Sunday, January 31, 2016

Round Robin (Elm Creek Quilts #2) by Jennifer Chiaverini (audio)

★★★ 1/2

The second books in the Elm Creek Quilts series follows the Elm Creek Quilters - Sarah, Sylvia, Angus, Diane, Bonnie, Gwen, Summer, and Judy - as the continue to follow their dream of hosting a weekly quilting camp at Sylvia's home.  The group plans to make a round robin quilt to for Sylvia to hang in the front entrance of the Elm Creek Manor.  As they pass around the quilt and add to it, readers learn more about the lesser known characters as they struggle with family, marriage, careers, and friendships.

I generally enjoyed learning more about each of the characters that were mentioned briefly in the first book in the series.  It wasn't quite as interesting as the first book, but I loved learning more about quilting and how quilt camp was run.  Another easy read by Chiaverini.

Round Robin quilt from the author's website

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

"But there are other stories waiting to be told, and they will be lost one day, too.  Whatever the case, it's all beneath your feet, right now."

After reading Selznick's two previous books, The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck last year, I was all set to read this the week it came out.  But, of course, my life got busy and then I had to wait awhile since the holds list was pretty long at the library.  So worth the wait and so glad I got a chance to read this!!

Like the previous novels, the is a story told through both words and pictures.  In Hugo, illustrations (and series of illustrations) were spread throughout the text.  In Wonderstruck, there were larger chunks of illustrations and text.  In this book, the sections are mostly seperate.  Over the first half of the story is told exclusively through illustrations followed by the remainder with mostly text expect for one larger section of pictures and the ending.  I wasn't too sure how this was going to work, but the Selznick is able to add in enough writing in the pictures for readers to understand what was going on in the story.

I loved everything about this book - the magical story, the wonderful illustrations, and the unique method of storytelling.  I won't give much away because this book is meant to be enjoyed as the story unravels page by page and picture by pictures.  An enchanting story that spans five generations that is as unique as it is powerful.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

★★★ 1/2
"It was like the way you wanted sunshine on Saturdays, or pancakes for breakfast.  They just made you feel good."

For years, Claire Waverly has lived a quiet life in the town she grew up in.  She is content living alone and tending to her family's magical garden - where she grows plants that are able to chance the way people feel.  Then her younger sister Sydney shows up with her daughter and suddenly alters Clarie's quiet routines.  As the two sisters learn to live together after being apart for so many years, they learn things about themselves, each other, and the secrets of their family's past.

I have been meaning to read this book for years now and finally found sometime to read it now that the sequel, First Frost came out a few months ago.  This was definatly a ligher read, which a nice contract to book I have read lately.  The writing was ok and the story pretty predictable, but I enjoyed the plot and the characters.  I loved how the Waverley sisters find each other later if life and are able to develop a family - despite their many differences and troubled past.  And it had the perfect amount of realism to be magical, but also (mostly) believable.

The Quilter's Apprentice (Elm Creek Quilts #1) by Jennifer Chiaverini (audio)

"Sometimes the most ordinary things are the ones we learn to miss the most."

When Sarah McClure moves to the small college town of Waterford, Pennsylvania for her husband Matt's job, she struggles to find a job and a life of her own.  While looking to find work, she agrees to temporarily help seventy-five-year old Sylvia Compson get her estate, Elm Creek Manor, ready to sell.  Sylvia is a bit offsetting at first, but the two become friends and Sylvia teachers Sarah to quilt and slowly tells her the story of her family's troubled past that left the manor in disgrace during World War II.  Sarah also meets some other local quilters and attends their weekly quilting meetings. When Sarah learns the truth about the manor's sale, she is determined to find a way to keep Sylvia and the manor in Waterford.

The Elm Creek Quilt novels is one of those series that I kept hearing about but never got the chance to read.  There are a lot of books in the series - 20 in all - and that's a big commitment.  I read Chiaverini's The Spymistress a few months ago and didn't really like it.  My usual rule before I give up on an author is three books, so I was still determined to give this book a try.  I checked it out on playaway from my library and had every intention of just listening to the first one and calling it a day.  I ended up getting completely sucked in and am currently on the sixth book after a little over a month - and counting.

This book (and series) is exactly what I needed.  After reading a lot of heavier books lately, The Quilter's Apprentice was the perfect contrast.  It was a quick read and, to be honest, the book was fairly predictable.  There wasn't a whole lot to the storyline, but the characters were so charming that I couldn't stop reading and routing for the ending - even though it was to wrapped up in a way-to-perfect package.  I enjoyed the contemporary storyline, but what really kept my interest was Sylvia's tragic story of her family's past.  I also loved the focus of quilting throughout the novel.  Sarah's quilting lessons with Sylvia and the making of a quilt sampler provided a great introduction to the intriguing and complex world of quilting.  Now I need to learn how to quilt.  I will report back soon on my progress - hopefully soon!

Sarah's Sampler quilt from the author's webiste

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Circling the Sun my Paula McLain (audio)

"There are things we find only at our lowest depths.  The idea of wings and then wings themselves.  An ocean worth crossing one dark mile at a time.  The whole of the sky.  And whatever suffering has come is the necessary cost of such wonders, as Karen once said, the beautiful thrashing we do when we live."

I loved Paula McLain novel The Paris Wife so I had very high expectations with her new novel that came out in July.  Circling the Sun tells the story of Beryl Markham - the first women to make the record breaking voyage across the Atlantic in 1936.  I was expecting the story to focus mostly of Beryl's journey of becoming a pilot, but it instead told of her childhood and earlier life as a horse trainer.  And what an interesting life it was!  

Raised in Kenya with her father after her mother moved back to England as a young child, Beryl's unique upbringing allows her to become a strong women in a world primarily dominated by men.  It also leads her to make some very unhealthy choices as far as relationships are concerned.  Baryl drove me crazy throughout most of the novel.  Even though we have next to nothing in common, I grew to love her characters and respect - at least most of - the tough decisions that she was forced to make.  I sometimes forgot how young Beryl actually was during the majority of the novel and was at awe at how much she was able to accomplish as a young women during her lifetime.  

A wonderful novel by and extraordinary writer telling the unique story of a women almost forgot by the past.  The author's note was also extremely interesting to read and learn on the truth of Baryl's story and what happened to her after the novel ended.  This one was  worth the wait!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks


In The Secret Chord, Geraldine Brooks brings to light the story of King David of the Old Testament as told in the Second Book of Samuel.  King David's life is explored in the present and in flashback by Natan - his prophet whom he met when he was in exile - and through various other characters that focus on his earlier life. 

I have read most of Brooks's books - People of the Book being one of my all-time favorites - and excited to reading this one.  I had heard some mixed reviews, but overall I was very impressed by this book.  There were a few things that didn't wow me as much as I would have liked.  The first part of the book focused on Natan visiting individuals in David's earlier life for a kind of biography.  I was looking forward to hearing David's life from the different characters as the book progressed, but instead only a few were talked to and then the rest of David's past was told through Natan.  This was fine, but not what I had expected and not what the first part of the novel built up to.  There was also a bit too much focus on various battles for my taste.  That being said, I still found myself not wanting to put this book down.  Geraldine Brooks's writing is - and always has been - extremely beautiful filled with vivid imagery and wonderful storytelling.  I could have read another 500 pages - even about not at all interesting battles and military strategies - which just goes to show that great writers and great writers no matter what they are writing about.

I also really appreciated the accuracy of the book - as far as I could tell.  About halfway through the book, I went back and read the parts of the Bible that included King David - something I with I would have done right away.  It's been awhile, so I was expecting there to be some verses of course or maybe a few chapters.  Instead I found that the twenty-four chapters were almost entirely dedicated to King David and his family.  As I read through the verses, I was surprised how accurate Brooks interpretation was.  She of course embellished a lot  - especially the relationship between the different characters - but the basic details were spot on.  Although a great leader, David's life was not glorified in this book, but instead he was shown as a real character - faults and all.

It wasn't perfect - I don't think much could compare to People of the Book - but I very much enjoyed this book and the story that it told.