Everyday Tidbits...

"I am so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." - Anne Shirley

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Harriet and Isabella...Review

About the book:
It is 1887, and Henry Ward Beecher lies dying. Reporters from around the world, eager for one last story about the most lurid scandal of their time, descend on Brooklyn Heights, their presence signaling the beginning of the voracious appetite for fallen celebrities we know so well today.

When Henry Ward Beecher was put on trial for adultery in 1875, the question of his guilt or innocence was ferociously debated. His trial not only split the country, it split apart his family, causing a particularly bitter rift between his sisters, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Isabella Beecher Hooker, an ardent suffragist. Harriet remained loyal to Henry, while Isabella called publicly for him to admit his guilt. What had been a loving, close relationship between two sisters plummeted into bitter blame and hurt.

Harriet and Isabella each had a major role in the social revolutions unfolding around them, but what happened in their hearts when they were forced to face a question of justice much closer to home? Now they struggle: who best served Henry -- the one who was steadfast or the one who demanded honesty?


I was only familiar with Harriet Beecher Stowe as being the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. I had no idea of her history or her family's legacy. This book is a fictionalized account of an historical incident involving the Beecher family: an adultery trial involving their brother, a preacher.

It was a fascinating book from the family point-of-view, with issues of loyalty, trust, betrayal and forgiveness. While the premise is Henry Beecher's trial, the narration is told from the viewpoints of Harriet and her sister Isabella, and the consequences of their actions as one defends their brother and the other accuses.

The author's narrative was sometimes hard to follow. It wasn't first person, but it wasn't quite third person. I found it distracting and annoying. But, overall, a good book.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 1/08

* * *
3/5 Stars

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Wednesday Letters...Review


About the book:
The surprise New York Times bestseller, from an author who delivers “American storytelling at its best.”


The story of marriage, family, and forgiveness that has become not just a bestseller but an instant classic.


Their story begins with one letter on their wedding night, a letter from the groom, promising to write his bride every week—for as long they both shall live.


Thirty-nine years later, Jack and Laurel Cooper die in each other's arms. And when their grown children return to the family B&B to arrange the funeral, they discover thousands of letters.


The letters they read tell of surprising joys and sorrows. They also hint at a shocking family secret—and ultimately force the children to confront a life-changing moment of truth…

I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I thought the premise was interesting (a husband writing his wife a letter every week for 39 years). I didn't love his previous book, The Christmas Jars, the first time I read it, although I loved the idea it created. So I didn't hold out much hope for this book.

It was a quick read and I loved how the story wasn't told through the letters but because of the letters. The letters enhance the story and bring forth important pieces of knowledge. I loved the way the story showed forgiveness and mercy. It all wrapped up a bit too neatly and perfectly, but it was an overall good, thought-provoking book.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 1/08

* * *
3/5 Stars

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Observatory...Review

About the book:
Liz Mallory has always lived in the shadow of her glamorous twin sister, Harper, a talented artist who left everything -- including Liz -- behind to become a famous artist. Now, years later, tragedy reunites these estranged women. Reaching out to her sister, Liz moves into Harper's exclusive estate to care for her troubled nephew, Nick. This act of kindness, however, leads Liz down an unexpected path for it brings her together with the love of her life -- handsome amateur astronomer David Fields. Under the dome of the observatory David calls home, Liz tastes a passion as deep and vast as the night sky. But David is a man with painful secrets that could eclipse this newfound love -- secrets to which Harper holds the key. Can Liz get beyond her own past hurts and reach the stars with David? Does she dare to try?

It was ok. I was somewhat disappointed, as I had enjoyed The Gazebo. Other than the lack of graphic scenes, there's nothing in this that distinguishes this from a paperback romance novel.

It's a very light, easy read. Fairly predictable and you don't connect with the characters much. I preferred her novel, The Gazebo. I thought that was a much better book.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own here.

Read 1/08

* *
2/5 Stars

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Ladies Auxiliary...Review


About the book:
Batsheva is free-spirited and artistic, and at first the women of the ladies auxiliary discover in her a passion for the traditions and rituals of Judaism which have become stale and routine to them. But when Batsheva becomes close with the restless high-school girls she teaches who are eager to catch glimpses of the non-Kosher world outside, and befriends, maybe a little too intimately, the beloved Rabbi's only son, Yosef, feathers begin to ruffle. When events come to a head, and Batshevea's past is revealed, the women's allegiances begin to split over whether Batsheva should be forced out of the community.


Batsheva is an unforgettable character, one who makes her claims on the reader's heart from the first page. The Ladies Auxiliary, beautifully and skillfully told, shows what happens when the outside world leans on a closed community so intent on keeping its children inside its tight walls that it cannot see it is losing them.

I loved the book. I wasn't sure what to expect of it, but I was pleasantly surprised. The book shares the story of a close-knit group of devout, Orthodox Jews in Memphis and what happens when a free-spirited, yet still Orthodox, outsider moves in. I loved the collective voice of the narrator: she wasn't one particular woman, she was all of them "we". I found myself saddened at the treatment Batsheva received at the hands of some of these women. Their self-righteousness was enough to make me want to scream sometimes.

The setting is unknown, but would seem to be current (the book was written in 1999). However, the misguided intentions, gossip, interference and persecution call to mind a much earlier time.

The author's prose is beautiful. Very flowing and honest. It certainly makes me wonder why our close religious communities can sometimes be so unwelcoming. Especially when we all profess a love of God. I didn't understand very much about the Jewish traditions, but it was fascinating to learn about them, and much of the reasons behind them.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own here.

Read 1/08

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Northanger Abbey...Review

About the book:
Catherine Morland lives for much of her time in a fantasy world of romance and mystery based on the Gothic novels of her time, the early 1800s. But a stay in Northanger Abbey leads her into a series of misjudgments and a farewell to her Gothic world, only to be dealt a cruel blow in the real one.

This is one of my favorite Austen books. This is her earliest written book, and probably the least polished.

It's funny and light-hearted at times, but it's also serious when it comes to the subject of marriage. There are laugh-out loud moments and there are moments where you get so angry at particular characters that you wish you could wring some necks! There are also moments in this book when Jane Austen is downright snarky. Her satire is sharp and funny. This is a book that involves the reader completely. I found myself underlining paragraphs and passages. One of my favorite quotes comes from Henry Tilney in a conversation with Catherine about reading: "The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not the pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." I laughed when I read that! I agree!

Another fun passage was her narration about fashion: "It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire; how little it is biased by the texture of their muslin, and how insusceptible of peculiar tenderness towards the spotted, the sprigged, the mull, or the jackonet. Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it. Neatness and fashion are enough for the former, and a something of shabbiness or impropriety will be most endearing to the latter. But not one of these grave reflections troubled the tranquillity of Catherine."

A definite must read for any and all who proclaim themselves lovers of Jane Austen.

Personal copy last read 1/08

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Covenant...Review

About the book:
Book 1 of Abram's Daughters series from bestselling author Beverly Lewis. Years of secrecy bind the tiny community of Gobbler's Knob together more than the present inhabitants know, and the Plain folk who farm the land rarely interact with the fancy locals. So when Sadie is beguiled by a dark-haired English boy, it is Sadie's younger sister, Leah, who suffers from her sister's shameful loss of innocence. And what of Leah's sweetheart, Jonas Mast, sent to Ohio under the Bishop's command? Drawn into an incomprehensible pact with her older sister, Leah finds her dreams spinning out of control, even as she clings desperately to the promises of God. The Covenant begins a powerful Lancaster portrait of the power of family and the miracle of hope.

I really enjoyed this book as I've always been fascinated with the Amish way of life. I liked the insights into the society: the courtship rituals; the close-knit community; the devotion to family and faith. The complete acceptance of secrecy was surprising. I am curious as to how true it is to the time and people.

The author's prose is simple and concise, but not at all awkward. She says what needs to be said with the same clear succinctness employed by the Plain people. An interesting book, and an easy read. The novel really has no complete ending; I assume it is to segue into the sequels. Definitely recommended.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 1/08

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sugar Camp Quilt...Review


About the book:
History is thick with secrets in The Sugar Camp Quilt, eventh in the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series from bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini. Set in Creek's Crossing, Pennsylvania, in the years leading up to the Civil War, the story begins with friends and neighbors taking sides in the abolitionist debate, and as events unfold, an extraordinary young heroine passes from innocence to wisdom against the harrowing backdrop of the American struggle over slavery.


A dutiful daughter and niece, Dorothea Granger finds her dreams of furthering her education thwarted by the needs of home. A gifted quilter, she tragically loses her hope chest in a flood. A superior student, she is promoted from pupil to teacher -- only to lose her position to the privileged son of a town benefactor. But the ultimate test of her courage and convictions comes with the death of her stern uncle Jacob, who inexplicably had asked Dorothea to stitch him a quilt with four unusual patterns of his own design. After he meets with a violent end, Dorothea discovers that the quilt contains hidden clues to guide runaway slaves along the Underground Railroad. Emboldened by the revelations about her uncle's bravery, Dorothea resolves to continue his dangerous work. Armed with the Sugar Camp Quilt and its mysterious symbols, she must evade slave catchers and outwit unscrupulous neighbors, embarking upon a heroic journey that allows her to discover her own courage and resourcefulness -- unsuspected qualities that may win her the heart of the best man she has ever known.


Told with Jennifer Chiaverini's trademark historical suspense, The Sugar Camp Quilt blends danger, moral courage, romance, and hope into a novel of antebellum America whose lessons resonate with timeless honesty.

I enjoyed this as much or more than the other Elm Creek Quilts books. This one is set in the past, and tells the life of Dorothea who was good friends with Sylvia's Great Aunt Gerda. It goes into detail about how quilts were used to help runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. Historically there are disagreements as to whether or not this really happened, but the novel is honestly believable. From a historical aspect, it was fascinating. Chiaverini has a great way of capturing emotions and feelings well.

Overall, a good, easy read.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 1/08

* * **
4/5 Stars

House of Mirth...Review

I had a difficult time getting into this book. It's taken me forever to finish it. I'm a fast reader and this isn't a fast book! I read Edith Wharton in college and enjoyed her immensely, I just didn't enjoy this one as much. The story is lively and interesting: Lily Bart is a woman to whom many of us can relate. She is a poor girl with expensive taste who is still accepted into the monied New York society. She wants a husband, but because of her poor financial decisions, finds herself beholden to those whom she doesn't necessarily like. Wharton captures the time and essence of the society perfectly. And, in many ways, the theme is still relevant today: we care what people think about us and we want what we don't have, including acceptance.

Interesting. A good read.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 1/08

* * *
3/5 Stars

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Mercies...Review

I liked this, although I didn't enjoy it as much as I have the other Sandra Dallas books I've read. The 1933 Natchez, Mississippi setting is, from a historical aspect, fascinating. Having never been to Natchez, and having had minimal southern exposure, I enjoyed the history lesson more than the plot. The glimpse into southern history and society is entertaining and downright funny at times. The author captures the essence of the class and race distinctions that continued even after the war ended.

Of the two plot twists, one was surprising, and, I don't think completely necessary to the story, but it did add another Dallas-style emotional dimension. Overall, an interesting book.

Read 1/08