Thursday, January 17, 2013

Review - The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker, by Kate Alcott
Library e-book
2 Stars

Description courtesy of Goodreads:
Just in time for the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic comes a vivid, romantic, and relentlessly compelling historical novel about a spirited young woman who survives the disaster only to find herself embroiled in the media frenzy left in the wake of the tragedy.

Tess, an aspiring seamstress, thinks she's had an incredibly lucky break when she is hired by famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to be a personal maid on the Titanic's doomed voyage. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men, one a roughly-hewn but kind sailor and the other an enigmatic Chicago millionaire. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes

Amidst the chaos and desperate urging of two very different suitors, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat. Tess’s sailor also manages to survive unharmed, witness to Lady Duff Gordon’s questionable actions during the tragedy. Others—including the gallant Midwestern tycoon—are not so lucky.

On dry land, rumors about the survivors begin to circulate, and Lady Duff Gordon quickly becomes the subject of media scorn and later, the hearings on the Titanic. Set against a historical tragedy but told from a completely fresh angle, The Dressmaker is an atmospheric delight filled with all the period's glitz and glamour, all the raw feelings of a national tragedy and all the contradictory emotions of young love

My review:
I discovered this book after reading Katherine Howe's excellent novel, The House of Velvet and Glass. It was listed as a suggestion for people who enjoyed Howe's novel. Like many in the past few years, I have become fascinated by the story of the Titanic, and also by the time period itself. The turn of the last century and the Age Of Progress, it was a time period filled with huge changes in both technology and society, and offers a wealth of topics for writers to explore. Thus my excitement about reading The Dressmaker which covers not only the disaster itself, but the aftermath and American congressional hearings as well.

Sadly, this book left me feeling rather flat and let down. The characters in themselves are interesting, but just were not developed enough to really make care about them. I wanted to fall in love with Tess, and, at times, I wanted to despise Lucile, but the tepid writing just left me feeling ambivalent about them. And worse - it made me feel ambivalent about one of the most horrific tragedies in history, a tragedy that has brought me to tears when treated properly.

That said, I did read this book all the way to the end. It was told from an angle that seemed fresh and different - Tess was not one of the rich, first class passengers, but she wasn't one of the poor souls confined to steerage in the bowels of the ship either. She was a character on a precipice between the two, weaving her way between them yet still managing to maintain her own place in society. Hers is the character in the novel that had the most potential, the potential to really be the embodiment of the time period, and as such was the character that became, for me, the most disappointing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review - Two For the Dough audiobook

Two for the Dough Unabridged Audiobook (The Stephanie Plum Series, Book 2)
By Janet Evanovich
Unabridged audio, narrated by C.J. Critt

Two for the Dough Description, from Goodreads:

Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is still learning the ropes at her cousin Vinnie's bail bond office, so when she sets out on the trail of Kenny Mancuso - a suspiciously wealthy, working class Trenton boy who has just shot his best friend - the stakes are higher than ever. That Mancuso is distantly related to vice cop Joe Morelli - who is trying to beat Stephanie to the punch - only makes the hunt more thrilling...

Taking pointers from her bounty hunter pal, Ranger, and using her pistol packing Grandma Mazur as a decoy, Stephanie is soon closing in on her mark. But Morelli and his libido are worthy foes. And a more sinister kind of enemy has made his first move... and his next move might be Stephanie's last. 

I discovered this series very recently. To be honest, I did not become interested in it until I saw the movie One for the Money. After seeing it, I rushed to the library to check out the book, and I loved it as well. The thought occurred to me that these books would probably translate well into audio versions, so when I got ready for Two for the Dough, I grabbed the cd's. I was not disappointed. C.J. Critt was an excellent story teller - I especially loved her Grandma Mazur voice. I'm not sure where she is from, and being from the South I don't have much experience with New Jersey accents, but Ms. Critt's seemed authentic and not overdone to me. As for the book itself, I was not disappointed. Stephanie was still the quirky, trouble attracting heroine that I came to love in the first book. And Joe Morelli. Well, what can I say. He is such a bad boy, but underneath his playboy exterior lurks a man who really seems to care about Stephanie. Of course it helps that I can picture the very attractive Jason O'Mara (the actor who played Morelli in the movie.) He alternated between helping Stephanie, trying to protect her, and double-crossing her by not sharing info on the case. Typical Morelli behavior. There are only two things that might have made the book better for me - one would have been the addition of a few more "easy" pick-ups for Stephanie. These are always humorous, and help her learn little tricks of the trade that she really needs. But the main thing that bothered me was the way the story got stretched out with Kenny's breaking and entering stunts. It got to be a little too much, and not all of them added to the progression of the plot. Even so, this was a fun listen, and I can't wait to pick up the next installment in the series - Three To Get Deadly.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Friday Forage

I decided that today would be a good day to go out foraging for a few books. So I hit a couple of my favorite places - The Daphne Public Library, and our local Goodwill. At the library, I picked up a couple of things from my TBR list and one audiobook that just looked interesting. I read a review recently for Hilary Mantel's new novel Bring Up the Bodies and thought it looked interesting, but since it is in a series, I decided to pick up the first book -Wolf Hall. I also needed a new audiobook to listen to when I am doing housework (audiobooks are the only thing that makes it bearable!) I found A Venetian Affair which has been on my list for a while, and I also picked up The Summer We Read Gatsby as I was browsing the shelves.

Goodwill, and all thrift stores really, are great places to pick up books. They are all used, of course, and some have torn pages and covers (or no cover), but if you are diligent and patient you can find books in excellent condition. On today's visit, I found 3 books to add to my collection, and my 3-year-old daughter found 3 for her shelf as well. The ones I got were all books that I had read before, but really enjoyed them and was excited to find copies of them. They are: Water for Elephants, by Sara GruenThe Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield, and From Dead to Worse, by Charlaine Harris. Ava got Angelina's Silver Locket and two Dora the Explorer books. I also found an unopened copy of the 2013 Book Lover's Calendar by Books-A-Million.

Overall, it was a very satisfying forage.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Hobbit - Book and Movie

Last month, in preparation for the new movie, I decided to reread The Hobbit. The first time I read it I was in either junior high or high school (it was a REALLY long time ago, so I can't remember exactly when!) Even though I was a voracious reader back then, the fact that I was being forced to read it automatically made me dislike it. I actually ended up liking it better than most of the other books we had to read, but that's not saying much. So I reread it, and as is often the case, loved it this time around. The descriptions of the characters, the setting, and the action are absolutely breathtaking and original. There is also a depth of emotion to the book that I had not realized before. I was especially surprised to find myself laughing out loud at scenes that I had previously found boring, and also to find myself near tears at times. Tolkien has a way of connecting you to the characters and making you care for them in a way that many authors never achieve. When I was done, I rated it a 5, even though fantasy is not one of my favorite genres, and waited patiently to have the time and extra cash to go see the movie.

I must admit that I was thoroughly prepared to be outraged by the movie. It is common knowledge that a book is always better than the movie (even though The Lord of the Rings was beautifully done), and I knew that there had been scenes and characters added that were not in the book - most notably the return of Cate Blanchett as the elf Galadriel. How could they do such a thing? Well, to be fair, they are stretching a relatively short book out into three movies, so I guess some additions are to be expected. But guess what...When I saw the movie, I actually liked the added scenes. They helped explain a few things from the book and also helped to strengthen the ties between the movies. And it goes without saying that the filming and acting were absolutely brilliant. I loved Martin Freeman as Bilbo. His facial expressions and the tone of his voice made him perfect for the role. My only problem with it is that I now have to wait a whole year before the next movie comes out (oh, and by the way, I saw somewhere that Orlando Bloom is coming back for the last movie, and I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with that addition.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Photograph

The PhotographThe Photograph by Penelope Lively
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

She has become like some mythical figure, trawled up at will to fit other people's narratives. Everyone has their way with her, everyone decides what she was, how things were. It seems unjust that in the midst of this to-do she is denied a voice.

Oliver Watson's feelings regarding his deceased friend Kath sum up the theme of Penelope Lively's beautifully written novel, The Photograph. It is a novel about relationships - relationships between spouses, siblings, friends, and even acquaintances. It is also about the perceptions of each other that go along with those relationships. Do we ever see the complete picture of those we love, or do we only see them in snapshots, little snippets instead of the whole person?

The story opens when Glyn, a landscape historian, finds an envelope with a note in his dead wife's handwriting saying, "Do not open! Destroy." Of course, he opens it, and gets a shock that causes him to question his whole perception of Kath and their marriage. So he sets out to find out what really happened, and who she really was. But the story centers around Kath herself. We get vignettes of her from many different characters. The plot feels very small and contained, with just a handful of characters and their memories. And even though Kath is dead, you don't know what happened to her, which adds to a growing feeling that she is going to pop in at any minute (a habit of hers that everyone remembers) and explain everything. This feeling is strengthened by the memories of the living characters - instead of a simple flashback, they actually see her in their surroundings and hear her voice speaking to them, causing their memories to sort of merge with the present. It is as if she is actually there and is indeed trying to explain.

But as Glyn picks the brains of every person he can think of that Kath may have come into contact with, and as she herself inserts herself more and more into everyone's daily lives, the picture of Kath begins to expand. We start to get this sneaky suspicion that there was much more to her than those who were supposedly closest to her remember. And by the end, when most of the questions have finally been revealed, we realize along with the characters that it is the things we don't know about a person, the things that they, in retrospect, seemed to be trying to tell us, that make all the difference.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Peach Keeper

The Peach Keeper: A Novel by Sarah Addison Allen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Set in Walls of Water, North Carolina,The Peach Keeper: A Novel, by Sarah Addison Allen is a lovely piece of Southern literature. The setting and character details are true to Southern life, and are not overwhelming. The story is mainly about Willa Jackson and Paxton Osgood, two life-long residents of the town. Even though they went to high school together, the women aren't exactly friends - Paxton is from a rich family and is consumed with the Women's Society Club. She lives in her parent's pool house, and is expected at dinner every night. Willa's family, on the other hand, lost their fortune in the 30's and she is currently a reformed prankster who owns her own business and lives in her deceased father's house.

Through the course of the novel, Willa and Paxton develop a friendship as they investigate a mystery surrounding the Blue Ridge Madam - the mansion that Willa's family once owned. They also discover the true purpose behind the club, true love, and inner truths that they had not been able to accept before.

The novel is well-written and engaging, but rather anti-climactic in the end. Even so, it was a nice read that can be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys not only Southern literature, but stories of women's friendships as well.

View all my reviews

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Blog home - not book related

I have a serious problem with the internet. There are just too many choices for everything. Too many browsers, too many web hosts, too many search engines, too many results for your searches... For someone like me who feels an obsessive need to check out all of them in order to find the one they like best, it can be quite overwhelming. So when I decided to start this blog, I had to wade through the different blog hosts and try to settle on the one that I liked best. I signed up for two of the most popular - blogger and WordPress. Both are free and I have to say that both have good points and drawbacks. I was kind of leaning towards blogger because it seems easier to use and gives you more control over the appearance of your posts and such. The blogger app also works better on my new tablet than the wordpress one does. But in the end, WordPress made the final decision for me be deactivating my blog with them. Apparently, I violated their terms of use with my Amazon Affiliates links.

Here's how it works - if you sign up to be an Amazon Affiliate,  a little button appears at the top of the Amazon site that says "Link to this page." For instance, if I am blogging about a book that I am reading and want my readers to be able to easily access a description of it on Amazon, I click the link, type in the name of the book, and Amazon generates a link for me. All I have to do is copy and paste it into the HTML of my blog, and voila! I have an instant link embedded in my blog. An added bonus is that if a reader uses the link and ends up buying the book, I get a miniscule percentage of the sale. Now, I don't actually expect to make money this way (although it would be nice). I just like how it simplifies the whole linking process, which is important to a technophobe like me. But to make a long story slightly shorter, WordPress does not want you to use their free blog service to make money. I don't know how they feel about it in relation to their paid service,, but their free .com service does not allow it. I can appreciate that - their service is free so why should I be able to use it to make money? And I am not upset or angry about it either, after all, it was my own fault for not actually reading the terms of use. I could explain that I had simply made a mistake (I'm sure I am the only person who just started blogging without actually reading the terms) and ask them to reinstate my blog. Then I could take out the offensive links and go through the extra steps of creating my own links, but I just don't want to. Blogger (and their parent, Google) doesn't seem to give a hoot if I use my blog to make 10 cents. And so, here I am, on my only blog. What a relief to finally have made a decision, even if it was made for me.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Inaugural post

So this is the inaugural post of my new Book Forage blog. Yes, it is yet another blog about books. I will probably post other things from time to time, but it is primarily going to be about books. I am completely addicted to them. If I am not reading a book, then I am reading reviews or listening to audiobooks or just thinking about books. Occasionally I think about my next trip to the library, but that too is really about books. One of my favorite things about books is discovering new ones that look interesting. To me, the hunt for good books is almost as much fun as reading itself. Which is how this blog got its name - foraging about in a forest of books looking for the ones that catch your eye. The internet has made this hunt easier, but I still love browsing the shelves at the library, bookstore, or thrift store. I love the feel of a book in my hand - the weight, smell, and texture of the cover and pages. Thus my ever growing "Want to read" list. I plan on adding this list along with a books read list as separate blog pages, but that will be a work in process. I may try to add in my old reviews here and there in future posts, but I haven't decided yet. Even if I don't, I will at least provide links to them. I am currently "reading" 3 books. In print, I am reading The Photograph by Penelope Lively. It opens with a man finding a mysterious photograph of his dead wife.The photo causes him to question their whole relationship so he sets out to find out the truth, and as the book progresses we hear perceptions of his wife from many different characters. Then since I got a new tablet for Christmas, I am reading an e-book. I normally only try to read one book at a time, but one of my greatest pleasures in life is reading while in a warm bath and I am afraid of dropping my new tablet in the water and either being electrocuted (highly unlikely) or ruining the tablet (very likely, especially since I am quite clumsy) Anyway, the e-book that I am reading is The Peach Keeper: A Novel by Sarah Addison Allen. It is a lovely piece of Southern literature set in North Carolina. So far it seems pretty true to Southern life and reminds me of the books of Joshilyn Jackson, whose writing I adore. Finally, when I am doing housework or riding in the car in I listen to audiobooks. The one I am currently listening to is Two for the Dough Unabridged Audiobook (The Stephanie Plum Series, Book 2), the second book in Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. And that's that. The first post is now out of the way, and ideas for future posts are swirling through my head. Later on this evening, I think I will work on getting my lists entered, but first, Stephanie Plum is waiting for me in the kitchen with a sink full of dirty dishes.