Saturday, November 5, 2011

Heartwood by Belva Plain

Belva Plain was a fantastic writer.  Her first novel Evergreen (published in 1978) is an amazing saga that is one of the few books that I can read and re-read without being bored.  Her career continued to produce highly readable, highly enjoyable works of fiction.  They are the kind of books that you can get swept away in on a rainy afternoon.  I was saddened when I heard of Plain's death in 2010.  At the age of 95, she had lived a long, successful life.  I had figured that her novel, Crossroads (published in 2004) was her last.  That's why I was delightfully surprised to find Heartwood on the shelf of my local library this past week.
Heartwood was published posthumously in 2011.  It is the last of the Werner family books (the saga that began in Evergreen).  This novel focuses mostly on Iris and Theo Stern and their daughter Laura.  Really, it is Laura's story that is being told here.
This book was surprisingly short for me (used to Plain's deliciously long satisfying reads).  Some of the book seemed choppy.  It was as though the book may have been pieced together without actually being fully completed (though a complete story lays in its covers).  I wonder if Plain meant for this book to be published.  Perhaps it is a tale she began, but hadn't completely worked into its fullness.  There seemed to be a need for some filling in.  Then again, it could be just that she would have wrote it in her 90's which is a great accomplishment in itself.
Whatever the reason for the difference, this book does bring a conclusion to the Evergreen tale first began so many years ago.  I did enjoy it and I'm grateful for this last surprise offering from a beloved author.

*If you are new to Plain's work I highly reccomend the Werner saga to you.  The correct reading order for these books are:
  • Evergreen (1978)
  • Golden Cup (1986)
  • Tapestry (1988)
  • Harvest (1990)
  • Heartwood (2011)
**Crescent City (1984) is loosely related to this saga as a pre-saga novel.  I believe there may be another book that is loosely connected but I can't remember which one right now.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Steig Larsson

I finished it! And I couldn't stop reading it. Yes, I have joined the countless others who became so engrossed in the story of Lisbeth Salander, that I really hope that the legal battle involving Larsson's unfinished manuscripts are resolved so that his partner Eva Gabrielsson can complete and publish them. Once again, I say read these books, but read them in order, they don't make sense otherwise. This is the conclusion of the trilogy. Where Lisbeth's story is completed and her trial takes place. I think it was well written and enjoyable reading.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larsson

This is the second of the Millennium trilogy by Steig Larsson and the book where Lisbeth Salander really gets to you. In the way of, I need to keep reading this series and finds out what will happen to her. So much so that I immediately jumped into the third book of the series (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) and now that I'm reflecting on the second book, I want to make sure I don't mix up the story with the third. The continue on to each other quite nicely. Again, I feel as I must state that these books are graphic so if that turns your stomach, skip these books. But you are really missing out. These are great books. In this, the second book, you start to find out Lisbeth's past. Why was she placed into a psychiatric hospital at a young age? Why is she placed under guardianship, even though she is of age? The answers will shock you. The scope of the mystery widens in ways completely unexpected. And as for Mikel Bloomkvist? He's back too. And she doesn't want to have anything to do with him. That doesn't mean that he doesn't want to have anything to do with her. Of course none of this would make any sense if you haven't read the first book, so make sure you read them in order. And have the next one handy as you will want to keep reading.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Check 2 for books that have been out for a while that I haven't yet read conquered.  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the first of the Millennium Trilogy.  It is a crime thriller.  At first I was wondering what all they hype was about, then at about the 4th chapter, I couldn't put it down.   The main character Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist hired by Henrik Vanger to solve the 40 year old mystery of his niece's disappearance.  Interspersed in the story is the character of Lisbeth Salander, a genius hacker whose footsteps will lead her to assist Mikael in his journey.  What at first seems like an impossible cold case, twists and turns into unexpected places. It's highly addictive reading and I look forward to the next 2 books in the series.  I also would love to watch the movies that have been made from these books, both the Swedish versions (already released) and Hollywood (coming this Christmas).  One word of warning with this book is that there is scenes of graphic violence which I wasn't expecting going into the book.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I know, I know, I'm late on the draw with this one.  You know you are behind on your reading when the book you are reading already has a movie version out.  I beat the movie by about 2 weeks.  For those of you like me who haven't yet read this book and have just been hearing murmurs about it, here's a breakdown for you.  The Help is set in the early 1960's and features 3 main characters.  2 are black maids and one is part of the society that they serve in the southern US.  It is the story of unlikely friendship and a look into life from the Help's point of view.  I fall into the category of readers that just loved this book and cheered right along with the characters.  I was so hooked on it that I bought my mom a copy of the book for herself.  I look forward to watching it on the big screen, hopefully soon :)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews

This book made me glad I read A Complicated Kindness, purely because it led me to here.  I enjoyed this book so much more than A Complicated Kindness.  It was darkly funny.  The characters were well developed.  The story was interesting. The subject matter is heavy, but it isn't heavy to read.  It is written in such a way that you can find humour without making light of the topics.  It also has prompted me to dig out my copy of Little Miss Sunshine to watch again.  If you enjoyed that movie, you will like this book. 
This is the story of Hattie, 28, who returns home to Manitoba from Paris to help out her sister Min, (who is spiraling in depression) and her kids.  Hattie has just broken up with her French boyfriend and feeling a little lost herself.  Her fly by the seat of her pants plan starts with checking her sister into the psychiatric ward of the hospital and packing up the kids to search out their long lost father.  Thebes (12) is pretty much running the home.  She is trying to cling to any sort of order she can in her  world.  She is a fantastic character, one I won't soon forget.  Her brother Logan (15) has his own share of teen angst that makes sense as the story unfolds. 
I'm pleasantly surprised by this book and would recommend it to others.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

This book has been jumping off the shelves at me for the past 5 years at least. Every time I'm in a bookstore or at the library, it calls to me - read me Kris!  I've picked it up, looked it over and thought, really another Canadian book on the prairies?  Nope, not for me.  And put it back down again.  And then there it was again and again, flaunting it's Governor General award winner badge at me.  So finally I gave in.  Because I had such low expectations of this book (I really thought I wouldn't like it at all) I was surprised to find myself engrossed in the story.  I have since read reader reviews of the book and it seems to me that people either love it or get so bored with it they don't finish it.  I don't fit into either category.  I think the writing was good, but I really couldn't call it much of a plot lined story.  There was lots of missing pieces of information that you wanted to have and I still don't have them at the end of the book.  There's a lot of filling in the blanks to do.
This is the story of Nomi Nickel, a teenager growing up in a Mennonite small town community in rural Manitoba? (I had envisioned Saskatchewan until reading the author was from Manitoba).  You learn early on that Nomi lives with her father Ray.  Her mother and sister left separately 3 years before - though you don't learn the whys of those departures until much later in the book.  The community of East Village is controlled by Nomi's uncle nicknamed The Mouth.  The Mouth takes his religious doctrine to the extreme, quashing any notions of worldly influence.  This isn't too far fetched.  The story is set in 1982.  I, myself grew up in a community with a large Mennonite population and had friends who had certain restrictions regarding movies, music and dance.  The Mouth takes it too the extreme however and you learn that shunnings are commonplace.  Being a Christian myself (and a pastor's wife) I can see the bent theology clearly here and it is no wonder that Nomi's sister Tash, becomes disenchanted with the church, looking to atheism. 
The story is told through Nomi's eyes, a 16 year old stuck in depression really with no way out.  She kind of watches life, looking to her boyfriend, drugs and nostalgia for pleasure.
The gem of this book for me is her relationship with her father, Ray.  Ray is a solid fellow who is lost in his own unrealized bewilderment of where life has taken him. 
This is the kind of book I would be interested in discussing with other readers, particularly those who were raised Mennonite, or in a small town community.  You do at times wonder if the book's accolades are merely a reflection of our society's need to discount religion, or, if it really is a deep, meaningful book?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Elizabeth I by Margaret George

I absolutely love a new Margaret George book.   I've been waiting with eager anticipation for this one to come out.  What sets Margaret George apart from a lot of historical authors is her incredible research combined with fantastic writing skills.  The result is a historically accurate and highly readable novel.  Don't let the size of her books scare you off (this one is close to 700 pages).  What is inside is interesting reading.
This book begins in the later part of Elizabeth I's reign.  It is the time of the first Spanish Armada and continues until the end of her life.  The story of Lettice Knollys (a cousin and enemy of the Queen) is intertwined in juxtaposition.  This book is a departure from many recent writings of Queen Elizabeth.  George keeps her as the true Virgin Queen (where many others maintain that she was no virgin).  It shows her as a strong woman, a symbol of a time remembered as the Golden Age of England.  The secondary characters read as a who's who of the time (William Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, William Cecil, and even Guy Fawkes making an appearance among others).  I completely enjoyed this book and found it to be a good installment for her books of the era.  She previously authored tales of King Henry VIII (my favorite of her works) and Mary, Queen of Scots (also a fantastic read).   I look forward to her next offering and wonder which historical figure she will tackle next.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Riven by Jerry B. Jenkins

A friend of mine gave me a Facebook shout out when she finished this book a couple of weeks back.  She thought I would love it.  She was right.  This is a highly readable, interesting book.  The middle does get a bit depressing, but press on and finish it, it's worth it.
The story flips back and forth between Thomas, a pastor, and Brady, a kid from the wrong side of the tracks.  You know their paths will cross at some point, but it takes a good three quarters of the book to get there.  The good thing with Jenkins' writing is that you don't feel disoriented with the 2 stories being told simultaneously.  It's easy to follow both and you do care about both characters (which makes the book difficult to put down).  I don't want to say too much about the plot as I don't want to give anything away.  This one is definitely worth your time. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

Michelle Moran is an author whose work I have become a fan of during the past few years.  She is an author who I admire.  Her books are well researched and very well written.  (My husband asked what was wrong with me the other night and I told him that it was tough to transition from the middle of the French Revolution to The Big Bang Theory).  That's what is good about Moran's writing.  She brings you into history.  You feel as though you are there, part of what is happening.   That being said, this book should come with a warning - pay attention to the second part of this book's title "A Novel of the French Revolution".  The French Revolution was a particularly horrific, bloody time in history and this book does not spare the reader of the realism of that time period.  I was convinced I was going to have nightmares at one point, yet I was unable to put the book down.  That is saying a lot for me.  I don't like graphic violence so to be able to stay hooked in this one tells a lot about the writing of the book.
A great part of that was the main character Madame Tussaud herself.  She is a character I knew almost nothing about prior to reading.  I hear the name and I think of the wax museum in London.  Beyond that, nothing.  She has a very interesting perspective on the time of the French Revolution because she lived on both sides of it.  She was a commoner, friends with revolutionaries, and also tutored Princesse Elisabeth (sister of the King of France) in wax modelling.   Her salon and museum was popular and constantly changing, reflecting the news of the day.  Because she was so good at what she did, her work was in demand by the revolutionaries when it came time to make death masks of those they considered heroes and traitors to the cause. 
If you can handle the violence of the period, I recommend this book to you.  Madame Tussaud is a fascinating character of an unforgettable time in history.

Friday, May 13, 2011

If You Could See Me Now by Cecelia Ahearn

My 3rd novel by Ahern and I am getting the picture that you really have to suspend reality when you read one of her books.  This is the story of Elizabeth a control oriented person who is a care taker. She is the responsible one who looks after her alcoholic sister, her sister's son and her father.  She runs her own business as well.  Enter Ivan, a mysterious man who brings a little joy into her life.  This book was okay.  There were a lot of aspects to this book that would have make it more interesting to read. 


Things I would have liked to have seen in this novel
1) The actual conversation between Elizabeth and her father filling in the mysteries of the past
2) Elizabeth being able to say 'no' to her sister - to realise that being a caretaker is not a healthy way to be.
3) As the book went on, to see Elizabeth connecting more with Luke (her sister's son) - to build that relationship up

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Sight of the Stars by Belva Plain

This was Belva Plain's second to last book and exactly why I love reading her books.  It is a sweeping tale of a young man who starts out with nothing and makes himself into a success.  Throughout it all he remains humble.  Adam Arnring is first introduced at the age of 13 at the beginning of the 20th century.  He is the first son of the family.  His mother is a mystery to him, only having been told by his father that she passed away.  He lives with his father (a grocer), step-mother and 2 brothers.  As Adam grows up and comes to make his own way in the world you get caught up in his story.  The book spans his lifetime (though mostly focuses on the time from his early 20's to 40's).  I enjoyed this book a lot and am glad to have found it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Thanks for the Memories by Cecilia Ahern

This is the second novel I've read by Cecelia Ahern. The first was (of course) P.S. I Love You, which I can't get through without tearing up (nor the movie of the same name).  I wasn't sure what to expect by this one. Was it to be another tear jerker?  Some of it was.  But the most of it wasn't.  This story is about Joyce, who loses a baby to miscarriage at the beginning of the story.  Her miscarriage leads her to have a blood transfusion.  The events that follow are far-fetched and fairy-tale like.  If you can get past the improbability of it all, it's a fairly decent time passer.  It just depends if you like that kind of book or not.  I thought it was okay.  I'll try another one of her books in the future and give her another chance.

Crossroads by Belva Plain

I usually love getting lost in a Belva Plain book.  I read and re-read the Tapestry series several times (one of my favorites).  This was her last book.  She passed away this past October at the age of 95.  This one was published in 2004.  The amazing thing with Belva Plain's writing is that she wrote every novel in longhand.  She didn't own a computer.  This book wasn't her best, but it was still enjoyable. It follows 2 women from the same town in New England who are at 2 very different social levels.  Gwen is the very plain adopted daughter of the woman who owns THE company (the Glassworks) of the company town (I apologise for the terrible sentence there).  Jewel is a poor, but incredibly beautiful woman who works as a secretary of the Glassworks.  Their lives keep crossing over.  Both bear jealousies of the other.  Gwen longs for the beauty and confidence that Jewel bears.  Jewel wishes for the wealth and status of Gwen.  It was a nice read for a rainy day.
*Edit update - there has since been a Belva Plain novel published posthumously, Heartwood.  You can read my blog post on it here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Jerk, California by Jonathan Friesen

This one was recommended to me by a fellow teacher.  This is the story of Sam, an older teenager with Tourette's syndrome.  He is an introvert who has  suffered at the hands of his abusive step-father.  What follows is a true journey to discover where he really comes from and what potential he has to be released.  Jonathan Friesen (the author) also has Tourette's which made this book particularly insightful.  It is young adult fiction but a good read for young adults and adults alike.

Family Ties by Danielle Steel

This one was more typical Steel style.  It centres on Annie who in her 20's becomes guardian for her sister's 3 children.  The kids grow up and Annie finds herself at a crossroads having 'given up' her youth to raise the kids.  The kids are involved in different lifestyles and the problems that accompany them (abandonment issues, relationship abuse and cross-cultural issues).  It is what it is.  A time passer novel.

Big Girl by Danielle Steel

I could see what Steel was doing with this one before I even opened the book. Look at the cover art - very chick lit.  Her style was slightly different than normal for this one too.  It's a very clever way to build a new, younger audience.  This story centres on Victoria, a girl who never quite fit in with her perfect LA family.  She was always just a little too big, a little too intelligent and chose a career path in teaching that she loves but her parents disapprove on.  There is a journey of self-discover and healing for Victoria along the way, learning to love who she is separate from her family. 
It was an okay read.  I think if you want to read a really good book about a 'big girl' try Meg Cabot's Heather Wells books (Size 12 is Not Fat, Size 14 is Not Fat Either and Big Boned) or for true laughs read Jen Lancaster - she's fantastic!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Amazing Grace by Danielle Steel

It's books like this that I keep coming back to Danielle Steel.  Once in a while she writes one that I don't find to be so frivolous.  This one focuses on many characters who are faced with the tragedy of a big earthquake in San Francisco and the year that follows.
I have to say it was a bit disconcerting in timing to read this book.  I picked it up around the same time as the earthquake in Japan.  For that reason I will put a disclaimer that the effect of the destruction in this book seems a bit small in comparison to what such a large earthquake would actually face.
I also think that there were aspects to the story that could have been developed more.  I would have like to see a more natural progression in the relationship of Melanie and her mother Janet.  I also didn't find the relationship between Everett and Maggie to be completely realistic (but then again, I usually drop my sense of realism when I pick up a Steel novel).  I felt the ended wrapped up a bit too quickly.
The book overall kept my attention and was interesting to read.  I liked the characters and didn't find them to be too over the top, which I really appreciated from Steel.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Matters of the Heart by Danielle Steel

Okay guys I promise one more Danielle Steel after this one and I'll be back onto some more serious reading again.  This one was a bit different than her usual fare.  Sure it was still typical Steel writing (lots of repetitive writing, trademark phrases and impossibly good-looking, successful people...), but this had an element of serious horror to it.  It also had me thinking that she had recently read Eat, Pray, Love and was using the popularity of that book as a jump off for this one.
This is the story of Hope.  Hope is a successful photographer who is essentially alone.  For once Steel does not reveal all of her main subject's past at the beginning of the story.  It takes a few chapters before you know (although you suspect) what tragedies are in Hope's past. 
Hope meets Finn, an author.  She is swept up in a romance with him.  But Finn has a dark side.  A controlling side.  You do start to wonder why she doesn't just leave him already. But then again, I have also known women who have lived in abusive relationships.  I've seen how they are blinded by their abusers.  I guess Hope is representative of that.  I can't say I enjoyed this story.  But it did keep me enthralled (I wanted to see if she would have a breaking point).

Sunday, March 27, 2011

One Day at a Time by Danielle Steel

I know, I know I'm on a Danielle Steel kick right now, catching up on her books I've missed the past few years.  Here is another one in classic Steel style.  You know the whole story pretty much before it happens.  But it's good mindless reading.  I enjoy this kind of book once in a while.  This is the story of Coco, raised by a Hollywood Agent and a Romance Author, sister of a Movie Producer, living in a beach house in an extremely small beach community, making a living as a dog walker.
She meets Leslie, a big-time movie star and friend of her sisters.  She is housesitting and he is escaping from a questionable ex-girlfriend.  You can guess the rest of the story from there.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

Oh Jodi, what are you doing?  This had all the markings of what could have been an interesting really good book.  Unfortunately it was such a case of contradictions, choppy transitions and trying to do too much with one book.  From the cover description, I thought I was going to read a book about a music therapist.  That would have been a great book.  In fact the best parts of this book were the music therapy parts.
What the cover doesn't tell you is the rest of what the book is about, it's pretty vague.
You don't know that it is also about struggles with pregnancy *warning* DO NOT READ THIS BOOK IF YOU ARE PREGNANT OR TRYING TO BE PREGNANT - it will depress you and scare you*  You do not know that this book is about a marriage falling apart (although that part is glossed over so much it really isn't).  You do not know that this is a book about gay rights - which is funny because that is what most of the second half of the book focuses on.

Here are my problems with this book.
*SPOILERS BELOW - consider yourself warned*
1) the breakdown of Zoe and Max's marriage.  There was so little time on this that you kinda go 'huh?' - this in itself , the infertility and the marriage difficulties would have been a good book.  There was no mention of anything that really contributes to how it ended.  Just one day he was frustrated and left, the next thing you know it's months later and they are divorcing.  Come on, it's not that easy.  This is a nine year marriage we are talking about.
2) The book makes such a point of you are born gay, yet, Zoe who was as straight as they come, only ever being involved with men and never having a same sex attraction before jumps into a same sex relationship and then decides to marry the woman 3 months later.  That's a bit of a jump really.  Why then does the book make a point of anyone who is ex-gay must be wrong.  Why in the author's eyes is ex-gay not a possibility but ex-straight is?  Shouldn't it be a possibility both ways?
3) This book also makes a point of fighting lesbian stereotypes (ie not all butch biker chicks) but the one male gay character is a stereotypical wedding planner?  The Christian's are stereotypical gay-haters?  Come on.  If you are going to write a serious book that fights stereotypes then please fight all of them.   Show an equal view on all sides.
4) How blatantly anti-Christian this book is.  Dear Jodi Picoult: you have Christian readers in your fan-base.  Why would you do this?  The majority of Christians are not picketers and gay-bashers.  They are not a brainwashed cult.  Just as gays do not want a stereotype promoted, neither do the Christians.  The Westboro Baptist Church though it labels itself as Christian, is NOT!  Most Christian churches have denounced them and are not aligned with them.  Why would you lump them in?  Most pastors are not Southern larger than life in a big suit game show host types.  Yet the only pastors you meet in this book are.  I have never in my life heard a sermon like the one that was preached.  I can not think of a single pastor (and I know many personally) that would publicly name anybody in a sermon and denounce them.  Sunday morning services are a time of worship, to worship God.  The purpose of a sermon is to expound upon the Word of the Lord.  I have no idea where you would have gotten this idea.  But it is just wrong and inaccurate at best.  Also a new believer like Max would not be called upon like he was in this book to confront his ex-wife.  That's just terrible plot right there.  Standard pastoral practice would have counselled him along, not used him for any agenda.
5) The cutting the book back and forth from character to character did not work in this one.  It was just to choppy.  A more interesting book would have been just Zoe's perspective.  Or maybe just Zoe and Max.  It also made for poor character development.
6) Too many ideas in one book.  This book could have been 5 really good books instead of just one mediocre one.  Book One: Zoe and Max and their struggle in infertility and how it affected their marriage.  Book Two:  Zoe and her work as a music therapist  - there is a book that hasn't been written yet that would be fascinating.  Book Three:  Zoe and Vanessa and their struggles as a lesbian couple in Rhode Island, a state that doesn't recognize gay marriage.  Book Four: Max's alcoholism and recovery and how faith in Christ changed his life.  Book Five: The court battles and legality regarding custody of frozen embryos.

All this being said, I have faith that Jodi Picoult can write a good book.  She's done it before.  My favorite of hers was 19 Minutes.  That was excellent.  I think what has happened is that she has become so well known that she is probably contractually obligated to produce a novel every year or so and her writing is suffering for it.  I also think that because she is known to write on 'hot' topics she is trying to capture popular opinion instead of writing a really good book that takes all sides seriously.   I hope her writing picks up again.  She has talent, but it is being wasted with books that have so many problems like this one.

Rescue by Anita Shreve

Rescue is Anita Shreve's latest offering and fortunately falls into the category of books I really like by her (it's why I keep coming back to this author, for every passive, boring-ish story is one like this).  This is the story of Webster, a straight laced, small town medic in Vermont whose life is turned upside down by Sheila, an alcoholic he Rescues in a car accident one shift.  They have a whirlwind courtship and marriage that leaves him raising their toddler daughter Rowan on his own.  Fast forward 15 years and Rowan is a senior in high school, starting down her own dangerous path.  In desperation, Webster wonders if her should find Sheila to have her help their daughter. 
Well written and well worth reading.

Body Surfing by Anita Shreve

I wondered how I had missed this book.  I thought I had caught up on all of Anita Shreve's writing last year, but I was wrong.  Oddly enough like Danielle Steel, I find Shreve writes 2 kinds of books.  This one was the one I find a little boring.  You feel like you are observing but there isn't a lot going on, just undercurrents that there is more to the story that what is presented.
This story is about Sydney, hired to assist Julie, the youngest child of Mark and Anna Edwards, who at 18 is really not very bright.  Sydney is 29, a divorcee and a widow who lives from odd job to odd job.  The Edward's have Sydney live with them at their beach house for the summer.  It is the older 'children' the Jeff and Ben who have an affect of both Sydney and the family.
The most interesting part of this book to me is the house in which is takes place.  The house is its own character, this book marking its 4th appearance (previously in The Pilot's Wife, Fortune's Rocks and Sea Glass).

Southern Lights by Danielle Steel

I said in my previous post that Danielle Steel writes 2 kinds of book.  The first is the breezy one, the second kind you get a sense she put a little more work and research into.  This is the second kind.  This one is set in current day New York and South Carolina.  The lead character here is a DA working a conviction of a serial killer.  When her daughter receives threatening letters she sends her off to live with her father in South Carolina, the last place in the world she wants to be. 
Reading this book, I started to wonder a bit if someone in the US South really pissed Danielle Steel off at one point.  Or, was that just the character's experience?  Either way, I liked this one.  It was interesting to read, with characters that were likable.

A Good Woman by Danielle Steel

It's no secret that Danielle Steel novels are one mode of relaxation for myself.  They are an easy, breezy read.  I find her books come in 2 varieties. This one is of the predictable, repeats itself a lot kind.  It's easy to get into, has a strong female lead character.  You like her, you sympathize with her and you root for her.  In this book that character is Annabelle Worthington.  Born in the late 1800's she loses her father and brother in the sinking of the Titanic.  It becomes up to her to care for her mother and make a good life for herself without the men in their lives to take care of them. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Daughter of York by Anne Easter Smith

This is the 2nd offering from Anne Easter Smith (and my 3rd read of hers having read them out of order).  It is my favorite one of the 3.  Margaret of York is such a strong female historical figure that she makes for a fantastic story.  I can only imagine the work that went into this to weave fiction into history. 
Margaret of York is one of King Edward IV and Richard III's sisters.  She  became Duchess of Burgandy, marrying Charles the Bold at 22.  She ruled most of the Duchy as Charles set about conquering land.  She comes from an interesting (though bloody) time in history and is remembered as a great leader.  Good character, good story.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Saving Women's Hearts Blog Tour

 *The following post appears on my shared parenting blog Clever Mamas - Because I feel this is such an important book, I'm sharing the contest over here as well*

As part of our partnership with Mom Central Canada, I get sent items from time to time to review and share with you.  At the end of February I received a copy of "Saving Women's Hearts" a book written by women for women to raise awareness of heart disease in women.  One of the authors is a cardiologist specializing in cardiology for women and the other is a pharmacist and fitness instructor, dedicated to promoting a healthy lifestyle. 
So why this book?  Why is it important?  Heart disease is the number one killer of women in North America.  It is also one of the least researched and published areas in medicine.  Kinda scary in this day and age isn't it?  Did you know that heart disease presents differently in women than in men?  But until the 1990's most of the studies in heart disease were focused solely on men.  So what you know about heart attacks most likely describe a male heart attack, not a female one.
The authors include a quiz on heart health at the beginning of the book.  I was shocked and embarrassed about how little I actually know.  Fortunately this book is written in language that is easy to follow and understand.  Being a busy mom, I was worried about getting bogged down in some sort of scientific text.  This wasn't the case.  I could pick this one up and down as time permitted to gain a little bit more knowledge in this area.  This is a great book for any woman to have on her shelf.
Thanks to Mom Central we are giving away a copy of this book to one of our readers!  To enter, leave a comment telling why you would like to have a copy of this fabulous book.  Please leave your email address as well so I can contact you if your name is drawn.  The contest closes on Wednesday, March 9, 2011.

Disclosure - I am participating in the Saving Women’s Hearts program by Mom Central on behalf of Wiley Publishing.  I received a copy of the book to review and gift card as a thank you for my participation.  The opinions on this blog are my own.
*Because I feel this book is so important, I am running this contest concurrently on my shared parenting site - one winner will be drawn between both sites

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Once in a while I pick up a book and think, "This is what books should be like!"  Well written, an interesting story, not patronizing, true to character and situation...this was one of those books.  Seriously, one of the best books I've read recently.  I had no pre-conceived notions about this book coming in.  It was simply a book that looked interesting to me.  The book centres around Asha, a girl given up for adoption secretly in India.  She is adopted by a couple of doctors in America (the mother a Californian-American, the father and Indian immigrant whose family is still in India).  The story is more than just Asha's.  It is also Kavita's, her birth mother grieving her first born also a girl, taken from her at birth to infantcide.  It is also about Jasu, her biological father who knows naught what happened to this daughter (he is under the impression that she died shortly after birth).  It also tells Somer's story, Asha's adoptive mother who isn't quite happy with the way her life turned out.  She doesn't connect to her husband's heritage and homeland.  Krishan, Asha's adoptive father is torn between his love of living the American dream and his memories of his Indian upbringing.
The story is told in year clips, skipping 5 years here and there, so you get glimpses rather than a full unfolding.  In the middle of all of this is Asha, wondering about her birth parents.  Wanting to be more like her school peers and wanting to know her home culture.  I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Winner of Michelle Moran's New Book - Madame Tussaud!

The winner of Michelle Moran's New Book - randomly drawn this morning was:
#21 - Cindi!
Congratulations!  Thanks to everyone who entered!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The King's Grace by Anne Easter Smith

This is the second book I've read by Anne Easter Smith.  I'm enjoying the era that she writes in.  This book centres on Grace Plantaganet, the bastard daughter of Edward of York.  It is right after Henry Tudor has come to the throne.  Grace is brought to ex-queen Elizabeth's care to live with her and her daughters.  The book spans over 10 years and shows how fragile the new Tudor reign was.
I enjoyed this one.  It introduced a character that I had never heard about before.  In fact the author found only one reference to her in her research.  She notes that it gave her a chance to tell the story from a new angle.  Because Grace is a non-important historical figure she gets a lot more artistic license with her.  The other interesting part of the story centres on the mystery of the Princes in the Tower and what may or may not have happened to them. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

This is the 6th in the line of Shopaholic Books.  The first one (Confessions of a Shopaholic) made me laugh out loud.  This one had me smile at points but...I guess was hoping Becky would have matured a little.  In a way Becky reminds me a bit of the Rachel character on Friends.  The difference is is that Rachel grew up and evolved as a character as the show went on.  Becky is still the same as she was in the first book. 

The reason I laughed out loud with the first book is simple, it was fresh and funny.  The idea was new.  Now that we are on book 6, it's more of the same.  It's fine for an afternoon of light reading.  It falls into the category of what a friend of mine once described as a "nice, fluffy book".

Incidentally, Sophie Kinsella has set Becky up quite nicely for a book 7.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kaffe Fassett's Country Garden Quilts

I know this is a different selection for me.  This past summer I purchased my first sewing machine and have been enjoying my creative side through little projects (see my crafty blog Crafty Kris here).  The more interested I have become in sewing, the more I've been reading blogs and sites created by crafters and quilters.  Inevitably, I've come to the conclusion that my next project will be my first real quilt (I did make a baby quilt using a quilting kit in the fall, but this will be one of my own creation).  I know I need to know more about quilting to make it look good.  The name Kaffe Fassett kept coming up over and over again in the fabric circles.  He is a textile artist that creates beautiful fabric.  This book features quilts inspired by his 2008 collection.  The 20 quilts are beautifully photographed in a traditional English garden, complementing each other perfectly.  This was a great book for me to pick up and read.  Each quilt has a description by the artist that designed it.  A number of the quilts were quilted twice in different fabrics.  I really liked this.  It shows how the same design can change depending on the mood of the fabrics.  I don't think I'll attempt any of these at this point, but I like knowing I could.  The patterns are well presented with templates at the back of the book and labeled accordingly to difficulty.  One day I would like to think that I could create one similar to the Economy Blue Patch Quilt (Liza Prior Lucy, designer), but not yet.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

I had great hopes for this book.  It was one of those books that "popped" out at me in the book store.  It seemed to be highly rated and reviewed so I was glad to read it.  It is set during the second world war and focuses on three women, Iris a small town postmistress, Emma a doctor's wife and Frankie a war correspondent.  It was not what I was expecting at all.  It just kept plodding along and plodding along.  There were many parts that I enjoyed and thought were really well done and interesting, but they left me kinda wishing that that was the story, not just part of the story (Will's delivering of Maggie's baby, Frankie's interviewing across Europe...).  It's one of those books where there's more going on than you see on the surface, but unfortunately in this book it translates to okay-ness as opposed to greatness.  I'd recommend this to some people, but it's not for everyone.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

I got this book from the library and was worried knowing I only had it for 3 weeks and I wouldn't be able to re-new it as it is an in demand book.  It's very thick.  I shouldn't have worried, it only took me 3 days to read.  Probably because I couldn't put it down.  I loved it.  I think it is a highly readable tale.  Don't be intimidated by the size of it and the large cast of characters, it's easy to follow.  This is the first of a trilogy that will span the 20th Century.  This one is set in the time before, during and slightly after the first world war.  I have to admit that it had me brushing up on my knowledge of that war. 
One thing I like about Ken Follett's writing is that it is believable.  You would think he had actually been in a Welsh Coal Mine a the beginning of the century.  He absolutely captures it.  In the same way, he also able to capture high society London, lower class St. Petersburg and trench warfare.
He is also the first author whose writing of battle scenes I was able to read properly.  Usually, I can't follow them and skim read those parts.
I made the mistake of looking at the Amazon reviews of this book before writing this post (a classic blogger mistake) .  I was fully expecting to see a lot of 4-5 star reviews of this one.  I was wrong.  Amazon has it rated as a 3 star book.  There aren't many 3 star ratings though, it's almost equally split between 5 star ratings and 1 star ratings.  I think the problem Ken Follett has is that he has already published his masterpiece (Pillars of the Earth).  Once you have published a book that good, that is what people will inevitably compare future works to.  Pillars of the Earth is brilliant, there's no doubt about it.  This book still has brilliant writing in it.  It's just a different book.  You have to go into it realizing that.  It's a completely different era, completely different cast, completely different story.  It's still very good.  I look forward to the next 2 books in this trilogy. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Guest Post by Michelle Moran, author of the upcoming book: Madame Tussaud!

I'm very excited to have Michelle Moran guest post for Bookworm Kristen!  The following tells of her new book, Madame Tussaud, due out on February 15th.  Don't forget to enter my giveaway to win a copy of this fabulous new book!  You can enter here.



When most people hear the name Madame Tussaud, the first thing that comes to mind are the eerily lifelike waxworks which crowd her museums throughout the world. But who was the woman behind the name, and what was she like in the flesh?

Madame Tussaud’s story actually began in 18th century Paris. While most people know her from her famous museum in London, it was in France, on the humble Boulevard du Temple, where Marie first got her start as an apprentice in her uncle’s wax museum, the Salon de Cire. At the time, the Boulevard du Temple was crowded with exhibits of every kind. For just a few sous a passerby might attend the opera, watch a puppet show, or visit Henri Charles’ mystifying exhibition The Invisible Girl. The Boulevard was a difficult place to distinguish yourself as an artist, but as Marie’s talent grew for both sculpting and public relations, the Salon de Cire became one of the most popular attractions around. Suddenly, no one could compete with Marie or her uncle for ingenious publicity stunts, and when the royal family supposedly visited their museum, this only solidified what most showmen in Paris already knew — the Salon was an exhibition to watch out for.

But as the Salon’s popularity grew, so did the unusual requests. Noblemen came asking for wax sculptures of their mistresses, women wanted models of their newborn infants, and – most importantly – the king’s sister herself wanted Marie to come to Versailles to be her wax tutor. While this was, in many ways, a dream come true for Marie, it was also a dangerous time to be associated with the royal family. Men like Robespierre, Marat, and Desmoulins were meeting at Marie’s house to discuss the future of the monarchy, and when the Revolution began, Marie found herself in a precarious position. Ultimately, she was given a choice by France’s new leaders: to preserve the famous victims of Madame Guillotine in wax, or be guillotined herself.

Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution is the story of Marie’s life during one of the most tumultuous times in human history. Her survival was nothing less than astonishing, and how she survived makes for what I hope is a compelling read.

Check out Michelle's blog at

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Win Michelle Moran's New Book - Madame Tussaud!

I'm so happy to team up once again with historical author Michelle Moran!  Her new book Madame Tussaud debuts in mid-February and I'm happy to host a giveaway for this book.  This is Michelle Moran's 4th offering and if it is anything like the first three it will be absolutely delightful to read!

I've found her writing to be both historically accurate and highly readable (a great combination).  She has a great sense of story.  Madame Tussaud is only familiar to me in terms of the wax museums.  I would not have thought to look for the story there, but of course there is one.  Here is the product description from Amazon:

The world knows Madame Tussaud as a wax artist extraordinaire . . . but who was this woman who became one of the most famous sculptresses of all time? In these pages, her tumultuous and amazing story comes to life as only Michelle Moran can tell it. The year is 1788, and a revolution is about to begin.

Smart and ambitious, Marie Tussaud has learned the secrets of wax sculpting by working alongside her uncle in their celebrated wax museum, the Salon de Cire. From her popular model of the American ambassador, Thomas Jefferson, to her tableau of the royal family at dinner, Marie’s museum provides Parisians with the very latest news on fashion, gossip, and even politics. Her customers hail from every walk of life, yet her greatest dream is to attract the attention of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI; their stamp of approval on her work could catapult her and her museum to the fame and riches she desires. After months of anticipation, Marie learns that the royal family is willing to come and see their likenesses. When they finally arrive, the king’s sister is so impressed that she requests Marie’s presence at Versailles as a royal tutor in wax sculpting. It is a request Marie knows she cannot refuse—even if it means time away
from her beloved Salon and her increasingly dear friend, Henri Charles.

As Marie gets to know her pupil, Princesse √Člisabeth, she also becomes acquainted with the king and queen, who introduce her to the glamorous life at court. From lavish parties with more delicacies than she’s ever seen to rooms filled with candles lit only once before being discarded, Marie steps into a world entirely different from her home on the Boulevard du Temple, where people are selling their teeth in order to put food on the table.

Meanwhile, many resent the vast separation between rich and poor. In salons and caf√©s across Paris, people like Camille Desmoulins, Jean-Paul Marat, and Maximilien Robespierre are lashing out against the monarchy. Soon, there’s whispered talk of revolution. . . . Will Marie be able to hold on to both the love of her life and her
friendship with the royal family as France approaches civil war? And more important, will she be able to fulfill the demands of powerful revolutionaries who ask that she make the death masks of beheaded aristocrats, some of whom she knows?

Spanning five years, from the budding revolution to the Reign of Terror,
Madame Tussaud brings us into the world of an incredible heroine whose talent for wax modeling saved her life and preserved the faces of a vanished kingdom.

I'm intrigued!  How about you?  To win a signed hardcover copy of this book plus a bonus prize of pair of Marie Antoinette cupcake earrings all you need to do is leave a comment below.  Couldn't be easier!  I will be drawing a name at random on February, 22nd.
*Please leave an email address as a way to get in touch with you, should your name be drawn

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A first?

For the first time in recent memory I am quitting a book part-way through.  The book is Furious Love, the story of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.  I really thought I'd enjoy this one.  I usually love biographies.  Unfortunately, this one is just not well written and edited.  It's a jumble.  The authors contradict themselves often and repeat information frequently.  I would love to read this story if it was written well.  There is a good story here.  I much preferred Ginger Rogers biography that I read last year.  That was a highly readable tale of someone living in the Golden Era of Hollywood.  Maybe if one day, Elizabeth Taylor decides to tell her story as an autobiography it will be more readable.  For now, I'm putting this one back on the shelves.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Beyond Tuesday Morning by Karen Kingsbury

Honestly, the best book I've read by Karen Kingsbury.  Forget the 'coincidence' that seems really unrealistic - this is fiction people, this is just a really good book to read.  It sets itself 3 years after 9/11 - revisiting Jamie Bryan who we first met in One Tuesday Morning.  A 9/11 widow, she devotes her time between caring for her daughter Sierra and volunteering at St. Paul's chapel, across from Ground Zero.  This book really focuses on the healing process of grief.  I think it was well written and have no problem recommending it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I know, I'm so late on the draw on this one, but the truth is, I had no interest in reading this whatsoever when it came out.  I'm embarrassed to admit it was the movie previews last year that sparked my interest in it.  Well, I won't be watching the movie.  I should have stayed with my first feeling.  At first, I thought, can I really be the only person who doesn't love this book?  But I checked and sure enough the Amazon ratings are full of people who didn't love this book, so it's not just me. 
Here's my take on it.  I think of it like moving to Toronto was for me.  Not something I ever thought I'd do.  There are aspects of it that are enjoyable, but for the most part I prefer something else. 
The book is divided into 3 parts.  I wish her actual descriptions of life in Italy had started much sooner, because when she got into it, I enjoyed it.  I could relate.  It inspired me to think, I'd really like to go to Italy.  She wrote interesting descriptions of the different cities, and the food!  I particularly enjoyed her description of the beauty of Roman men and the attitude of Rome among other cities.  If the whole of the book had been like this, she would have had me. 
Unfortunately, it wasn't.
I found the second part when she was in India offensive to most religions.  I think if you are going to write about religion then at least have some sort of understanding of them.  Her theology is so self-centered it's irritating.
The third part about her life in Indonesia was mildly entertaining, but the ending was so opposite of her intent that it was laughable.
Overall I found so much of the book to be self-indulgent and self-serving.  It was almost as if she is looking for validation in her selfishness.  I don't get it.  I know people who get it and love it, but I think there are so many better books out there that write about a year or a time of travel that I wouldn't recommend anyone waste their time on this one.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy

Here was one of my Christmas treats this year, courtesy of my brother.  What better way to ring in the New Year than curling up on the couch with a new offering from Maeve Binchy.  Sitting down with a Maeve Binchy book is like catching up with an old friend, full of gossip.  Once I realised that this story was set on St. Jarlath's Crescent, it was like old home week.  Most of the cast of characters have been seen in previous books, so you feel like you know them already.  I particularly like reading about Maud and Simon, the twins, who we first met as children but are now full grown adults. 
The story kind of meanders around baby Frankie, and who will care for her best.  It deviates from this plot with little asides as you learn more about what is going on in this part of Dublin.  An enjoyable read for those who have read her books in the past and are hungry for more.