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Annette S. (annette-s) - Reviews

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The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden
Review Date: 3/20/2013


The $64 Tomato by William Alexander is a humorous account of a gardener battling to start and maintain a whopping, uber-sized 2,000 square foot kitchen garden! For a professional man and his physician wife to even strive for such a large garden in their spare time is either insane or they have to have a good sense of humor. Well, he definitely had a good sense of humorthis book was funny. About being insane, Im not qualified to comment.

In this book William Alexander calls gardening a blood sport for a good reason. He battled everything from clay soil, to garden designers, landscapers, weeds, numerous bug infestations, squirrels, and even groundhogs, or more specifically Superchuck. One of the most amusing episodes was his battle with Superchuck. Superchuck was woodchuck, aka groundhog, who somehow bypassed the electric fence to sneak into the kitchen garden and took bites out of prized Brandywine tomatoes. And in his super arrogance, he didn't just take a couple tomatoes and devour them. No, he took one bite out of a whole handful of tomatoes each time he magically worked his way through the 10,000-volt deterrence. What followed was battle of wits. Youll have to read it to see who officially won.
Read other reviews at http://readinginthegarden.blogspot.com


Alphabet Weekends: Love on the Road from A to Z
Alphabet Weekends: Love on the Road from A to Z
Author: Elizabeth Noble
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
 228
Review Date: 2/11/2013


Alphabet Weekends by Elizabeth Noble is about love, actually the many stages of love. It's about the love of a couple married forty years facing health issues. It's about the exhausting love of a newborn baby in the family. It's about another couple in the throes of unlovely complications. And finally, there's the pursuit of love. The main storyline revolves around Tom and Natalie. They have known each other since they were kids. Tom has always liked Natalie but she considers him more like a brother than boyfriend material. After Simon, her self-absorbed boyfriend of six years, dumps Natalie, the thirty-five-year-old is suddenly loveless. That's when Tom steps in to see if he can change all that. He proposes a game of sorts where they would spend twenty-six weekends going through an alphabet of activities designed to see if they could find happiness together. She's skeptical; he's enthusiastic. We start with "A is for Abseiling," which translated from British to American, means rappelling. Not all of the letters are thrill-seekers. Some are quite ordinary like "E is for Eating" and "D is for Do It Yourself." Frankly, he had me at "I is for IKEA," but there are even better ones. I was familiar with "V is for ...." Well, you'll have to read it. But trust me, it was a good choice! "P" was even more exciting.

I liked the writing, too. And as you'd expect in proper English there were rhetorical questions scattered throughout, weren't there? I liked all those unfamiliar British words and expressions which made me smile. Phrases like "you nutter"; "he fancied her rotten"; and "he's knackered" were amusing. So was a scene at IKEA. "In the Bathrooms, a couple were arguing about towel colours. Apparently he was a stupid colour-blind git while his wife, allegedly 'wouldn't know good taste if it smacked [her] in the arse'." Gotta love it.

(Elizabeth Noble, Alphabet Weekends (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 171.)

Read other reviews at http://readinginthegarden.blogspot.com


Amazing Gracie : A Dog's Tale
Amazing Gracie : A Dog's Tale
Author: Dan Dye, Mark Beckloff
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.2/5 Stars.
 98
Review Date: 1/25/2013
Helpful Score: 3


Amazing Gracie by Dan Dye and Mark Beckloff is a heart-warming and humorous quick read about a man and his dog, how they formed a family, and a business. Dan was trying to get over the loss of a relationship, a loving eighteen-year friendship that ended when his dog, Blue, passed away. He wasn't looking to replace Blue, but eight weeks later, Gracie stepped into his life and turned it around. Gracie, an albino Great Dane was deaf and partially blind. But she was also lonely and lovable and fit right into his home with his roommate, Mark, and Mark's "girls," Dottie and Sarah, a Dalmatian and a black lab mix. At first there was an adjustment period with Gracie and the "demonic duo." Dottie and Sarah resented the new little interference, but it wasn't long before little Gracie towered over the girls and found a way into their hearts.

Gracie had always been a finicky eater. She was not gulping down her food like the other dogs and it showed. She was skin and bones and Dan consulted a vet. The vet advised him to try and make food for Gracie instead of using store-bought dog food. His first batches were a mess that looked more like "rock samples from the moon" than the dog cookies he was aiming for. Gracie, however, slurped them up. She loved his homemade cooking with all natural ingredients--and so did other dogs. Three Dog Bakery was born.

In the end Gracie and their business thrived (though it was a long and difficult road). Gracie, Dottie, and Sarah, (oh, and Dan and Mark) became famous. They went on TV shows, had their own show, and toured the country on publicity tours. Three Dog Bakery now is a national chain, and it all started with Gracie. Read other reviews at http://readinginthegarden.blogspot.com


Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
Author: Dai Sijie, Ina Rilke (Translator)
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 686
Review Date: 2/6/2013
Helpful Score: 3


Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie relates the story of two boys during Mao Tse Tung's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). In this political/social revolution, intellectuals including scientists, writers, engineers, physicians, and other educated people posed a threat to Mao Tse Tung's government, which promoted equality for all. They, along with anyone in opposition to the government, were persecuted, publicly humiliated, harassed, imprisoned, and even tortured. Schools were closed, books were banned, and youth were exiled to the peasant mountainous regions to be "re-educated."

In this book two boys, who are working in the mountains, discover that the one of the workers in another village has a secret suitcase full of books. They set about on a quest to obtain the banned books. Once they have them, the world opens up to them again with the writings of Balzac's Père Goriot, The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas, and other classics. One of the boys begins reading the stories to a little seamstress. Both boys are attracted to her, but Luo soon wins her heart.

Though the circumstances the boys live in are oppressive, the book is not. This book is a quick read with a compelling storyline will keep you turning pages. Historical fictions often teach me more than a history class. Cultural Revolution? Re-education? Before this book, I don't remember any of that from school. My ignorance knows no bounds. Thank goodness for historical fictions; they revive the brain cells just a little bit. This book was eye-opening lesson where I realize how lucky we are in many ways, one of them the privilege and access to books. Read other reviews at http://readinginthegarden.blogspot.com


Breath, Eyes, Memory
Breath, Eyes, Memory
Author: Edwidge Danticat
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
 257
Review Date: 2/5/2013


This is a haunting book about the relationship of a mother and her estranged daughter who moves from Haiti to New York to be with her at the age of twelve. Sophie soon discovers the reason her mother left her homeland and why she only wants to go back to be buried there. At eighteen, Sophie is emotionally scarred herself by her own mother's hand in a ritual called "testing." This accepted practice is reluctantly passed down from generation to generation, but it changes Sophie and her relationship with her mother. I thought the book was a tad too depressing. If you're looking for thumbs-up recommendations, visit http://readinginthegarden.blogspot.com


The Bridges of Madison County
The Bridges of Madison County
Author: Robert James Waller
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
 800
Review Date: 2/20/2013
Helpful Score: 1


When The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller came out in 1992, it was THE book to read. Everyone was talking about it'with good reason. It's a good book, a short but satisfying read. It's a love story--an affair to remember, so to speak. In the summer of 1965 Francesca Johnson was a farm wife who meets Robert Kincaid, a National Geographic photographer, passing through town. He's interested in photographing the covered bridges in the area and asks Francesca for directions. When she offers to show him, there's an instant chemistry spark that slowly ignites into full-blown passionate fireworks. Her family is out of town, which is quite convenient for them. But this isn't just a "wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am" relationship. Robert and Francesca find true love. He heaps on the romantic mush she longs for and her husband is not built for. He tells her he loves her and cinches the deal by saying things like: "In a universe of ambiguity, this kind of certainty comes only once, and never again, no matter how many lifetimes you live." Or how about: "I'm no longer sitting next to you here on the grass. You have me inside of you as a willing prisoner." Great stuff for a lonely farm wife.

One of my friends didn't like the fact that Francesca kept journals of their time together in a chest along with Robert's magazine clippings, memories she clung to for the remainder of her life right under her unsuspecting husband's nose. The story actually opens with her grown children discovering these journals containing the incredible love story after their mother had passed away. I thought it revealed Francesca's undying love. Call me a sap, but I was moved by the book. Read other reviews at http://readinginthegarden.blogspot.com


City of Thieves
City of Thieves
Author: David Benioff
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.2/5 Stars.
 218
Review Date: 1/18/2013


The novel is set in brutally cold Leningrad, Russia during WWII. Lev and Kolya are sentenced to death. Lev for theft and Kolya for deserting his unit. Their only hope for survival is for them to obtain a dozen eggs for the wedding cake of a powerful Soviet Colonel's daughter. Only then will their lives be spared. But the Colonel may as well ask for the moon. There is no food, not even a bran muffin to be found (and Kolya could really use one). People are starving and freezing. This book takes the duo through some hair-raising and horrifying adventures. Their courageous journey is heart-breaking as well as humorous and will keep you turning page after page. This book is not so much about war as it is about human endurance and friendship.

I was so enthused about the book that I gave it to my husband to read after I was done and he gave it a thumbs-up, too. Read other reviews at http://readinginthegarden.blogspot.com


The Crystal Palace (My Story)
The Crystal Palace (My Story)
Author: Frances Mary Hendry
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.3/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 2/1/2013


The Crystal Palace: The Diary of Lily Hicks, London 1850-1851 by Frances Mary Hendry is a kids' Scholastic book interesting enough for all ages. This book chronicled the construction of The Crystal Palace for The Great Exhibition in 1851 through the eyes of a fourteen-year-old housemaid. I found it charming and revealing. In this novel, Lily becomes a housemaid in the home of Joseph Paxton, the man who designed The Crystal Palace.

Lily learns the great glass structure was fabricated to present the newest products of the capitalist economy, accompanied by exotic displays, fauna and flora at the world's fair. As Lily tracks the progress of the magnificent building, she also deals with the social hierarchy of London society and her role and responsibilities as a member of the household staff. We learn about her other reality, her own poor family living in the slums. On the one hand this book gives a glimpse into the opulent world of the well-to-do, and then flips and shows us the restricted and sometimes tragic world of the lower class. Naturally, since it's geared toward the younger crowd, it's a quick and easy read. But it's also surprisingly enjoyable and informative.

Fun Fact: Souvenirs of The Great Exhibition included pictures of Prince Albert and The Crystal Palace. Visitors could buy gloves with maps printed on them so they could wear them and find their way around the exhibition. There were also mugs with pictures, cans of candies, soap boxes, and more.
Read other reviews at http://readinginthegarden.blogspot.com


Dreams of Joy
Dreams of Joy
Author: Lisa See
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 67
Review Date: 2/4/2013


Dreams of Joy by Lisa See is the sequel to Shanghai Girls. It picks up when nineteen-year-old Joy, daughter of Pearl and Sam Louie, runs off to communist China to aid in the communist cause. There she finds her birth father and quickly realizes her disillusion in the utopian society of communism. She lives in a farming village and soon develops a relationship with a young man. All the while Pearl is frantic and gives up her life in Los Angeles to search for her missing daughter. Times in China are tough and they get even tougher as Mao Tse Tung launches his Great Leap Forward.

The Great Leap Forward promoted "collectivism," where people worked collectively for the good of China. Farmers were no longer allowed to grow what they wanted and in the manner they were accustomed. Mao Tse Tung strictly enforced planting crops extremely close together in an effort for greater production. However, this crowded out the plants and caused many crop failures. Although other factors may have contributed, a devastating famine resulted and millions of people died during the late 1950s and early 60s. Like everyone else, Joy struggled with hunger and shocking conditions. A few extremely disturbing instances in the way they dealt with the hunger made all the eyebrows in our book club rise "collectively." I'm sure you'll know just what I'm talking about when you read it.

I am not a history buff and barely remember this chapter in history being taught in school. Oh sure, I can vividly picture Mrs. Merckel with her blond curls and those oversized black rimmed glasses in my eighth-grade Social Studies class mention Mao Tse Tung (or Mao Zedong as he's now known). But after saying his name, things seem to go black. My brain flatlined. I do not recall any of the atrocities, the persecution, or even the cannibalism.

That's what I enjoy about historical fiction. As a kid history was not my favorite subject. I glazed over most history classes in school. Mainly I just remember having to memorize dates of significant wars which I quickly released from my mind. Historical fictions, however, bring the human aspects to life. The people become real, not just statistics. Historical fictions and memoirs push emotional buttons that a sterile history class just can't do.

Although this book was a sequel, occurrences in the first book were woven into the story, so the book can stand alone. I would recommend reading both, Shanghai Girls, then Dreams of Joy. Both are excellent. Both got thumbs up from my book club. Read other reviews at http://readinginthegarden.blogspot.com


Flags of Our Fathers
Flags of Our Fathers
Author: James Bradley, Ron Powers
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 38
Review Date: 5/27/2013


Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers examines the lives of the six young men who became instant and even reluctant heroes in that iconic photo of the flag raising on Iwo Jima in February of 1945. The book relays the background of each of the men, who they were and what family values formed them. Bradley pieced together their histories as well as the realities of the unforgettable battle with heart wrenching detail.

It was only 1/400th of a second, the time it took to take that photo, but the magnitude of the resulting propaganda had a huge impact. For the six men it was just that, a blip in time compared to the job they had at hand. When the flag went up the fighting was far from over, though Americans hailed the photo as a victorious boost to morale. It touched the people and the government saw it as a great opportunity. The three surviving men were pulled from the battle to begin a Bond Tour to raise more money for the war efforts. They became instant heroes, whether they liked it or not. Each had a different way of handling that fame. Rene Gagnon hoped his notoriety would help him gain employment. It didnt. Ira Hayes hid behind the bottle and eventually died at age 32. Only Jack Bradley, the authors father, did his tour duty then forevermore backed away from the press after he left the service. With great determination, he kept his private life private and never talked of the war again. That was his way of handling it. He decided to go on with his life.

The stories of the six men are compelling. But more than their stories, we see that they were just six small but valuable parts in a much bigger story. There were so many others, so many who suffered, who gave their lives. Eighty thousand American men fought 22,000 Japanese for over one month in unimaginable circumstances. Our U.S. Marines could not see the enemies. Sixteen miles of underground tunnels hid the Japanese as they picked our guys off. After a long and bloody battle, the Marines finally did conquer that tiny sulphur-stinking island which we desperately needed for a landing strip en route to Japan. But it was at enormous cost. 22,851 casualties. 7,000 dead. It was one of the most intense and closely fought battles of any war. If war books do not usually make it onto your reading list, you may want to reconsider just this once. Flags of Our Fathers is dramatic, moving, and enlightening. Read other reviews at http://readinginthegarden.blogspot.com


The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves And The World Around Them
Review Date: 4/29/2013


The Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell is a compilation of diary entries of approximately 150 students in a Los Angeles school. Ms Gruwell, a first-year teacher, steps into a world of despair, hatred, and anger and ends up teaching her at risk students more than English. Through imagination, enthusiasm, and determination Ms. Gruwell begins an education of tolerance and acceptance in a world where high school students carry guns for protection, where racism and hatred is deep and suffocating. She exposes the kids to the atrocious intolerance of the Holocaust and the Bosnian War with books like Night by Elie Wiesel, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and Zlatas Diary: A Childs Life in Sarajevo. Through these books their eyes and minds are opened. Like Anne and Zlata, Ms Gruwell assigns the students to write their own diaries. This book is the result of four years worth of selected diary entries that takes the reader through the mindsets of the students and Ms. Gruwell as they all journey from disparate strangers to a family.

I saw the Freedom Writers movie years ago when it first came out and thought it was inspiring. Anyway you look at it, Ms Gruwell is amazing. This teacher put everything she had into making a difference. She worked tirelessly as a teacher, then worked another job to take students on field trips or bring key speakers right to their classrooms. The movie, however, only focused on a few of the students, whereas the book gives us a glimpse into so many more students liveslives I cannot imagine. Each person has a story to tell whether its about abuse, hunger, shootings, being overweight, or having cystic fibrosis. Most live in a war zone; an undeclared war that tear their lives apart. Drugs and violence are prevalent.

Though the conditions and situations the students live with are depressing, the book is uplifting. Its a lesson for all to overcome adversity and plow forward, to educate ourselves and move in a positive direction. If these kids can block out the negativity of the surrounding world and focus on accepting others for who they are while concentrating on their future in a positive way, even striving to go to college, then we, who dont have such obstacles, should be able to soar. Read other reviews at http://readinginthegarden.blogspot.com


French Dirt : The Story of a Garden in the South of France
French Dirt : The Story of a Garden in the South of France
Author: Richard Goodman
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 11
Review Date: 3/18/2013


French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France by Richard Goodman is short book about a great undertaking in France. American Richard Goodman and his Dutch girlfriend decided to move to a small village in France for one year. The town had a population of 211 people. Not only did this scant number of inhabitants not warrant a movie theater, there was also no post office, no grocery store, no butcher, no gas station. There weren't any stores at all. In the mornings trucks peddling bread, meat, and even shoes came to the town square. That was the highlight of the day. So what did people do for recreation? Well, gardening ranked up there, but not really for recreational purposes. These people took gardening seriously. When Richard had a difficult time making friends, he made a garden. And with his garden slow friendships ultimately developed. This book is not just about the thrill of growing your own vegetables, the miracle of planting seeds, nurturing them, and getting delicious crops at the end of the season. This book takes us to a foreign land with different cultures and lifestyles. It's like a relaxing little vacation while watching Richard do all the hard work in the garden. I really liked the book. Read other reviews at http://readinginthegarden.blogspot.com


Frida
Frida
Author: Barbara Mujica
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 28
Review Date: 2/27/2013


Frida by Barbara Mujica is a fascinating historical novel about a fascinating woman. Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter born in 1907. She was firecracker of a woman who painted with gusto despite the fact that most of her life she was in great pain. At the age of six, she contracted polio which left one leg thinner than the other. When she was a teenager, she was on a bus when a trolley collided with it and Frida was impaled by an iron handrail through her pelvis. Throughout her life she had to endure numerous operations and spent a lot of time confined to her bed. Some of her paintings depict the gruesome pain she suffered. Most famous are her self-portraits. Many times she would paint looking in a mirror from her bed. Mujica explains, "Art kept her going. Creating beauty out of pain helped her make sense of things."

Frida married Diego Rivera, a famous Mexican muralist. Their relationship was volatile as both their artistic temperaments collided. Frida was five-foot-two, but could hold her own against anyone. That included six foot tall, three-hundred pound Diego.

Frida was one hot tamale with a unibrow and a spicy disposition who didn't let anything slow her down. Bedridden at the opening of her art exhibit she insisted on being taken there on a stretcher by ambulance."The great Kahlo has done it again! She has made jaws drop and eyes pop." Even if you're not a fan of her art, Frida's story is compelling.
Her life was both tragic and triumphant. This was a good book written with captivating style.

Read other reviews at http://readinginthegarden.blogspot.com


The Giant's House
The Giant's House
Author: Elizabeth McCracken
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
 126
Review Date: 4/22/2013


The Giants House by Elizabeth McCracken is about a librarian who forms a friendship with an overly tall boy. She calls it love, and it is a love story. But a different kind of love. Its not the sordid sort that makes you cringe. Its not about an older teacher-type woman taking advantage of a younger student. This is a touching tale about Peggy Cort and James Sweatt. Peggy is a single woman others would call a spinster. But that word conjures up images of a bitter, lonely woman, which she definitely is not. Peggy doesnt require companionship with many friends or even a husband to make her life feel full. Instead, she opens her heart to this unusually tall boy. James first came to her library when he was a 62 eleven-year-old; she was twenty five; it was 1950. Slowly she helps him not only in the world of books, but in general. She becomes a caring friend, and he becomes a precious gift to her. Miss Cort narrates the story looking back on her life, and it McCrackles with a blunt, honest, and dryly humorous tone. Her voice is luring. It flows easily and lightly. I could listen to her all day long. I think this book is one of those treasures that will stay with me a long time. Peggy and James are unforgettable. This book was a nice, giant surprise and shot right up there on my list of favorites. Read other reviews at http://readinginthegarden.blogspot.com


A Guide to the Birds of East Africa
A Guide to the Birds of East Africa
Author: Nicholas Drayson
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 6
Review Date: 4/1/2014


A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson is a novel that centers on two men who want to ask the same woman to the annual Hunt Club Ball, but they dont want to put her in the awkward position of having to choose between them. So, how do they settle which one of them should invite Rose, a lovely widow, who leads a bird walk every Tuesday in Nairobi, Kenya? The men engage in a wager. Whoever can identify the most number of bird species in a weeks time will have the privilege of inviting Rose to the dance. And just to keep things honest, there are three committee members in the Asadi Club to officially record their bird spottings every evening and see the rules are adhered to. You do not have to be an ornithologist, or even like birds to read this book. Human relationships prevail over the feathered variety. Of all the people hes competing against, Mr. Maliks opponent happens to be his old high school rival. Harry Khan is a loud, boisterous, and a somewhat cocky character. I was rooting for Mr Malik especially when faced with unexpected obstacles. Apparently, crime in Nairobbery is as common and natural as a small oxpecker bird resting on the back of an enormous rhinoceros. And this proves to be a hindrance for the honorable and more reserved of the two gentlemen. The story was original, charming, and left me feeling good. In fact, the last line made me chuckle out loud. I loved this book! It was as beautiful and welcoming as sighting a great blue turaco.


The Help
The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.4/5 Stars.
 401
Review Date: 2/18/2013


The Help by Kathryn Stockett is another one of my all-time favorite books, ranking right up there with Water for Elephants. Set in volatile Jackson, Mississippi in the early sixties, this story revolves around Skeeter, a budding reporter, who clandestinely interviews the black hired help. She starts with Aibileen, her friend's maid. Aibileen is a soft-spoken, intelligent, caring woman who has raised countless white babies in her career. Of course in such precarious times, she's reluctant to say anything about her working conditions, but Skeeter eventually gets her to open up.

Minny is a spunky, sassy maid who works for Miss Hilly, a slimy, controlling bigot. When Hilly fires Minny, she seeks out her own revenge before she finally finds another job with Celia. Celia is a clueless, sweet woman considered white trash thanks to Hilly. The book meanders through each of the women's lives telling their own storylines which melt together like a delicious bowl of unadulterated chocolate.

As a whole, our book club members really liked the book. We cared about the characters and the story. Some thought it dragged on a bit at the end, but I don't agree. I loved it from beginning to end, could you tell? If you haven't read it yet, I hope you will. Read other reviews at http://readinginthegarden.blogspot.com


The Hundred Secret Senses
The Hundred Secret Senses
Author: Amy Tan
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 124
Review Date: 2/8/2013


The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan is as captivating as any of Amy Tan's works including The Kitchen God's Wife and The Bonesetter's Daughter.

Kwan enters Olivia's life in an unexpected way when Olivia's father dies and his daughter from his first marriage comes to live with them in America. Five-year-old Olivia would have preferred a new turtle or a doll; instead she got an older half-sister. Seeing Kwan at the airport Olivia thought she looked like a chubby old lady with braids dressed in pajamas bellowing a loud "Hall-ooo!" Kwan is a built-in embarrassment. She's awkwardly unfamiliar with American culture. She's tactless, loud, talkative, and annoyingly upbeat. She's the crazy relative you don't want anyone to know about. But she's also very tolerant and kind with the more self-absorbed Olivia. In her endless prattle, Kwan tells Olivia about Chinese superstitions and ghost stories. She explains to Libby (Kwan can't pronounce her name right, so calls her Libby-ah) that she has "yin eyes" and can see ghosts.

As an adult, Olivia has listened to Kwan's tales all her life and she's tired of them. She has very little patience for Kwan and acknowledges that she never does anything with Kwan unless it's out of guilt. Besides, she has her own worries with her marriage unraveling. But Kwan is ever eager to help in her own way. In an effort to bring the two back together, Kwan plans a trip for the three of them to China. There the "ghost stories" come to life in tales that alternate between past and present.
Read other reviews at http://readinginthegarden.blogspot.com


The Hunger Games (Hunger Games, Bk 1)
The Hunger Games (Hunger Games, Bk 1)
Author: Suzanne Collins
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.5/5 Stars.
 2317
Review Date: 1/18/2013


This was one of our book club selections and I was not looking forward to reading it. While on one hand it sounded intriguing and I had already heard good things about it, the subject matter wasn't such a lure for me. In the future nation of Panem, a boy and a girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen are drawn in a lottery to be participants in the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games is an annual competition which takes place in the capitol of the twelve existing districts. The twist is that the kids must fight to the death. There is only one survivor.

To my great surprise though, I loved The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins! It was interesting, suspenseful, imaginative, sad, a real yank at the heart. The book was an action-packed whirlwind from the beginning scenes of life in the village, to the lottery drawing, to the physical and mental preparation, and to the actual game itself. The game takes place in a controlled environment, a bubble of sorts, where the coordinators can manipulate the physical surroundings to influence participant action. I was on the edge of my seat as Katniss and Peeta pitted against each other fought for survival, then were urged on as a team, then to the surprise twist.

And at the emotional end I was ready for the second installment, Catching Fire, and finally the third, Mockingjay. Because the books were short and easy, geared toward a young adult audience, I wasn't annoyed in continuing on (since I'm not a big fan of series). In fact, I was very enthusiastic. In the end I urged my husband and son to read the series, and no surprise, they both liked them, too. Read other book reviews at readinginthegarden.blogspot.com


I Am Madame X
I Am Madame X
Author: Gioia Diliberto
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
 22
Review Date: 3/1/2013


I Am Madame X by Gioia Diliberto revolves around the life of Virginie Gautreau, the woman who posed for John Singer Sargent's infamous painting, Madame X. To the current-day eye the portrait is of an elegant woman wearing a beautiful, sleek black dress. The waist is small and defined. The deep V-neckline, almost modest for today, revealed a lot of skin in the 1800s. But more shockingly was the fact that one strap was dangling off her shoulder in a come-hither attitude. Gasp. That "slutty" picture ended up causing a lot of strife. Later, a repentant Singer Sargent moved away from his scandal in Paris and the strap was repainted more respectably on her shoulder.

This novel, however, doesn't focus on that painting; it is centered on the life of the woman in the painting. Virginie Gautreau moved from a Louisiana plantation with her mother and sister to Paris in the 1800s. While the Civil War raged at home, Virginie took on the life of a Parisian socialite. She was a desperate housewife of her day with style and class demanded of a stricter set of social boundaries. She did not always adhere to those restrictions, though, and did not escape gossip anymore than a modern-day party girl. I really liked this book. I loved strolling with Virginie in Paris during the time of the Belle Epoque. I was lured by the elegance and grandness of the times. Mostly I was interested in the life Virginie carved out for herself. One day I hope to make a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the portrait. And when I do, I will smile, because I feel I know this woman. I know her secrets, her ambitions, and struggles. This isn't just another beautiful painting; it's Virginie.
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In Our Hearts We Were Giants: The Remarkable Story of the Lilliput Troupe - a Dwarf Family's Survival of the Holocaust
Review Date: 4/10/2013


In Our Hearts We Were Giants by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev is an incredible story of a family of little people and their survival through the Holocaust. Shimshon Eizik Ovitz was a little person born to normal height parents. His first marriage to a regular sized woman produced two surviving daughters, both of whom where little. After his wife died, Shimshon remarried another normal sized woman and produced eight more children, five of whom were also little people. The mother, who had raised all kids, including the two daughters from the first marriage, warned them to always stay together. Their strength was in supporting each other. They heeded her advice and formed the Lilliput Troupe. Every child, with the exception of one tall son, worked together in the Troupe. Born and raised in Transylvania, which was annexed by Romania, they travelled throughout Europe performing their song, dance, and acting performances. Life was good until the unthinkable happened. In 1944 they were all sent to AuschwitzBirkenau, the notorious concentration camp. Their great handicap in life soon proved to be their salvation. Because Josef Mengele had an interest in twins and dwarfs, he spared their lives in order to experiment and study them. This is a gripping book. Reading about Auschwitz is nothing less than stomach churning; the ordeal of their survival and the masses who werent spared is unimaginable. The extraordinary tragedy and triumph of this family will be etched in my heart forever. It amazes me that throughout life the Ovitzes found faith, hope, endurance, as well as the ability to smile in the face of horror. Read other reviews at http://readinginthegarden.blogspot.com


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