Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - 10 Books that Were Hard to Read

Today's Top Ten Tuesday Topic from The Broke and The Bookish is the top ten books that were hard to read for whatever reason.  Here's my 10:

1.  The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom - Let me start off by saying I love this book.  I recommend to just about everyone and make myself reread it periodically to remind myself about what is truly good with humanity and religion.  The hard part was these people are real and they're so good good and kind and you know what's going to happen to them.  There were times I had to stop because I just couldn't take anymore in one sitting.

2.  The Diary of Anne Frank -  I had a similar reaction to this book that I had to The Hiding Place.  You forget sometimes what's going to happen because Anne is such a normal girl and then you remember and it's absolutely heart wrenching.

3.  Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery - I've read this book several times and it's always been one of my favorites partly because the setting - World War 1 Canada - is so unusual.  There have always been parts I've cried during because if you can stay dry-eyed during some of the Dog Monday parts I'm pretty sure you have no heart.  However, this most recent time I sobbed throughout the entire book.  I think age-wise I identified so much with Anne and Gilbert who were sending their children off to war.

4.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - This wasn't hard to read but during the first night in the arena I had to make myself keep reading.  There were characters I really liked and I knew bad things were going to happen and I just didn't want them too.

5.  Passenger to Frankfurt by Agatha Christie - This is just hard to read.  There's 9000 characters and the plot is a jumbled mess.

6.  Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth - I actually have read this recent and enjoyed it but the first time I barely made it through.  It's so much dryer than her other books I just had a hard time getting through it.

7.  Come Home to Me by Brenda Novak - This book had pretty much every book pet peeve rolled into 1 book.  There was a secret child, a potential accidental pregnancy, a guy whose a jerk to the female MC and bunches of TSTL (to stupid to live) characters.  The only reason I made it through is because Novak is a great storyteller.

8.  Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers - I wanted to love this one so much.  I wanted to be swept up in Mary Poppins magic.  But I just wasn't.  Mary was kind of mean and the stories seemed a little random.  I think I would've liked it better if I had lower expectations.

9.  My Life in France by Julia Child -  I don't like Julia.  Like really really don't like  her.  The food stuff was interesting and she was a pioneer in legitimizing the home cook but if she said one more thing about how close minded someone was I was going to throw the book at the wall.  It felt like she complained about everyone.  I wanted to tell her that maybe she was the problem.

10. This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips - There was 1 scene towards the beginning that I just couldn't get past.  It ends up getting laughed off but the female lead basically rapes the guy and it's just put down as typical Molly rebellion.  I really liked the rest of the book and the characters together but I had a hard time getting past the beginning.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Life is Sweet - Review

Life is Sweet by Elizabeth Bass

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Source:  NetGalley

Description:  3 years ago Becca Hudson threw a dart on a map and landed in Leesburg, Virginia.  Now 1 ex-husband, a successful cupcake shop and 2 best friends later she's still there.  The last thing she wants is more complications or more reminders of her previous life as a TV child star.  Except suddenly with the introduction of a 10 year old girl, the girl's kind of babysitter and an elderly man with a mysterious past life is definitely long past simple.

Genre: Fiction/Romance

Why I Picked This Book:  The cover just about jumped out and grabbed me and I liked the premise.  The finding your purpose stories tend to grab me.
My Impression:
Pros:  I liked a lot about this book.  Becca, Matthew and Olivia are all nice yet flawed characters.  Olivia comes across as a 10 year old girl.  She's not always logical, she sometimes gets sulky but she's not bratty.  She's an interesting character.  Becca annoyed me at first because she was so annoyed anytime anyone mentioned her TV career but I think you gradually see why that is.  Matthew's a sweet guy who is doing his best and trying to do what he thinks is right.  I thought Walt was an interesting character and while I did guess the twist fairly early it was fun to see it unravel.  The pacing was good and I never felt like the story was dragging even when I didn't like what was going on in the plot.

Cons:  Unfortunately, there was also quite a bit that didn't work for me in this book.  I had a really difficult time being okay that Matthew was in a relationship while he and Becca are realizing their feelings for each other.  There isn't even a real hint of cheating and it's very obvious from the beginning that Matthew's relationship isn't as it should be.  That being said it just didn't sit well with me - a personal pet peeve I guess.  While I liked Pam and Erin at the beginning and end of the book they were pretty awful in the middle of the story.  They definitely fit the saying with friends like these who needs enemies.  At around the 70% mark the story kind of took a left turn and a lot happened.  It fit with the story but it just seemed like a lot crammed into the last 30%.  I wish the book could have been split up a little differently.

Overall:  While there were some aspects of the story that didn't quite sit with me I did really enjoy reading it.  Bass's characters feel very well developed and this was always a book I wanted to pick up and find out what was going to happen next.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Yes definitely!

Would I Recommend this Book?:  Yes though with a few reservations.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

This Week in Reading - September 28

It's Sunday so time for The Sunday Post hosted by the amazing Kimba at Caffeinated Book Reviewer.  It's a chance to talk about what's going on in blog world and out as well as what we picked up this week!

What I Got:

Fairy Homes and Gardens by Barbara E. Ashley Rooney
I think most people who know me would be surprised since I'm not particularly whimsical but I love fairy gardens.  I fully intend to make it a hobby when I have more time for hobbies!  This looks like a really fun book to page through.

Forbidden Ground by Karen Harper
As we get closer to Fall I find myself reaching more and more to mysteries and this romantic suspense sounds fun.

Teardrop Lane by Emily March
I really enjoyed the previous book in this serious that I read and really enjoyed the characters that this book will focus on.

At Home with Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott
This sounds like it may be what I wanted How to Be a Parisian Wherever You Are to be.  It's supposed to be full of tips to be stylish and have a happy relaxing home.  We'll see.


Reading: Louise's Blunder by Sarah R. Shaber which I'm really enjoying so far.  It's a mystery set in World War 2 Washington DC with a dash of espionage.  Also, a biography about Coco Chanel called Mademoiselle by Rhonada K. Garelick which I'm not enjoying nearly as much.  It's not bad just not flowing as well as I would like.  And of course, Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie.

Listening:  Finishing up Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland which I have absolutely fallen in love with.  Next up is Sleeping Beauty and Other Classic Stories by Jacob Grimm followed by The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister.

Watching:  Not as much as I wanted to especially of the new releases.  I have NCIS: New Orleans and How to Get Away With Murder on my DVR but haven't had time to watch them yet.  I did watch the new Big Bang Theory which I enjoyed even though I'm not really loving Penny's hair.  We're still watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and I'm still watching CSI: New York which I'm enjoying.  I had forgotten what a good job they had done with Danny and Lindsay's relationship.  It's enough to be interesting but not enough to distract from the show.  I did watch Sleepy Hollow which I loved last season but it's been off air so long I had kind of forgotten about it.  I really enjoyed the premier for that one. Can't wait to see where they go this season!

Off the Blog:

This has been kind of a crap week.  Nothing particularly awful just one little stress after another leaving me frazzled and short tempered. Thinking about digging up a favorite book and trying to do a mood reboot since obviously being frazzled and short tempered doesn't really help any situation.

Paul has been working at McDonald's for almost a year now and seems to have finally burned out on the food.  We decided to try and recreate his old favorites from there in a homemade version.  This week was Big Macs which turned out really amazingly good.  Not sure what we're going to do next.  It's his birthday this week and we're going to do our usual going to dinner at his choice and then cake and presents.  He's always been the worst about getting me a list of actual things he wants for his birthday but this year I threatened to give him an all llama birthday if he didn't.  Years ago he got spit on by a llama at a petting zoo and has never quite forgiven them.  The threat worked though I did find a little llama figurine to give him just for fun.

Other than that not much going on.  Eleanor's still enjoying her classes and working at a bookstore,  She even was here for dinner one night this week since she had to be in town for an appointment before heading back to college.  Emma still shows up at home every once in awhile for about 5 minutes before she breezes out.  We're still waiting for acceptance letters from the colleges she applied too.  Logically I know there won't be any problems but illogically I still worry.  The Tornado is still loving school and being tornado-y.

On the Blog:

This Past Week:

Tuesday:  My Top Ten books on my Fall TBR and what I'm going to do with my print books
Saturday:  Ovenly - Cookbook Review or the reason I'm going to have start buying clothes in a larger side.

Coming Up:

Monday: Life is Sweet - Review (and one of my favorite covers)
Tuesday: Top Ten Tuesday - Ten Books that were hard to read
Wednesday: Louise's Blunder - a World War 2 era mystery - Review
Thursday:  Mademoiselle - a biography of Coco Chanel - Review
Friday: Linkups with whatever book I'm reading 
Saturday: Link up with Trish at Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity for this month's cookbook

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ovenly - Cookbook Review

Ovenly: Sweet and Salty Recipes from New York's Creative Bakery by Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin

I love cookbooks.  One of my favorite ways to relax is to put a TV show on and sit back with a new cookbook and a pack of Post-It tabs tagging the recipes I want to try.  If I had Ovenly in a hard copy it would be bristling with tabs.

Baking books can be kind of repetitive.  Cookies, bar cookies, breakfast muffins, quick breads and maybe yeast breads.  There isn't a huge difference in recipes.  This is not the case with Ovenly.  Flipping through the book the chapter titles are pretty similar to any baking book -  Quick Breads and Coffee Cakes, Muffins, Cookies and Shortbreads, Pies and Tarts, Brownies and Bars and Cakes and Cupcakes.  There's a chapter on scones and bar snacks which are a little different than the norm which is kind of the first hint that this isn't your ordinary baking book.

The flavor combinations throughout the book are tantalizing - Strawberry Basil Loaf Bread, Salted Apple Bread, Bourbon Chocolate Chip Cookies with Tarragon, Caramel Bacon Hot Tarts, Nectarine, Blueberry and Vanilla Bean Tarts and Black Chocolate Stoutcake with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Butter Cream and their famous Bloody Mary Scones.  How can you not want to make these?  I liked that they recipes look unique but not so odd that I couldn't imagine making them.  These are flavor combinations that I never would have thought of but not flavor combinations that I can't imagine.  Once I've imagined them it's hard not to run to the grocery store to pick up any necessary ingredients with my mouth watering.  The majority of the recipes are sweet but there are some savory muffins, scones and breads and a quiche or two.  While the recipes are definitely unique I think for the most part they're not so out there that my non-adventurous family wouldn't be willing to try them.

There are several recipes that are illustrated by step by step picture instructions which is really useful for finicky things like scones and pie crust.  There are also a decent number of finished product pictures. There are so many yummy recipes I had a hard time deciding which one I wanted to test.  I decided to go with the buttery shortbread for 3 reasons - 1. I like shortbread, 2. It calls for 4 ingredients all of which I had, 3. The very simplicity of the recipe is a good test of all the recipes.  You can hide a recipe that isn't amazing when it has 9 different spices but it's a lot more difficult when the main ingredients are butter and flour.

The results: Amazing!  So good I can't believe I made this kind of amazing.  I ended up eating half the pan in one sitting and then immediately taking the rest to my mother's just to get it out of my house.

Conclusion:  I will be buying this book - possibly as soon as it's released.  If you enjoy baking and like experimenting I think you should buy it too.  Now I can't wait to try the scones!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Linkups: Poirot Investigates

It's Friday which means I'm joining up with Book Blogger Hop hosted by Coffee Addicted Writer, Book Beginnings on Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader, and the Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice.

This Week's Question:
How will reading be in 100 years time?  Will there be printed books?  How about ereaders?  What might they look like?

My Answer:
I have a hard time believing that books will go away completely.  They may become more like artwork versus just a functional item but there are sensory advantages with books that can't be replicated.  As for ereaders I think they'll continue to go the way they're going now - thinner, lighter, better memory, better battery life.  I'm hoping in 100 years they'll have figured out a better way work with illustrated books!

This week's book:
I'd gotten distracted from reading Agatha Christie by a few library books but it feels great to be back to Poirot and Hastings with this 3rd book in the Poirot series - Poirot Investigates.  This is a short story collection that contains 14 of Poirot's most interesting cases.  From what I can tell this was originally published all together instead of short stories published separately in magazines or newspapers and then put together.

The Beginning from "The Adventure of "The Western Star"":
"I was standing at the window of Poirot's rooms looking idly on the street below.
"That's queer," I ejaculated suddenly beneath my breath."

The 56 from page 56 of my paperback from the story "The Adventure of the Cheap Flat":
"To me, the waiting appeared endless.  I was terrified of going to sleep.  Just when it seemed to me that I had been there about eight hours - and had, as I found out afterwards, in reality been exactly one hour and twenty minutes - a faint scratching sound came to my ears."

So would you keep reading?  If you're an Agatha beginner this kind of short story collection is a great way to get to know the characters without getting Poirot-ed out.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Haunting of Hill House - The Project

*Doing an in-depth look at Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House was inspired by Angela's always fascinating Project Disney over at Angela's Anxious Life which in turn was inspired by a similar project at Picture Us Reading

My fascination with Shirley Jackson began 20 years or so ago when my Grandmother bought a biography of the author on a trip we were on.  I had read "The Lottery" in school though I don't think at the time I really got the full impact of the story itself., so the name was familiar to me.  If I remember correctly I had finished all the books I had brought and ended up reading this one and entered into Shirley Jackson's brilliant and tragic life.  In addition to a number of short stories Jackson also has a lighter book about life with her children, Life Among the Savages, that gives you a little peak at Jackson's private life.

But now for The Haunting of Hill House -

It's a short book, less than 200 pages, and really not a lot happens.  The premise is simple.  A professor with an interest in the super-natural decides to do a study to see how a group of people respond to a "genuinely haunted house".  Hill House suits his needs not because of the stories people tell but because no one says anything about it yet for years no one has lived in the house for more than a day or two.  Dr. Montague ends up with 2 subjects.  First there is Eleanor Vance - a woman in her early 30s who has given most of her adult life to caring for her demanding invalid mother and now lives with her demanding sister and sister's husband.  She is desperate for a life, for an adventure, for any taste of happiness.  On the opposite end of the spectrum is Theodora. Theodora of only one name who lives only for happiness, adventure and amusement.   With Dr. Montague and the 2 women is Luke who is a representative of the family who owns Hill House and is basically part gambler, part con-man and all charm.

If you're looking for a true horror book this probably isn't what you're looking for.  There's no overwhelming moments of pure terror.  There's not many scenes that are over the top terror.  What there is is a slow gradual build of fear with a handful of really beautifully make you never ever want to put your hand over the side of the bed creepy scenes thrown in.  This is a book that I always wonder why people say it's so scary and then I realize I'm reading the last 20 pages almost without breathing.  This isn't the book that will have you covering your eyes or trying not to scream.  This is the book that will suddenly jump into your head when you wake up for no reason at 2 in the morning and think that just maybe you heard something in the dark.

If you can get an audio version of this book I highly recommend you do.  While I had read the book before I really didn't get the humor in the book until I listened to the audio version.  I'm not suggesting it suddenly turns into a slapstick but you really get some of Jackson's dry wit coming through in the dialogue when it's read.  I actually giggled a couple of times - especially when Eleanor basically mocks Mrs. Dudley's warnings about no one being able to hear you scream.  The one I listened to was performed by David Warner and while I didn't love how he did the women's voices he did do a beautiful job of balancing sarcasm and fear.

So after the listening and the rereading it was movie time!  There's 2 movie adaptations.  Both called The Haunting.  One is from 1963 and the other from 1999.

The Haunting (1963)
The Good:  Of the two movies this holds truer to the book.  We get a lot of Nell's thoughts in voice overs which is more in character with the book.  The creepiness is done right.  It's more about what you can't see than what you can.  I also thought that Russ Tamblyn was fantastic as Luke and loved his references to the property value of the house.  It brought a little of the sly humor that's in the book into the movie.

The Bad:  There was an element of romance played up between Nell and Dr. Markway (as Dr. Montague is in this movie) that jarred.  I could see why it was does from a plot perspective but it was so out of character for both of them that it annoyed me.  I didn't care for the casting of Mrs. Dudley as Rosalie Crutchley.  While Mrs. Dudley has one of the most well known lines in the book/movie I didn't think Rosalie had the necessary dourness to really do justice to them.

The Haunting (1999)
The Good: The casting is actually remarkably good.  Catherine Zeta-Jones is as lovely and exotic and maddening as Theodora is supposed to be.  Lili Taylor does a fabulous job as the somewhat plain and worn down Eleanor.  The rather striking and elegant Marian Seldes definitely captures the correct foreboding tone of Mrs. Dudley.  The actual setting of Hill House is good to.  The rooms are over the top uncomfortably large with a plethora of carvings.  The atmosphere is definitely done right.

The Bad:  Then the movie starts actually happening and that's where it goes off the rails a bit.  While the first part isn't particularly awful it isn't particularly interesting either.  I was okay that they changed the premise of why the characters were in the house but the whole plot took a left turn into the rather cliche stuff jumping out of you scares.  Then we lost the road all together and the end bore very little resemblance to the actual book.

The Ugly: The special effects are bad.  Very very bad.  I know that computer animation has come along way since 1999 but this was just bad.  I'm pretty sure the special effects in the 1963 version were better.

Overall:  I'm not sure why Dr. Montague's name was changed in both movies (Markway in 63 and Marrow in 99) but that's not really a big deal.  The 1963 movie is a fun spooky movie and I really enjoyed watching that one.  The 1999 version not so much.  In both movies Hill House itself isn't able to be quite the character that it is in the book so I think you lose a little of the impact of the story. While the 63 movie is definitely enjoyable I think to get the really true feel of the book you should definitely try the audio.

And so Hill House has stood for 80 years and will stand for 80 more.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Source: NetGalley

Description:  When the headmistress Mrs. Plackett and her freeloading brother Mr. Godding drop dead after a bit of veal the young ladies of St. Etheldreda's decide that they really don't want to leave their school and each other.  The only way to make that happen is to hide the deaths and keep on as nothing happened.  This of course is easier said than done as there financial issues to solve, doctors, ministers and choir leaders to fool, and 2 rather dead bodies to hide.

Genre: Children's

Why I Picked This Book:  I've been enjoying this genre of books and this story sounded fun.
My Impression:
Pros:  This book reminded me a bit of A Series of Unfortunate Events with exaggerated but almost one note characters, grim and dismal settings and of course a series of rather unfortunate events.  The girls themselves were interesting as they dealt with the situation that had happened to them as well as the one they created.  The difference in their personalities were definitely apparent but entertaining and each girl kind of had her shining moment where you really liked them.  It was nice to see an ensemble cast of girls each be intelligent or gifted their own way. I was interested to see how everything unraveled and how everything resolved. I found the ending satisfying and fitting.

Cons:  This book was too long.  I enjoyed it but it definitely drug a bit in the middle. I think there were just too many obstacles between the surprise party and the strawberry social that were a bit unnecessary.

Overall: I think if you liked The Series of Unfortunate Events you'll like this book.  It was an entertaining read though I think it would be better broken up by reading a chapter at a time versus straight through.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Yes.  I'll definitely try another by Julie Berry

Would I Recommend this Book?:  Yes. I think if you enjoy middle grade fiction you would enjoy this one though it's not one I'd say you have to go out and buy immediately!