Thursday, December 22, 2011

And Speaking of Children's Books... are some of my favorites for Christmas!

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

Of course, The Night Before Christmas must always be read on Christmas Eve, but it must immediately be followed by The Polar Express.  I dare you not to cry.

Pedro, the Angel of Olvera Street by Leo Politi

Leo Politi was a Los Angeles artist who wrote and illustrated over 20 children's books.  Published in 1946,  Pedro takes you back to an L.A. filled with Posadas and pinatas, and a lot less traffic.  My father grew up in Los Angeles, and I've had this book as long as I can remember.  It is charming!

Christmas With the Savages by Mary Clive

I was introduced to this book last year by my friend Rosemary Quiros, and I am SO glad!  Published in 1955, but written many years earlier, it is basically Mary Clive's memoir of Edwardian childhood Christmases spent in great English country houses.  That may sound stuffy, but those nanny-raised hordes of children were hellions!  It is available on Amazon, but the sellers are in England.  It is DEFINITELY worth the wait and shipping.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Not technically a children's book, but it's a classic for a reason.  Read it again, or for the first time.

Merry Christmas!!
Mary Kay

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

I started collecting children's books while I was in college, and one of the first that I purchased was Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg.  I was astounded by the illustrations, and it deservedly won the Caldecott medal in 1982.  I have read and collected many Van Allsburg books since, which is why I am so excited to tell you about The Chronicles of Harris Burdick.

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick,  NOT to be confused with the Chronicles, was truly that...a mystery.   A phantom author has created a portfolio of illustrations with a single caption under each, but then disappears.  Since its publication in 1984, countless school children have written their own stories to go with the images, including my own daughter.  Now 14 prize winning authors have thrown their own stories into the pot, including Kate DiCamillo, Lois Lowry, Gregory Maguire, Louis Sachar and Stephen King, and I loved every one.  They are fascinating, creepy and imaginative, and NOT just for children.  And perhaps you will be inspired to write one of your own!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick is truly amazing.  In fact, I don't think I've ever read anything like it.  The story itself is completely original, with characters that speak to the reader, but it is his illustrations that really draw you in.  The Invention of Hugo Cabret deservedly won the Caldecott Medal, but Selznick's beautiful drawings are much more than renderings of the text. They are an intrinsic part of the story. Almost like a film or a very complicated flip book, the story would not be the same without the images.

I can't really tell you much about the plot without ruining the experience of the book.  I CAN tell you it is about a boy, a girl, an old man and a secret all wrapped up in 1931 Paris. It is sold as a young adult book, but I think it is an ANYONE book!

(PS: Has anyone seen the movie?)

Read Eat Cake, It Will Make You Want To....

When things are crazy busy, and I don't want to start a book that takes too much brain power. I look for a little bit of froth.  Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray fits that bill perfectly!

Ruth has a son in college, a surly teenage daughter, a needy live-in mother and a hospital administrator husband, that is, until his job is eliminated by the new hospital corporation.  Then he decides he'd like to restore boats for a living. And her traveling piano-player father breaks both his wrists and comes to live with them, which is awkward as his ex-wife HATES him. Are you feeling her stress yet?  When Ruth gets stressed she bakes cakes, delicious, amazing, to-die-for cakes, and it is her cakes that save the day.  It's a little bit predictable, but that's just what I need when my brain is too busy for complicated.  Besides, it comes with the recipes included.  Here is a great quote from the book.  Read it, then go have a piece of cake...

"Cakes have gotten a bad rap.  People equate virtue with turning down dessert.  there is always one person at the table who holds up her hand when I serve the cake.  No, really, I couldn't, she says, and then gives her flat stomach a conspiratorial little pat.  Everyone who is pressing a fork into that first tender layer looks at the person who declined the plate, and they all think, That person is better than I am. That person has discipline.  But that isn't a person with discipline, that is a person who has completely lost touch with joy.  A slice of cake never made anybody fat.  You don't eat the whole cake.  You don't eat a cake every day of your life.  You take the cake when it is offered because the cake is delicious. You have a slice of cake and what it reminds you of is someplace that's safe, uncomplicated, without stress.  A cake is a party, a birthday, a wedding.  A cake is what's served on the happiest days of your life."

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I received a terrific gift for my birthday, and it WASN'T a book.  (Let me 'splain, Lucy!)  My great friend Karen gave me a DVD set of Cranford and Return to Cranford, starring Judi Dench, Michael Gambon and Eileen Atkins among many others.  This BBC/PBS mini-series is based on the mid-nineteenth century books of Elizabeth Gaskell.  I have to admit I had never heard of her, but after being mesmerized by the film, I decided I had to check her out.  I started with Cranford, published in 1853. Wow. She was WAY ahead of her time.  And SO funny!  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Gaskell writes stories based on her own personal experiences in a small provincial town, one that seemed to be populated mainly by women.  Strict social rules are in place, and woe to those who break them.  Basically, the women are large and in charge, attending to the important social graces of the time.  I think my favorite quote is this:  "A so in the way in the house!" But their worst enemy is change, which is a HUGE problem with the railroad heading their way. 

I watched the DVD first and then read the book, and I'd recommend everyone do it that way.  The book is not hard to read, in fact, Gaskell translates amazingly well to our world today.  But the film is brilliantly acted and produced, and it just added to my enjoyment of the book.  Am I making sense????  In a nutshell:  WATCH Cranford, then READ Cranford.  You'll be glad!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Am NOT Sick of Flavia de Luce!

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, by Alan Bradley, is the newest installment of his Flavia de Luce mystery series.  The only problem I have with this book is that I already finished it, and now I have to wait until he writes the next one.  Flavia is just SUCH an interesting character that it is nearly impossible to stop reading her books once started.  After all, how many 11-year-old-girl-chemistry-geniuses-with-a-penchant-for-stumbling-upon-murders do you know? And now, back to the book...

Flavia and her family live at Buckshaw, the ancestral de Luce estate.  It is an idyllic English country home  with not so idyllic debt trouble.  So, Flavia's father rents the estate to a film production company, and that is when mayhem ensues.  Oh, it's also Christmas, and Flavia is determined to prove that Santa exists, whilst at the same time proving her horrid older sisters wrong.  This will involve some rather sticky chemistry.  Literally.

Does Flavia catch Santa, or just a murderer?  It's elementary, my dear...Read the book!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

Hey, y'all! After several "likes" I have just read a book that I LOVED.  Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman is the story of Cecelia. She has lived the first 12 years of her life in a small Ohio town, complete with lilac bushes and 4th of July parades. It sounds idyllic, but when your mother runs around in old prom dresses and tiaras, you are deemed crazy by association, and your only friend is 80+ Mrs. Odell next door, nnnnot so much.  After her mother's tragic death, CeeCee is whisked away to Savannah, GA by her Great-aunt Tootie, where she is dropped into a fairy tale world of incredible gardens, historic homes and eccentric women.  It is a cinnamon roll scented place of healing, and I want to go live there.

I was enchanted by Saving CeeCee Honeycutt from the first sentence of chapter one.  So make yourself some sweet tea and get to reading.  This one is a peach!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Here's an idea for a cold foggy a classic, then watch the movie!  I recently re-read Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, and this morning I popped in our old VHS tape of the 1950 Disney movie.  It was worth the trip down memory lane, and made my ironing more tolerable.  Try it some time!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Two Books I Neither Loved Nor Hated, BUT That's Just My Opinion...

Susan Orlean has written Rin Tin Tin, the Life and the Legend.  Rin Tin Tin was a real dog, and his story is fascinating. The author dedicated ten years of her life to researching this legend of movies and TV, and that may have been the problem for me.  I think she took the long way around the barn.  Enough said.

My sister-in-law came to visit and left me Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal.  It claims to be of the "Jane Austen Genre", but I think it tries too hard.  It's entertaining, if you don't have anything else to read.

Buh bye for now.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Attention Narnia and Harry Potter fans!   Have I got a book for you!!  I was minding my own business at the grocery store when I happened down the book and magazine aisle.  There, practically begging me to buy it, was Wildwood by Colin Meloy.  If not for the beautifully illustrated cover done by Carson Ellis, I most likely would have gone right on about my grocery business. Instead, I made a beeline for that book, admired the art, read the fly leaf and was hooked.  Sometimes you CAN judge a book by its cover!

The story takes place in Portland, Oregon, where our 12 year old heroine, Prue, lives with her baby brother, Mac, and their parents.  Until the fateful day when Mac is kidnapped by a murder of crows and flown off into the Impassable Wilderness.  All manner of weirdness follows, as Prue goes on a mission to rescue Mac and save Wildwood in the process.  You'll have to read the book to find out the rest.  Sorry.

Now, some would say this is a children's book.  I say NOT!  It definitely speaks to all ages, as the struggle between good and evil knows no boundaries, actual or metaphorical.  So read Wildwood!  You'll never look at that neighborhood forest or parkland the same again.  And beware of wayward crows.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Rules of Civility

My daughter gave me Rules of Civility by Amor Towles for my birthday.  It was a great choice.  (I love you, Kate!)  And I loved this book.  It is the story of Katey Kontent, a Manhattan secretary who through a chance encounter is introduced to the cream of New York society.  But don't turn up your nose, this tale is much more F. Scott than Judith Krantz.  Katey isn't a lost heiress, and she isn't saved by the handsome-yet-brooding-boss-with-the-tragic-past.  She navigates her way through college co-eds, awkward millionaires, and tyrannical mentors by making her own decisions, something a little unusual for women in 1938.  But does she learn to be content, just like her name?  Read the book and see for yourself!

Amor Towles has written a great first novel.  It is a story that transports and fascinates, and I hope he writes more.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Is It Real, or Just a Trick of the Light?

One of the innumerable joys a book can give is the ability to travel around the world without TSA pat downs.  That's not to say I don't love to experience new places, I DO, but not having unlimited time or finances forces one to pick and choose.  For instance, I would love to visit Quebec, but I would probably choose to go to Hawaii. I'm just saying. Fortunately, Louise Penny can take me on a French Canadian tour every time she writes a new Chief Inspector Gamache novel, and I was not disappointed by the scenery in A Trick of the Light.

Chief Inspector Gamache is the head of homicide at the Surete du Quebec, but he seems to spend much of his time investigating crimes in the tiny village of Three Pines, where murder could be a special on the menu at the local bistro. Despite its surfeit of dead bodies, (this is the 7th Inspector Gamache novel), Three Pines is a lovely, hidden village full of lovely people, but most of them do have something to hide. And when Clara the artist has a life changing show, all of the hidden jealousies and resentments appear at the museum, but only one ends up with a broken neck in her garden.  It is up to Inspector Gamache to separate the real from the imagined, to see beyond mere tricks of the light.

I loved Louis Penny's A Trick of the Light.  If you'd like to investigate her books yourself, I'd start at the beginning. Here is the list:

Still Life
A Fatal Grace
The Cruelest Month
A Rule Against Murder
A Brutal Telling
Bury Your Dead


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Parnasssus on Wheels

Have you ever heard of Christopher Morley?  I certainly had not, until my niece gave me this book to read.  (Well, it's really more of a short story than a book, but sometimes you don't need to write very much to get your point across.)  So, what in the world is a Parnassus?  According to Wikipedia, it refers to a "home of poetry, literature and learning".  Fine, but then what is it doing on wheels?

Parnassus on Wheels is about a horse-drawn book store in 1917.   Kind of like a gypsy caravan, only filled with books instead of crystal balls.  However, the owner of Parnassus could be considered a bit of a seer, one who can predict which books his customers will like best.  So, Parnassus travels the country roads of New York selling books to people who have few if any.  YES! THIS IS PRE-AMAZON AND BARNES AND NOBLE!!! Can you imagine life before the click of a mouse got you anything you wanted???  Oh, wait, I remember those days well.  But back to the subject at hand. Read Parnassus on Wheels and get to know Chistopher Morley. I'm glad I did.

(The previous post/quote was Christopher Morley's last message to his friends. I think he was a pretty smart cookie!)

Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity. Christopher Morley

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Watch Over Thy Child by Cathy Worthington

It is 1957 in Athens, Missouri, and eight year old Ruth Ann Carver has lots of rules to follow. Finish all the food on your plate. Don't interrupt when adults are talking. Do what adults tell you to do. Don't talk about nasty things. Don't tell lies. Don't be a tattle tale. But what happens when Ruth sees something she shouldn't, something she knows her parents don't want to hear?

Cathy Worthington pulled me right into the secret world of 1950's children, a world that doesn't really exist today.  Ruth Ann had many rules, but she also had a lot of freedom.  I grew up much the same way in the 60's.  We stayed out all day and rode our bikes everywhere (sans helmets), and it was OK as long as we were home by dark. I walked home from school alone as early as 3rd grade, and it was considered normal!  There were no cell phones, GPS devices, or even answering machines, there was just a network of neighbors who kept an eye on everyone.  There was a lot of trust, but trust can be broken.

Watch Over Thy Child  is much more than the story of a murder, it is the story of a brave little girl and a town that loses its innocence.  So, read this book, and I promise I won't make you eat all your brussel sprouts.

Cathy Worthington is a San Diego native and my friend!  You can get her books through her website

Monday, September 19, 2011

Death Comes for the Archbishop

Willa Cather was quite an unusual woman for her time.  She was born in Virginia in 1873, but her family moved to Nebraska when she was nine. Instead of marrying a farmer, she went to the University of Nebraska to be a doctor.  It was there that she discovered her writing talent and graduated with a BA in English in 1894.  Still NOT married to a farmer, she moved to Pittsburgh to write for a ladies magazine.  Ten years later she moved to New York City where she started writing for McClure's Magazine.  Her first novel was published in 1912. She never did marry a farmer. She was what you might call an "emancipated woman".

Despite her cosmopolitan lifestyle, she was deeply affected by her time on the Great Plains of Nebraska, and wrote with obvious love for the people of that harsh land.  I read O Pioneers years ago, but you may have read My Antonia or The Song of the Lark, all three books set on the prairie.  I am NOT writing about any of those today.

Death Comes for the Archbishop begins in 1851 right after the US won control of New Mexico, and the Catholic Church has sent Father Jean Marie Latour into the territory to take charge of the missions.  The problem was, no one asked the Mexicans and Native Americans if they wanted someone to take charge. It is a difficult assignment in a vast and dangerous land, but Father Latour is a Jesuit, and if a Jesuit can't do it, nobody can! (Just ask my Jesuit-educated husband.) This is the story of Father Jean's 40 year journey, but his co-star is the land itself, and just as she wrote about Nebraska, Cather weaves a tale that cannot exist without its landscape.  I really knew very little about New Mexico before reading this I want to know more.  And go to Santa Fe.  Read Death Comes to the Archbishop, and don't worry, there's really only a little bit of death in it.

PS:  Thanks for the recommendation, Karen!

Catching Fire and Mockingjay

I just finished the 2nd and 3rd books of the Hunger Games Trilogy.   LOVED the first one.  Thought the second was just as good.  And I'm glad I didn't have to wait for the 3rd one to come out! Suzanne Collins does a great job balancing the violent themes with a sense of normalcy, so I am very curious to see the Hunger Games movie.  I hope it isn't too gory.  That is all.

Friday, September 9, 2011

God and Mr. Gomez

If you grew up in Los Angeles, Orange County or any of the surrounding areas between 1958 and 1995, you most likely remember Jack Smith.  He was a writer for the LA Times, producing a column 5 days a week for most of that long career. He wrote about life from his home on Mt. Washington in LA, his family and his neighbors, or just about anything that he happened to be thinking about that day.  He was one of the great voices of Los Angeles, but he was never afraid to put tongue to cheek when talking about his city. The first thing my family did when we opened the paper was check out the latest from Jack Smith.  He was an LA institution.

One of the main reasons I loved Jack's column SO much was I could catch up on his latest exploits with Mr. Gomez.  Romulo Gomez was the "owner" on the land on which Denny and Jack Smith built their vacation home in Baja, California.  I say "owner" because they never actually saw the title to the land.  Most of their transactions with Mr. Gomez over the 20 years they spent in Baja were done on blind faith.  This sounds crazy now, but you have to know Romulo Gomez.  He did things his own way, with the help of God, of course!  I think this quote from the book, a year and a half since they started the adventure of building their Baja dream home, says it all:

   I told him about the refrigerator. "It's freezing everything," I said.  "Look."  I opened the door and took out a dish of olives that had a crust of ice.
   Gomez got down on his knees to check the thermostat.  "It is on 'Least Cold,'"he said.
   "Yes.  That's the warmest setting."
   He turned the dial carefully and stood up.  "Now it will be all right," he said.  "I have put it on 'Medium'"
   "But Romulo,"  I said,  "that will make it even worse.  'Medium' is colder than 'Least Cold.'"
   "Not in Baja," said Gomez.

God and Mr. Gomez was first published in 1974 and went out of print sometime later.  The good news is you can get it again!  (I just checked Amazon and it said there were only 9 left in stock, but maybe you have it on a family book shelf somewhere.)  So, go find God and Mr. Gomez, crack open a cerveza, and enjoy! Adios amigos!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What Most Americans Don't Know About World War I Is A Lot

The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller is sold as a mystery, but it is so much more.  True, there are questions to be answered and problems to be solved, but the characters in the story are the biggest mystery.  Not because they are not developed, but because they are so complex, like the era in which the story is set.

World War I was a particularly horrible conflict. The War started in Europe in 1914, but the US didn't really join the battle until October 1917. When the Armistice was signed at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, our soldiers had been in Europe for a little over a year; the British and their allies had been fighting for over 4 years. The men fought in mud trenches, or went "over the top" directly into enemy fire, all for capturing or losing a few miserable feet at a time. The US suffered approximately 116,000 casualties and 205,000 wounded out of a population of 92 million. Great Britain had approximately 887,000 killed and 1,663,000 wounded out of their population of 45 million. Almost a whole generation of British men disappeared either from death, terrible injury or what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Again, it was a tragic war, but except for learning that the end of WWI and the Treaty of Versailles led to WWII, I didn't really learn much about it in school.  I think this was because WWII was so much more a part of us here in the States and affected all of us so much more.  (Hopefully it was for THAT reason and NOT that I wasn't paying attention!) But back to England in 1920...

Laurence Bartram fought in the Great War for England. Although he wasn't physically injured, he has definitely come back a changed and reclusive man.  It takes a letter from a school friend's sister, asking him to look into the suicide of her brother, Captain John Emmett, to draw him out of his self-imposed exile.  At first the quest seems fairly straight forward, but the twists and turns and dead bodies soon get in his way. I really enjoyed this book.  It is a time and place that fascinates because I DON'T know very much about it. But you need to pay attention when you're reading it!  So take it on vacation, or lock yourself into a closet, but be sure to read The Return of Captain John Emmett.

Note:  All of my statistics were taken from Wikipedia.  I am sure you will find different numbers in different places, but you get the idea!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Beauty Queens

Libba Bray has written a series of books that my daughter loves: A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing.  She keeps telling me that I MUST read them, but I just haven't gotten to them yet.  However, we were at Barnes and Noble and saw Beauty Queens, also by Libba Bray, and I just had to give it a try.  I confess, "Toddlers and Tiaras" is one of my guilty pleasures!

The story begins with the 50 contestants of the Miss Teen Dream Pageant crash landing on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere.  Unlike Ginger on "Gilligan's Island", their evening gowns and makeup cases do not survive intact.  So what are the surviving plucked and spray tanned Miss Teen Dreamers to do??? Some want to keep practicing their routines for the upcoming pageant, others want to focus on survival.  And Miss New Mexico has an airplane food tray stuck in her forehead.  A menacing volcano, strange totems, mutant snakes and a wayward pirate ship make for not your run-of-the-mill castaway story.

Part spy thriller, part political commentary, part Disney Channel comedy and part cautionary tale, the book was lots of what I expected, and a lot of what I didn't. We found it in the young adult section, but some of the themes a quite mature.  I probably wouldn't let a young teenager read it.  But that's just me.  You read it and decide!

To Become an Expert in Murder, Cannot Be So Difficult

My list of favorite authors is growing daily,  the latest addition being Nicola Upson, who has written An Expert in Murder, A Josephine Tey Mystery.  (Thanks, Sarah, for the recommendation, and yes, it's another mystery, but I love them!!!)

It is 1934, and Josephine Tey is a mystery writer and play write with a smash hit on the London stage.  Long running Richard of Bordeaux is in it's final week of production and emotions are running high.  The actors are worrying about their next jobs, disgruntled stage hands are nurturing their resentments, and the fans are lining up in hope of seeing the show one more time.  Josephine is taking the train from Scotland to London for this last week when she meets Elspeth Simmons, a huge fan and admirer of both the play and Josephine.  Josephine is enchanted by Elspeth, but this being a British puzzle mystery we need a dead body to get things going, and Elspeth gets the part.  Enter stage right a handsome Scotland Yard detective, murders with props carefully arranged, secret passageways, hidden identities and an atmosphere of danger around every backdrop and set.  (This would make a great script for Mystery! on PBS.)  All is revealed before the final curtain, of course, but the most revealing bits are in the author's note at the end of the book.  Josephine Tey was a real person!  At least Elizabeth Mackintosh was, and Elizabeth Tey was one of her pseudonyms.  She really did write Richard of Bordeaux, which ran for 463 performances in London before closing on March 24, 1934.  And get this:  the part of Richard was played by John Gielgud!  It made him a star overnight.

So, this is a work of fiction, but it is based on real people and real events.  And the truth always makes for a great and strange story.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

No Turning Back, A Witness to Mercy, by Donald H. Calloway, MIC

I'm having trouble writing about this book, and I don't know why.  Maybe because this amazing story speaks for itself.  Just know this:  If your child is a drop-out/stoner/criminal, there is hope.  They may not go from drop-out/stoner/criminal to Marian Priest, but don't give up.  And that's all I have to say about that!

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins was not really on my book radar until my daughter asked me if I'd read it.  Apparently all of her friends LOVED it.  Fast forward to a few days later at Lindbergh Field, where we were getting ready fly to Ohio to visit some friends.  Well, there it was, just waiting for me in the airport bookstore, so I bought it.  Have I mentioned that I love airport bookstores?!  Anyway...I read it all the way to Atlanta.  Then I read it while waiting in Atlanta.  Then I read it all the way to the Akron/Canton Airport and finished it before we arrived.  Needless to say, I LOVED it!

This is not the type of book I normally enjoy.  It takes place in the future, in what used to be the United States.  The people in charge are cruel despots, and their sport is watching the children of their subjects kill each other in the annual Hunger Games.  Think of the Olympics, but with only 1 boy and 1 girl from each country, and the winner is the one who manages not to die.  (Sounds awful, doesn't it? Just try to put it down once you've started.)  As soon as we got home I raced on over to Barnes and Noble and picked up the next installment in the series, Catching Fire.  Unfortunately I haven't started it, because I know I won't want to put that one down, and then I'll have to go get the third book in the trilogy and nothing will get done around here.

So, if you haven't read The Hunger Games, do so SOON!  I'll get back to you on the 2nd and 3rd books, but I have a daughter that needs to get to college first.  Bye for now!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

And Now for Something Completely Different

After plowing through Undaunted Courage I felt the need for something light and fluffy.  Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich fit the bill!

Smokin' Seventeen is the, and I'm not trying to state the obvious here, 17th book in the Stephanie Plum series.  Stephanie is a reluctant bounty hunter in the city of Trenton, NJ, a place where pot-roast-making mothers, Tony Soprano wannabes, and crazy curse-wielding grannies all meet to gossip at the local deli. Which means that EVERYONE knows your business in Trenton, which can be helpful when trying to track down FTA's.  (That's "failure to appear" in bounty hunter-ease.)  The trouble with Stephanie is that she attracts trouble.  And explosions.  And really psychotic perps.  Not to mention TWO gorgeous but complicated men.

So if you are looking for a light read and a good laugh, try Smokin' Seventeen.  Then go back and start at the beginning...One for the Money, Two for the Dough...etc., etc.  Enjoy!

PS:  Thank you to Monty Python for the title of this post!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Kind of a Daunting Book

I just finished Undaunted Courage by Stephn E. Ambrose.  Phew.  THAT was a haul.  Don't get me wrong,  I love history.  I was a history major.  I also like long books.  This was a long book.  Not as long as Lewis and Clark's journey, it just seemed like it.  Sometimes even vaunted historians can be a little....well, stuck in the minutiae.

Not that the details of the Lewis and Clark Expedition weren't interesting, it's just there were so many of them.  I think my problem is that I USUALLY prefer history written as fiction, or through the eyes of the participants.  I have read many of the Shaara books, starting with Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize winning Killer Angels, the riveting story of Gettysburg as told through the Civil War generals.  His son Jeffrey went on to write the prequel and sequel to Killer Angels, but to date my favorite of his books is Rise to Rebellion, which is about the Revolutionary War.  It will make you proud to be an American.  I also enjoyed No Less than Victory.  This is part of Jeffrey Shaara's WWII series, telling the story of the Battle of the Bulge through the eyes of the soldiers who took part.  He researched real letters and correspondence, photographs and reports, but his most interesting sources were the live interviews he did with veterans of that brutal battle.  Now THAT is living history.  And for me, a much more interesting read.

I will say that I learned a TON about Lewis and Clark that had not been taught to me in school.  Or that I'd been taught, learned for the test and promptly forgot.  (For instance, did you know that only 1 man died, and it was from appendicitis?) So if you love Lewis and Clark, read this book! Or, just check them out on Google.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Dog Who Came in from the Cold

Alexander McCall Smith continues to astound me.  With this latest installment of the Corduroy Mansion series, he has written 33 books since 1998!  That doesn't include the 25 children's books and 3 short story collections, (since 1980),  OR the 12 academic texts.  (He has a Ph.D. in law.)  His mind is just BURSTING with great ideas.

One of his greatest has to be Freddie de la Hay.  Freddie is an immensely interesting character.  He is also a dog.  A Pimlico Terrier to be precise, which is a happy coincidence, because he and his master live in the Pimlico neighborhood of London in the slightly-worse-for-wear mansion block nicknamed "Corduroy Mansions".  Many other characters abound in the converted flats, but Freddie is the star of this book.  Why?  Because Freddie becomes a spy for MI6.  Does he save the world?  Does he get involved with a svelt female Pimlico Terrier double agent?  Do they call him "F"?  You'll have to read it to find out.

The Corduroy Mansion series which Freddie inhabits is written and originally published as a serial, so part of the charm is that each chapter can stand on its own as a little story within the bigger picture.  (One of my other FAVORITE McCall book series is 44 Scotland Street, which is also written as a serial.) So, I hope you get to know Pimlico and Freddie in The Dog Who Came in from the Cold, and I hope you'll be glad you did.


Monday, July 11, 2011

A Little House Marathon

I just finished reading the above.
I still love them!
If you've never read Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, start now.  
No butter churning required.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Looking for Laura

When I heard about The Wilder Life, My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, By Wendy McClure, I ran to Barnes and Noble like a Sooner racing into Oklahoma to stake a homestead claim.  (Too much?  Possibly.)  Well, I did order it on Amazon without a second thought to what it was about.  After all, I LOVED Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House books, and when it arrived and I saw its Tiffany blue cover with the first page of Little House in the Big Woods open to a Garth Williams original illustration I KNEW I would love this, too.  So much for judging a book by its cover.

OK, I didn't NOT like this book.  In fact, the first chapter is hilarious, bringing back memories of my own childhood days of Laura re-enactments.  At that point I could really relate to Wendy McClure and her obsession with all things LHOTP.  But somewhere on her road trip to see all of the "real" sights in the nine Little House books, she got a little too wordy and introspective.  In the end, her journey makes sense, as does her tendency to ramble, but she often took the long way around the barn.

Am I glad I read The Wilder Life?  Yes!  Am I going to buy a butter churn?  NO.  If I happen to be in De Smet, SD, will I be excited to see the real Little Town on the Prairie?  Probably!  Anyway, I definitely am going to reread my 1971 boxed set of the series, and perhaps I'll find my own inner Laura.

As Ma would say, "All's well that ends well!"
Mary Kay

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Brothers of Baker Street

We've had graduation, vacation, orientation, and now the realization that I haven't posted in almost a month!  Actually, things have been a little crazy, so I haven't been reading as much as usual.  BUT, I did manage to finish Michael Robertson's next book.

The Brothers of Baker Street is the sequel to The Baker Street Letters. This delightful new series is set in London at the address of the fictional Sherlock Holmes.  Except many people are still sending him letters.  And the Heath brothers are required to answer them as part of their lease agreement.  Answer, but not act upon, which would make for a very boring story.  So OF COURSE they act, and we get to ride along with Reggie, Nigel and the spirit of Sherlock as they tackle their newest mystery.  This one involves a Black Cab murderer, a ruthless newspaper/gossip rag owner and a relative of Professor Moriarty.  (Or so they claim!)  You'll have to use all of your powers of deduction to figure this one out.

Ignore the red herrings and give The Baker Street Letters and The Brothers of Baker Street a try.  You won't be sorry!

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Girl Who Chased the Moon

My daughter gave this book to me for mother's day, and I'm SO glad she did!  The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen is delightful.  If YOU decide to read this book, you will be transported to the small southern town of Mullaby, North Carolina, a place filled with gentle giants, magical wallpaper, delectable cakes, delicious BBQ and mysterious family secrets. I can't really tell you more than that without ruining the story, but I can say that I will be reading more of Sarah Addison Allen's books.  I hope I will enjoy them as much as this one.  Now I have to go bake a cake.


Saturday, May 21, 2011


It seems strange to think of it now, but when I was born in 1960, WWII had only been over for 15 years. Memories of the war were living things, the soldiers and civilians involved still mostly young. My father was relatively lucky to be assigned to a fast troop transport ship in the Atlantic.  My uncle was in the Army in the Pacific, not such an easy assignment, but they both came out alive.  Compared to others, they were the lucky ones.  Compared to Louis Zamperini, they were on a cake walk.  Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, is the true story of how Zamperini spent the war, and how it changed him forever.

Louis Zamperini was born in 1917 in New York, but his family moved to Torrance, CA in 1919 to help Louis recover from pneumonia.  He was a fearless baby who turned into the neighborhood hell-raiser.  His older brother Pete literally saved him from a lifetime of delinquency when he introduced him to track.  Louis became a star at Torrance High School, where he was known in all the LA newspapers as "The Torrance Tornado".  In fact, he was so good he qualified for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, rooming with Jesse Owens!  After the Olympics he attended USC (FIGHT ON!!!) on a track scholarship, where he would hold the NCAA record for the mile for the next fifteen years.  He was a sure bet to medal in the 1940 Olympics, but then war came.

Louis was trained as a bombardier on the B-24 Liberator, also known as "The Flying Coffin",  and stationed on Oahu.  He and the rest of his crew survived run after bombing run, as those all around them disappeared into the Pacific.  That all changed on May 27, 1943, when their plane went down on a rescue mission.  What follows is an amazing tale of human physical and mental endurance through horrible thirst and near-starvation, shark attacks and typhoons, torture and deprivation in Japanese prison camps.  How Louis survived, conquered his post-war demons and ultimately thrived is the stuff of legend.  And guess what?  He's still alive and kicking at 94!

So, stop what you are doing and read this book.  It is now one of my favorites!

P.S.:  If this story sounds familiar, that is because CBS did a profile about him for the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.  You can find it on youtube, but read the book first!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Lanyard

The Lanyard - Billy Collins

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.
(Thanks, Sarah!)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, A Love Story

I probably never would have started a blog if I hadn't been introduced to  The force behind that website is Ree Drummond, a country club girl from Oklahoma who went to USC, (FIGHT ON!) and fell in love with the big city.  She stayed in LA after college, but eventually decided she needed to move back home before attending law school in Chicago.  During this interlude fate stepped in, shaped like a gorgeous cowboy.  Goodbye, Chicago, hello wide open spaces! The rest is history, now that she's documented their heart-melting courtship in Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, A Love Story.

If you haven't heard of Ree, check out her website.  In addition to her "confessions" blog, she shares recipes, (She was a sushi loving vegetarian when she met her Marlboro Man. He was not.), her self-taught photography, and homeschooling tips.  Yes, she homeschools their FOUR children.  And shoos cows off of her porch.  And writes cookbooks.  The Pioneer Woman Cooks, Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl was published in 2009.  I know, because my friend Karen and I were dorky enough to go to her book signing in Torrance that fall.  However, about 300 other dorks were there, too, so we didn't feel too bad!  So, I can tell you that she is just as nice in person as she seems on her blog and in her books.  I love her, and I hope you do, too!

Aunt Dimity

If you are looking for something easy, frivilous and satisfying try the Aunt Dimity series by Nancy Atherton.  They are little Penguin mysteries, easy to carry around and easily devoured.  Perfect for Doctor's appointments, etc.  I just read Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday and thoroughly enjoyed it.  There are 16 books in the series so you will have plenty of time to get to know Aunt Dimity.  Oh, did I mention she is dead?  Sorry, you'll have to read the books to find out more!

Bye, bye for now...Mary Kay

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party

Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's No. 1 Ladies' Detective, is back, and I am SO happy!!  Well, I was happy until I finished The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party.  Now I have to wait for the next one.

This is the 12th installment of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series by Alexander McCall Smith.  Precious opened her detective agency all those books ago, and she continues to investigate all manner of cases with her "traditionally built" powers of deduction. If you haven't read this series, you are in for a treat! The books are filled with engaging, fascinating and endearing characters who feel fortunate to live in their beloved Botswana.  Precious works with her efficient but unfortunately outspoken assistant detective, Grace Makutsi.  Her office can be found on the premises of Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni's Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, who also happens to be her husband.  In between cups of red bush tea, you will travel all over Botswana in Mma Ramotswe's tiny white van, solving the problems of her clients.  When you reach the last chapter you'll be ready to sell some cattle and hop a plane to Africa.

Alexander McCall Smith is a dynamo.  In addition to the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency he writes 3 other series.  Of those my absolute favorite is the 44 Scotland Street Series.  How can one man write so many and such diverse books?  Well, he was born in Zimbabwe, taught law at the University of Botswana and now lives in Scotland.  He is a story waiting to be written.

Now, brew a pot of bush tea, find an acacia tree to sit under and read this book.

Sala sentle,
Mma Mary Kay

Monday, May 2, 2011

This Is Supposed to Be a Blog About the Books I Love...

...but, what if I've read a book I DON'T love?  What then????  Well, I've read one of those books, but just because I didn't really love it doesn't mean you will agree with me.  So, I will try to be positive.

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni would probably make a great action movie.  Kind of like The Da Vinci Code, although that was a better book than a movie.  In this case, the movie would most likely be better than the book.  It's opposite land.  So, if someone recommends it to you, in my case the usually reliable lady at Barnes and Noble, don't buy it, borrow.

That is all.

Mary Kay

Saturday, April 23, 2011

And Finally...Brava, Valentine

I have one more book for you today:  Brava, Valentine by Adriana Trigiani.  We were on vacation last week, and this is the perfect beach read.  It's not too deep but still very engaging, and Adriana describes places so well that you want to plan your next vacation while still on your current vacation.  In the case of this book, that would be Argentina.  I want to go now.  But back to Brava, Valentine.

Valentine Roncalli makes custom wedding shoes for her family's business, the Angelini Shoe Company.  Okay, she's got me right there.  Just the descriptions of the shoes is enough to keep on reading.  Throw in a crazy family and a VERY handsome Italian leather tanner and life in the beach chair gets pretty good.  Then she goes to Argentina to meet a cousin she never knew she had.  Family feuds and secrets anyone?  It sounds like a normal Italian family to me!

Brava, Valentine is the second book in a three part series by Adriana Trigiani.  The first is Very Valentine, and the third will be Ciao, Valentine.  See you at the beach!

Calling All fans of Jane Austen! (Or Not)

I can't say that I am a huge fan of Jane Austen.  I appreciate the stories, but I don't rush to her when looking for a book to read.  However, I DO love her characters, and I loved what Cathleen Schine did with The Three Weissmanns of Westport.

What does this book have to do with Jane Austen? A little tongue in cheek, Schine sets three women into an Austenian situation and the story unfolds from there.  Betty's husband of 48 years is leaving her for another, younger, woman.  Impulsive daughter Miranda has just lost everything she worked for in a huge literary scandal.  Responsible daughter Annie tries to rescue everyone as they all move into rich Cousin Lou's rundown beach cottage in Westport, CT.  Scheming gold diggers, handsome out-of-work actors, adorable 2 year old boys and other hangers-on populate the pages of this story.  My favorite is Cousin Lou's 98 year old father-in-law, Mr. Shpuntov.  He will make you laugh out loud!! (I do laugh when I read.  People think I'm nuts.)

The Three Weissmanns of Westport is funny, frivolous and touching, and I loved it!  I hope you'll give it a try.

Sherlock Holmes Lives!

I've found a new mystery series!  Yeah!!  The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson spoke to me from the book shelf at Barnes and Noble.  "Buy me, please," it said. Well, mostly I loved the cover, and it seemed to have an interesting story line, so I did, and I'm glad!

Reggie Heath is a lawyer who has moved his practice to 221b Baker Street in London.  That is a rather famous address because of a rather famous fictional character.  But what if people send letters to that character at that address asking for his help?  And what if it is a provision of the lease that the tenant answer those letters? The fun starts when Reggie's somewhat impulsive brother acts upon one of those letters, and they are both wrapped up in a murder and mayhem in faraway Los Angeles.  The story is set in 1997, just far enough in the past to make things even more interesting.

Michael Robertson's second book in the series is The Brothers of Baker Street.  I'm going to Amazon right now and order it.  It's elementary!

Maisie Dobbs

Life has gotten in the way of my blog!  I haven't stopped reading, I'm just behind in the blogging.  I will try to rectify that situation starting now.

Jacqueline Winspear has just published the 8th book in her fantastic Maisie Dobbs series.  I love and admire Maisie, as much as it is possible for one to love and admire a fictional character.  Maisie is a private detective/psychologist living in London in the early 30's.  She was a student at Cambridge when she left to serve as a nurse in WWI.  She is brilliant and independent and is surrounded by fascinating characters.  And Jacqueline describes depression-era London so well it's as if she had lived it!  In fact, the author grew up in a small English village that hadn't really entered the 20th Century, not to mention the 21st, and then she came to California where she has lived for many years.  I went to see her at Warwick's Books in La Jolla when her 7th book came out, and she explained that her background in an old-fashioned village and her life in Ojai  has really helped her write about Maisie's England, because she never really lived in modern England.  (If you have a chance, go to one of her book signings.  She is very interesting and very easy to talk to!)  Anyway, if you haven't read these books, start NOW!  And read them in order, because each builds upon the last.  Here is the list:

Maisie Dobbs
Birds of a Feather
Pardonable Lies
Messenger of Truth
An Incomplete Revenge
Among the Mad
The Mapping of Love and Death

And the new one is just read:
A Lesson in Secrets

The mystery and the history make a great combo!

Mary Kay

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Red Herring Without Mustard

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag, and now A Red Herring Without Mustard are three of my favorite books.  They are all written by Alan Bradley, who is now one of my favorite authors.  Why, you may be asking, is he so special?  What does he have that the thousands of authors out there do not?  Well, I will tell you:  Flavia de Luce.

Flavia de Luce is our protagonist.  She is 11 years old.  She is a brilliant chemist. (For real!) Her best friend is a bicycle named Gladys.  Flavia lives with her stamp collecting father and two older sisters at Buckshaw, the family's ancestral estate, a place that has definitely seen better days, as have their family dynamics.   Much to the dismay of the Bishop's Lacey police, Flavia uses all of her considerable intelligence to meddle, uh, help with their investigations.  Her age is her advantage, as most people don't consider an 11 year old girl a threat.  Boy, are they wrong!

SO, if you like a good mystery and a GREAT detective, give Alan Bradley's books a try.  Flavia and her family are slightly off kilter, but aren't we all, just a little?  Therein lies their charm...

"...a cup of ale without a wench, why, alas, 'tis like an egg without salt or a red herring without mustard."
Thomas Lodge and Robert Greene  A Looking Glasse, for London and Englande (1592)

Life without Flavia would indeed be like an egg without salt!  I hope you enjoy her as much as I do.

Mary Kay

Friday, March 25, 2011

Perseus Rocks!

How many of you read Bulfinch's Mythology in high school?  How many of you liked it?  If you DIDN'T like it, I have the perfect solution for you.  If you DID like it, I have a great recommendation for you: read Percy Jackson and the Olympians!

Actually, this series consists of 5 books:

The Lightning Thief
The Sea of Monsters
The Titan's Curse
The Battle of the Labyrinth
The Last Olympian

Author Rick Riordan has created a world full of heros, demigods, monsters and gods, (with a small "g"), but he has set that world right here in the USA.  In current times.  Why not?  Mount Olympus, the home of the gods that is, used to be in Greece which used to be the center of the civilized world.  Then it moved to Rome.  Now it's on the 600th floor of the Empire State building.  And Hades is under Los Angeles, which makes sense if you've ever been stuck in traffic on the 405.

Although these books are probably aimed at 4th grade and up kiddos, I think they are perfect for all ages.  So set logic aside, brush up on your mythological knowledge and get ready for a wild ride...on a Pegasus, of course!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

I Rate

It has been suggested that I do a sidebar with a list of the books I've read with ratings for each.  Well, since I haven't figured out the sidebar yet I've decided to make a short list here with a 1 to 5 star rating.  However, this is a blog about the books I LOVE, so there probably won't be many under 4 stars.  Let me know if this is helpful, or how to do a sidebar!!

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand                               
To Fetch a Thief
Little Bee
Moscow Rules
Cutting for Stone
Three Cups of Tea
Cold Sassy Tree
The Girl in the Green Raincoat
A Guide to the Birds of South Africa
The Little Book
The Good Thief
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio
The Lightning Thief

Hmmm...with the possible exception of Moscow Rules, I think I have to give them all 5 stars.  They are all different but all outstanding in their own way.  And I liked Moscow Rules, just not as much as the others.  Maybe this isn't such a great idea after all!  I DO read books I can't stand, but I don't want to turn people off a book just because I don't like it.  What do you think about a rating system?  What about just a list?  HELP!!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade!

What an overused expression THAT has become, but none is better to express the soul of the book I've just finished. Imagine what you would do if you did not have enough money to pay the most basic of bills.  Now imagine having no money and 10 children.  What if you had no money, 10 children AND an alcoholic husband who drank away his pay check? You're probably thinking some combination of birth control, divorce and job, but this is the 1950's and none of those things are really an option.  How about, finish a jingle for Dr. Pepper and earn a "major prize"?  That is exactly what Evelyn Ryan did in The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less).

Written by Terry Ryan, this is the true story of her mother Evelyn Ryan, her father Kelly and their 10 boisterous children. (And I DO mean boisterous!  This is not the Waltons.)  Evelyn was definitely given lots of lemons, but she was an extraordinary woman who found humor in almost everything life dropped in her lap and used her quick wit and great attitude to repeatedly save her family's bacon.  Evelyn lived in the unique time period of the 50's and 60's when companies marketed products though public contests.  She entered every contest available, and despite the poor odds, she was amazingly successful.  She also succeeded in teaching her children to never give up, to love words, and strive for the best.

Defiance, Ohio is the perfect setting for this story, because it defines how Evelyn showed her children to live every day.  Defy the odds, and expect miracles.  Now, go make some lemonade and read this book!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

"St. Anthony, St. Anthony turn around, something is lost and must be found."

The Good Thief is the story of Ren, a boy growing up in St. Anthony's monastery in 19th century New England.  The locals are not very friendly to the Catholic brothers, but they find it a convenient place to procure wine and lose unwanted children.  That was how the monastery became an orphanage, which is quite appropriate as St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost things.

Ren is missing his left hand.  He wasn't born that way, it was somehow lost.  He knows he probably can't get his hand back, but he and the other boys pray to St. Anthony often.  Ren's prayers seem to be answered when handsome, charming Benjamin Nab appears and claims Ren as his brother, but is he really his brother, or just a Fagin to Ren's Oliver? You shall see!  A rollicking adventure filled with twists, turns, horror and mystery follows as Ren slowly unravels the answers to his past.

Thievery abounds in this story, but the real crime happens when you finish Hannah Tinti's quirky, imaginative first book.  It will steal your heart!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Not So Little Book

 In no way can The Little Book by Seldon Edwards be considered little.  Not that it's big-long like War and Peace or big-significant like The Origin of the Species.  It probably won't ruin your eyesight or change your view of the world.  What it is, however, is a big STORY.  So big, in fact, that it took the author almost four decades to finish!  After all, he had a lot of ground to cover and a lot of loose ends to tie up, which I am happy to report he was very successful in doing.  (I CAN'T STAND loose ends.) Now, back to the book...

One of the great perks of reading is it gives me the chance to travel far and wide without the hassle of packing, airport security and flying coach.  This book took me to Boston, the Sacramento Valley, San Francisco and Vienna right along with our hero, Wheeler Burden.  Excluding Vienna, pretty run-of-the-mill places you might say, except Wheeler was born in 1941 and lived an extraordinary life until 1988, when he somehow ended up in 1897 Vienna.  (Now, don't pooh-pooh time travel.  This is not The Terminator. It is much more real and fascinating.  And there's no Ahhnold.)  While in "Fin de Siecle" Vienna, (I'm not showing off.  That is an important expression in the book.), Wheeler meets Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain, Gustav Mahler, a young Adolf Hitler and various friends and relatives that all affect his life to come.  Herein lies the dilemna of time travel:  Do you have to right to change history?  Will those changes result in your own extinction?

I thoroughly enjoyed The Little Book.  Go forth and read!  Download some Strauss to your ITunes. Then let me know what you think.

Mary Kay

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

You Do Not Have to Love Birds to Love This Book

I just finished A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson.  There is only one problem.  I just finished A Guide to the Birds of East Africa, and now I want more!!!

Set in Nairobi, Kenya, the story revolves around Mr. Malik, a highly honorable 60ish Indian gentleman and his unrequited love for Rose.  Rose is a Scottish lady that leads the Tuesday morning bird walks of the East African Ornithological Society.  All sorts of characters show up for the bird walks, including, to the dismay of Mr. Malik, an unwelcome classmate from his boarding school days, who also sets his sights on Rose.  The solution?  A bird identifying contest.  Whoever has the most sightings in a week wins the right to ask Rose to the Hunt Club Ball.  Cue corrupt politicians, Somalian baddies, car thieves and the mysterious Mr. Dadukwa, and a simple wager turns into quite an adventure.

Fresh, charming, gentle and cheeky, A Guide to the Birds of East Africa enthralled and entertained me.
I loved this book!  (And I DO love birds!)

PS:  Huzzah for Google!  I just read an interview with Nicholas Dryson.  He said he's working on a sequel!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I Love Airport Bookstores

Cold Sassy Tree was almost the last book in my reading pile.  I say "almost", because I did have a couple of books left, but we were flying up to Northern California for the weekend, and hardbacks don't travel well.  (Still don't have a Kindle!)  BUT, I know I can always find something at the trusty airport bookstore.

The cover of The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman jumped right out at me, and I'm sure glad it did!  Originally written as a serial for the New York Times, this book is perfect for a plane ride or a rainy day at home.  Each chapter contains its own little story, but the whole thing meshes into a satisfying little mystery.  She admittedly takes more than a little inspiration from Hitchcock's Rear Window, one of my favorites.  The characters are funny and quirky, and the story is just a bit twisted.  Just what I like.  I hope you do, too!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cold Sassy Tree

I ran out of new books to read, again.  I went to Barnes and Noble for Stones into Schools, the sequel to Three Cups of Tea, but they had to order it for me.  Drat!  What now...browsing, table?!  That's where I found Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns.

Cold Sassy is not a new book, and I'm sure many of you have heard of it before.  Published in 1984 when Olive Ann was 60, it was inspired by stories her father told her of growing up in a small Georgia town at the turn of the 20th century.  He was 14 in 1906, as is the novel's narrator, Will Tweedy, and if he was anything like Will, what a character he must have been!

This book has something for everyone.  Love, jealousy, scandal, motor cars, drama, and death all make an appearance, but most importantly, it is FUNNY! These Southernahs jus' don talk like us Yankees.  And the stories that Will Tweedy tells, ain't he jus' like anothah Mark Twain!  My favorite "Will" saying in the book:  "I heard he had him a pet snake one time that bit him and the next day the snake died." (Describing one mean dude.)

Cold Sassy Tree is also surprisingly touching.  The characters with all of their faults and strengths are never one dimensional, and the simple life of a small southern town is not so simple after all.  I hope you enjoy your visit there as much as I did.

Y'all come back now!

Mary Kay

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man's mind can get both provocation and privacy. ~Edward P. Morgan

Some people seem to be born without the fear gene.  They jump out of airplanes, dive with sharks, explore treacherous slot canyons and climb the world's highest peaks as readily as I drive to the local Starbucks for a latte with (gasp!) 2% milk.  Although I do love to ski, which my neighbor with his newly broken shoulder can attest is not guaranteed to be safe, and I DO drive in California, mostly I spend my time trying NOT to be in danger.  Greg Mortenson falls into the former category.

Three Cups of Tea, One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time, by Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, is an amazing story.  I know that AMAZING is a very overused word, but I promise it definitely applies here.  Greg's whole life has been out of the ordinary. Growing up in Tanzania with missionary parents, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro at age 11 and attempting to summit the second highest mountain on earth in 1993 are just of the few extraordinary experiences that shaped his life.  But it was that failed attempt on K2 that would send him on an even more perilous and impossible journey.

If you don't know, (like me!), K2 is located on the border of Pakistan and China with a summit of 28,251 feet.  It is not quite as high as Everest, but much more deadly, taking at least 77 lives with only 302 people reaching the top.  Exhausted and ill on his descent, Greg literally wandered off the beaten path and into a remote Pakistani village, forever changing his life and the lives of his new friends forever.  To pay back the kindness he received from the village of Korphe, and struck by the desperate need of their children, he promised to come back and build them a school.

This is where Three Cups of Tea really begins.  Against insurmountable odds Greg Mortenson keeps his promise and so much more.  And if I tell you more, it will just ruin the book!  Read it, and if you want to know more about Greg Mortenson and what he's up to now, go to  (Type it into your web address line.  I haven't set up the click-on-the-link thing yet.)  It's pretty AMAZING.  

"Thrilling...proof that one ordinary person,with the right combination of character and determination, really can change the world."  Tom Brokaw

Friday, February 4, 2011

Bond...James Bond

I love a good spy, especially in the form of Daniel Craig or Sean Connery.  Oh, wait, I am supposed to be talking about books.  I love a good spy STORY.  I hope I cleared that up for you.

I did not plan on reading Moscow Rules by Daniel Silva.  It ended up in my house after a steady stream of house guests had left, so I put it in my To-be-Read pile.  That pile quickley shrank, and Moscow Rules was all I had left.  So I read it.  And I liked it!

The story centers around Gabriel Allon, a mysterious Israeli operative and master art restorer.  Strange combination, but it seems to work.  The book is filled with suspense and intrigue, and the good guys win, mostly.  This is a perfect vacation/beach read, and if you like Gabriel, he stars in 9 other Daniel Silva novels.  Also, they come in standard paperback format, so it doesn't matter if you drop it in the sand.
Unless you have an e-reader.  DON'T drop that in the sand.

Mary Kay

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Little Bee

First of all, this is not a book about a bee.

Now that I've made THAT perfectly clear, I can tell what it IS about.  Little Bee is a young Nigerian girl who has a chance encounter with Sarah, a British magazine editor, who is vacationing on a beach in said Nigeria.  (I know, not the smartest travel decision on record.)  The events that happen on this beach (NO, I'm not going to tell you! You have to read it.) will forever bind Sarah and Little Bee together.

What made this book so interesting to me is the way in which the story unfolds.  Sarah and Little Bee take turns telling their story, a chapter at a time.  And small pieces at a time.  The two narrators weave together a seamless tale of tragedy and triumph despite the fact that they come from polar opposite life experiences.  The prose is beautiful and at times, haunting, as is the subject matter.

One more thing, Batman is out to get the baddies.  (Read the book and you'll understand!)

Chris Cleave has written a book that is:

jaw dropping

Read Little Bee.  Let me know what you think!

Mary Kay

A good book should leave you... slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it. ~William Styron, interview, Writers at Work, 1958

I just finished reading Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Wow! I repeat, WOW.  Once I started reading it I really didn't want to put it down.  Who needs to sleep and eat when you have a good book?  Oh, yeah, I have a family, responsibilities, etcetera.  In between taking care of them I really did very little else but read this brilliant book, and since finishing, I haven't been able to stop thinking about.

I know I am not the first to hop on the Cutting for Stone/Abraham Verghese train, but for those who haven't yet read the book, it is the story of Marion and Shiva Stone, Indian/British twins growing up in Ethiopia.  Did I mention their mother was a nun?  And she died at their birth?  And their genius British surgeon father ran away in grief? Sound soap opera-ish? Not to worry. This story is woven like an exotic tapestry, each thread blending into the next and creating an incredible work of art.  

I think a good book is the best way to learn something new.  I really knew nothing about Ethiopia, but now I feel a little more informed, and not in a textbook way.  More in a from-the-heart kind of way.  As a reader I could tell how much Verghese loves the Ethiopian people and the place where he grew up.  He made me want to learn more.

Whatever you do, READ Cutting for Stone, NOW!  It is a perfect circle of a story.

Friday, January 28, 2011

To Fetch a Thief

I love to read mysteries.  This life long addiction probably started when I would sit on top of the ladder that lived underneath my family's citrus trees, breathe in the scent of orange blossoms and read Nancy Drew.  I am a fan of several mystery/detective series, including those by Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, and Alexander McCall Smith, and now I can add Spencer Quinn to that list.

To Fetch a Thief is Spencer Quinn's third book in his Chet and Bernie mystery series. (I accidentally listed the second book, Thereby Hangs a Tail, on my first post.  I actually read To Fetch a Thief  this month...another halfzeimer's moment!)  Bernie is the detective, and Chet is his loyal partner and the narrator of the stories.  Chet is also a dog. Think Lassie with ADHD...very smart but easily distracted.  Chet and Bernie live in Phoenix, and desert atmosphere and geography play a big part in the books.  To Fetch also features a clown, an elephant, and some rather nasty Mexican bandidos.  These are not your run-of-the-mill mysteries!

So, put the Spencer Quinn books on your "Must Be Read Soon" list.
The three books in the series are:

Dog on It
Thereby Hangs a Tail
To Fetch a Thief

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Mary Kay

PS:  Random thought...To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly is one of my favorite movies, and the TV show with Robert Wagner was part of my childhood.  Anyone else?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Just Do It!

Now that I have decided to write a blog and actually started aforementioned blog yesterday, I realize I am actually expected to post the written word on a regular basis.  As my niece loves to say, and thank you to Nike, "Just Do It!!"  So here it goes...

My children gave me Major Pettigrew's Last Stand for Christmas.  This proves not only that they love me, but also that they listened to me when I said, "I want Major Pettigrew's Last Stand for Christmas." Thanks, kiddos!

Helen Simonson has written a book about unexpected love and all of it's consequences.  It is unexpected because of age, nationality, personality and place, but like Romeo and Juliet this love conquers all.  Unlike Romeo and Juliet, it is not a tragedy.  (The first thing I want to know about most books is if they have a happy ending.  However, I realize many people do NOT want to know this, so I'm not going to spoil things for you.  Hopefully.  Most of the time.  I'm sure there will be exceptions.  I really don't know what I'm doing yet so give me a break!)

Back to the point of this blog, which is to write about books I love.  I LOVED this book!  The author made her characters come alive for me, and I recognized people in my life that could live in the English village of the story.  People are the same everywhere, the good ones and the bad ones.  On the other hand, I learned about a nationality that I really knew nothing about.  But most of all, this book is funny, endearing and unforgettable.  I hope she writes a sequel!

Have you read Major Pettigrew's Last Stand?  What do YOU think?

Mary Kay
The Book Chick

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read. ~Groucho Marx

I love to read.  I love to share what I read with my friends.  So here I am blogging about the books I read.  This is me I will...hmmmm...ok, maybe a little about me first.

I live in San Diego.  I have been married for 28 years.  I have 2 children, one is in college, and one is a senior in high school.  I spent many hours reading to my children.  I have 2 black Labradorks.  I do not read to the dogs.  I DO read to myself whenever I have the chance.  Over coffee, at lunch, in waiting rooms, on airplanes, at the gym.  You get the idea.

I come from a family of avid readers.  Family myth recalls how one of my grandmothers read so fast she would chose a book by its weight!  This is what I do when I buy a new book.  First, I put it up to my nose, then I riffle the pages and take a deep breath.  I can't get enough of the smell of a new book, and that is why I have yet to buy an e-reader.

I originally thought it would be fun to start on January 1st and blog about each of the books I read this year as I read them.  Since it's already January 25th, we'll go with Plan B!  Here are the books I've read so far in 2011:

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Thereby Hangs a Tail by Spencer Quinn
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Moscow Rules by Daniel Silva

Right now I am reading Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.

I have to go read now.