This Week’s Reading

The Rules of Love and Grammar: Mary Simes
Beauty and the Werewolf: Mercedes Lackey
When We Were Sisters: Emilie Richards

This Week’s Reading

The Darling Dahlias and the Silver Dollar Bush — Susan Wittig Albert
The Long Mars — Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
Otherwise Engaged — Amanda Quick
Frog Music — Emma Donoghue

This Week’s Reading

The Beginner’s Goodbye — Anne Tyler
Copper Beach — Jayne Ann Krentz
The Taste of Salt — Martha Southgate
The Best American Short Stories of 2011 — edited by Geraldine Brooks
Birds of Paradise — Diana Abu-Jaber

There were lots of great books in the New Books section at the library today. I had to leave (enough books for a while) before I had looked at all the ones that caught my eye. Next time, I guess.

Mini Book Review: State of Wonder

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett is accurately named. Having finished it, I find myself in a state of wonder at the way things all turned out. The phrase is also an apt metaphor for many of the characters’ states of mind throughout the book. I think I am left with more questions than answers at the end of this book. It is excellent, and I find myself liking it all the more for the lack of a ‘Guide to this Book’ that you find at the back of books so often nowadays.

I know the ‘Guides’ are there to make the book more desirable to book clubs (which the publishers of course wish to encourage — what seller doesn’t want to sell a dozen copies at a time?) but they (the ‘Guides’) often seem so simplistic — asking basic questions about the characters’ motivations and feelings. It reminds me too strongly of the essays I had to write in high school.

Somehow, when I find a book lacking a ‘Guide,’ particularly a book as incomprehensible as this one, the lack says, ‘I don’t need to tell someone how to read me, I can stand on my own, even if no one really understands what that means.’ It has a dignity all its own, beyond the explanatory questions.

This Week’s Reading

The Sherlockian — Graham Moore
Wife-In-Law — Haywood Smith
A Turn in the Road — Debbie Macomber
Lady of the Rivers — Philippa Gregory

Book Review: Seabiscuit

Seabiscuit and Charles S. Howard

Image via Wikipedia

I wasn’t going to read Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand. Something about the glossiness of the hardback edition, the size of it, perhaps its sheer presence, put me off. I never heard of it before it was made into a movie, and I tend not to read books that I find out about when they are made into movies. I distrust popular taste, especially in the form of a movie being made from a book. If it is such a good book, why didn’t I find it in the library or bookstore and read it before it became popular? Can it really be such a good book if I didn’t read a review of it or see it somewhere before it was popular?

But it is possible to be wrong, and I am here to tell you that I was wrong about Seabiscuit. It really is an incredibly good book. I found the paperback edition at the library book sale for 50 cents, and it seemed silly to pass up what everyone said was a very good book at that price. At that price, I figure, I’m not out much if I don’t like it.

And I opened the book, read a few pages, and was hooked. Ms. Hillenbrand spins sympathy for her characters almost out of thin air, fills the pages with tons of historical detail, and carries the gripping narrative along all the way. Who would think that an account of the automobile industry in San Francisco in the early years of the 20th century is page-turning material? Actually, my only disappointment with the book is that after making the reader care deeply about Charles Howard, owner of Seabiscuit, and his business in the first part of the book, nothing more is heard about any of that, except for Mr. Howard’s attitude towards Seabiscuit, after the other characters are introduced and we begin to follow Seabiscuit’s career. I can see that a definite editorial decision had to be made, and to talk about the auto industry any more would have been a distraction, but I am still disappointed.

I was sorry to reach the end of Seabiscuit’s career, and then the end of the book as we found out what happened to all the characters later, but I enjoyed every minute of reading it.

Five out of five stars!


Book Review: The Mystery of Grace

Cover of "The Mystery of Grace"

Cover of The Mystery of Grace

The Mystery of Grace is the first of Charles de Lint‘s books explicitly set in the American Southwest, as opposed to visiting the Southwest briefly in the course of the plot.

I enjoyed The Mystery of Grace very much, but I was disappointed that it was more a straight ghost story, dealing with the reasons a soul might be stuck here on Earth after dying. I was hoping that de Lint would include more of the spirit world he visits in his other books, particularly the Newford books, but with a Southwestern flair.

Instead, I got the feeling that The Mystery of Grace could be set anywhere, it just happened to be set somewhere where the streets are dry and dusty and the buildings mostly one story tall and made of adobe.

Aside from those quibbles, this is a good book and I enjoyed it very much. It asks some important questions such as, What does it mean to have unfinished business?; Why would someone choose not to move on to the afterlife when s/he died?; and How much love is too much?

To answer the last one, love becomes too much when it stops being love and becomes clinging, when desire becomes restraint, and innocent people are involved. Read the book to find out who is the one who loves too much.

Four out of five stars.

Friday Feature: Vintage Carolina

Today we are visiting with VintageCarolina.

1. How’d you get started on Etsy?
I opened my shop about 2 years ago. I sell vintage items and supplies in particular. I have lots of vintage laces and other sewing notions and trims. Many years ago I had a vintage clothing shop and got interested in vintage linens and laces so have collected for a long time.

2. What was your inspiration for your shop?
I have sold antiques on and off for years as I have always been a collector. If you collect you frequently change your focus or favorite items to collect so you are always destashing your old collections to help fund your new collections.

3. What’s your favorite shop item and why?
One of my favorite items is the collections of library card catalog cards that I sell. I was really fortunate to get ahold of these. I have always loved libraries and books in general.

Library Catalog Cards Vintage Ephemera for Card Making, Scrapbooking, Altered Art, Decoupage Collage Pack Supply 40I am also a big fan of the laces in my shop. I have been able to buy large bolts of most of these as they are old stock from factory warehouses. Makes them a good buy for anyone who does sewing.

4. How do you unwind when you’re not creating?
I just love to read. My hubby and I like to crab and catch shrimp. It’s great fun to bring it home and have fresh seafood for dinner!

5. What’s your favorite kind of cupcake?
Fresh coconut, can’t be beat!

6. What pushes you to want to create something?
I love to sew and make things from vintage linens. When I see something really clever I always think to myself, “I can make that!” and I don’t want to quit until I do!

7. What’s your favorite cartoon as a kid. As an adult, if you stumble upon it while channel surfing now would you stop & watch?
Now this is going to show my age…not cartoons but I loved to watch the “Little Rascals”. Today, that is considered politically incorrect but I would definitely love to see them again and hear Alfalfa sing to Darla, “The object of my affection, can change my complection from white to rosie red…”

8. What’s your fantasy job?
I would love to get paid to travel and write reviews of restaurants and tourist destinations. Now that is the perfect job, getting paid to eat good food!

9. Do you have a secret guilty pleasure?
A Mounds candy bar…the combination of coconut and dark chocolate, yum!

10. List 3 things you are so obsessed with it is torture to ever say no to.
I am an ephemera fiend! I love any and all old paper, illustrations and books. I can’t pass a box of old letters and books by.
I have never said no to a fresh coconut cake in my life and I never will, don’t care if I get as big as a barn.
Handmade lace and old linens, I have tons but I can’t quit buying it. I am amazed by the hours it took for some of these items to be created.

11. List 3 of your favorite Etsy shops.
SassyBelleWares – Sassy has been such a great supporter of new Etsy members that you just have to love her!
CarDon is a great jewelry supplier who has also been very supportive of other etsians.
FiberPuppy – love her handmade felted items, she does such beautiful work.

12. Do you have a favorite author? When you read, do you use a proper bookmark, bend the page, or grab anything handy to mark your place?
Can’t say that I have a favorite author but I do have some favorite books. Among those are: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith,
Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier and
Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter, I’m also a fan of Dickens. Most of the time I just grab up a mystery or detective story for a quick read.
I can never find a book mark so I just grab up whatever piece of paper is handy. I would absolutely never bend down a page corner, I love books too much.

13. If money was no object and you can live wherever you want….where would that be? Well, I feel pretty fortunate to have a home in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, hard to beat that. I will say that I have loved traveling in the south of France, I could enjoy living in a small French village, there is no bad food in France!
(gee, I’m beginning to notice a food theme in all my responses…)

14. What is your best childhood memory?
I had such a happy childhood. I particularly loved our family trips to Louisiana to visit relatives. Thinking back on my summers in the deep South, it is hard to explain what that was like in the 50s…a wonderful world, Dixieland.

Now I am Six: by A.A. Milne

When I was One,
I had just begun.

When I was Two,
I was nearly new.

When I was Three,
I was hardly me.

When I was Four,
I was not much more.

When I was Five,
I was just alive.

But now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever,
So I think I’ll be six for ever and ever.


A.A. Milne wrote the original Winnie-the-Pooh books, along with other books for children, including Now We Are Six, from which this poem comes. This poem was recently shared with me by a friend. It is so sweet I thought I would share it with you.

Book Review: The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay

The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay by Beverly Jensen is an excellent book. My only regret for this book is that Ms. Jensen has passed away and cannot write any more books, nor answer questions about this one.

My pressing question for Ms. Jensen is whether or not she based the characters on her own family and is answered by Wikipedia. The characters are so finely detailed and realistic that I really had no doubt, especially after realizing that 4 sisters in the book, the children of the main character, Idella, have names that match those of Ms. Jensen and her sisters.

Taking each story on its own, there is nothing much marvelous about it. But when you take the set of stories as a whole, watching the characters develop and grow and find out more about them and their lives, this book is nothing short of miraculous.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead.
The book opens in 1916 with the death of the sisters’, Idella and Avis, mother in childbirth. Actually, she dies after being given pills left by the doctor for afterbirth pains. When he arrives from town when she begins bleeding, he throws the pills in the stove. The women in attendance assume that he prescribed the wrong pills, but say nothing for fear her husband would kill the doctor. I wonder if he prescribed what he meant to prescribe, but it didn’t act either as it was supposed to or as advertised.

The death of their mother changes the sisters’ lives profoundly. Not so much in opportunities gained or lost, but in a permanent sense of loss, a dislocation in the world that reflects itself in their somewhat chaotic lives that follow.

Idella fares the best, perhaps because she was the oldest and had memories of her mother to sustain her. She marries in her twenties, to a steady provider, with whom she has four daughters. Eddie’s family may be a little crazy, he has his affairs through the years, but he is always there for Idella at the end of the day.

Avis has a much more complicated life, beginning with her very close relationship with her father, although she insists there was nothing wrong. She can never find a good, steady man, and goes through a series of terrible boyfriends, the worst of whom were the one who shot himself in front of her because she threatened to leave him, and the one who set her up as a prostitute and robbed her customers, until they were caught by the police and sent to jail. She spent two years there.

The men in the book are generally alcoholics and unreliable at best, dangerous and violent at worst. There are a few exceptions, but they are few and far between. Idella says,

Growing up, they just had wildflowers. … They were such wild things, they weren’t meant to be brought indoors.

That’s what the men were like, too. crude men who were not brought up right. Not the farmers who lived there and had families and such. They were nice enough men. It was the strays Dad hired, who showed up sudden and left that way. They didn’t even belong in a house. (pp 142-3)

But somehow, despite and because of these unreliable men (and it turns out the scary men aren’t just the strays), the women survive and grow stronger, able and ready to take on the world and whatever it gives them.

Five out of five stars.


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