Stacy's Books

books, movies, and boy

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

The Snow ChildThe Snow Child. Finished 4-21-15, rating 4.25/5, fiction, pub. 2012

Unabridged audio read by Debra Monk.  10.75 hours.

Finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm, she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning, the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them. from Goodreads

Whenever I read books set in Alaska, I become immersed in the barren, yet lush and beautiful landscape and this was no different.  Ivey’s words describing Alaska were mesmerizing.  In the beginning, when Mabel and Jack were first learning their way in the new, wild country, the often depressing tone of the story was mirrored by the hard nature of Alaska and I was drawn in.  As the story moved from dark to light, so did the reality of Alaska’s land.

The story was based on a Russian folk tale of the snow child but I wasn’t familiar with it.  This skittish girl who Jack and Mabel, who were still longing for children in middle age, saw more and more frequently was real, or maybe she wasn’t.  In the end, did it matter?

I loved the struggle of living off the land and their outspoken neighbor Esther.  I also loved how the words drew such vivid pictures in my mind that I can still see Alaska in my mind over a week after finishing the book.  The writing wasn’t sparse, but emotions and intentions were described in such a simple way that the story seemed somewhat magical.

Was she a snow child or just a girl?  That’s what kept me reading when the story dragged and the ending was both a surprise and expected.  Not bad for a debut novel, I’d say!

Recommended for anyone looking for something a little different.

April 23, 2015 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books | , | 9 Comments

The Residence:Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White HouseThe Residence. Finished 4-20-15, rating 4.5/5, history/politics, 320 pages, pub. 2015

Thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours  for inviting me to be a part of this book tour.  I received the book in exchange for my thoughts (and thankfully my thoughts are good :))

America’s First Families are unknowable in many ways. No one has insight into their true character like the people who serve their meals and make their beds every day. Full of stories and details by turns dramatic, humorous, and heartwarming, The Residence reveals daily life in the White House as it is really lived through the voices of the maids, butlers, cooks, florists, doormen, engineers, and others who tend to the needs of the President and First Family.

These dedicated professionals maintain the six-floor mansion’s 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, three elevators, and eight staircases, and prepare everything from hors d’oeuvres for intimate gatherings to meals served at elaborate state dinners. Over the course of the day, they gather in the lower level’s basement kitchen to share stories, trade secrets, forge lifelong friendships, and sometimes even fall in love.  from Goodreads

I like keeping up with current politics, so reading this book that spans 50+ years of White House inside information was fun for me.  The stories from the full-time and part-time workers who make  the first family’s time in the White House run smoothly were told with pride.  I loved hearing about the bullying Johnson, the warm Bushes (the first ones there), the partying Clintons, the domineering Nancy, and secret scene of the Obamas first night in America’s house.

I had no idea that the White House was designed by James Hoban, who won a competition planned by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and that it was built on the backs of slaves being paid in pork, bread and whiskey.  In 1941 the annual budget was $152,000 and today it comes in around $13 million.  That’s a lot of inflation!  I was surprised to learn that with all that money in the budget the first family is still required to pay for their move into and out of the White House and pay for all the food that they and their friends  eat (I always assumed we were feeding them).  President Carter didn’t think so much tax payer money needed to go to flowers (in other administrations $50,000 for state dinner flowers was the norm) so he sent the staff out to parks to find flowers, with one staffer even being arrested.  It was stories like these that had me chuckling.

The staff does their best to make each and every family, regardless of party, feel at home.  They take pride in serving not only the first family but representing the United States at state dinners and when taking care of the dignitaries from around the world.  I loved these behind-the-scenes looks at the best and worst of times.  I was shocked at the complete chaos on 9-11.

I was struck by how Brower wrote about the discretion of the workers on one page and then included unflattering tidbits about the children a page or two later.  I felt like the Chelsea and Secret Service story was disrespectful in a way that she tried to avoid in the rest of the book. There was another story of some bong-loving sons that I felt didn’t need to be included either.  She went out of her way to paint them in a positive light later, but I wish she could have saved the unflattering stories for the President and First Lady.

Definitely worth reading for anyone with an interest in history, the White House, or even current politics.

Oh, and there’s still a few days to enter the Goodreads giveaway.

April 21, 2015 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books | , | 9 Comments

The Prophet by Michael Koryta

The ProphetThe Prophet. Finished 2-17-15, rating 4.5/5 stars, thriller, pub. 2012

Unabridged audio, 11 hours 50 minutes.  Read by Robert Petkoff.

Adam Austin hasn’t spoken to his brother in years. When they were teenagers, their sister was abducted and murdered, and their devastated family never recovered. Now Adam keeps to himself, scraping by as a bail bondsman, working so close to the town’s criminal fringes that he sometimes seems a part of them. Kent Austin is the beloved coach of the local high school football team, a religious man and hero in the community. After years of near misses, Kent’s team has a shot at the state championship, a welcome point of pride in a town that has had its share of hardships. Just before playoffs begin, the town and the team are thrown into shock when horrifically, impossibly, another teenage girl is found murdered. As details emerge that connect the crime to the Austin brothers, the two must confront their buried rage and grief-and unite to stop a killer.

We get to know Adam from the very beginning and he was such a fascinating character.  Haunted by his sister’s murder and fiercely protective, he is willing to cross every line that the law has placed in his way.  Enter his brother, the football coach, the other side of the family tree is viewed as the local hero, an image he strives to cultivate every day.  When the law seems unable to protect him he isn’t afraid to ask his big brother for help if though they’ve long been estranged.

This is an excellent thriller, especially if you love football and I do.  The action centered around the high school football team and their quest for a state title, which includes a lot of play by play. It’s set in a small, Cleveland area town on Lake Erie and I knew this town even if it wasn’t real.  This book felt like the character study of two brothers and one small Ohio town and I was drawn into the bleakness and pain as much as I was into the current bad guy running around town.

This was my first Koryta read and I can’t wait to read more. Any Koryta fans out there? What should I read next?

March 3, 2015 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books | , | 8 Comments

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

IMG_2446The Hound of the Baskervilles. Finished 2-13-15, rating 4.25/5, mystery, 256 pages, pub.1902

Sherlock Holmes Book 5

Holmes and Watson are faced with their most terrifying case yet. The legend of the devil-beast that haunts the moors around the Baskerville families home warns the descendants of that ancient clan never to venture out in those dark hours when the power of evil is exalted. Now, the most recent Baskerville, Sir Charles, is dead and the footprints of a giant hound have been found near his body. Will the new heir meet the same fate?

from Goodreads

I found this 1971 copy that sold for 95 cents when published at a book sale last year, isn’t it great?  I love finding copies of classics that are in good shape but have obviously been read and enjoyed a few times.  Sometimes it feels like I am sharing the experience with another reader.  Surely, I am not the only one?  I’d been wanting to read a Sherlock Holmes mystery for years and joining the Classics Club last month gave me the push to pick this one up.

I’ve seen the most recent movies with Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes and even watched the movie from 1976, the Seven-Per-Cent Solution with a cocaine addled Holmes, so I wasn’t completely unprepared for the man on paper.  He is arrogant and insufferable, but here’s the thing, I have a thing for smart guys always have (even though he would most probably not return the favor), so I am willing to overlook a few character flaws for genius.  It helps that he is so eccentric that he is always a fascinating study.  Genius he is not, but it’s his companion Dr. Watson that really holds the story together as he tells his account of what happened and no one would call Watson arrogant or insufferable. Watson is loyal, steadfast and also very smart.  A perfect team.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is often mentioned so I am glad that I now have a frame of reference.  The Hound is an evil dog that was called up by a long-lost Baskerville to forever haunt the moor and Baskerville family members.  When Charles Baskerville dies without an heir, a sibling’s descendent is called to take his rightful place in the spooky hall on the moor.  Only someone has warned him to stay away.  Holmes sends Watson and the games begin.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I loved it.  I would love to read all the Holmes book and maybe someday I will but for now I’ve requested the 1939 movie and I’m curious to see what they’ve done with it.

This was also in the Books to Die for analogy:The World’s Greatest Mystery Writers on the World’s Greatest Mystery Novels and was chosen by Carol O’Connell.  My post on this book is here.

Any other Sherlock Holmes fans?

February 17, 2015 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books | | 9 Comments

The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag

The Dress Shop of Dreams: A NovelThe Dress Shop of Dreams. Finished 1-21-15, rating 4.5/5, fiction, 336 pages, pub. 2014

Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires.

Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. Cora’s studious, unromantic eye has overlooked Walt, the shy bookseller who has been in love with her forever. Determined not to allow Cora to miss her chance at happiness, Etta sews a tiny stitch into Walt’s collar, hoping to give him the courage to confess his feelings to Cora. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry. After Walt is spurred into action, Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

from Goodreads

I received this from the publisher courtesy of She Reads.  You can visit to enter to win all 4 of the books for winter!

I fell under the book’s spell even though Cora is not a warm and fuzzy person.  She exists only to follow in the footsteps of her genius scientist parents who were killed when she was only five years old and to visit her grandmother at her dress shop with a side trip to the bookstore three days a week.  Walt works at the bookstore and has been in love with Cora since they were kids but his social cluelessness has not moved the relationship forward even an inch.  So, Grandmother (Etta) takes matters into her own hands (literally) by using the magic of her needle and thread to open Walt’s heart and then Cora’s, but the best intentions do not always lead to the best results and the two go off on different paths entirely.

I loved Etta and the special gift of her dresses, and this small aspect of magical realism made the book sparkle and shine.  If there were a dress shop like Etta’s in Cleveland you can be sure I’d be stopping by.  It’s the dress shop that lends the book its lightness since everything else is much more serious in nature.  Every storyline starts with a lie.  Etta has one she’s been keeping for 50 years and Cora’s search into her parent’s deaths lead to more lies and betrayal. Walt gets himself a girlfriend under false pretenses and Henry, the policeman helping Cora, knows that a lie is at the heart of his divorce.  Once the truth starts coming out then all can be forgiven.  Maybe.

It had me charmed from the beginning and once I started I didn’t want to stop.  I only wish that maybe it could have been a little bit longer because there were so many secondary characters with their own stories that I felt a little shortchanged at the end when Cora found her truth.  Perfect for fans of Sarah Addison Allen

 

January 27, 2015 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books | , | 9 Comments

The Crime Writer by Gregg Hurwitz

The Crime WriterThe Crime Writer. Finished 12-1-14, thriller, pub. 2007

Unabridged audio read by Scott Brick. 9 hours, 50 minutes

Drew Danner, a crime novelist with a house off L.A.’s storied Mulholland Drive, awakens in a hospital bed with a scar on his head and no memory of being found convulsing over his ex- fiancée’s body the previous night. He was discovered holding a knife, her blood beneath his nails. He himself doesn’t know whether he’s guilty or innocent. To reconstruct the story, the writer must now become the protagonist, searching the corridors of his life and the city he loves.

Soon Drew closes in on clues he may or may not have left for himself, and as another young woman is similarly murdered he has to ask difficult questions not of others but of himself. Beautifully crafted and heartbreakingly told, The Crime Writer confronts our inherent fear of what we might truly be capable of—good or evil.

from Goodreads

I am not a fan of amnesia stories but this one was different since it involved a convenient brain tumor, one that appeared in a jar on a counter just a few pages into the book.  Drew goes on trial for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, but this isn’t a courtroom thriller.  Drew doesn’t know if he killed her, but he thinks he could have and sets out to prove his innocence for his own peace of mind.  Along the way the isolated writer makes a few new friends and relies on some old ones as he is pegged for another murder.

I really liked this Los Angeles noir thriller.  Drew was an unreliable narrator because of his memory loss and I could never quite rule him out as a killer.  Was he?  I think it’s worth a read to find out 🙂

I think the perfect narration by Scott Brick helped create Drew for me and his gravelly voice gave the story the bleakness and urgency it needed.

I think this will appeal to fans of noir, unreliable narrators, books about writers and Los Angeles.  I’ll definitely be reading more books by Hurwitz.

December 19, 2014 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books | | 7 Comments

Gluten & Pregnancy mini reviews

The Kind Mama: A Simple Guide to Supercharged Fertility, a Radiant Pregnancy, a Sweeter Birth, and a Healthier, More Beautiful BeginningThe Kind Mama:A Simple Guide to Supercharged Fertility, a Radiant Pregnancy, a Sweeter Birth, and a Healthier, More Beautiful Beginning by Alicia Silverstone

Finished 12-17-14, 4.5/5 stars, pregnancy & health, 368 pages, pub. 2014

The Kind Mama will cover fertility, pregnancy, and post-pregnancy. In other words, it will help you get knocked up, have a goddess pregnancy and birth, and grow the healthiest, happiest child! I’ll be including valuable and inspiring information from doctors, friends, and other women (as well as a section for kind-dads-to-be) and, of course, my own journey through pregnancy, birth, and raising my little one. I hope that it will be a great resource for families looking to bring their baby into a happy, healthy, and natural world.  (from Goodreads)

I don’t remember why I requested this one from the library because I have no plans to get pregnant again (I could write a whole post on how I wish I were one of those women who just breezed through pregnancy and childbirth) but I’m glad that I took the time because I can’t really recommend it enough.  Silverstone is on point with so many of the things going on with our diets and chemicals in our homes that it may not be what you want to read but it will be beneficial.  The beginning section is to help women who may be having trouble getting pregnant prepare their bodies for pregnancy and having a friend who has just gone through this I can say that not only is Silverstone correct, but she’s not the only one saying it.  The books itself is beautiful and it covers pregnancy, birth and what to do after.  The girl is vegan and very much on the natural bandwagon, but I think every new mom will be helped by this book.  This would make a great gift for the pregnant woman in your life.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Gluten-Free Vegan CookingThe Complete Idiot’s Guide to Gluten-Free Vegan Cooking by Julieanna Hever & Beverly Lynn Bennett

Finished on 8-23-14, 4/5 stars, cooking, 352 pages, pub. 2011

– With more than 200 recipes, this guide offers more delicious dishes than other cookbooks.
– Simplifies preparing delicious gluten-free meals.

(from Goodreads)

Well, I finished this one in August and, although I made copies of some recipes I wanted to try, I haven’t even tried one.  That could be because I tend to have great intentions and less than great follow through 😉 The book itself was easy to understand and it walked you through the basics of going gluten-free AND vegan.  We are not vegan here but we are gluten and dairy free so I did learn a few new things.  One thing I wish more gluten-free sites and books would mention is how difficult it can be to find truly gluten-free beans, especially of the healthy dried variety.  We were using them in a sensory bin six months after we took Gage off gluten and it took me weeks to figure out that his behavior was due the beans. Are beans gluten? No, but when I called the company they admitted they are processed right next to barley, which is gluten, so they are contaminated.  Even my local, healthy grocery store admitted that none of their beans were truly gluten-free.  It’s this kind of stuff that until you or a loved one has a high gluten sensitivity, seems liked hocus-pocus.  It’s not.  Be thankful if you don’t have allergies!

 

 

 

December 17, 2014 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books, 4 Star Books | | 6 Comments

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

The House We Grew Up InThe House We Grew Up In. Finished 12-10-14, 4.5/5 stars, fiction, 386 pages, pub. 2014

Meet the Bird family. They live in a honey-colored house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together every night. Their father is a sweet gangly man named Colin, who still looks like a teenager with floppy hair and owlish, round-framed glasses. Their mother is a beautiful hippy named Lorelei, who exists entirely in the moment. And she makes every moment sparkle in her children’s lives.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy comes to call. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass as the children become adults, find new relationships, and develop their own separate lives. Soon it seems as though they’ve never been a family at all. But then something happens that calls them back to the house they grew up in — and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.

from Goodreads

 

I received this book courtesy of the publisher and  She Reads and I was supposed to have my review posted by the end of November.  Well, life happens and I didn’t even finish reading it until a few days ago.  My tardiness is not a reflection on the book because I LOVED IT!  If you like family drama with a large side of dysfunction then this is the story for you.

The Birds, thanks to matriarch Lorelei, are a colorful and life-loving family.  Lorelei loves to savor the beautiful moments and because she attaches these moments to actual objects in her mind the Bird home slowly starts to collect more things than it needs.  When tragedy strikes and dysfunction ensues, the clutter becomes something much worse.  Lorelei, beautiful and sparkly, needy and dark, is powerless as her family starts to unravel. Each of her children affected in different ways by what happens.

I don’t want to give too much away.  There is enough drama for ten families but it was told in such a way that it was both light-hearted and surprisingly deep without ever feeling too heavy.  The Birds are going to stay with me for awhile and possibly help me with my penchant for clutter.

December 12, 2014 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books | | 14 Comments

The Best Man by Kristan Higgins

The Best ManThe Best Man. Finished 10-21-14, rating 4.5/5, romance, 432 pages, pub. 2013

This is the first in the Blue Heron series.

Faith Holland left her hometown after being jilted at the altar. Now a little older and wiser, she’s ready to return to the Blue Heron Winery, her family’s vineyard, to confront the ghosts of her past, and maybe enjoy a glass of red. After all, there’s some great scenery there….

Like Levi Cooper, the local police chief – and best friend of her former fiancé. There’s a lot about Levi that Faith never noticed, and it’s not just those deep green eyes. The only catch is she’s having a hard time forgetting that he helped ruin her wedding all those years ago. If she can find a minute amidst all her family drama to stop and smell the rosé, she just might find a reason to stay at Blue Heron, and finish that walk down the aisle.

from Goodreads

This is the first book in the Blue Heron series.

Faith Holland left her hometown after being jilted at the altar. Now a little older and wiser, she’s ready to return to the Blue Heron Winery, her family’s vineyard, to confront the ghosts of her past, and maybe enjoy a glass of red. After all, there’s some great scenery there….

Like Levi Cooper, the local police chief – and best friend of her former fiancé. There’s a lot about Levi that Faith never noticed, and it’s not just those deep green eyes. The only catch is she’s having a hard time forgetting that he helped ruin her wedding all those years ago. If she can find a minute amidst all her family drama to stop and smell the rosé, she just might find a reason to stay at Blue Heron, and finish that walk down the aisle.

from Goodreads

What a fun contemporary romance!  It was lighthearted and the Finger Lakes region of New York was a great setting.  I love that beautiful region and loved visiting all of the local wineries when we took a trip there a few years ago.  At first I wasn’t sure I even wanted Faith and Levi to have a happily-ever-after because he was so…rigid? Then as I got to know him, of course, I loved him.  He is an alpha male as I prefer them in my romance novels. Good romance authors can make that alpha male melt under the spell of his crush and still remain true to his strong sense of self.  Higgins did that well with Levi.  It was never too much.

Faith really did have bad luck with men and then with women when she tried to find her dad a girlfriend.  She had a big family that loved her and when she came home it was no surprise that she stayed, but what was a little surprising is the friendship that she renewed with her ex-fiance.  She is a stronger woman than I am!

This was not all light and breezy, there were some somber issues like guilt, class, and abandonment and that added a nice layer to the story. The only thing keeping this from a higher rating is the mention Faith’s ‘rack’ more than once.  But the tone and characters of the book left me happy and looking forward to the next in the series!

I bought this one after so many bloggers raved about it and now I’m a Higgins fan 🙂


 

Enter to win a signed book by bestselling author Thrity Umrigar here.

November 11, 2014 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books | 11 Comments

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

The Silent SisterThe Secret Sister. Finished 10-13-14. rating 4.25/5, fiction, 343 pages, pub. 2014

In The Silent Sister, Riley MacPherson has spent her entire life believing that her older sister Lisa committed suicide as a teenager.  Now, over twenty years later, her father has passed away and she’s in New Bern, North Carolina cleaning out his house when she finds evidence to the contrary.  Lisa is alive.  Alive and living under a new identity.  But why exactly was she on the run all those years ago, and what secrets are being kept now?  As Riley works to uncover the truth, her discoveries will put into question everything she thought she knew about her family.  Riley must decide what the past means for her present, and what she will do with her newfound reality, in this engrossing mystery from international bestselling author Diane Chamberlain.

from Goodreads

I received this from the publisher courtesy of She Reads and it’s the first book I’ve read by Chamberlain.  I’m so glad I discovered another great author!  This book was addicting right from the very first page and I was always looking for a spare minute to read it.

Riley felt lost and abandoned when her father died. She had a brother, but he was fighting his own battles and wanting to relive the past talking about their dad was not something he was willing to do.  Riley started taking care of her father’s estate and made some weird discoveries causing her realize how little she really knew about his life.  I felt for Riley but it was really the secrets that kept me reading.  Yes, Riley was alone (ish) after losing a sister and both of her parents but there was a woe-is-me attitude about her that rubbed me the wrong way at times.

I was invested in Riley’s story and then we switch to Lisa’s and I was disappointed at first, but as the book progressed it worked.  Where Riley felt somewhat entitled to me, Lisa did not.  Lisa, a girl what had been caught in a hard place and only the love of her father gave her a chance at a life, was such an interesting character.  She made such a rich life for herself, with purpose and people, and it was impossible not to like her.

Obviously, I really liked this one.  It didn’t finish as strong as it started, but it was a great ride.

 

October 28, 2014 Posted by | 4 1/2 Star Books | | 8 Comments