Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review: The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker

Every single week I get a bunch of books in my mailbox or on my doorstep. Some of them I have agreed to review but most are just sent on the off chance that I might choose to review them. It is a little like Christmas every day, which is fantastic. Some of the books I receive are not books in genres that I like or about subjects that interest me, so they go into the "giveaway or read when I have nothing else left (HA HA!) pile. Many are historical fiction, which I love, or other types of fiction that I might muster up an interest for eventually...they go into the ever expanding to-be-read piles that clutter up my house.

Very, very rarely does a book come in that I did not ask for, have never heard of before, but that catches my attention immediately. For me to take it out of the package, sit down and start to read it? Seriously, it has happened maybe two or three times in the last two plus years. This one, happily, was one. By page seven I was laughing so hard that tears were running down my face. Here's the dedication:
Mom and Dad,

I could never have done this without your faith, support, and constant encouragement. Thank you for teaching me to believe in myself, in God, and in my dreams.

This book....aside from the nine F-words, thirteen Sh-words, four A-holes, page 257, and the entire Warren Beatty dedicated to you.

You might want to avoid chapters twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, anything I quote Mom saying, and most of the end as well.

Sorry. Am I still cute as a button?



How, I ask you, could you resist reading on after an opening like that? In her first book, Elna Baker takes you along with her on her life since she moved to New York at age eighteen. She grapples with big questions: religion, faith, sex, love and life in an endearingly honest and frequently hilarious way. I think she's cute as a button, too. And I loved this book!

But don't take my word for are some clips of the author herself, telling some of the stories that are included in the book. Bet you'll be hooked, too.

You can visit Elna's webpage and blog for more information about her! The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance is published by Plume/Penguin, ISBN 978-0-452-29649-7. Many thanks to Penguin for randomly sending me a wonderful book!!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Review: The Tower, The Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart

A job that includes living at the Tower of London would seem like a dream to most people. Or maybe just to most history buffs. For Beefeater Balthazar Jones and his wife Hebe life is not quite dreamlike. Their home is damp, the walls are round, the fellow employees are a mixed bag of quirky and irritating characters. But their problems go far beyond where they live. The deep sadness and grief of the loss of their only son have permeated their existence, the gloom of the Tower fits perfectly with their emotional pain.

The Tower

Soon Balthazar is tapped to be in charge of the creation of a Zoo at the Tower to house animals that the Queen has been gifted by other countries. He is reluctant to share this great news with his wife or anyone else that resides in the Tower. Change is never a welcome thing in their small society.

But the arrival of the animals creates a few unexpected results. Who would have guessed that Balthazar would find, in his wounded heart, great affection for a bearded pig? And the residents may be annoying but who knew they would band together for the sake of one of their own?

This is Julia Stuart's second novel. I reviewed her first, The Matchmaker of Perigord, about two years ago. I was won over by her gentle and charming style, the warmth that comes through in her writing, and her wonderfully quirky characters. So I was thrilled to receive The Tower, The Zoo, and the Tortoise, an equally lovely book. I was not disappointed!

Julia Stuart

The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise is published by Doubleday, ISBN 978-0-385-53328-7

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Friday, September 3, 2010

Review & Giveaway: The Red Queen: The Cousins' War, Book Two by Philippa Gregory

A question for all of you: can you really enjoy a book if you don't like the protagonist?

The Red Queen is Philippa Gregory's second book in The Cousins' War series. The first was The White Queen , which was told from Elizabeth Woodville's point of view (see my review from about a year ago). Elizabeth is one of the most hated English queens, but in The White Queen she gained my sympathy and some of my understanding.

In this one, we get the story of Margaret Beaufort Stanley, mother of Henry Tudor and creator of the Tudor line, told from her point of view. Born into the powerful Lancaster family, Margaret is used as a pawn to further her family's political and dynastic endeavors. She is a pious girl who wants nothing more than to serve God, or so she claims. Her most proud achievement is her "saint's knees," red and calloused from kneeling for hours in prayer where she has visions and imagines herself to be Joan of Arc.

Once married and mother of the first Tudor, Henry, Margaret becomes singularly obsessed with his becoming king of England. Her schemes and plotting know no bounds, she doesn't care who she tramples on the way. Worst of all, she does it all in the name of God:

"You want power, Margaret, power and wealth; and so do I. Nothing matters as much as this to either of us, and we will sacrifice anything for it."

"I am guided by God!" I protest.

"Yes, because you think God wants your son to be King of England. I don't think your God has ever advised you otherwise. You hear only what you want. He only ever commands your preferences."

I sway as if he has hit me. "How dare you! I have lived my life in His service!"

"He always tells you to strive for power and wealth. Are you quite sure it is not your own voice that you hear, speaking through the earthquake, wind, and fire?"

Margaret Beaufort

She was so insufferable that I was wishing that the entire history of England could be changed just to thwart her. But the thing is, the author could not really have written this book any other way. Margaret was the way she was (doesn't it look like she is sucking on a lemon?), she was not likable. So it is no surprise when we don't. It does say something about Philippa Gregory that she would set out to write a novel based on a character who has so few redeeming qualities.

This is not my favorite Philippa Gregory book. (Come to think of it, none of her more recent books are among my favorites, though I always enjoy them.) But I understand why she wrote it and appreciate where it fits into the network of her other novels. For die hard Philippa Gregory fans and historical fiction readers in general, The Red Queen is a must read. As to whether or not a book can be enjoyed if you don't like the protagonist, I think the answer must be yes. Where would we be without characters we love to hate?

The Red Queen is published by Touchstone. ISBN 978-1-4165-6372-3.
For more information about the author and all of her books, please visit her website.

Check out some other reviews!

Thanks to the generous publishers, I have one brand-spanking-new hardback copy (it's a first edition, too!) to give away. For one entry just leave me your email address in the comments with your favorite Philippa Gregory title. If you have never read a PG book then tell me why you would like to start with this one. If you would like extra entries there are instructions below. Giveaway open through midnight eastern time on September 17.. The winners will be drawn at random and must have a US mailing address.

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Thoughts from an Evil Overlord

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About Me

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New Hampshire, United States
Bibliophile, Anglophile, Traveller... I have been an avid reader all of my life, since I took the Dr. Seuss Dictionary away from my Mom when I was less than a year old because I wanted to read it myself. In college, where I earned my degree in English Literature, I was often asked "What are you going to do with it?" Now I finally have the answer to that question!!! Being employed as a Flight Attendant for twenty years has given me a lot of life experience and, better still, a lot of time to read. I love to travel for fun, too.