Book Review: Peony in Love by Lisa See

18 Apr

Peony in LoveMy Rating:  2 out of 5 stars.

This book was wayyyyy too much for me.  Most of it is told from the perspective of a dead girl in 17th Century China.  Very transcendental.  I hope I’m even using that word right.

I have read several Lisa See novels, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Shanghai Girls, both of which I really enjoyed.  Unfortunately I did not feel the same about this book at all. 

It actually starts out okay.  It’s about a girl named Peony who lives in China in the 17th century, falls in love with a stranger and does not think she can handle having to marry someone else (pre-arranged) and let her one true love slip through her fingers. 

I don’t want to spoil the ending, so I will leave it at that, but I will tell you that it gets OUT of control with the afterlife nonsense. I will tell you that most of the book is told from the perspective of a dead person.  Another thing I found weird was that there is a famous Chinese opera entitled Peony in Love (which really exists) and there are parallels between the character of this opera and Peony in this book.  But it’s not the retelling of the opera.  I hope your head hasn’t exploded yet. 

I still adore Lisa See, especially because I do like Asian historical fiction and she’s great at it.  I would recommend Snow Flower and the Secret Fan any day.  But this one not so much.

Book Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

17 Apr

Bel CantoMy Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars

While they never say exactly where this story takes place, I read on the author’s website that it is loosely based on the 1996 hostage situation in Lima, Peru where several politicians, entertainers, and diplomats were held hostage by a terrorist group during an event hosted at the Japanese ambassador’s house. 

This novel begins with the hostages coming into the private residence of the Vice-President (of some country in South or Latin America) who is hosting a birthday party for a Japanese businessman.  Hostages come in, chaos ensues.  For a while.  After several weeks, the hostages remain, but the chaos subsides and a tentative relationship begins to form between the guests themselves and with their captors.

This book makes a GREAT book club book.  There’s many facets and characters to discuss.  I found the fixation on Roxane Cross a bit unrealistic, although I liked that angle.  It was just a bit too much.  The situation is unbelievable yet realistic at the same time.  And while the plot lulls in a few spots the ending is worth it. 

The concept of the translator interwoven in this story was also such a wise commentary on globalization.  So many different languages that posed a barrier some of the time yet was irrelevant sometimes. 

It is rare that a novel really digs into human nature in the way this book does.  It’s really a reflection on relationships and human interactions in a way you rarely see in novels.

If we were revising the reading list for high schoolers, I would recommend this one be on it.



Book Review: A Great Deliverance (Inspector Lynley Mystery #1) by Elizabeth George

24 Mar

A Great Deliverance (Inspector Lynley Series #1)My Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

I was looking for another formulaic mystery to read, preferably one of a series that I could return to when my appetite for these types of stories arises in the future.

This story is set in England and the main characters are Scotland Yard detectives.  Inspector Lynley has the appearance of being a ‘playboy’ who is only on the force because of his family name and Inspector Havers is an awkward, somewhat uptight woman who has a serious distaste for Lynley.

They are sent to investigate a man’s murder in a small Yorkshire town.  They meet interesting characters, work their way through unraveling the truth, get it almost right, get it wrong, get it right, yada yada, there’s your mystery.  Nothing really special there, although I thought the mystery part was adequate enough for me. 

What I liked more was the relationship between Lynley and Havers and the fact that the reader heard both of their inner thoughts about each other – is this called “third person omniscient”?  Where is my fairy godmother when I have a grammar question (I really do have a godmother who is an English professor)!  Regardless of its official name, it’s cool when you get the thoughts characters have about other characters and vice-versa.  Especially in this case since they aren’t hitting the mark with their assumptions about the other, which probably happens all the time in real life. 

Inspectory Lynley books were made into a television series for the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) in the 2001 and this book was used for the pilot episode.  Here is the cover:

The Inspector Lynley Mysteries: A Great Deliverance starring Nathaniel Parker: DVD Cover

I find this cover hilarious because while I see a good match with Havers (the bookish woman), the male here does not scream playboy to me.  He looks a little, um, ‘uncomfortable’.  This TV series ran until 2007 but not all of the episodes were based on Elizabeth George’s books.  Another interesting note: While this is everything British, Elizabeth George herself is American. 

On a semi-related note, I used this book for a little experiment.  I looked up the definition of every word I didn’t know as I was reading.  This might sound weird, but after one page alone I found 12 words I didn’t actually know the definition of and I realized I might be over-using the ‘using context to understand a word” concept.  In some cases I was dead wrong about what I thought the word meant and in some cases I was missing a critical description of something because I just took an adjective I didn’t know to basically mean the same thing as an adjective next to it.    Which, obviously makes no sense when you think about it – why would someone write that the sky is blue and blue?   Lesson learned:  I need to slow down my reading to ensure I’m capturing what the author is putting out there.  That’s really the only way to really get the whole story.

But back to the book.  I liked it, will read more in the series, and would recommend it to anyone who likes ‘cozy mysteries’.  What’s a cozy?  Read my post about it!  It does exactly fit the definition, but I think it would be enjoyed by someone who likes cozies too.

Cozy Mysteries

27 Feb

Get Cozy

This came up briefly in my book club a couple of months ago, so I thought I would write a bit about the little known genre called “Cozy Mysteries” or “Cozies”.

Let me say that my education on cozy mysteries came from  I found it when I googled ‘cozy books’, a phrase I thought I’d made up myself  to mean good to read hen you want to curl up under a blanket and be cozy.  Get it?  Well someone beat me to it! 

A cozy mystery is:

A “fun” mystery where the crime-solver is an educated, but amateur sleuth.  They take place in a small town where someone important in that town and in working to solve the crime is usually the crime-solver’s friend (medical examiner, sheriff, lead detective).   They are typically not very graphic or stomach-turning and adult situations are handled ‘off stage’.

The mystery has twists and turns keeping the reader guessing until the end but even more so the plot focuses on characters definition and their relationships.  The amateur sleuth is likeable, and usually a recurring character (like in a series). 

Two characters/books that fit this definition jump immediately to mind:  Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher.  If you were a TV watcher in the 1990s, you’ll know Jessica Fletcher was the main character from Murder, She Wrote.  Both Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries and Murder, She Wrote (named from an Agatha Christie book) are great definitions of cozies. 

Other good cozy authors and books can be found here:

Thanks to Danna, the blogmaster of the Cozy Mystery site.  She has a new devotee!

It’s Awards Season! Movies Based on Books

30 Jan

Since the 2012 awards season is underway,  I looked to see which nominated movies were based on books.   It’s my little public service announcement to remember how influential and relevant a good story is, even as many as 94 years after it was written (as in the case of Albert Nobbs). 

There are 17 movies represented in the Best Picture, Leading Actor, Leading Actress and Best Director Categories this year.

Five are original screenplays:  Midnight in Paris, The Artist, The Tree of Life, A Better Life, and The Iron Lady.

A whopping eleven are adapted screenplays that were all originally books.  That might be a record!

Here they are:



Based on Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret.


The Descendants

Based on the The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings.


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Based on Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.


The Help

Based on the book The Help by Katheryn Stockett.



Based on Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, a book by Michael Lewis.

   War Horse  

War Horse 

Based on War Horse, a children’s novel set before and during World War I, by British author Michael Morpurgo.


Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy

Based on Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy by John le Carré.


Albert Nobbs

Based on a short story entitled The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs in a story collection called Celibates by Irish novelist George Moore.  It was privately published in 1918 but Celibates was publicly published in 1927.


Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Based on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson


My Week with Marilyn

Based on two books by Colin Clark:  My Week with Marilyn and The Prince, Showgirl, and Me

Book Review: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

29 Jan

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionMy rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Louie Zamperini’s life is nearly unbelievable!  The WWII backdrop is fascinating.  I believe everyone should read this to get a real sense of America and Americans during WWII. 

This was the first non-fiction book I picked up since Devil in the White City.  If you recall my review of Devil, you’ll remember that I really struggled with the tediousness of the historical detail.   I was a bit nervous that this book would be the same way in honestly in some ways it was.  But as I always say, life is about expectations, right?  Since I was prepared to have to digest a bit of history with my story, it was much less painful for me to do so.

This book is about Louis Zamperini, Olympic gold medalist turned Air Force enlisted turned lost at sea turned POW turned religious nut turned old guy.  It’s really unbelievable the twist and turns of this guy’s story. 

I liked this book for two reasons.  First, Louis Zamperini’s story really is fascinating as is the overall time period and culture during World War II.  Secondly, I learned more about WWII  from this book than I have from any other source in my entire life.  I will spare you the details of my conversation about this with my husband, but the gist of it is that I am positive I was never taught WWII history in school, I never watch the history channel, and I don’t like war movies.  So my opinion is that I am lucky I knew ANYTHING about WWII.

Learning about WWII was not only just a good thing to have done, but it has a special place in my heart.  My grandfather was a machine gunner in Italy during World War II.  Not only did he survive, but he went on to raise a wonderful family and is still very much alive at 87!  The wonderful bonus is that he is a master storyteller who loves to talk about his experiences in the war.  He does this, ironically, in a completely light and rated G kind of way by focusing on the cooperation, camaraderie, and deep relationships he built with the men he shared this surreal experience with. 

This book makes an excellent Book Club read.  It is chock full of people and situations to discuss.

Book Review: Darkfever (Fever Series #1) by Karen Moning

29 Jan

Darkfever (Fever Series #1)My Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Total departure for me:  It is hard-core fantasy; parts are NC-17 but suprisingly, I really enjoyed it! 

I’ve heard hard-core readers talk about this series over and over and over (and over) again.  Everyone luvvvssss these books.  So it was just a matter of time before I picked them up myself. 

The writing is adequate, the story unusual (for me) and I loved the main character by the end of this book.  This is an extremely surprising reaction in my opinion because it has 3 things I absolutely NEVER thought I would tolerate in a book:

  1. it is hard-core fantasy.
  2. parts of it are NC-17.
  3. my copy (thankfully on my Nook) had a LOT of cleavage on the cover. 

Yet despite all of this, I really liked this book and will read the rest in the series.  I know, right?  ME!   This story is about a young 20 something from Atlanta whose sister is murdered in Dublin, Ireland while studying there.  She travels to Dublin to come to grips with the tragedy and hopefully find some information to lead to her sister’s killer when out of the blue she discovers she is ‘special’ and otherworldly.  Chaos ensues. 

I never, EVER thought I would like a book like this.  Never say never!

Book Review: Bossypants by Tina Fey

28 Jan

BossypantsMy Review:  3 out of 5 stars

Meh.  I don’t get the hype about this book.  Parts are funny, but overall I found it kinda boring.

This book is funny.  Well, funny-ish.  Tina Fey’s road to fame is actually pretty uninteresting, but her satirical look at life and the ways she describes her life’s milestones are humorous-to a point.

Where I got a bit bored was when the book took a turn from being a quirky autobiography to being more of a Management for Dummies thing.  The last quarter of a book had a very, “now that I’m in charge, here’s what I do as a woman who has to manage people so they like me and do what I say” sort of tone.  It was surprising.   And useless.  Obviously you offer favors.  Everyone knows that.  I AM JUST KIDDING.  Holy cow. 

Anyways, the more ‘managerial’ it became the less funny it was.  I still love Tina Fey, but I’m not looking to get leadership advice from her.

Book Review: The Phoenix Apostles (A Seneca Hunt Mystery) by Lynn Sholes & Joe Moore

27 Jan

The Phoenix ApostlesMy Rating:  1.5 out of 5 stars

EDIT:  thank you to Candice who read my review and pointed out a mistake in my historical facts.  I’ve edited my post with the correct information.

This book is extremely formulaic.  It follows a similar plot outline as many of the popular crime series with a recurring character:  Stephanie Plum (Janet Evanovich), Cotton Malone (Steve Barry), Alex Cross (James Patterson), you get the picture. 

Believe it or not, the use of a well-worn plot is not a criticism.  I enjoy these types of books and I chose this book specifically because I was in the mood for this formula. 

This story has the typical elements:  young, intelligent woman with a non-detective job who gets innocently wrapped up in solving a mystery to save her own life, narrowly escaping death and meeting interesting friends along the way.   

It’s the details that killed me here.  Spoiler Alert (highlight with your cursor over the next section – it’s in white text): There is a guy living in present times who is Montezuma who never died because he had the shroud of Turin the Veil of Veronica and is now digging up the graves of world history’s ‘mass murders’ (think Hitler and the like) and using their ground up bones and some smart doctors to  bring them back to life.  Which worked. Why is he doing this you ask?  So these killers can all do their bidding at the same time again now and ‘cleanse’ the earth which will make the sun-god happy and Montezuma will become a god. 

In-SANE.  When I said I liked formulaic, I should have also said that BEING REMOTELY FEASIBLE must be part of the formula I’ll read.  This is just nonsense.

Sale at Barnes & Noble Online

18 Jan

Some Good Books Starting at $2.99!
Free shipping if you’re a member (or sign up for a 2 month trial) otherwise free shipping for orders over $25.00