November 30, 2008

Comfort and Joy

And the winner is...


Send me your snail mail address (I moderate comments, so I'll delete it without posting) and I'll get the book out in the mail on Monday. Hope you enjoy it!

Comfort & Joy by Kristin Hannah
Contemporary Fiction - Holiday
2005 Ballantine Books
Finished on 11/29/08
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Product Description

In this modern-day fairy tale, New York Times bestselling author Kristin Hannah gives us a very special gift: the heartwarming story of a woman at a crossroads, caught between two lives, who finds a second chance at happiness.

Joy Candellaro used to love Christmas more than any other time of the year. Now, as the holiday approaches, she finds herself at loose ends. Recently divorced and estranged from her sister, she can’t summon the old enthusiasm for celebrating. So without telling anyone, she buys a ticket and boards a plane bound for the rural Northwest.

Yet Joy’s best-laid plans go terribly awry. The plane crashes deep in the darkness of a forest. Miraculously, Joy and her fellow passengers walk away from the wreckage as the plane explodes. There, amid the towering trees, Joy makes a bold and desperate decision to leave her ordinary life behind and embark on an adventure . . . just for the holidays.

Daniel O’Shea has returned to the small town of Rain Valley, following the death of his ex-wife. Now he is a single father facing his son’s first Christmas without a mother. Six-year-old Bobby isn’t making it easy–the boy has closed himself off from the world, surrounding himself with imaginary friends.

When Joy and Bobby meet, they form an instant bond. Thrown together by fate, these wounded souls will be touched by the true spirit of Christmas and remember what it means to be a family.

Then a dramatic turn of events shows Joy the price of starting over. On a magical Christmas Eve she will come face-to-face with a startling truth. Now she must decide: In a time of impossible dreams and unexpected chances, can she find the faith to reach for the love she has found . . . and the new life only she believes in?

It's been several years since I've read anything by Kristin Hannah, but after reading Beachreader's glowing review of Comfort and Joy a couple of years ago, I decided to add it to my list of possible holiday reads. I didn't get around to reading it last year, so when I spotted it on one of my shelves earlier this month, I decided it was next in line for this holiday season.

In spite of my low rating, I must say I was quickly drawn into the story, eager to see how Joy's situation would play out. Somewhere around the half-way mark, though, I began to feel disappointed in the plot and overall writing. The story is unnecessarily drawn out, dialogue repetitive, and the majority of characters underdeveloped. One must be willing to suspend disbelief to enjoy this fairy tale, yet one of the key plot points (involving Joy's relationship with her sister) was impossible for this reader to buy into.

I'm not a big romance reader and as it turns out, Hannah is apparently a hit-or-miss author with me. I gave up on Between Sisters, endured Angel Falls, yet thoroughly enjoyed Summer Island and Distant Shores. One of the reasons I'm so attracted to her books is the Pacific Northwest settings. She always manages to make me want to put our house on the market and move to Washington or Oregon! So, next time I'm in the mood for a light, fluffy read, I'll probably give her another chance. Anyone interested in giving this one a try? Leave a comment indicating your interest and I'll draw the winning name on December 6th.

November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Krieger-Renner Pond
(Lathrop, Missouri)

Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest-home;
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin.

Henry Alford
"Come, Ye Thankful People, Come," 1844

November 21, 2008

Last Days of Summer

Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger
Contemporary Fiction - Epistolary
1998 Bard (Avon Books)
Finished on 11/12/08
Rating: 4.75/5 (Terrific!)

Publishers Weekly

Mixing nostalgia, baseball and a boy's mostly epistolary friendship with a 1940s baseball star, this inventive but sentimental novel consists entirely of letters, fictional newspaper clippings, telegrams, war dispatches, report cards and other documentary fragments. Growing up Jewish in a tough, Italian Brooklyn neighborhood, Joey Margolis is troubled by anti-Semitic neighbors, by Hitler's rising power, by his parents' divorce and by his absent cad of a father. Craving a surrogate dad, Joey strikes up a correspondence with Wisconsin-born New York Giants slugger Charlie Banks. The boy's outrageous fibs, tough-guy posturing and desperate pleas grab the reluctant attention of the superstar, whose racy vernacular guy-talk (peppered with amusing misspellings and misusages) hints at his deepening affection for Joey. Charlie is a politically enlightened proletarian ballplayer with a heart of gold. His liberal views find an echo in Joey, whose best friend, Japanese-American Craig Nakamura, gets shipped off with his family to a wartime internment camp. In a plot that swerves from Joey's Bar Mitzvah to a White House meeting with President Roosevelt to [spoiler deleted], Kluger keeps changing the pace and piles on a slew of period references with a heavy hand. Despite these flaws, this debut novel is at its best a poignant, golden evocation of one boy's lost innocence.

Product Description

May 15, 1940

Charlie Banks
New York Giants
Polo Grounds, New York

Dear Mr. Banks:
I am a 12–year–old boy and I am dying from malaria. Please hit a home run for me because I don't think I will be around much longer.

Your friend,
Joey Margolis

Dear Kid:
Last week it was the plague. Now it's malaria. What do I look – stupid to you? You're lucky I don't send somebody over there to tap you on the conk. I am enclosing 1 last picture. Do not write to me again.

Chase. Banks
3d Base

Dear Charlie:
Nobody asked for your damn picture. I never even heard of you before. And you can forget about the home run too. The only reason I needed one was because the bullies who keep beating me up somehow thought you were my best friend and the homer was supposed to keep them from slugging me anymore. Thanks for nothing.
Can I go on a road trip with you?

Your arch enemy,
Joey Margolis

Dear Joey:
"Somehow" they thought I was your best friend? Where did they hear that from? A Nazi spy? J. Herbert Hoover? Franklin Delano Biscuithead? And didn't I tell you not to write to me anymore? Go bug DiMaggio.

P.S. And just because there's a spot open for a bat boy this summer doesn't mean your going to get it. Even if we ARE chips off the same block.

I've had this book on my shelf for nearly a decade! I know at one point I read a dozen or so pages, but couldn't get interested. Usually, I'd give up at that point, but I remembered my boss at Borders Books saying it was a great read, so I set it aside for another time. As I was putting together a list for my epistolary endcap, I remembered this book and decided to give it another chance, especially since I don't like to have any books on the endcap that I haven't read. Well, just as with the first attempt, I had a bit of a slow start with Last Days of Summer, but once I got a couple of dozen pages in, I was hooked.

Of course this shouldn't have surprised me, as I love baseball, books set during World War II, epistolary books and coming-of-age stories.

I laughed out loud and I cried.

I hugged the book to my chest when I finished and whispered, "Great book!"

I thought about various actors, wishing this were a movie as well as a book.

I'll read it again and recommend it to everyone.

Yep, great book.

Dear Mr. Kluger,

You scored a home run with this marvelous book. I fell in love with Joey, Charlie, Hazel and Stuke and was sorry when I came to the last page. Thank goodness you have another epistolary work for me to read!

Thanks for the laughs.

A happy reader in Nebraska.

November 18, 2008

Epistolary Endcap

Main Entry: epis•tle
Pronunciation: \i-‘pi-səl\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, letter, Epistle, from Anglo-French, from Latin epistula, epistola letter, from Greek epistolē message, letter, from epistellein to send to, from epi- + stellein to send
Date: 13th century

1 capitalized a: one of the letters adopted as books of the New Testament b: a liturgical lection usually from one of the New Testament Epistles
2 a: LETTER; especially : a formal or elegant letter b: a composition in the form of a letter

Here's my new endcap, which is doing quite well! I set it on October 30th and so far the sales have been very good. The Guernsey book is an easy sell, as is 84, Charing Cross Road and These Is My Words. Here's the entire list (click on the titles for reviews or purchase information):

'Tis The Season by Lorna Landvik

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Address Unknown by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith

Between Friends by Debbie Macomber

These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 by Nancy Turner

Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg

The Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth Berg

The Boy Next Door by Meggin Cabot

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

I've read all but Address Unknown and Fair and Tender Ladies. (They're in my stacks!) Please don't ask which of these are my favorites. They're all very, very good!

November 17, 2008


This is simply marvelous!

To view in full-screen mode, click on the small box, second from the right.

For more video clips about this project, go here.

You can check out the book here:

November 12, 2008

'Tis the Season!

'Tis The Season! by Lorna Landvik
Contemporary Fiction - Epistolary
2008 Ballantine Books
Finished on 11/2/08
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Product Description

Bestselling author Lorna Landvik shines in this delightful holiday novel of redemption and forgiveness.

Heiress Caroline Dixon has managed to alienate nearly everyone with her alcohol-fueled antics, which have also provided near-constant fodder for the poison-pen tabloids and their gossip-hungry readers. But like so many girls-behaving-badly, the twenty-six-year-old socialite gets her comeuppance, followed by a newfound attempt to live a saner existence, or at least one more firmly rooted in the real world.

As Caro tentatively begins atoning for past misdeeds, she reaches out to two wonderful people who years ago brought meaning to her life: her former nanny, Astrid Brevald, now living in Norway and Arizona dude ranch owner, Cyril Dale. While Astrid fondly remembers Caro as a special, sweet little girl left in her charge, Cyril recalls how he and his late wife were quite taken with the quick-witted teenager Caro had become when she spent a difficult period in her life at the ranch as her father was dying.

In a series of e-mail exchanges, Caro reveals the depth of her pain and the lengths she went to hide it. In turn, Astrid and Cyril share their own stories of challenging times and offer the unconditional support this young woman has never known. The correspondence leads to the promise of a reunion, just in time for Christmas. But the holiday brings unexpected revelations that change the way everyone sees themselves and one another.

At once heartfelt and witty, ’Tis the Season! bears good tidings of great joy about the human condition–that down and out doesn’t mean over and done, that the things we need most are closer than we know, and that the true measure of one’s worth rests in the boundless depths of the soul.

I don't usually read "holiday" books, but a couple of weeks ago, as I was helping set one of the Christmas tables at work, I spied the new Lorna Landvik book. The colorful cover caught my eye, so I flipped it open and discovered it's an epistolary. What perfect timing!! I had just set my new end cap and knew this would be the perfect eye-catching book to sit in the #1 position on the display. Of course, I really like to have read all the books I recommend, so I got a copy and brought it home to read as soon as I finished my current book.

What a treat!! I could have easily read it in an afternoon, but as life seems to go around here, I wound up reading it over the course of two days.

It's been a while since I've enjoyed one of Landvik's books (gave up on The Tall Pine Polka and haven't felt compelled to read The View from Mount Joy), but this is a winner! As with most epistolaries, the exchange of correspondences between multiple characters takes a bit of time settling into who's who. But once the characters were established, I quickly devoured the book. And, just in case you're not a fan of Christmas-type books, this spans five months prior to Christmas. I'm tempted to say it really isn't a holiday book at all. Just happens to conclude in December.

This is definitely a quick read, but it's also one of those feel-good books that we can all benefit from during this hectic and stressful time of year.

If I haven't been able to convince you, check out Lesa's review for more details. 'Tis the Season! won't wind up on my Top Ten for 2008, but I'm so glad I took the time to read it. Perfect brain candy after a couple of very long months!

November 11, 2008

R.I.P. III Challenge Completed

Can it really be over? Already? Where did the time go? Well, I'm pretty happy with my results. I joined and managed to read two from my original list (plus an additional title that might fit the challenge). However, I failed to read all four to satisfy Peril the First. Nonetheless, I'm happy to have read the books I read and look forward to R.I.P. IV!

So, what did I read?

Rises the Night by Colleen Gleason

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

And my favorite?

The Brief History of the Dead.

Thanks for hosting yet another great challenge, Carl!

November 9, 2008

A Month in Review - October ('08)

Well, I've had better months, but at least October ended with a couple of winners. The first two in the list might have actually been good. I just wasn't patient enough to stick with either of them.

Click on the titles to read my reviews.

The Water and the Blood by Nancy Turner (DNF)

Where the River Ends by Charles Martin (DNF)

Home and Away: More Tales From a Heritage Farm by Anny Scoones (3/5)

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean (4/5)

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen (4/5)

Favorite of the month: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Books Read 3
Male Authors 0
Female Authors 3
New-To-Me Authors 3
Epistolary 0
Current Affairs 0
Japanese 0
Audio 0
Fiction 2
Nonfiction 1
Historical Fiction 1
Classic 0
Poetry 0
Teen 0
Children's 0
Sci-Fi 0
Fantasy 1
Horror 0
Romance 0
Humor 0
Travel 0
Memoir 0
Essays 1
Culinary 0
Mystery/Thriller 0
Series 0
Re-read 0
Challenge 0
Mine 3
Borrowed 0
Gift 1

Note: Only books completed are counted in the above totals with, of course, the exception of the DNF category.

November 8, 2008

8th of November

I posted this video clip two years ago and wanted to share it once again. Who knew we'd still be war...

Garden Spells

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Contemporary Fiction
2007 Bantam Books
Finished on 10/30/08
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Product Description

In a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in an even smaller town, is an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit. In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it.…

The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures.

A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants—from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys—except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.

When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down—along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy—if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom—or with each other.

Enchanting and heartfelt, this captivating novel is sure to cast a spell with a style all its own…

I remember when this first came out as one of Barnes & Noble's "Recommends" titles. After hearing several mixed reviews from co-workers and bloggers, I put the book on my TBR list, but wasn't overly eager to give it a try, not with all my other books vying for attention. Earlier this year a good friend (who loved the book) sent me a copy, wanting me to experience what she believed was a fabulous read. I added it to my stack of "gift" books with plans to read it within the next month or so. Well, that "month" dragged on much longer than I planned, but on a whim I finally picked it up, ignoring all the ARCs I'd just received. I was immediately drawn into the magic of the story and quickly devoured it between work and home life. I loved the characters and came to care about them, hoping for a happily-ever-after ending. I won't give anything away, but I can say I thoroughly enjoyed the story and plan to read the author's second novel, The Sugar Queen.

Thank you, Gayla, for sending me such a charming book! I'm glad I held off to read it until this past month. It was just the right bit of escapism for a long, stressful month.

Check out the following reviews (many of which are a quite a bit more in-depth than my meager post) on some of my favorite bloggers' sites:

A High and Hidden Place

Bookfoolery and Babble

Lesa's Book Critiques

Tripping Toward Lucidity


November 5, 2008

Tempus Fugit

5 Apartments

5 Houses

22 Cars*

4 Motorcycles

3 Presidents

5 Dogs

5 Cats

0 Ferrets

2 beautiful daughters

1 camping trip

1 precious granddaughter

20 years of joys and sorrow

1 happily ever after


an infinite amount of love.

Happy 20th Anniversary

to my very best friend.

I love you.

*Most of which were not driven or purchased by me. ;)

Yes We Can

Worth watching again...

November 4, 2008

Yes We Did!

From our President-Elect

To Me! :)

Lesley --

I'm about to head to Grant Park to talk to everyone gathered there, but I wanted to write to you first.

We just made history.

And I don't want you to forget how we did it.

You made history every single day during this campaign -- every day you knocked on doors, made a donation, or talked to your family, friends, and neighbors about why you believe it's time for change.

I want to thank all of you who gave your time, talent, and passion to this campaign.

We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I'll be in touch soon about what comes next.

But I want to be very clear about one thing...

All of this happened because of you.

Thank you,


My American Prayer

November 2, 2008


I was going to post this on Tuesday, but with all the early voting, I decided to put it out there tonight.

Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.
- Andrew Lack

Constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.
- Jerry Garcia

Half of the American people never read a newspaper.
Half never voted for President.
One hopes it is the same half.

- Gore Vidal

The best argument against democracy
is a five minute conversation with the average voter.

- Winston Churchill

Democracy is the recurrent suspicion
that more than half of the people are right
more than half of the time.

- A.E. Smith

It's not the voting that's democracy;
it's the counting.

- Tom Stoppard

Those who stay away from the election
think that one vote will do no good:
'Tis but one step more to think one vote will do no harm.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

November 1, 2008

The Madonnas of Leningrad

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
Historical Fiction
2006 William Morrow
240 Pages
Finished on 10/21/08
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

One of the most talked about books of the year . . . Bit by bit, the ravages of age are eroding Marina's grip on the everyday. And while the elderly Russian woman cannot hold on to fresh memories—the details of her grown children's lives, the approaching wedding of her grandchild—her distant past is preserved: vivid images that rise unbidden of her youth in war-torn Leningrad.

In the fall of 1941, the German army approached the outskirts of Leningrad, signaling the beginning of what would become a long and torturous siege. During the ensuing months, the city's inhabitants would brave starvation and the bitter cold, all while fending off the constant German onslaught. Marina, then a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum, along with other staff members, was instructed to take down the museum's priceless masterpieces for safekeeping, yet leave the frames hanging empty on the walls—a symbol of the artworks' eventual return. To hold on to sanity when the Luftwaffe's bombs began to fall, she burned to memory, brushstroke by brushstroke, these exquisite artworks: the nude figures of women, the angels, the serene Madonnas that had so shortly before gazed down upon her. She used them to furnish a "memory palace," a personal Hermitage in her mind to which she retreated to escape terror, hunger, and encroaching death. A refuge that would stay buried deep within her, until she needed it once more. . . .

Seamlessly moving back and forth in time between the Soviet Union and contemporary America, The Madonnas of Leningrad is a searing portrait of war and remembrance, of the power of love, memory, and art to offer beauty, grace, and hope in the face of overwhelming despair. Gripping, touching, and heartbreaking, it marks the debut of Debra Dean, a bold new voice in American fiction.

This is one of those popular books from a couple of years ago (Water for Elephants and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan are two others) that I held off reading until I felt the hype had settled down and I was ready to give it a try. I'm happy to report that I wasn't the least bit disappointed and thoroughly enjoyed Dean's remarkable debut novel! I was immediately drawn into the narrative, eager to return to my reading at the end of the day. I enjoyed both aspects of the story, but was more interested in Marina's present life rather than her time in Leningrad at the Hermitage Museum. This surprises me, since not only do I love reading about World War II, but I enjoy books that focus on art history. As I was reading the sections about the specific works of art, I found myself wishing I could double-click on the title of the painting in order to see what was described. I could've have stopped and searched the Internet for an image of the painting, but I didn't want to interrupt the flow of the story.

I only marked a few passages, but I think they're quite poignant:

In the Hermitage, they are packing up the picture gallery. It is past midnight but still light enough to see without electricity. It is the end of June 1941, and this far north, the sun barely skims beneath the horizon. Belye nochi, they are called, the white nights. She is numb with exhaustion and her eyes itch from the sawdust and cotton wadding. Her clothes are stale, and it has been days since she has slept. There is too much to be done. Every eighteen or twenty hours, she slips away to one of the army cots in the next room and falls briefly into a dreamless sate. One can't really call it sleep. It is more like disappearing for a few moments at a time. Like a switch being turned off. After an hour or so, the switch mysteriously flips again, and like an automaton she rises from her cot and returns to work.


...She is always disoriented now. The Hermitage staff has been packing almost round the clock for weeks and weeks now, eating sandwiches brought into the galleries, slipping away only to use the toilet. In the first week, they crated more than half a million pieces of art and artifacts. And then on the last night of June, an endless parade of trucks carried away the crates. A train, twenty-two cars long and armed with machine guns, waited at the goods depot to spirit the priceless art away, its destination a state secret. Walking back through the rooms, through wastelands of shredded paper, Marina had averted her eyes. Many of the older people wept.


"Why didn't you tell me about this? About Mama?" Helen tries not to sound reproachful.

Dmitri stares out the front window, blinking and working his lips. They pass a bookstore, a small brick post office, a market. She scans the empty sidewalks and then glances back at her father. A tear is dribbling down his cheek.

"I'm sorry, Papa. I'm not criticizing."

"We've always cared for each other." His voice is thick.

"What does Dr. Rich say? Have you at least talked with her about it?"

"They did some tests. But there's not so much to be done."

Helen steels herself. "Is it Alzheimer's?"

Dmitri nods.

He is blinking furiously now and biting down hard on his lower lip.

Helen pulls the car over to the side of the street and turns off the engine. Silence fills the interior of the car. She takes her father's freckled hand in her own and squeezes it gently. The air seems to go out of him; tears gather in the folds beneath his eyes and spill down his cheeks.

"I don't know what to do," he admits. "She's getting worse. She can't wash herself anymore. She only stands under the water and forgets to soap herself. I'm afraid to leave her alone, even for a few minutes. Last week, she put some plums in the dryer when I wasn't looking. Our underwear came out with pink splotches, and I found pits in the bottom of the barrel."

In discussing the book with my husband, I finally realized why I was more interested in Marina's later life story, rather than the period during the war. My parents are in their mid-70s and while they are very active and spry, with absolutely no signs of Alzheimer's or dementia, it is a worry that my brothers and I may have to face the possibility of dealing with this sometime in the not so distant future. I have a few friends who are already losing their parents to Alzheimer's and it's so terribly heartbreaking. I also know that it's entirely possible that I could wake up one morning and not have my husband recognize me. Or me him. I don't know which would be worse.

Does one cease to exist as a wife or a daughter if one's husband or parent doesn't recognize them? Is it not so much the person succumbing to the disease that becomes the ghost, but rather the one left behind?

I'm anxious to read more by Debra Dean (hopefully, a bit more cheery!). She's published a collection of short stories (Confessions of a Falling Woman: And Other Stories), but I've never been much for those, so I'll wait until she writes another full-length novel.

For more information about the Hermitage during the siege, go here. And to read about Debra Dean's visit to the Hermitage, go here.