Friday, December 31, 2010

The End of 2010

I just finished reading Entertainment Weekly's Best and Worst of 2010 issue. It was an eye opener.
2010 Best Movies….haven't seen one of them.
2010 Best TV shows….don't watch any of those either.
2010 Best Music CD's…don’t own one of them and only recognized one artist name (Kanye West).
2010 Best non-fiction books…haven't read one although four were familiar titles.
2010 Best fiction books….haven't read ANY and only recognized ONE (!) title (Room).
2010 Best Stage shows….oh please, did I even need to type the heading? Zero, zip, nada.
2010 Best games….my best showing, I've played Angry Birds on the iPad.

I didn’t realize how completely unhip I am. I'm socially illiterate.

I may not have fared well compared to the general population but I was pretty happy with just myself for completing the bulk of the challenges I entered this year.

First off, and always a little bit tricky (darn that X!) is the A-Z Reading Challenge - this one I finished.

Next is Women Unbound, I never actually set a goal for this one but I would still call it a success, I think I met the minimum requirements with a few extra.

The Audiobook Challenge is a piece of cake other than my neglecting to add them to the list and link them up! This one is complete with about 25 audiobooks listened to this year.

The Year of the Historical challenge was a wash. The Historical fiction book club lost it's steam and so did I. I only read 4 of the 12.

I ended on an almost bang by completing the Holiday Reading Challenge - but I haven't written any of the posts so although complete it's not a resounding success.

I had in the back of my mind all year to sign up for the What's In a Name? challenge. Of course, it never happened but I still love this challenge and want to see if I could have done it...
1.A book with a food in the title: Yes, Dark Tort
2.A book with a body of water in the title: Yes! Green River Running Red
3.A book with a title (queen, president) in the title: Yes! The Queen's Mistake
4.A book with a plant in the title: Yes, again! The Bean Trees
5.A book with a place name (city, country) in the title: Yes, again! The New York, Regional Mormons ...
6.A book with a music term in the title: Nooooooo! So close! Next year, for sure.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Nantucket Nights by Elin Hilderbrand

From Goodreads: For 20 years, Kayla, Antoinette, and Val have performed their own special summer ritual. Once a year, the old friends put aside their daily, separate lives to drink champagne, swap stories, and swim naked under the Nantucket stars. This time though, one of them swims out from the shore and doesn't return. After the surviving friends emerge from their grief, they realize that the repercussions of their loss go far beyond their little circle, and they begin to uncover layers of secrets, and their connections to each other, that were never revealed on the beach. What has made their friendship strong now has the power to destroy their marriages, families-and even themselves.

Well, 2010 when out with a whimper reading-wise. This was the last book I read in 2010 and it was a dud. There is not a single character in this book who had my sympathies, Hilerbrand gave them all more flaws than redeeming qualities. The plot was inventive enough to keep me reading to figure it all out but at the same time, much of it was so unbelievable that I didn't really enjoy it. And the ending? Oh my, what a train wreck. I enjoyed The Island (would link here to a review if I had written one!) and I have two others of hers in my TBR pile, I think this was an anomaly and am still looking forward to the other books she has written.

Millie's Fling by Jill Mansell

From Goodreads: He's the best thing that ever happened to her. He's also the worst. He's Millie's Fling.From one of the premiere contemporary authors in the UK, here is a fun and romantic tale that proves the road to matchmaking hilarity is paved with good intentions.Bestselling novelist Orla Hart owes her life to her friend Millie Brady, whose rotten boyfriend has just left her. So Orla invites Millie to Cornwall, where Millie looks forward to a summer without any dating whatsoever. But Orla envisions Millie as the heroine of her next novel and decides to find Millie the man of her dreams. Except the two women have drastically different ideas about what kind of guy that should be. With Orla and Millie working at cross-purposes, and a dashing but bewildered hero stuck in the middle, the summer will turn out to be unforgettable for all concerned.

The absolutely perfect first book for my e-reader. It just seems like reading in the dark on an electronic device, you ought to read something light and fun and this was. Jill Mansell does her chick lit job well; the dialogue was so witty I laughed out loud at times. You know I kind of turn my nose up a little bit at authors of this genre but in reality, you have to have smarts to create sharp, witty, entertaining characters. But, in the chick lit tradition, the story was easy enough to follow that I could read a bit, go to bed, and the next night have no trouble picking it back up and falling right back in. I was able to download this one for no cost at Kindle but now when I go back now, it is $7.99. I haven't figured out how this all works yet but I know I was happy to get my first book free, I was happy my first book was funny and easy to read, and I was just. so. happy. with it all - what a good Christmas present!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

From the Amazon product description: When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt, only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers--with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another. The girls move to Elspeth's flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building's other residents. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Marjike, Martin's devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth's elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt's neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including--perhaps--their aunt, who can't seem to leave her old apartment and life behind.

This book just sucked me right in and I looked forward to getting into the car each day and returning to the story. I liked the characters with all their English eccentricities and American quirks. I liked how the relationships developed and how the story unfolded. The "big twist" was always a possibility in the back of my mind and that feeling of dread waiting for it to happen just seemed to go along well with the creepy feeling of the whole ghostly situation. I think I had two big advantages going in - 1.) I haven’t read The Time Traveler's Wife so I wasn't weighed down by huge expectations from that hit and 2.) I listened to this on audio narrated by Bianca Amato, who had a lovely voice with a great set of accents to bring the characters to life. The ending was a mix for me, some characters were left up in the air so that was unsatisfying. Others, though, were dealt with in ways so unexpected but delightful that it all kind of balanced out.

This book counts toward the 2010 Audiobook Challenge hosted by the bloggers over at Royal Reviews. Click on the button to see my progress.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Light on Snow by Anita Shreve

From Goodreads: Walking in the snow near their New Hampshire home, a father and daughter come upon an abandoned infant, wrapped in a bloody towel. For the father, this chance discovery reopens a wound: Two years before, he had lost his wife and toddler daughter in a car crash. Now the chance finding of the baby places him on a winding path toward healing.

Anita Shreve is usually a sure bet for me, there have been a few duds but I find most of her books compelling, I want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens. This would fall more in the compelling category than in the dud category but it wasn't a flat out hit. I appreciated the trauma that affected all the characters but there was so much pain amongst them all that it just weighed me down. It felt like there wasn't anything but their pain, that one dimensional characterization just didn't make them very interesting. The plot - the loss, finding the baby and all that follows are really interesting story lines, but the people just weren't very likable and that makes the story less engaging for me.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday started by Marcia at The Printed Page is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks & audio books do). This month Mailbox Monday is being hosted by Let Them Read Books. Stop by there to check out everyone else's mailboxes. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.

I received a handful of books over the last month or so from Library Thing Early Reviewers program and Goodreads First Reads. Here they are and next I'll be working on getting posts up!

"When the sun goes down on my life, you'll all come apart like ripped balloons." The wealthy Leon Farrell spoke those words to his three children before he passed, but, as always, he underestimated them. While his oldest, Edgar, does seem to be falling apart at the seams, Shirley and Gunther are doing just fine.

Shunned by their father after the death of their mother while they were still children, the younger Farrell siblings worked their way through college and into successful careers. Shirley handles PR on board cruise ships and Gunther has built a computer software company that's growing by leaps and bounds. Their oldest brother, Edgar, is the only one that seems to be struggling in the wake of his father's death. It's not that he misses their father, he misses the inheritance that he's sure is coming to him.

In his final thumbing of the nose at his kids, Leon died without telling anyone where his will was, including his attorney of over 20 years. Pressed for money to pay off gambling debts, Edgar hires private investigator, Carson Montgomery, to locate the missing document.

From the Amazon product description: Helen Fairchild is leading a privileged Pasadena existence: married to a pillar of the community; raising a water polo-playing son destined for the most select high school; volunteering her time on the most fashionable committees. It only bothers Helen a tiny bit the she has never quite fit in with the proper Pasadena crowd, never finished that graduate degree in Classics, and never had that second baby. But the rigid rules of society in Pasadena appeal to Helen, the daughter of Oregon "fiber artists," even if she'll never be on the inside. And then along comes a Rose Parade float, killing her philandering husband and leaving Helen broke, out of her "forever' house and scrambling to salvage her once-rarefied existence. Enter Dr. Patrick O'Neill, noted archaeologist, excavator of Troy and wearer of nubby sweaters. A job as Dr. O'Neill's research assistant is the lifeline Helen needs to reinvent herself, both personally and professionally. Ancient mysteries to solve! Charity events to plan! School admissions advisors to charm! If Helen wasn't so distracted by her incredibly attractive boss, she might be able to pull off this new life. Helen's world widens to include a Hollywood star, a local gossip columnist, an old college nemesis, a high-powered Neutron Mom, an unforgiving school headmistress , the best Armenian real state agent in the biz, and, of course, the intriguing Patrick O'Neill. While uncovering secrets about ancient Troy alongside her archaeologist boss, Helen discovers something much more: a new sense of self and a new love. With it's keen social observations, laugh-out-loud scenes and whip-smart dialogue, Helen of Pasadena reads like a roman à clef and unfolds like a romantic comedy. Along the way, this novel delivers humor, insight and wisdom on reinventing yourself.

The Goodreads product description: Yasuko Hanaoka is a divorced, single mother who thought she had finally escaped her abusive ex-husband Togashi. When he shows up one day to extort money from her, threatening both her and her teenaged daughter Misato, the situation quickly escalates into violence and Togashi ends up dead on her apartment floor. Overhearing the commotion, Yasuko’s next door neighbor, middle-aged high school mathematics teacher Ishigami, offers his help, disposing not only of the body but plotting the cover-up step-by-step.

When the body turns up and is identified, Detective Kusanagi draws the case and Yasuko comes under suspicion. Kusanagi is unable to find any obvious holes in Yasuko’s manufactured alibi and yet is still sure that there’s something wrong. Kusanagi brings in Dr. Manabu Yukawa, a physicist and college friend who frequently consults with the police. Yukawa, known to the police by the nickname Professor Galileo, went to college with Ishigami. After meeting up with him again, Yukawa is convinced that Ishigami had something to do with the murder. What ensues is a high level battle of wits, as Ishigami tries to protect Yasuko by outmaneuvering and outthinking Yukawa, who faces his most clever and determined opponent yet.

The Goodreads product description: In the vein of The Glass Castle, Breaking Night is the stunning memoir of a young woman who at age fifteen was living on the streets, and who eventually made it into Harvard. Liz Murray was born to loving but drug-addicted parents in the Bronx. In school she was taunted for her dirty clothing and lice-infested hair, eventually skipping so many classes that she was put into a girls' home. At age fifteen, Liz found herself on the streets when her family finally unraveled. She learned to scrape by, foraging for food and riding subways all night to have a warm place to sleep. When Liz's mother died of AIDS, she decided to take control of her own destiny and go back to high school, often completing her assignments in the hallways and subway stations where she slept. Liz squeezed four years of high school into two, while homeless; won a New York Times scholarship; and made it into the Ivy League. Breaking Night is an unforgettable and beautifully written story of one young woman's indomitable spirit to survive and prevail, against all odds.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ho, ho, ho.....happy!

I'm typing this on my new iPad! To go from broken computer a few weeks ago to now having both a computer and iPad, is like hitting the jackpot! Let's see if it is possible for me to get caught up on all the posts I have saved in drafts. I haven't figured out how to add a picture yet, but at least I can type. Am having a wee bit of trouble with focus, font in blogger requires reading glasses, font on keypad is gigantic, going back and forth between the two is inducing a headache. So I don't imagine I'll be doing a lot of composing on here but it is nice to have options!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lowcountry Summer by Dorothea Benton Frank

From Goodreads: When Caroline Wimbley Levine returned to Tall Pines Plantation, she never expected to make peace with long-buried truths about herself and her family. The Queen of Tall Pines, her late mother, was a force of nature, but now she is gone, leaving Caroline and the rest of the family uncertain of who will take her place. In the lush South Carolina countryside, old hurts, betrayals, and dark secrets will surface, and a new generation will rise along the banks of the mighty Edisto River.

Years ago I read Plantation and while I don't remember details, I do rememer that I liked it. I read this one just a few months ago (back in 2010) and I can say the exact same thing - I don't remember details but I liked it. Because I didn't have real sharp memories of the first book, I wasn't holding any of the characters up to any specific expectations so I didn't have that set-up for dissapointment and I could just enjoy the story for a summer beach read and be happy. My problem with her last book I read, Isle of Palms, was her over blown caracters that felt like a parody of Southern women. The characters in this book were tamer, more realistic for me and had that vaguely familiar feeling throughout the book which was a combination of could have been someone from the previous book I was remembering or they were just like folks I know I around here and she captured them well!  This wasn't a great book like I remember her first ones being (Plantation and Sullivan's Island)  but it felt closer to that than Isle of Palms and that was enough!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On the Street Where You Live by Mary Higgins Clark

From the Goodreads description: Following a nasty divorce and the trauma of being stalked, criminal defense attorney Emily Graham leaves Albany to work in Manhattan. Craving roots, she buys her ancestral home, a Victorian house in the seaside resort town of Spring Lake, New Jersey. Her family sold the house in 1892, after one of Emily's forebears, Madeline Shapley, then a young girl, disappeared.

As the house is renovated and a pool dug, a skeleton is found and identified as Martha Lawrence, a young Spring Lake woman who vanished several years ago. Within her hand is the finger bone of another woman, with a ring -- a Shapley family heirloom -- still on it. Determined to find the connection between the two murders, Emily becomes a threat to a seductive killer...who chooses her as the next victim.

It came time to click the stars to rate this one on Goodreads and without thinking I gave it a 3 out of 5. It was alright, nothing special. I had a little trouble keeping some of the characters straight - that's unusual for MHC, usually she defines her characters really well, almost to the point of exaggeration but at least you know who is who. There were more characters in this book because of the parallel plots - one set in present day and the other a hundred years ago. I liked the way she handled the two stories; that really held my interest. The plot had a few turns but nothing that I couldn't have anticipated as a possibility based on my experience with her other books. I do want to reach through the pages and slap these heroines who have this "so what if the crazy man is loose, I'm staying alone in the creepy old house" attitude. You just know what's coming. And that's why it's only a three, because you know what's coming. Will I continue to read every book Mary Higgins Clark writes? Absolutely, I love her even when she's a three.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

From Goodreads: In the turbulent summer of 1974, Kate Mularkey has accepted her place at the bottom of the eighth-grade social food chain. Then, to her amazement, the “coolest girl in the world” moves in across the street and wants to be her friend. Tully Hart seems to have it all—-beauty, brains, ambition. On the surface they are as opposite as two people can be: Kate, doomed to be forever uncool, with a loving family who mortifies her at every turn. Tully, steeped in glamour and mystery, but with a secret that is destroying her. They make a pact to be best friends forever; by summer’s end they’ve become TullyandKate. Inseparable. So begins Kristin Hannah’s magnificent new novel. Spanning more than three decades and playing out across the ever-changing face of the Pacific Northwest, Firefly Lane is the poignant, powerful story of two women and the friendship that becomes the bulkhead of their lives.

I liked this one a lot and then....I was glad it was over. It was like a very rich dessert, the first bite is heaven, the next few are wonderful, but if you go too far, it's gonna be bad. Hannah got it just right. The story goes on for a long time - three decades, 477 pages. I think if it had gone on just another moment longer I would have felt like I was reading an old Jackie Collins or Barbara Taylor Bradford! It doesn't feel like a long book because the story carries you along so rapidly, I just kept wanting to turn the page and find out what would happen next. The initial bliss comes from Hannah getting the feel of the times of the book just right. These girls are aligned to my age with just a few years to spare so the seventies felt just like I remember the seventies, same with the eighties and the nineties too. She chose song lyrics to open each decade that had the ability to transport you right back to where you were when you listened to that song. The main characters, TullyandKate, were likable enough but each also had some eye-roll inducing flaws; I didn't fall in love with either one. What made this book for me was the overall feeling of being transported back in time and the way the characters went through dilemmas that were real for their age and era. I'll be interested to hear how readers who are not close in age to these characters at these times felt about the book because I wonder how much of my pleasure came from it mirroring the time of my own life.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Friendship Cake by Lynne Hinton

From Goodreads: Good humor, tender moments, and life lessons abound in this heartwarming portrait of small-town Southern life that is anything but simple and quiet. Five churchgoing women from Hope Springs, North Carolina, animate this humorous, poignant tale of coming to terms with one's weaknesses, honoring the fragility of life, loving passionately, laughing through tears, and thinking with the heart.

The cast of colorful characters includes: freshman pastor Charlotte Stewart, who experiences a crisis of faith; no-nonsense Margaret Peele, a widow and town confidante; sharp-tongued Louise Fisher, who has loved another woman, Roxie, for over forty years and finally gets to show it by caring for her in the last stages of Alzheimer's; Jessie Jenkins, the only African American in an all-white church; and busybody Beatrice Newgarden, who turns out to be the most solid friend to them all.

This book came first in the series about the church ladies from Hope Springs. Had I read it first rather than skipping ahead to the fourth book, Christmas Cake, I may have enjoyed Christmas Cake more. I enjoyed them both but they didn't give me any great cause for reflection or pearls of wisdom to stay with me; they were simply sweet books about the relationships between mature women friends in a small town community. Very much like the Mitford series which I also enjoyed in that way that a non-taxing read can just give you pleasure for a few hours and nothing more. This book did have a little something more - the ladies were composing a cookbook and there were recipes at the start of every chapter. The recipes sounded delicious, for the most part, I know it would probably be good or it wouldn't be included but I can't work up any enthusiasm for trying prune cake. Fried grits, on the other hand, are quite intriguing!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Color of Light by Karen White

Description from Goodreads: At thirty-two, pregnant and recently divorced, Jillian Parrish and her seven-year-old daughter find refuge and solace on Pawleys Island, South Carolina. Jillian had experienced her best childhood memories here-until her best friend Lauren Mills disappeared, never to be found. At the time, Linc Rising, Lauren's boyfriend and Jillian's confidant, had been a suspect in Lauren's disappearance. Now he's back on Pawleys Island-renovating the old Mills house. And as ghosts of the past are resurrected, and Jillian's daughter begins having eerie conversations with an imaginary friend named Lauren, Jillian and Linc will uncover the truth about Lauren's disappearance and about the feelings they have buried for sixteen years.

My Karen White binge continues. This one was quite similar to Tradd Street and Legare Street but I didn't enjoy it as much, not because it wasn't equally good but simply because the familiar style wasn't as exciting the third time around. The paranormal element was a huge surprise with the first book I read; this time I was expecting it and so it was easier to predict where the plot was going. She does a great job capturing the feel of the Lowcountry and I liked the characters. I did have the problem of being just the right age that I kept picturing Linc as
the guy from the Mod Squad. It was disconcerting because if the character Linc had actually been a tall black man that would have added an important element to the was a distraction that kept me from focusing on who Linc really was in this story! I picked this book up at a tag sale for less than a dollar, and guess what, it happened to be an autographed copy! I thought there was some good karma swinging back by me because Karen White was speaking recently at Sun City Hilton Head but I gave up the opportunity to go see her to take of my Cub Scout den meeting. A little karmic reward for my sacrifice - how nice is that?!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

Description from Goodreads: In California s central valley, five women and one man join to discuss Jane Austen s novels. Over the six months they get together, marriages are tested, affairs begin, unsuitable arrangements become suitable, and love happens. With her eye for the frailties of human behaviour and her ear for the absurdities of social intercourse, Karen Joy Fowler has never been wittier nor her characters more appealing. The result is a delicious dissection of modern relationships.

This was a fun read despite the fact that I have only read one (yes, one!) Jane Austen novel. I liked the characters, I liked the format of getting to know them as a group then focusing on them as individuals when it was their turn to host the book club. I didn't like the "teaching moments" - mini lectures on related subjects inserted here and there but they were really well delineated by type and formatting so I could skip right over those. There were synopses of the Jane Austen books in the back but I didn't really need them; she (Austen) has become so popular that I knew enough just from pop culture to get by with the book club discussions. I wonder how real Austen fans felt about this book - may have to go read some reviews and see. This has also been made into a movie so I'll add it to my list of movies that I ought to watch but probably never will.

This wraps up the Reading A-Z Challenge for 2010. (My "J" book was supposed to be Jefferson for the US Presidents Reading Project but I have started and stopped it a dozen times so there is no way I will finish that one by the 31st!) Click on the button to see all the titles I read, not all have posts linked because I have been computerless FOREVER! This is my first post on my new computer so I have high hopes that those issues are behind me!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Helen of Pasedena by Lian Dolan

From Goodreads: Helen Fairchild leads a privileged Pasadena existence: married to a pillar of the community; raising a fine, water polo-playing son; volunteering on the most fashionable committees. It only bothers Helen a tiny bit that she has never quite fit in proper Pasadena for lots of little reasons. And then, out of nowhere, along comes a Rose Parade float, killing her philandering husband and leaving Helen broke, out of her beloved home and scrambling to salvage her once-rarefied existence. Enter Dr. Patrick O'Neill, noted archaeologist, excavator of Troy and wearer of nubby sweaters, and Helen's new boss. Distracted by her incredibly attractive boss, Helen teeters in to her new life which teems with characters. While uncovering secrets about ancient Troy alongside Patrick, Helen discovers more: a new sense of self and a new love.

What a fun book! Not sure how to categorize this - it's not a romance but there is romance in it, it seems more substantial than what I think of chick lit but it is wickedly funny. I thought the humor captured the world of private school moms right on with a great satirical tone that I loved. The romance wasn't heavy handed so it was okay by me, I could have done without it and just wallowed in her experiences as a mother and still enjoyed the book. I was happy to read that there are other books planned by this author along the same vein, I'll look forward to reading them.

I read this book for the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Christmas Pearl by Dorothea Benton Frank

From Goodreads: Theodora is the matriarch of a family that has grown into a bunch of truculent knuckleheads. While she's finally gotten them all together in South Carolina to celebrate, this Christmas looks nothing like the extravagant, homey holidays of her childhood.

What happened to the days when Christmas meant tables groaning with home-cooked goodies, over-the-top decorations, and long chats in front of the fire with Pearl, her grandmother's beloved housekeeper and closest confidante?

Luckily for Theodora, a special someone who heard her plea for help arrives, with pockets full of enough Gullah magic and common sense to make Theodora's Christmas the love-filled miracle it's meant to be.

I had high hopes for this one but it really didn't do the trick for me. It's set in South Carolina - my home, love books set here! It's by an author I enjoy, usually. It refers to the Gullah community - very close to home as we have a large Gullah community here. It's about Christmas - 'tis the season and I read it for the Holiday Reading Challenge hosted by Nely over at All About N. All those great things! But it still didn't come together for me. I can suspend disbelief (ghosts, vampires, winged children - all fine) but to get through this there was just too much too overcome. The problem was probably that the book was too short. There wasn't time to develop the characters subtly so their personalities had to be thrown in your face. The story needed to wrap up quickly so it was all a little too contrived. The cover is beautiful so I'm keeping it - maybe I'll give it another try next year and see if it improves with age !

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Cake by Lynne Hinton

From Goodreads: With the holiday season drawing near, the ladies of Hope Springs, North Carolina, are making plans for a cake cookbook—a project that will hopefully lift the spirits of a beloved member of their close-knit quartet. But Margaret Peele is downhearted and uninspired now that her cancer has returned. All she wants this Christmas is to visit her mother's Texas hometown . . . and to see their absent friend, pastor Charlotte Stewart, who left Hope Springs to run a battered women's shelter. So impulsive Beatrice Newgarden Witherspoon commandeers a very inappropriate—but comfortable—van to transport Margaret, Louise Fisher, and Jessie Jenkins across the country for a Lone Star State reunion with Charlotte. And over the course of a remarkable journey they will rediscover the greatest Christmas gift of all: eternal friendship.

I read Christmas Cake as one of my books for the Holiday Reading Challenge hosted by Nely at all About N. I had actually received it through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program last year but not in enough time to read it for that Christmas season so it hung out for a year in my TBR pile waiting for the holidays to come back around. (During that time I also came across Friendship Cake and it nestled into my TBR pile as well!). Because the challenge was at hand, I read Christmas Cake first despite knowing I was going out of order. Being out of order did not stop me from enjoying the book; Hinton provides all the background needed to fill in a new reader and she does it in an unobtrusive way that blends in with the rest of the story. Each chapter begins with a cake recipe and then the cake itself somehow gets featured in that part of the story. The recipes all sounded absolutely yummy but, big drawback for me, they were all cakes from scratch - sifting flour, measuring sugar and spices, cutting in butter - this I just don’t do. I am an advocate of the boxed cake mix. I may "doctor up" the boxed mix a little bit but in general, I and my family are happy with them just the way they are. If I dare to make an analogy here, I would describe this book as a boxed cake mix kind of book - it's not a fancy, gourmet read but I was happy with it just the way it was. It reminded me of the Mitford books; small town charm, a gentle pace, an exploration of friendships with bits of humor, religion, and sadness all mixed in.

All these recipes make this book a perfect fit for Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads. (Which I would have linked up to had I gotten my post up when I should have!)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cancer Update #6

It's been so long since I could sit at a computer to post here on My Round File! I am sneaking a few minutes at the library but must zip soon to go resume real life - grocery shopping for dinner tonight, shoes for Youngest that are on sale today, decorating for Christmas. The news of my dad is good but not great because that's how he is doing, he is doing good, but not great. He came through the surgery so now he is minus one lobe of lung and is officially cancer free. However, he is still not feeling well and that is a disapointment. We hope that over the next few weeks he will regain his strength. It is discouraging for him to go into the surgery with cancer but otherwise feeling really good and come out of the surgery without cancer but feeling crummy. A little iron for the anemia, some good sleep for the insomnia, and we pray he will be on his way to enjoying the new lease on life he has been given.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Holiday Reading Challenge

All About {n}

The Christmas Sweater
The Christmas Pearl
Christmas Cake
Santa Cruise: A Holiday Mystery at Sea
The Christmas Cookie Club

(Harrumph! I tried to lift a cute montage off my Goodreads page but it is not working. Story of my life these days as I am going on almost a month now without a computer! New computer is scheduled for delivery at the end of this week - hooray!)

These are the books I am reading for the Holiday Reading Challenge hosted by Nely over at All About N. It started way back in November so I started reading then too and have almost finished all of these books - having a GREAT time reading some light hearted Christmas. I'm off to go "link up", you can too if you are interested, we have until Dec. 31st to complete the challenge.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

You'll Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

From Goodreads: In Fort Hood housing, like all army housing, you get used to hearing through the walls... You learn too much. And you learn to move quietly through your own small domain. You also know when the men are gone. No more boots stomping above, no more football games turned up too high, and, best of all, no more front doors slamming before dawn as they trudge out for their early formation, sneakers on metal stairs, cars starting, shouts to the windows above to throw them down their gloves on cold desert mornings. Babies still cry, telephones ring, Saturday morning cartoons screech, but without the men, there is a sense of muted silence, a sense of muted life.

Too short...I started reading and was just unable to put the book down and then dismayed when it ended. I wanted it to go on and on and, of course, part of me was rooting for the happy ending; the ending that hasn't happened yet for these characters or for our service members and their families. Because Siobhan captures the situation with such intimacy and detail, I felt like a peeping tom reading about real people despite knowing that it is a work of fiction. I read so fast the first time through that I didn't pick up on the connections between the stories right away. I had to go back a second time, with a fresh box of Kleenex, and read more slowly. I was eager to read this one because my husband was a Marine for 23 years until he retired and I continue to work for the Navy helping families of Marines and Sailors. Fort Hood is Army but these experiences are universal throughout the branches and Siobhan's voice is authentic; these wars have been hard on the families. I was delighted to read good reviews from readers outside of the military community, I would hate to see such a moving work be a niche book, it deserves a wide audience.

I read this book as part of the Goodreads First Reads program.