Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review: Roses

Roses by Leila Meachum
4 stars

Reasons for reading: have read good things about it; Plant title for What's in a Name? Challenge

Description: "Spanning the twentieth century, Roses is the story of the powerful founding families of Howbutker, Texas, and how their histories remain intertwined over the span of three generations. Cotton tycoon Mary Toliver and timber magnate Percy Warwick fell in love, but because of their stubborn natures and Mary’s devotion to her family’s land, they unwisely never wed. Now they must deal with the deceit, secrets, and tragedies that surround them, and the poignant loss of what might have been—not only for themselves, but also for their family legacies."

My thoughts: Publisher's Weekly described this book as "a good old-fashioned read" and I think that sums it up well, I had the same feeling right from the beginning. It's a sprawling saga of a book and it's chock-full of everything - love, lust, friendship, honour, betrayal, deceit, betrayal, grief... In every generation there's one member of the Toliver family so tied to Somerset, the cotton plantation, that it becomes more important than anything else, no matter what the cost is in human or financial terms. This devotion brings more heartache than joy and there's even talk of a Toliver family curse because of it. The characters - dashing but sometimes ruthless Percy Warwick, stubborn Mary Toliver and amiable Ollie DuMont are all well-drawn and I really enjoyed the way the book traveled through history, including the impact that both World Wars and Korea had on the families. I could have used a family tree at the beginning, but I do realize that would've spoiled some of the revelations in the book - but with 3 generations all interwining, it got a bit confusing at times. (Probably just me!)

I liked recurring theme of the legend of the roses - the three families decided that a red rose meant one was asking for forgiveness and a white one meant it was granted. A pink one was unthinkable - it meant there was no forgiveness to be had. So when pink comes up in the book, it's bad news. I enjoyed that this giving and receiving of forgiveness kept coming up, even after people thought the legend was dead.

The repercussions of secrets of the past are visited on Rachel Toliver (Mary's great-niece) and and Matthew Warwick (Percy's grandson) and it's up to them to decide if they can overcome a lot of history and move forward to make their own future.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Review: The Cupcake Queen

The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading; I've liked the books Hepler has co-written with Brad Barkley; Hello, the adorable cover?!; 10 in 10 YA Chick Lit Challenge

Synopsis: "When her mother moves them from the city to a small town to open up a cupcake bakery, Penny's life isn't what she expected. Her father has stayed behind, and Mom isn't talking about what the future holds for their family. And then there's Charity, the girl who plays mean pranks almost daily. There are also bright spots in Hog's Hollow—like Tally, an expert in Rock Paper Scissors, and Marcus, the boy who is always running on the beach. But just when it looks as though Penny is settling in, her parents ask her to make a choice that will turn everything upside down again. A sweet novel about love, creativity, and accepting life's unexpected turns."

First line: "The fact that I wasn't surprised when my mother handed me the sheet pan filled with pink frosted cupcakes is possibly more disturbing than the cupcakes themselves."

My thoughts: This was a funny, sometimes sweet, sometimes bittersweet book that isn't at all earth-shattering but is worth reading and goes quickly. My favourite parts were the descriptions of Penny's delicious and artistic cupcakes and Tally's lard-based prank on the mean girls (that one alone was worth it!). There are the usual teen girl issues/moving to a new place issues in the book - making new friends, mother-daughter relationship problems, divorcing parents, a boy... But the community of Hog's Hollow fleshes out these typical situations by being filled with artists and animal lovers along with the snotty girls and their mothers who strive to win the coveted Hog Queen title every year. It also looks at the problem of being a younger teen and not being either listened to or told what's going on, as neither of Penny's parents will be straight with her about the divorce or even where she's going to live. There's the added bonus of Penny's grandmother, as well, who tries to help but doesn't seem to be able to communicate with her former-urbanite daughter too well, either. Most of the characters, adults and kids, have suffered a recent loss (death, abandonment, or divorce) and fortunately they're able to eventually find comfort from each other and from the beachy surroundings of odd little Hog's Hollow.

It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

Click the globe to tell Raidergirl where you are!

I'm in two places this week, both places I've actually been to!

The beautiful, rugged Black Hills of South Dakota where the owner of a refuge for wild cats is being hunted like one of her animals. (Black Hills by Nora Roberts)

In Nanaimo, BC where wanna-be ladies' man Sherman Mack is looking into the secret of why some girls at his new high school end up as outcasts called the Defiled. (Getting The Girl by Susan Juby)


An Award!

The lovely virginiebarbeau has given me this award! Thank you so much!!

The rules for accepting it are:

1. Thank and link to the person that gave you the award.
2. Pass this award on to 15 bloggers you’ve recently discovered and whom you think are fantastic
3. Contact said Blogs to let them know they’ve won
4. State 7 Things about yourself

I don't think I have 15 new bloggers, but here are some:

The Little Reader

Not-Really-Southern Vamp Chick

Abby the Librarian


Reading Extensively

7 Things About Me:

1. When Curious George cries in a book, it makes me sad for the whole day and I occasionally cry myself. (Abby posted about a Curious George exhibit and it reminded me of that.)

2. I collect Christmas ornaments. It's getting a bit out of control and soon we'll need to have two trees.

3. In May, I'll have been married for 7 years. No itchiness yet!

4. I have a shameful addiction to reality TV.

5. I have a really hard time telling left from right.

6. I finally got over my lifelong fear and watched The Shining last year on Hallowe'en.

7. I'm going to be a matron-of-honour in April.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The I Like/I Don't Like meme

Raidergirl tagged me for this meme. It's pretty simple, yay, just fill in blanks after each bold word and tag 3 friends.

I like chocolate

I like buying cute clothes for my niece and nephew

I like books

I like Christmas

I like bubble baths

I like libraries

I like
my job

I like to travel

I like swanky hotels

I like
the Minnesota State Fair

I like musical theatre

I like
the colour pink

I love my husband

Today was
my only day off this weekend

I hate having diabetes

I hate
mean people

I hate people who talk loudly on cell phones in public

I hate
having to help people with the photocopier and printer

I hate the movie Taxi Driver

I hate not being able to sleep

I hate

I hate dishes with too much cilantro in them

I (secretly) like airline food (Raidergirl thought of it first, but I really do agree!)

I love
my parents

And I'm tagging:

Janssen at Everyday Reading

Rebecca at I'm Lost in Books

Valentina at Valentina's Room

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Finds

Click the image to tell MizB about the new books you found this week!

Caribousmom had this one in her Friday Finds last week:
Castles in the Air, The Restoration Adventures of Two Young Optimists and a Crumbling Old Mansion by Judy Corbett

I couldn't resist this one, a recommendation from LibraryThing.

Free for all: oddballs, geeks, and gangstas in the public library by Dan Borchert

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

Click the globe to tell Raidergirl where you are!

I'm at a cupcake bakery in Hog's Hollow, 300 miles away from Manhattan, with Penny Lane who is having to deal with divorcing parents, mean girls putting stuff in her locker, and a cute boy with a dog she keeps running into on the beach (The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler).

Monday, March 15, 2010

Review: Under Orders

Under Orders by Dick Francis
3 stars

Reasons for reading: Author You've Never Read for the 4 Month Challenge

Description: "It’s the third death on Cheltenham Gold Cup Day that really troubles super-sleuth Sid Halley. Former champion jockey Halley knows the perils of racing all too well – but in his day, jockeys didn’t usually reach the finishing line with three .38 rounds in the chest. But this is precisely how he finds jockey Huw Walker – who, only a few hours earlier, had won the coveted Triumph Hurdle.

Just moments before the gruesome discovery, Halley had been called upon by Lord Enstone to make discreet enquiries into why his horses appeared to be on a permanent losing streak. Are races being fixed? Are bookies taking a cut? And if so, are trainers and jockeys playing a dangerous game with stakes far higher than they realise?

Halley’s quest for answers draws him ever deeper into the darker side of the race game, in a life-or-death power play that will push him to his very limits – both professionally and personally."

First line: "Sadly, death at the races is not uncommon."

My thoughts:
I know more about horse-racing than I should, since I've never been to a race. But my years of adoring Jilly Cooper's books about the horsey set left me with some weird bits of knowledge about race courses, horses, jockeys and Dick Francis. Because it seemed like there was always someone sitting in a stable or around a scrubbed pine table reading a Dick Francis novel. So when this book popped up in the library booksale, I thought I'd give him a try.

And it was a pretty good read - Sid was a really interesting character, able to parlay his former jockey status into a career as a PI. When his utter determination to get to the truth in the face of danger collides with his concern for the woman he loves, he has some soul-searching to do. I didn't realize this was the second book about Sid, and I appreciated that I hadn't had to read the first one. His former father-in-law Charles is a great secondary character - a former Navy man who loves his scotch and still cares a great deal for the man who was married to his daughter. Marina, Sid's love interest, is intelligent, gorgeous, and feisty.

But I guess the who of the whodunnit (rare for me) if not quite the why. And while Booklist's review included this - "And Francis once again proves himself a master of detail, seamlessly incorporating fascinating facts about DNA technology, myoelectric hands, Internet gambling, and even stitches," I actually found that a bit annoying - I didn't find it all that seamless, it took me out of the story. To me it was as if he'd done his research, by gum, and he was going to use it. The stuff about Sid's prosthetic limb came in handy (ha!) later, but I think people today know enough generally about DNA testing to not need an in-depth explanation about it.

The verdict: Not earth-shattering, but there was enough suspense to keep me reading and even a part that made me gasp. I might pick up an earlier Francis thriller - another review said that longtime fans might find the plot of Under Orders familiar, so I'd like to see what one of his unfamiliar plots is like.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Finds

Click the image to tell MizB what you found this week!

The Motion of the Ocean: 1 Small Boat, 2 Average Lovers, and a Woman's Search for the Meaning of Wife by Janna Cawrse Esarey was recommended by Alyce at At Home With Books - it sounds like a cool travelogue/relationship memoir and it has a great title.

I was pleased to discover a new, non-series Alexander McCall Smith Book - La's Orchestra Saves the World at Page After Page.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
5 stars

Reasons for reading:
Have heard amazing things about it; Have been trying to get hold of it for a almost a year but it's too popular at the library; Young Adult Challenge

Description: "In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the other districts in line by forcing them to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight-to-the-death on live TV. One boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and sixteen are selected by lottery to play. The winner brings riches and favor tohis or her district. But that is nothing compared to what the Capitol wins: one more year of fearful compliance with its rule. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her impoverished district in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before — and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love."

First line: "When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold."

My thoughts: This book was crazy-good! It kept me up til 1am! I've enjoyed Collins' first two Gregor the Overlander books and I'm glad to see that she's extended her talent to young adult fiction.

The premise of the book is just staggering - a country that forces its people to send their children to be killed for the entertainment of others. It's actually Survivor! I was completely drawn into the world of Panem and this insane "game". Katniss is a complex character. She's smart and tough and fiercely loves her sister, but she has a lot of anger inside about her father's death, her mother's failure to look after her daughters, and the circumstances of her impoverished district. She's thrown into the national spotlight and doesn't know how to act - she's a gifted archer and hunter, but she doesn't really have the charm required to win over viewers. The fact that the contestants get a team of stylists before they're sent to their deaths says a lot to me about our society that's so obsessed with image and by what's in the media. Her handlers try to create an image for Katniss, but she's thrown for a loop when the boy from her district, Peeta, declares his love for her on TV. Is it strategy or is it true? Katniss has to deal with that along with two dozen people trying to kill her, all while the nation is forced to watch her (viewing is mandatory in Panem). She makes some very smart moves, but her wilful streak does not please the powers-that-be, which is where the book leaves off.

The verdict: Highly recommended. My hold for the sequel just came in and I can't wait to read it!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

3.75 stars

Reasons for reading: Have heard lots of great things about it; Mystery for the Four Month Challenge; Debut Gold Dagger Winner for Book Awards Challenge

Description: "It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.” "

First line: "It was as black in the closet as old blood."

My thoughts: This was quite the quirky book. I enjoyed it but have a bit of a nagging feeling about Flavia. Alan Bradley actually sums it up for me in an interview. He said, "People probably wonder, “What’s a 70-year-old-man doing writing about an 11-year-old-girl in 1950s England?" And I did wonder. I never quite felt like she was 11. He says he wanted to explore an unreliable narrator as well as the fact that people pay no attention to kids, so they let lots of information slip. And that worked well for the story. But I couldn't quite escape the feeling that there was an older man standing behind her directing her. I guess I never suspended disbelief enough to fully embrace her. She's a great character, don't get me wrong - fierce, intelligent, crafty, impetuous, occasionally vulnerable... But she felt very....crafted to me. (Well-crafted, though.)

But despite that, I think that Bradley writes very well and I quite liked his style, once I got used to the quirkiness. As you can see from the first line, he's got quite the ability to turn a phrase. The setting was really well done, particularly crumbling Buckshaw - the Georgian stately home with the ugly Victorian wings. And the village of Bishop's Lacey - I loved that the burned-down library had been re-located to an old garage and never moved again. (The library plays quite a large part in the story, so of course I enjoyed that!) While I don't know much about stamp-collecting, the philately angle certainly made for a different type of murder mystery. The sniping and pranks between Flavia and her sisters added some (often malicious) humour. But overall the de Luce family was really pretty sad - the father obsessed with his stamps, one sister obsessed with her appearance and one with books. And Flavia obsessed with chemistry. None of them really seemed to care much about each other and I sympathized with Flavia's feelings that no-one would miss her if she died. But I do hope it wasn't true, there did seem like there was a bit of hope for family togetherness at the end.

The verdict: I can see why it won the Debut Dagger and received such high praise. Maybe I'll read the sequel and get past my reservations about Flavia.

Also reviewed by:

It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

Click the globe to tell Raidergirl where you are!

I'm in Howbutker, Texas right after WWI where young Mary Toliver is struggling between her love for Somerset, her family's cotton plantation, and the love of timber empire heir Percy Warwick, who has loved her since they were children but who also would see Somerset out of Mary's control and planted with pine trees. (Roses by Leila Meachum)

I'm also in England with former jockey turned PI Sid Halley who is investigating a murder at the Cheltenham Racecourse during the one of the biggest horse-races of the year. (Under Orders by Dick Francis)

(image from

Monday, March 8, 2010

Review: Revelations

Revelations: a Blue Bloods Novel by Melissa de la Cruz
3 stars

Reasons for reading: Blue for the Colourful Reading Challenge; I'm interested enough in the series to see what happens

Description: "Schuyler Van Alen's blood legacy has just been called into question--is the young vampire in fact a Blue Blood, or is it the sinister Silver Blood that runs through her veins? As controversy swirls, Schuyler is left stranded in the Force household, trapped under the same roof as her cunning nemesis, Mimi Force, and her forbidden crush, Jack Force. When one of the Gates of Hell is breached by Silver Bloods in Rio de Janeiro, however, the Blue Bloods will need Schuyler on their side. The stakes are high; the battle is bloody . . . And in the end, one vampire's secret identity will be exposed in a revelation that shocks everyone."

My thoughts: I'm getting a bit of series fatigue with this one. It's getting hard to keep track of which "fallen angels" are related and how and they seem to keep introducing different ways of being born into vamp society, even though there are only supposed to be 400 of them, period. But I do still like de la Cruz's take on vampire lore, especially as it relates to New York's high society. I was getting really tired of bitchy Mimi, but by the end I understood her better and could see why she fights so hard for Jack. Random thought - I always see a very young Alexis Bledel when I think of Schuyler, it's kind of weird. I think I'll hang in there for the next book, The Van Alen Legacy, but I hope it's the last one, because it's getting pretty bogged down with a lot of different threads. I hope they come together and finish off the story.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Friday Finds

Click the image to tell MizB what you found!

Better late than never!

Eating Things on Sticks by Anne Fine
This is a new kids' book at my library. As a Minnesota State Fair addict, I could not resist this title!

Magnolia Wednesdays by Wendy Wax was highly recommended by Purplg8r.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

Click the globe to tell Raidergirl where you are!

I've just left Rio, where Leviathan, brother of Lucifer, has emerged from beneath Corcovado and all hell is literally breaking loose. (Revelations: a Blue Bloods novel by Melissa de la Cruz)

And I'm in the little English village of Bishop's Lacey in 1950 with 11 year-old Flavia de Luce, who discovered an almost-dead body in her stately home's cucumber patch and is determined to solve the mystery. (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.)