another week).

For a book recommendation: Try Louisa May Alcott's An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving -- we are reading it during our road trip.

Are you ready for some Turkey?!

In the spirit of Thanksgiving — I’m curious about your holiday traditions!

What’s your favorite side dish? (Daisy Mom: Spoonbread)

Afternoon meal? Or evening meal? (Mid afternoon)

Do you cook? Or a family member? (Always Mom!)

Do you travel? Or stay home? (Travel to my folks in 4 hours!)

Dark meat? Or White meat? (White for me, dark for my husband)

Sweet Potatoes? Or Mashed Potatoes? (Sweet with marshmallows; Mashed with gravy)

Real whipped cream? Or Cool Whip? (We usually have both on hand)

Pie: Pumpkin? Apple? Cherry? Pecan? (Pumpkin and my Mom's greatest cherry pie)

Special Thanksgiving activity? Afternoon Football? Christmas Lights? Sleeping? (All of the above!)

Have a safe, happy, food-filled and stomach-busting, Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Reading 101

After failing to read my book club book for our November meeting, I’ve had to reevaluate my book selections of late. Over the past few weeks or months, I’ve felt OBLIGATED to read – book club, mother-daughter book club, challenge requirements – you name it. The joy of climbing in my big chair and turning page after page has been noticeably absent. Is it my book choices? Have job, family, PTA responsibilities, totally overwhelmed me that I can’t remember how to “read?” I feel burned out. And the noticeable absence of book reviews is evidence.

How do you get out of a reading funk? Or are reading funks not allowed?

I’m going to try this: I’m taking an inventory of all the unread books on my shelf and trying to assess what will give me the greatest pleasure – without taxing my brain too much. And brevity would be nice too. Under 300 pages. A length I know I can finish. My brain is fried. And my attention span is shot. (Although, I REALLY want to read Persuasion sometime over the holiday, not sure that qualifies?)

I’m blowing off all that is expected and indulging myself in brain candy, whatever that may be.

At least I can't get cavities this way!

(P. S. Persuasion is under 300 pages! Yippee for me!)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Remembering President Kennedy

46 years ago today, the country stopped, people mourned, and the world grieved. Today marks the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination. I feel like I should have memories of this event, with so many images available from that day, but I was 3 years from being born. Still I wonder, "What might have been?"

With this event and the recent death of Senator Ted Kennedy, I've personally committed to read at least one Kennedy-related book between now and the next anniversary on Nov. 22, 2010. Here are a few I'm considering:

JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Matters, by James Douglass

Grace & Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House by, Sally Bedell Smith

A Thousand Days: JFK in the White House by Arthur Schlesinger

President Kennedy, by Richard Reeves

Conversations with Kennedy, by Ben Bradlee

My 12 Years with JFK, by Evelyn Lincoln

I'm not a conspiracy-theorist. I don't really know what happened that day. I don't think anyone ever will. I'd like to think that after 46 years with the advancement of technology we could better analyze the remaining documents or film or evidence. But I certainly would like to know more about the man and his presidency, and ultimately his death.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Reader's Journal Spotlight

Many thanks to Booklogged at A Reader's Journal for her "spotlight" on Arkansas and Gerbera Daisy Diaries, and most of all, her very kind words.
Please visit her blog!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Book Review -- The Omnivore's Dilemma

The Omnivore's Dilemma The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Very rarely do I not finish a book. But life came crashing down on me this week and unfortunately, The Omnivore's Dilemma, was the collateral damage.

If I could rate the 50 pages I did read I would give it 4 out of 5 stars. Michael Pollan weaves an extraordinary story of the industrialization of our food. Considering the subject matter could get bogged down in minutia, he has a very easy writing style that is a pleasure to read. And I'm convinced he needs to write romance novels after reading his section on "corn sex!" Totally erotic, in a plant kind of way! I hope to revisit this book in the future. But I have to move on to other things.

Book source: Public library

View all my reviews >>

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Book Group Night

It’s our last meeting of the year – we take December OFF for the holidays – and I feel like a failure! For the first time since being pregnant or having small, nursing babies, I didn’t finish the book!! Ugh! I usually save the book club choice until the last week before our meeting, so the details can be fresh in my mind. So far, my M.O. has worked – until this week. Everything that could go wrong did – including a child being sent home from school with LICE. My free hours for the past few days have been devoted to delousing everything in our house, including parents, children and furniture. I’m exhausted. And although the first 40 pages of Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” were utterly fascinating and disturbing, I just didn’t have the brain power to overcome my unforeseen obstacles. This was a week for a romance novel.

To make up for my lack of literary brain power, I’m making Pumpkin Dump Cake, a recipe I found through Amy’s Fall Recipe Exchange. It’s in the oven and smells scrumptious. We have a Thanksgiving Pot Luck for our November meeting. Hopefully my book groupees will forgive me my literary trespasses when they eat this cake.

Pumpkin Dump Cake

Here's What You Need:
1 (29 oz) can of Pumpkin
1 cup of sugar
1 (12 oz) can of evaporated milk
3 eggs
4 tsp. of pumpkin pie spices (or combination of cinnamon/nutmeg/cloves/ginger
1/2 tsp. of salt
1 box of yellow cake mix
3/4 cup of melted butter
1 cup chopped pecans

Here's What You Do!

First you're going to combine the pumpkin, sugar, evaporated milk, eggs, pumpkin pie spices and salt in a mixing bowl. Beat well. Pour this lovely mixture into a greased 9x13 glass pan. Sprinkle cake mix over the pumpkin mixture and then sprinkle in the pecans. Pour melted butter over it. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes. When you stick the knife into the center and it comes out clean, you're good to go! Make sure you keep an eye on it at the end as it'll burn easily. This will make tons of goodies for you (or 12-15 people) to enjoy!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cross-over Authors

One of the benefits of shelving and re-shelving books at the library is becoming more aware of authors and their works. Additionally, I have been surprised to find authors that I associate with a specific genre, that also “cross-over” and write for a completely different audience.

Here are a few that have totally surprised me! Consider it my “who knew?” category.

Alexander McCall Smith

Best known for his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and Isabel Dalhousie mystery series – he also writes a Juvenile Fiction mystery series – Harriet Bean.

They look delightful! They are for 2nd – 4th graders.

Meg Cabot

What mother of a middle grade daughter isn’t familiar with Meg Cabot and all her Princess-themed books? She also writes adult fiction. What I didn’t know is that she writes a mystery series too: The Heather Wells Mystery Series.

And with a title like, “Size 12 is Not Fat” I think I will love her forever.

Sarah Dunant

I have Sarah Dunant’s Birth of Venus on my shelf. I think it was my 1st addition when I started my Goodreads list. I still haven’t read it. However, I’ve always associated her with Italian Renaissance historical fiction. I was totally surprised when I discovered that she writes a mystery series featuring a London-based private eye named Hannah Wolfe.

The 1st in the series is Birth Marks.

Aylet Waldman

I’m not sure if Aylet Waldman is better known for her fiction, her marriage to Michael Chabon or her one essay professing she loved her husband more than her children, which solidified her as a controversial writer. Her latest book, a work of non-fiction is, Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace. She’s also written adult fiction. What I didn’t know is she writes a mommy-lit mystery series featuring stay-at-home mom, Juliet Applebaum. The 1st in the series is called, Nursery Crimes.

There are several in the “mommy-track” series. I love this quote from Nursery Crimes:
“Anyone who tells you that having a child doesn't completely and irrevocable ruin your life is lying. As soon as that damp little bundle of poop and neediness lands in your lap, it's all over. Everything changes. Your relationship is destroyed. Your looks are shot. Your productivity is devastated. And you get stupid. Dense. Thick. Pregnancy and lactation make you dumb. That's a proven scientific fact.”
Thank you Aylet for voicing what I was afraid to express!

James Patterson

How many books has this man written?? Too many to count. And I haven’t read ANY of them. But I guarantee patrons at the library check out several of his books a day. But did you know he wrote Young Adult fiction too???

The Maximum Ride series is intended for 7th grade and older.

Finally, everyone knows Ian Fleming wrote all of the James Bond thrillers, but can you name his one contribution to juvenile fiction??

Do you remember this:

That’s been my biggest surprise of all!

What other cross-over authors are you familiar with or have you read? Are they successful at both? Or one more than the other?