Sunday, October 6, 2013

Harry Potter / The Series by J. K. Rowling

My 2 cents:

J. K. Rowling's September 12 announcement enchanted and delighted millions of Harry Potter readers around the world, of whom my 13-year-old daughter is just one. She wasn't born when Harry Potter first popped on the scene in 1996; she discovered the wizarding wonder last year, during seventh grade. At her urging, I decided to read all seven books, too. My quest ended today, when I read page 759 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and closed the book. I admit, it was a little emotional.

So I promised Lizzey I'd write a review of the books for my blog. Even though they were first published over a decade ago. Even though they've been reviewed thousands of times, by many far more famous than I. Even though there may not really be anything new to say.

The Harry Potter series, quite simply, fascinated, captivated me, and, yes, taught me much about life itself. J. K. Rowling is as brilliant a writer as her fans and critics say. The mind-blowing number of copies her books have sold and the tons of awards she's racked up attest to that. I once saw a documentary about Rowling that showed some of her fans lining up for an appearance, and a teen-aged girl stood there, in the crowd, with piercings and spiked hair, and a sign that said, “Thank you for writing those books.” I know how that girl feels.

The series starts, of course, with Year One at Hogwarts School, a fantastical boarding school for young witches and wizards. Harry Potter, who's living with his aunt and uncle and cousin, the Dursley's, at Four Privet Drive in England, turns 11. An owl marks this most momentous birthday with a special delivery, a bulletin to Harry announcing his enrollment at Hogwarts School. Students travel to Hogwarts on a bright red steam engine from Kings Cross Station in London, on Platform 9 and 3/4. Hogwarts students wear robes, and use wands, cauldrons, spellbooks and potions. Harry has never been happier. He makes friends right away with Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley, two “first-year's”, like himself.

Soon, however, Harry learns his mother and father didn't die in a car accident, like he'd always been told. Harry's parents were murdered by an evil dark wizard, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and Harry's mother, Lily Potter, died trying to save him when he was just one-year-old. Young Harry finds himself pitted against Lord Voldemort again and again, and he strives to learn everything he can from his wise headmaster, Professor Dumbledore, in order to defeat Voldemort, and save his school, his friends, and the entire wizarding world. “Sometimes the only way out,” Harry learns, “is through.”





No book review can do Rowling's work justice. Many reviewers have said the Harry Potter books tell the age-old story of the fight between good and evil. They do. Other reviewers say it's a magical story, full of made-up words, made-up sports (Quidditch), spells and tales. It's all that, too. It's also a story of friendship, love, perseverance, and courage in the face of death. And, also, even if you've watched the movies and know how it ends, it's also riveting, spooky, and intensely exciting. And full of life. I think that when my daughter is fully grown, raising children of her own, that she'll look back at the Harry Potter books as the most influential of her childhood. Sort of the way I look back at Laura Ingalls Wilder's books and Frances Hodgson Burnett's. Her favorite line is from Book 4:

As Hagrid had said, what would come, would come, and he would have to meet it when it did.”

Length: 7 books / Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.


Worth Your Time? Yes! They're bloody brilliant!


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Summer Girls by Mary Alice Monroe

My 2 Cents:

It's not too late! Even though Labor Day Weekend's passed, and school's back in, temperatures are still climbing past 90 during the day, and the calendar says it's still officially summer until September 23. Indian Summer is what my grandmother used to call it.

So I got my hands on the audio book of Mary Alice Monroe's new book, The Summer Girls, which hit shelves just in time for beachgoers and vacationers this summer. And, let me tell you, MAM has really hit her stride. I became a fan of Monroe's fiction with Swimming Lessons and The Beach House, having spent time in and around the Isle of Palms. But, The Summer Girls, set on Sullivan's Island in South Carolina's Lowcountry, is, I believe, her best novel, yet.

34-year-old Carson Muir leaves L.A., broke and jobless, to spend the summer with the grandmother who raised her, Marietta Muir, who's celebrating her 80th birthday, at Sea Breeze, their beloved Sullivan's Island home. Joining Carson at “Mamaw's” are her two half-sisters, Harper and Dora. Harper is 28, an assistant to her high-powered, magazine editor mother in New York City. Dora (for Eudora Welty – all three girls are named after literary giants) is a stay-at-home mother and home-schools her autistic 9-year-old son, Nate. In the middle of an unpleasant divorce, Dora finds herself staying at Sea Breeze while her home in nearby Summerville undergoes renovation before it goes on the market for sale.

Throw in a near-death-experience with a shark (Carson), and a friendly dolphin named Delphine, alcohol, secrets from the past revealed, and you have the makings of a life-changing summer. For all three women.

Monroe's writing is deft, funny, heartwrenchingly honest, and enlightening – about dolphins and their plight along the Atlantic coast, about family relationships, about autism … and the Lowcounty meals her characters eat will leave your mouth watering.

I'm just glad The Summer Girls is the first book of three in The Lowcountry Summer Trilogy, because I can hardly wait to see what happens next. And, meantime, it's fun to guess. (Write fast, Mary Alice).

Length: 10 CDs, Unabridged.

Worth Your Time? Yes. I literally groaned when a disc ended.

Bonus: Read by the author.





Sunday, September 1, 2013

Something Told the Wild Geese by Rachel Field


My 2 cents:

Something Told the Wild Geese

by Rachel Field

Something told the wild geese
It was time to go
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered “snow.”

Leaves were green and stirring
Berries, luster-glossed
But beneath warm feathers,
Something cautioned “frost”.

All the sagging orchards
Steamed with amber spice
But each wild breast stiffened
At remembered ice.

Something told the wild geese
It was time to fly
Summer sun was on their wings
Winter in their cry.

That poem is my favorite fall poem. I thought about it when a loud, honking “V” of geese flew over my head on the Friday before Labor Day, just at dusk. What fall means to me: my birthday, chilly nights and warm days, Indian Summer, school starting, football games (even if I don't go), shorter afternoons, a feel of poignancy, endings and beginnings, cozy nights under covers. Happy September.




Friday, August 30, 2013

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld


My 2 cents:

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld is worth a second look. Narrated by Daisy, a 30-something former social-worker, stay-at-home mom who is married to Jeremy, a loving husband and professor of geophysics. Daisy and Jeremy live in St. Louis, Missouri near the giant arch and are parents to Rosie, 3, and Owen, 1. Daisy is also an identical twin. Her sister, Violet, is a psychic/medium who often talks to her spiritual guide, Guardian, is perpetually short of cash, and generally drives her twin crazy on a regular basis. Daisy also has “senses,” but works hard to shake them off, and be a “normal” wife and mother.

Things get shaky when Violet publicly predicts a major earthquake for the St. Louis area and names a date for the event, October 16. Something earthshattering does happen on the 16th, but it's not the earthquake Vi and Daisy expected.

Sittenfeld's novel, both dark and enlightening, is also funny and sweet in places. Some of the best dialogue comes unexpectedly from Daisy's daughter, Rosie.

Length: 397 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes. Curtis Sittenfeld is also the NY Times bestselling author of Prep and American Wife.




Saturday, August 17, 2013

My 2 cents:

History and romance buffs alike will swoon over Nora Roberts' newest novel The Perfect Hope. Set in real-life historic Boonsboro, Maryland, The Perfect Hope is the third book in the Inn Boonsboro Trilogy. Filled with the camaraderie of the Montgomery brothers; together with their mother, Justine, the three brothers proudly own and operate a booming construction business.

Beckett Montgomery is married to his high-school sweetheart, Claire, who has three young sons and is expecting two more. Owen Montgomery is engaged to red-haired fireball Avery McTavish, who runs Vesta Pizza and dreams of opening her own upscale restaurant and bar in the town square. Ryder Montgomery, a diamond in the rough, falls hard for Hope Beaumont, the bed-and-breakfast's innkeeper.

Also keeping company at the Inn is Lizzie, a ghost from Civil War times, who is waiting faithfully for her soldier lover, Billy Ryder. Lizzey likes to play with the doors and the lights at Inn Boonsboro, and becomes intertwined in the Montgomery brothers' stories, even as she eventually reveals her own.

The Battle of Antietam, the single bloodiest day in the entire Civil War, plays a pivotal role in this modern-day story. Romance fans will enjoy the intimate love scenes and happy endings. All fans of NY Times Bestselling Author Nora Roberts will enjoy the playful, humorous dialogue. (And will probably make you want to go back and read the first two novels in the Inn Boonsboro series, if you haven't already).

Length: 10 hours, 20 minutes on 9 CD's.

Worth Your Time? Yes, this audio-book by Brilliance Audio is performed by MacLeod Andrews, and is good for bedtime when you need a little help getting to sleep.






Thursday, August 15, 2013

My 2 cents:

Activate Your Goodness by Shari Arison is subtitled Transforming the World Through Doing Good. Which says it all. A second-time author, Shari Arison is an Israeli-American mother of four and the leader of an international business empire, as well as a generous philanthropist. Arison was ranked one of the World's Most Powerful Women in 2011 and 2012 by Forbes Magazine. Not too shabby.

This little orange book is both anecdotal and informational. Arison tells story after story of people doing good, thinking good and speaking good. Arison talks about her own life, her own tumultous childhood (which included the divorce of her parents, her father's banruptcies, and her bouncing back and forth, by herself, from New York City to Israel). Arison's early adulthood included three marriages … and three divorces. She talks about all this and more, and how learning to do good transformed her life.

Arison also instituted an annual Good Deeds Day through her companies, and she explains in detail how this celebration works, and how readers can institute such a day in their own communities.

Length: 139 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes.




Monday, August 12, 2013

My 2 cents:

No One Could Have Guessed the Weather by Anne-Marie Casey had me at the title. Lucy finds herself living in New York City with her British husband, Richard, and their two young sons, Max and Robbie, at the start of a blazing hot September.

It was, as the forecast told them one day, as if a blowtorch had gone through the city.”

With the downtown of the stockmarket, Richard lost his job, and Lucy lost her nanny, housekeeper, home, and her luxury life as she knew it. Richard gets a new position in NYC, and the family moves into an 800-square-foot apartment that Richard had previously used for a hotel room. Optimistic and energetic, Richard believes the new lifestyle will be good for their family.

After a rocky start in the heat of the city, weeks of sobbing and the death of her mother, Julia opens herself to her new home, and finds a new life.

Reminiscent of Nora Ephron's witty, meaty style, Casey posts this quote by Ephron at the beginning of her novel, just after the dedication page:

Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

Anne-Marie Casey now lives in Dublin, Ireland with her husband and two sons. This new novel, her first book, “was inspired by her time living in Manhattan, and her love-love relationship with the city.”

Length: 275 pages


Worth Your Time? Yes, especially if you liked The Nanny Diaries or Nora Ephron's movies. It's a quick read.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

My 2 cents:

Rose Harbor in Bloom fills out the Rose Harbor Inn books beautifully. Second in the series, Debbie Macomber's newest novel blossoms like spring flowers in Washington's lovely Cedar Cove.
It's May in the small Pacific Northwest harbor town, and Jo Marie Rose is preparing an Open House to introduce the community to her new bed and breadfast inn. She's still grappling with the death of her husband, while getting the inn up and running, and making all those delicious breakfasts.
Macomber's faithful fans will enjoy meeting a new set of guests at the inn, including a couple about to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary, but who can't seem to get along for five minutes; their young granddaughter who's putting the big party all together; and a successful business executive and cancer survivor who's traveled west to wrestle with her past.

Length: 322 pages


Worth Your Time? Yes. Macomber's tried-and-true combination of old characters woven together with new ones will delight her legions of fans. Rose Harbor in Bloom will be on bookshelves 8/13/13.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Year of the Book and The Year of the Baby by Andrea Cheng

My2 cents:

Andrea Cheng has been busy the past two years writing the first two books in a series for middle-age readers called The Year of the Book and The Year of the Baby. Anna Wang, a young ABC (American Born Chinese) girl, tells us the story of her life in the series.

In The Year of the Book, Anna is in fourth grade, living with her mother, father, younger brother, Ken, going to Chinese School on weekends to learn Chinese and accompanying her mother to her cleaning job on Saturdays. Oh, and reading lots of books. Anna celebrates Thanksgiving, sews beautiful drawstring bags, makes paper airplanes with her brother, and learns what it means to be a friend, when her neighbor Laura's parents divorce. It's a delightful book, full of fourth-grade doings and mother-daughter angst.

The Wangs adopt a baby girl from China in The Year of the Baby. Little Kaylee becomes part of Anna's fifth grade science project. Friends Camille and Laura join in to help Kaylee adjust to life in America and learn to eat.

The bright illustrations by Abigail Halpin and Patrice Barton are lovely and comical.

Length: 146 pages and 162 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes. For middle readers and up. My 13-year-old daughter (who's a bit above the middle-reader age) and I both enjoyed Cheng's books.


Bonus: Anna travels to China with her teacher in The Year of the Fortune Cookies, due out in early 2014.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

My 2 cents:

The Lucy Variations is a very interesting book. Author Sara Zarr is a National Book Award Finalist and has written four previous YA novels, including Story of a Girl.

Zarr's newest book, barely out on bookshelves this summer, is destined for critical acclaim. Set in San Francisco (Zarr's hometown), The Lucy Variations is a page-turner from the first page, with Lucy unsuccessfully giving CPR to her 10-year-old brother's piano teacher, to the very last, with Lucy grandly making “her entrance” in a surprise ending.

I love a flawed heroine. 16-year-old Lucy is that. She's also a brilliant pianist, beautiful, wealthy, confused, traumatized, and a bit self-absorbed. She's a sister, a best-friend, a daughter, grand-daughter, and high-school student who's trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. She's crushing on her English teacher and fighting with her mother. In short, Lucy's sixteen.

Young adults will identify with Lucy's life, and adults will find plenty to relate to, as well. Especially when it comes to crossing the line between supporting your kids and pressuring them into doing something they don't want to do.

Length: 304 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes. A riveting read.



Bonus: For more about the author and her work, check out Sara
Zarr, The Official on Facebook.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Fiddler by Beverly Lewis

My 2 cents:

Bestselling Author Beverly Lewis said she's “been waiting nearly a lifetime to write this book!” The Fiddler, first in her Hickory Hollow fiction series, weaves a compelling story of first loves and heart's desires, talents and spiritual beliefs.

Amelia Devries is a well-known, classical violinist, who goes by “Amy Lee” when she plays her fiddle at a Tim McGraw concert. Trained to travel the world and become a famous solo musician, Amelia is engaged to Byron, an ambitious trumpeter, and is beginning to wonder if all that is what she really wants. A stormy night and a wrong turn bring her to the doorstep of Michael Hostetler, a burgeoning architect reared in the Pennsylvania Amish faith, who is also questioning his upbringing … and his future.

What happens when their worlds collide? Captivating characters and a beautiful setting, rich in Amish culture and Amelia's lovely music, combine to make an interesting tale.

Length: 326 pages


Worth Your Time? Yes, especially if you like music or enjoy reading about the Amish.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott

My 2 cents:

Have you ever heard of a God box? Anne Lamott explains what she does with hers in a new little volume full of grace, mirth and truth called Help Thanks Wow (The Three Essential Prayers).

I do not know much about God and prayer, but I have come to believe, over the past twenty-five years, that there's something to be said about keeping prayer simple,” says Lamott. “Help. Thanks. Wow.”

I like Lamott's style:

If you told me you had said to God,” she writes. “It is all hopeless, and I don't have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand, it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real – really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.”

Just over 100 pages, this gift of a book is divided into five short sections: Prayer 101 (Prelude), Help, Thanks, Wow, and of course, Amen.

Length: 102 pages



Worth Your Time? Very, and it doesn't take much.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Bridesmaid by Beverly Lewis

My 2 cents:

Beverly Lewis writes about Joanna Kurtz in The Bridesmaid, a 24-year-old Amish girl who harbors a secret, two secrets, actually. She loves to write stories about the Amish people in her notebooks, and she's been exchanging letters with Eben Troyer, an Amish farmer who lives 10 hours away from Hickory Hollow, for over a year. Are Joanna's secrets creating a wedge between Joanna and her younger sister, Cora Jane? Is the prized, antique wedding-ring quilt Joanna receives from her great-aunt a sign?

The Bridesmaid is the second book in Lewis's popular Hickory Hollow series, novels set in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Length: 314 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes.




Monday, June 24, 2013

requiem by Lauren Oliver

My 2 cents:

Lauren Oliver may be the best Dystopian writer of Young Adult Literature out there. Requiem, the final book in the Delirium trilogy, is out this summer, and is hot, hot, hot.
Lena, Alex (who is not dead), and Julian must find their way out of The Wilds as attacks from the “cureds” heat up in intensity and frequency.

Portland's cruel, new mayor is Hana's husband-to-be, and Lena faces danger on every side, even as she learns that feelings make life worth living, as well as messy and complicated. The book's stunning conclusion is still reverberating inside me, days after I've finished reading the final pages.

Take down the walls.”

I will do it if you will do it, always and forever.”

Length: 391 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes!!


Bonus: An exclusive short story for readers about Lena's first love called “alex.” 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Wedding Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini

My 2 cents:

June is the month for weddings and Jennifer Chiaverini delivers with another bestselling Elm Creek Quilts Novel, The Wedding Quilt. When Sarah's daughter, Caroline, returns home to Elm Creek Manor at age 25 to celebrate her wedding, Sarah is thrown into a “trip down memory lane.”

Reminiscing about Elm Creek, preparing for Caroline's wedding, and opening the manor to a full house of family and guests fills Sarah's week brimming full to overflowing. And, as always, there's a quilt to make – this time, it's a Memory Album quilt to commemorate Caroline and Leo's nuptials.

Length: 321 pages


Worth Your Time? Yes, especially if you're a Chiaverini fan or a quilter.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

My 2 cents:

You regular readers of my blog out there (hello and thanks for checking in) know I seldom review books I don't enjoy reading. That said, I enjoy reading some more than others.

If you're looking for a book to read this summer that just plain makes you, well, happy, check out This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith. Smith's newest Young Adult novel is set in the spring and summer of 2013 (really) in Henley, Maine. Henley is a small, coastal town where 16-year-old Ellie O'Neill works part-time in an ice cream shop called Sprinkles, and part-time in her mother's Main Street gift shop, where the main attraction is a giant, stuffed red lobster. Ellie's greatest wish is to go to a poetry camp at Harvard University for three weeks at the end of summer, but the $2,000 fee may as well be two million as far as she's concerned.

But, then Ellie gets an e-mail (mistakenly sent to her), and she strikes up a friendship with a virtual stranger, until . . . the summer of 2013 happens. A Hollywood movie is being filmed in small, picturesque Henley, Graham Larkin's coming to town, and Ellie's life is about to change forever.

Length: 404 pages


Worth Your Time? Yes, whatever your age is. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

My 2 cents:

pandemonium by Lauren Oliver is riveting. Familiar plot, but riveting, nonetheless. 18-year-old Lena escaped, barely, from a totalitarian futuristic society, where love and passion are diseases that must be “cured.” The Wilds, a place where people live free, is not even supposed to exist. But, Lena discovers it is real when survivors rescue her after she escapes. Her great love, Alex, is not as fortunate.

So Lena must heal and learn to live in this strange, new world without him. When she joins the resistance and is pitted against the leader's only son, who will she trust? Julian? Raven? Herself? Or will Thomas Fineman, president of the DFA (Deliria-Free America), discover Lena and crush the resistance?

Find a copy of pandemonium and dig in to uncover the answers to these burning questions and much, much more. Hint: Lauren Oliver is super-skilled at writing cliffhangers that will leave you gasping.

Length: 375 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes, if you're a fan of Dystopian Young Adult literature. Or if you've already read the Hunger Games novels, and need something new to read, while you're waiting for Catching Fire (the movie) to come out this summer. Oliver is the best-selling author of delirium, Before I Fall, and Liesl & Po (for middle readers). Check out her bio and blog for a cool little video chat ("bookish things") at laurenoliverbooks.com.




Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Guardian by Beverly Lewis

My 2 cents:

I'm not a Beverly Lewis fan, or at least I wasn't until I read her latest novel, The Guardian. Set in the Amish country of Pennsylvania, The Guardian is the third in Lewis's “Home to Hickory Hollow” series. A New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Lewis has written more than 90 (yes, 90) novels, with over 17 million books in print, published in 11 languages. That's a serious following.

Lewis's work of fiction allows readers a window into the Amish way of life, into the customs, the cooking, the clothing, the language, and the transportation

The horse sets our pace,” said Maryanna, “the tempo of our lives. When he stops for water and feed, we stop and pause for breakfast, and then the noon meal. When he needs to rest on a hot afternoon, we, too, have a natural break in the course of our daily living. And like horses, we to go to sleep early and rise with the dawn.”

Maryanna is a devoted young mother of four small children, who has recently lost her husband to a farming accident. When her little daughter, Sarah, falls out of a buggy and is lost, a vacationing “English” woman finds her. How will this one night's event change the course of all of their lives?

I was sucked in by the end of the first chapter. My guess is you will be, too.

Length: 345 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes, but be warned. This book will make you want to get in the kitchen and bake.



Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

My 2 cents:

The second best thing about listening to an audio tape of a book set near Dublin, Ireland is that you can hear Ireland in the reader's voice. The best thing is the book itself, A Week in Winter, by Maeve Binchy. Beloved Irish author Binchy died in December 2012 at age 72. This, her last book, is wonderful. Read by Rosalyn Landor, it makes you want to sink into a cozy chair by a warm fire, then jump up and walk on the beach to see the waves and the birds. Which is exactly what the characters in A Week in Winter do.

Binchy weaves a tale of an 18th century stone mansion called Stone House, renovated by an unlikely crew of Irish folks, who form a sort-of family, reminiscent of Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. Located by the sea in western Ireland, Stone House attracts an even more unlikely group of guests in its first week of operation; including an American movie star, an Irish accountant and musician, a nurse and her disapproving, future mother-in-law, two doctors (married to each other), a librarian, a retired school headmistress, and an English couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.

The advantage of listening to Binchy's story on CD is hearing the Irish lilt bring the characters and place to life. Also, there's learning the correct pronunciation of words like row (for small fight, rhymes with pow, wow and cow), tousled, wizened and duvet.
Turns out I've been mispronouncing those little buggers all my life.


Length: 11 hours (Unabridged, on 9 cds)

Worth Your Time? Yes. And, thank you, Maeve Binchy.






Sunday, June 2, 2013

Savannah Seasons by Elizabeth Terry (with Alexis Terry)

My 2 cents:

Good recipes never go out of style, they just season with age. Same with good cookbooks, like Savannah Seasons (Food and Stories from Elizabeth on 37th) by Elizabeth Terry (with Alexis Terry).

Published originally in 1996, the cookbook is a collection of recipes created, honed and served in Elizabeth and Michael Terry's Savannah, Georgia restaurant, “Elizabeth's on 37th”. Each recipe was tested by Elizabeth's daughter, Alexis, and includes bright original artwork by Alexis Terry, as well as stories and cooking tips by both women. Opened in 1981, the iconic restaurant is now operated by brothers Greg and Gary Butch. For many years, the Terry's lived above the restaurant with their two daughters (Alexis and Celeste), a renovated, turn-of-the-century mansion on the corner of 37th Street and Drayton Avenue.

Elizabeth Terry was awarded the James Beard Award in 1995 for “Best Chef in the Southeast” and her restaurant was named one of the Top 25 Restaurants in the Country by Food and Wine Magazine. The cookbook features gourmet Southern recipes for soups, salads, vegetable dishes, fish, shellfish, poultry, meats, sauces, desserts, bread and beverages. The hallmark of Elizabeth's cooking is quality ingredients and fresh herbs.

I do ask that you use the finest of ingredients, but the preparations are not difficult,” advises Elizabeth in her introduction. “Remember to cook with love and have fun in the kitchen.”

Length: 352 pages


Worth Your Time? Yes, especially if you like to read cookbooks. This one has a lot of flavor. Also, Pat Conroy fans will appreciate his remarks in the foreword.

 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Butterfly's Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe

My 2 cents:

Mary Alice Monroe loves monarch butterflies. She grows milkweed in her Isle of Palms garden to feed them on their journey each year, as the big orange and black butterflies fly thousands of miles from America's northernmost parts to southern Mexico. In her book, The Butterfly's Daughter, newly out in paperback, Luz Avila sets out toward Mexico in an old VW bug to take her beloved grandmother's ashes home; and ends up following the butterflies.

Luz's story is one of loss and discovery, forgiveness and redemption, sorrow and happy times. She must grapple with the loss of the grandmother who raised her, while forging a relationship with the mother who abandoned her. All the while on a journey to relatives she's yet to meet in Mexico. Once there, Luz finds resolution in more ways than she'd ever imagined.

Length: 382 pages


Worth Your Time? Yes, Mary Alice Monroe is a master of telling stories about mothers and daughters, and weaves in Luz and Mariposa's story with that of the magnificent monarch butterfly. Classified as adult fiction, high school girls will enjoy this book as much as their moms.

 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sand Castle Bay by Sherryl Woods


My 2 cents:

Sherryl Woods' new adult fiction novel, Sand Castle Bay, is now available on compact disc with Brilliance Audio. Read by Shannon McManus, the novel is easy and entertaining to listen to.

In this novel, childhood sweethearts Emily Castle and Boone Dorsett are reunited on the North Carolina coast after a decade apart. Now, with two successful careers on opposite sides of the country, and a child (Boone's son B.J.), will Emily and Boone find a way to make their relationship last this time?

The lovely, lulling backdrops of wintry Colorado and the Outer Banks of North Carolina add to the flavor of the story, as does Emily's grandmother's beloved restaurant, “Castle's.”

Length: 9 hours and 25 minutes (Unabridged on 8 cds)

Worth Your Time? Yes. If you're standing in the kitchen peeling and chopping vegetables, driving long hours or tackling a challenging chore - and you just want a little company while you do it - this is the audio book for you.

Bonus: To read a review on Sherryl Woods' latest book in the Ocean Breeze Trilogy, Sea Glass Island, go to threechicksandtheirbooks.com.



Monday, May 20, 2013

Capturing Camelot (Stanley Tetrick's Iconic Images of the Kennedys) by Kitty Kelley


My 2 cents:

My daughter, who's 12, asked me last week about John F. Kennedy. Aside from the automatic “he was our president when I was a little girl” answer, I found myself hard-pressed to give her an idea of who President Kennedy really was and what he meant to our country.

So when I walked into our small library and saw a beautiful, oversized book on the “New Books” shelf called Capturing Camelot, I picked it up immediately. Featuring Stanley Tretick's Iconic Images of the Kennedys, the text is written by Kitty Kelley, New York Times bestselling author. Strolling across the front cover is President Kennedy and young son, John, in a famous 1963 photograph of the two at the White House.

Inside is a scrapbook of color photographs, black and white snapshots and portraits, memorabilia, captions and more of John and Jacqueline Kennedy, their children, Caroline and John, and the Kennedy family, as well as friends and colleagues from the 1960s. The book shows only a handful of photos from President Kennedy's Washington, DC funeral procession and Arlington Cemetery memorial service, and none at all from the fateful Dallas, Texas trip.

Meant as a showcase of Tretick's most famous photographs, this beautiful book poignantly captures a time in our nation's history. A time that is hard still, after fifty years, to put into words.

Length: 228 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes. Classified Adult Non-Fiction, Kelley's book will be appreciated by readers of all ages.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee


My 2 cents:

To Kill A Mockingbird is almost as old as me. Written by Harper Lee, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel celebrates its 53rd anniversary in 2013. I listened to the 11-CD collection, read by Actress Sissy Spacek, recently. Books on audio is a great way to fill the empty moments and time spent driving, cleaning house and organizing paperwork. Who can resist a good story?

Harper Lee's novel, is above all, and after more than fifty years, still a good story.
Scout's constant questions, and her relationships with her father, Addison Finch, her brother, Jim Finch, and the family's housekeeper, Calpurnia, are still compelling. Learning about the Finch's neighbors in a small Alabama town through Scout's eyes is still fascinating; Arthur “Boo” Radley, still tragic and heroic; Bob Ewell, still mean and low-down; and Tom Robinson, still innocent and doomed.

Hearing Scout's story as an adult, I identified more this time around with Addison Finch, Scout's father. As an attorney in a small Southern town in the 60s, representing a black man charged with the rape of a white woman was dangerous. Addison Finch inspires all parents, especially single parents, to do the right thing regardless of public opinion.

To Kill A Mockingbird deserves its Pulitzer Prize, because it's a spot-on mirror to an important era of American history, because it's funny, it's heart-breaking, it's inspirational, it's well-written, its characters are timeless, and, perhaps, above all, it's a good story. If you or your teen haven't yet read (or listened to) Harper Lee's novel, the summer of 2013 would be a good summer to do it.

Length: 12 hours, unabridged

Worth Your Time? Yes x 53.

Bonus: Listening to Sissy Spacek's performance (especially the dialogue between Scout and, well, any other character in the story, especially Jim) is priceless. Also, did you know Scout's best friend and neighbor, Dill, was based on Harper Lee's real-life childhood friend and fellow author, Truman Capote?


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

what happened to goodbye by Sarah Dessen


My 2 cents:

Sarah Dessen is one of my favorite authors. Reading her Young Adult novels is like putting on a favorite pair of jeans, specifically your size 8 pair from high school that fit perfectly and were faded and soft.

What Happened to Good-Bye, Dessen's tenth book, was just released in paperback. Written for teens, this book is so good, their older sisters and moms will beg to borrow it. (But, then they'll want to go out and buy their own copy, because it's just one of those books you want to keep on your shelf).

Mclean Sweet is a high school senior, who has moved four times in the past two years, with her charming dad, Gus Sweet. Gus is a restaurant “fixer”. He's hired by a former pro-basketball player (who sure resembles Michael Jordan) to travel around the country, and improve ailing restaurants, so they can be sold for a profit. Before that, Gus and Mclean's mom, Katherine “Katie” Sweet, owned and ran a restaurant called the Mariposa, where Mclean basically grew up. Mclean's world was perfect, until her mom fell in love with the new head basketball coach at DeFriese College, divorced her father, and gave birth to twins.

Mclean hit the road, then, with her father. While Gus was busy reinventing a new restaurant in each town they moved to, Mclean got busy reinventing herself in each new place – complete with new name, new persona, new fashion style – new everything. Until she couldn't. When McLean moves to Lakeview her senior year, a lot happens. With her new neighbor, the friends she makes, her dad's new restaurant, her mother, and herself. Especially herself.

This book is for anyone who's ever been in high school, who's ever lived through a divorce, who's even eaten at a great restaurant, moved, cheered on their basketball team, or been the outsider looking in. And more. What Happened to Good-Bye is for anyone who's looking for a really great book to fall into. I'm going to read it again.

Bonus: Dessen's 11th book, The Moon and More, is due out June 4, 2013.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling


My 2 cents:

The Casual Vacancy is J. K. Rowling's new fiction novel for adults, and was published in September, 2012. Young adults who grew up reading the Harry Potter books are, no doubt, thrilled to have a new book by Rowling to read. Late to the Harry Potter phenomenon, I recently tore through The Sorcerer's Stone and The Chamber of Secrets (Years 1 and 2 of the Harry Potter series). I loved reading and talking with my daughter about muggles and wands, Hogwarts, Hermoine and Ron, Professor Dumbledore, Hagrid and the magical holiday feasts. I loved it all. The Casual Vacancy is no sequel to Harry Potter, obviously.

Which is not to say it's bad. But it is different. The best thing about The Casual Vacancy is the writing. I read one reviewer's opinion that Rowling's new novel “has no magic,” but that's not entirely true. The writing is superb. The plot opens in a way familiar to Harry Potter fans – with a death. Specifically, the sudden, unexpected death of Barry Fairweather, a well-loved town council member in small Pagford, England. Who will fill his spot? His best friend, Colin Wall? His rival's son, Miles Mollison? Or Andrew Price's abusive father, Simon?
Readers learn about the private lives of Pagford's richest and poorest citizens, and about the daily struggles of its adults and its teens. A Casual Vacancy is not a sentimental book. It's more like a winter tree, standing stark and straight, with bare limbs. It doesn't flinch from the honest portrayal of Pagford's citizens, but it does leave the reader with questions. Also, even though the ending is hopeful, the story is bleak and sad. A little magic might be nice, after all.

Length: 503 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes, but be warned, Rowling's characters face a host of serious issues, including poverty, drug use, self-cutting, sexual abuse, OCD, depression, and facing the death of a loved one.


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

My 2 cents:

If I were to take a test on Jonathan Safran Foer's newest book, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, I'm not sure I'd come out with a high score. There is much in the book I found confusing, and I'm pretty sure I didn't connect all the dots. Yet, Foer's book made me think really hard, and look at the events of 9/11 from an entirely new perspective. In fact, I doubt I'll ever see 9/11 the same way again, and I thank Foer for this.

Oskar Schell, an unusual, highly intelligent, amusing 9-year-old boy, finds a key tucked inside a blue vase high up on a shelf in his father's bedroom closet, one year after Oskar's father, Thomas Schell, is killed in the Twin Towers on 9/11. One word is written on the envelope holding the key - “Black.” That one word launches Oskar on a quest – to find the lock the key fits into – and to find the lock, Oskar reasons, he must find the person 
named “Black.” Oskar's search takes him all over New York City, and to get there, he must face and conquer many fears, including (but not limited to): public transportation, elevators, bridges and loud noises.

The illustrations and photographs are intrinsic to this story, especially the ones at the end. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a tribute of sorts, to those who died in 9/11, those who didn't die, and a testament to what it takes to survive.

Length: 326 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes. Classified as Adult Fiction, this book was published in 2005.

Bonus: Based on Foer's novel, the movie (starring Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and Thomas Horn) was recently released on DVD. Shown in theaters in 2011 and 2012, it received mixed reviews.


 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Bronte Sisters (The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily and Anne) by Catherine Reef


My 2 cents:

If a book isn't uplifting, I hope it's informative. You can say both about The Bronte Sisters (The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily and Anne) by Catherine Reef.
Starting in Chapter 1 (“Oh God, My Poor Children!”), the book chronicles the Bronte family's misfortunes, beginning with Mrs. Bronte's death in 1821 (perhaps from cancer or a childbirth-related infection), to Mr. Bronte's death forty years later, in 1861. Mr. Bronte outlived all six of his children, five daughters and one son, Patrick Branwell Bronte.
The Bronte's story is relentlessly poignant, and riddled with illness, poverty and death; but Reef's account offers an enlightening glimpse into the 1800's, the poverty in which preachers of small congregations lived, the lack of medical care and antibiotics, and the bleak futures young women of that era faced if they did not marry. Reef also offers a peek into the literary world the Bronte sisters lived in, and how they came to write such time-honored classics as Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Fans of the Bronte sisters' work may want to read this book for insight into their brief, but productive lives.

Length: 190 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes, if you enjoy biographies, the 1800's and literature by the Bronte sisters. Reef's book is classified Young Adult Non-Fiction.




Tuesday, April 23, 2013

When You Wish Upon A Rat by Maureen McCarthy


My 2 cents:

When You Wish Upon A Rat, a juvenile fiction book by popular Australian author Maureen McCarthy, follows a familiar format, yet is still, somehow, fresh – both a little funny and a little sad.

Ruth Craze, new to teen-age-hood, loses a much-loved aunt to cancer, and suddenly finds herself extremely dissatisfied with her home, family and friends. Through an adventure with a rat and a new friend named Howard, Ruth's eye-opening experience is reminiscent of stories about a young King Arthur and the wizard Merlin, and FREAKY FRIDAY (book by Mary Rodgers, movie starring Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis).

Who's it for? Ages ten and up, and their parents. Heads up to parents: McCarthy does a great job at showing parents (the good and the bad) through the eyes of their kids.

Length: 281 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes, though I admit I found Rodney (the rat) a little creepy.



Monday, April 15, 2013

Ali in Wonderland by Ali Wentworth


My 2 cents:

I love it when friends hand me books to read and review. It's still a thrill, especially if it's a crisp, new book with white, un-smeared pages.

So a friend recommended Ali in Wonderland recently by Ali Wentworth, who's a pretty, blonde comedienne, a mother of two, and wife to George Stephanopoulos. And very funny. Wentworth's book is a memoir, but not really a life-story. It's more a bunch of random stories about her life, from her childhood in Washington, DC through boarding school, post-college adventures, work experiences and some engagements (I lost count of how many, exactly), to her life now in New York City

Hands-down, the funniest story in Wentworth's book is when she tells about the time her mother forced her to run away from home with her older sister, who was recuperating (miserably) from back surgery and wearing a full-body cast . . . in the summer. The older sister made a deal with Ali that if Ali could make her laugh, she would return home in time for the Brady Bunch on TV (it was Friday night). Ali kept the deal. A graveyard, trash bag and underwear were involved.

Besides being really entertaining, Wentworth's memoir is also a soulful tribute to the strong,”genetically-dominant” women in her life, especially her mother, whose name is, ironically, Muffie. Ali in Wonderland, even the acknowledgments, made me laugh.

Length: 243 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes, for the graveyard story with her run-away sister alone. This book is classified as Adult Biography, but high schoolers interested in comedy will enjoy it


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

PRODIGY by Marie Lu


My 2 cents:

PRODIGY. The much-awaited sequel to Legend by Marie Lu is out, thrilling teens everywhere, anxious to know what's happening with June, the Republic's 15-year-old, hot-shot prodigy, and Day, her cooler-than-cool rebel counterpart.

My 12-year-old daughter handed me a copy to read and review, and I was not disappointed. Sometimes, that first book in a titillating trilogy is a hard act to follow, and the second book falls a little flat. Not this time. The sequel hits readers with a jolt on the first page and keeps on pumping, up until the “oh, no, please, no” very last page. And, then some.

There are a few major surprises in Prodigy. (Hint: Anden. Second hint: Eden. Third: Kaede and the Patriots). June is amazing. And, Day, well. Let's just say that if readers didn't think they could fall any more in love with him, they were wrong.

Which brings us to Lu's big cliffhanger in the end. Will Day live? Will June and Day be together? What will happen to Anden? One thing's for sure. Lu knows how to write a trilogy.

Length: 371 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes. Prodigy is classified YA Literature, ages 14 and up. Maybe another year or two, Lizzey, and you'd enjoy Lu's book more, I think . . .

Bonus: Every other chapter is told from either June or Day's viewpoint, highlighted by different-colored ink. June gets black, Day gets blue.