Frog Music: Mini Book Review

This is a mini book review of Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue, because I never got past page 81. It felt like we were going round and round in circles and never getting anywhere. It was a murder mystery (of a true historical crime) that opens with the murder, and yet by page 81, we (the protagonist and by extension, the reader) still had no more thoughts or ideas than on page 2 or so. I couldn’t bear to keep reading — there were words on the page (on page after page after page) but nothing happened.

Blog Note: I know many readers are expecting another installment of Emily this afternoon, but I have run fresh out of ideas for that story. Hopefully next week, but not until further notice.

Book Review: The Third Hill North of Town

The Third Hill North of Town, by Noah Bly, sucks you in very quickly with its dark humor and laugh-out-loud moments, even in the midst of tragedy. Julianna Dapper is a middle-aged woman in Bangor, Maine, with a lovely home, a good job, and a good life. One day, her mind snaps, she thinks she is fifteen again, and she sets fire to her neighbor’s garage for no apparent reason. Placed in the state mental hospital, she palms her medication and feeds it to an African violet at the nurses’ station. Left unsupervised for a moment one Saturday morning in June, she waltzes right out of the hospital, into the director’s car (keys conveniently left in the ignition), and she’s off, heading home to Pawnee, Missouri.

She manages to kidnap (almost accidentally) an African-American teenager, Elijah, in the next town over, and picks up another, hitchhiking teenager a while after that. The boys quickly realize that all is not right with her, and tragedy piles upon tragedy as they careen their way across the country.

But these tragedies are minor compared to the huge tragedy that lies at the center of Julianna’s life, a night of blood and fire that has all the answers. And in a tense scene back at the scene of the tragedy that started it all in Pawnee, as all the people hunting these accidental fugitives converge on them (among them Elijah’s parents, the director of the Maine state mental hospital, Julianna’s son, and police from two states), we find out about the terrible night that began it all.

This is Noah Bly’s debut novel, and it is amazing. If this is how he writes a first novel, I can’t wait until he’s been writing for a few more years.

Five out of five stars. Intense.

Book Review: Cinnamon and Gunpowder

I recently finished Cinnamon and Gunpowder: A Novel by Eli Brown. I highly recommend it, although I doubt everyone would enjoy it.

Snatched at gunpoint from England by pirates (after they murder his employer), Owen Wedgwood is forced to cook every Sunday for the pirates’ swashbuckling female leader, or forfeit his life. Producing mouthwatering meals with very few supplies, Owen hates the pirates and their leader with a passion. But as time goes on, he learns that they are actually trying to break the slave trade and the opium trade with which Britain enchains China. The pirates gradually gain his sympathy, and Owen finds himself helping them rather than trying to escape. Eventually Owen learns that true heroes come in unexpected packages, and good does not follow money.

I really enjoyed this fast-paced book, but if you do not like suspending your disbelief about the way the world ought to be (in science, history, and perhaps philosophically) then this is not the book for you. There are fantastical scientific inventions, and impossible events wound throughout true events and historical happenings. A modern Jules Verne, Eli Brown is definitely an author to watch.

Five out of five stars.

Book Review: A Different Sun

A Different Sun by Elaine Neil Orr is about a young girl growing up in Georgia in the 1840s, Emma Davis, daughter of a plantation owner, who turns her distaste for the institution of slavery into a desire to be a missionary. She marries a former Texas calvaryman who runs a Christian mission in Africa, in what will later be called Nigeria, in the land of the Yoruba people. Both Emma and her husband, Rev. Henry Bowman, mistake zeal and desire for ability. Rev. Bowman is plagued by an unidentified malaise (probably malaria, but not necessarily) that affects his ability to be a good pastor and husband. Emma must cope with this in a land where she is an outsider.

I was puzzled several times by the realistic style of the book — more historical than fiction. At the end of the book, the historical note explained that the novel had been inspired by the journal of a real-life woman who married an African missionary in the mid-nineteenth century. I would have liked that note to be at the beginning — it would have explained why the book did not always seem like a work of fiction (it turns out that Ms. Orr quoted the actual journal several times throughout the book).

Overall, I liked the book very much. It was interesting and held my attention through several plot turns. I liked the occasional perspective changes so we can see the world through Rev. Bowman’s eyes and the eyes of Jacob, servant of Rev. Bowman.

Five out of five stars.

Update on This Week’s Reading (with mini book reviews)

..think the opposite

..think the opposite (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It turns out that two of the books I was planning to read this week are complete busts and I won’t be finishing them. They are:
A Royal Pain — Megan Mulry and
Foal Play — Kathryn O’Sullivan

Foal Play wasn’t too bad, but the writing was less than captivating, and I found the plot to be too complicated. Within the first thirty pages or so, we discover that the main character (the female town fire chief) is in a sort-of relationship with the (male) sheriff; a sleazy developer is deliberately lighting fires so he can make passes at her; her former schoolteacher is antagonizing everyone in town, to the point that someone blows up her (the teacher’s) home and she is presumed dead when the fire chief finds a woman’s body in the kitchen; and … I gave up there, it was all just too improbable.

A Royal Pain was pretty good (for a typical romantic pot-boiler), right up to the point that the author likened the female MC getting her hand patted by a man to a young horse filly being broken to the saddle. Um, yeah. That was the end of my reading that book.

Also this week, I read Keeping Watch by Laurie R. King (didn’t make it onto the reading list) which was fantastic although very intense, particularly the backstory set in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. I’m trying to decide if I want to review it or not.

Mini Book Review: Instructions for a Heatwave & The Orchardist

I just finished two good books, Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell and The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin. Oddly, however, they both had unsatisfying endings, leaving me wanting more.

Instructions for a Heatwave follows an Irish family living in England in 1973. It begins the morning the husband goes out for the morning newspaper and doesn’t return. His disappearance and its aftermath forces his grown children and their mother to confront the secrets they have been hiding for their entire lives. It was very, very good, but the ending comes abruptly, and left me wanting more — to find out what happened next.

The Orchardist is also excellent, although a very different book. Set in the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth in central Washington state, it is about a a man who lives alone in his apple and apricot orchard and what happens after he allows two runaway pregnant teenage girls to stay on his property. Hunted by a man who would take them back to his brothel, they are desperate not to return there. A powerful book, the ending was somehow unsatisfying and seemed a little hurried. I wish the author had expanded a little bit on what happened to the main characters after the main part of the story was over.

All in all, I enjoyed these two books very much. Four out of five stars for both of them.

Book Review: The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society

Darien Church Doors

Photo credit: Larry Myhre

I just finished this book, The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society, by Darien Gee. I really, really enjoyed it. It’s my new favorite book, at least until I read another good one. :)

I’m really bad at remembering where I read something, so you’ll just have to bear with me when I tell you I read something recently, but I can’t remember where. (If you know the source, leave it in the comments. Thanks.) It was all about how people should read quality books, books that make you think, and reading anything else was pure escapism, and therefore not to be read. I’ve been told that before, that I’m reading for escapism, and I really ought to be reading better books. Oddly, anyone who tells me that always has very precise ideas about what makes a good book, and what doesn’t. Really, I think the claim of escapism is just a way for people to say, “You ought to be reading the books I agree with and think are good, and no others.”

One of the most memorable people to tell me this was my 9th grade English teacher. Completely focused on the young adult fiction I was reading several of every day, and the science fiction books by Arthur C. Clarke I was reading a few every week or so, she told me I was reading purely for escapism and needed to read better books, real literature. The thing is, I was also reading The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (a page or two at a time, it took me almost the whole school year to get through), and her (the teacher’s) idea of literature was Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale. I don’t know if you think Margaret Atwood writes literature or not, but Dostoyevsky is most definitely literature.

Anyway, this most recent thing I read about escapism made me think, because all the books the author cited as examples were written at least 100 years ago. And you know, some older books are literature, but just because it’s newer doesn’t mean it’s not literature. And this author was fixated on romance novels not being literature, and while that may be true for some romance novels, it isn’t true for all. And if romance makes it not literature, what are we doing teaching Shakespeare as literature? Half his oeuvre is romance.

The debate about literature versus non-literature is as old as writing fiction. Lately, though,  a lot of the things I have been reading about escapism and non-literature being read seem to be aimed at women and novels by, for, and about women. I’m coming to think that this is a subtle form of sexism — if it’s by and about women, it must not be a good book — it must not be worthy of someone’s time. I’ve written about this before, but it’s really starting to annoy me.

I never used to consider myself a feminist, for a lot of complicated reasons I’m not going to go into right now. But the older I get (I’m much too young to be using that phrase, but I can’t think of a better one) the more I think I probably am one. It seems to me that women are not treated the same as men in a lot of (at this time and in the US) really subtle ways that are really hard to put your finger on. And I have a hard time seeing how The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society, with its discussions of dementia, family and what makes a family, adoption, love, and more, is any less literature than an overwrought play about two teenagers who thought the world revolved around them.

You should read The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society. It’s good. And I promise not to care if you read it just to read a good book, or if you analyze it deeply.

Five out of five stars.

Book Review: Readings from Readings 2

Readings from Readings 2: New Writing from Malaysia, Singapore and Beyond is a new collection of short stories from Asia, mostly Malaysia. Born from a live reading series in Malaysia, these stories and poems ring with life and wisdom. Every story was compelling. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next, and for some of them, I am still wishing I knew what happened after the story was over.

Will Thangamma and Cik Rohayu prevail over the uncaring teachers in Lighting the Darkness? Will Rani succeed in carving a new life for herself, or will she be pushed down by Mrs. Kandiah in Rani Taxis Away? I will never know how they fare, nor will I know what happens next to Ah Chui or the old fishermen. A fate many readers can sympathize, but the characters in this book were especially compelling, unusually so for short story characters, which are often quickly and hastily drawn.

As someone who does not speak Malay, there were a few parts of the book I missed out on. I am sorry for it and wish there was a translation. But that is a small quibble, especially since this book was written for people in Malaysia.

Four out of five stars.

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book to review.

Bonus! Friday Feature plus Book Review: Winter Gardens

I just finished reading a fantastic gardening book, The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, by Niki Jabbour. I wish I had had this book years ago — it answers my most pressing garden questions and solves my problems. How can I extend my gardening season? (Answer: Read the book) Why do my root crops not make harvestable roots? (Answer: Too much nitrogen in the soil — I knew I had high nitrogen soil but not that it would make beets and sweet potatoes produce foliage & no tubers.) I am so excited for next year so I can get started on my year-round vegetable garden (it’s too late this year). And I also discovered that Ms. Jabbour has a blog companion to the book, The Year Round Veggie Gardener.

Besides tons of useful information, the book is chock-full of beautiful photographs, many of them of garden greens being harvested in the snow. The combination of green and white is stunning, and I was inspired to create an Etsy treasury of lovely green and white items from the Etsy DTeam.

‘Winter Gardening’ by lizbethsgarden

Leaves in the snow of the winter garden.

Teacher Gift. Gift …


Green Christmas orn…


Tribal acai earring…


Kimono clutch chevr…


Lime Green Polka Do…


Pearl and Leaf Earr…


Green Glass Decante…


Homemade Play Dough…


Fleabane -Small Dai…


Wire Wrapped ‘V…


Knitting Project Ba…


Crochet Summer Sun …


Custom Boutique Pet…


Clearance–Wool Fel…


Ceramic Keepsake Bo…


Whimsical Watermelo…


Treasury tool supported by the dog house

Book Review: Annie’s Special Day

Note: Usually, I receive no compensation for my book reviews — the books come from the library or I purchase them. However, for this book review, I accepted a free review copy. This book review is part of a blog tour promoted by Lightning Book Promotions.

Read to the bottom of the post to enter to win a copy of Annie’s Special Day!

Annie’s Special Day, by Clara Bowman-Jahn, is a very special book. Sweetly illustrated, it follows Annie throughout her birthday, showing all the special things that happen to Annie, from her brother playing a birthday song to planting tulips with her mom, to her slumber party with her friends that night. A different clock is shown on each page, marking off the hours and helping kids learn to tell time.

I liked it very much, especially the different clocks. The little girl I read it to also liked it very much, asking for it to be read over and over.

Five out of five stars.

A note about the book & blog tour:

Everyone knows the importance of reading in a young child’s life. Clara understand this importance and that is why she has asked her publisher to donate one copy of Annie’s Special Day for every copy sold during Annie’s Special Day blog tour to Kids Need To Read at Help make a child’s life brighter with a book!
Let’s support kids and reading!
Last but not least, the Giveaway!
Click here to enter the giveaway for a copy of Annie’s Special Day.
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