sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

July 3, 2007

into the stacks 12
posted by soe 7:29 pm

My reading mojo had been missing for the last six months, but it seems finally to have returned with a vengeance. This month I finished eight books, the most since last year at this time. (I wonder if that’s just a coincidence or if June has always been a reading high-point for me?)

One Man’s Garden, by Henry Mitchell

From the jacket: “For twenty years, Henry Mitchell has been delighting readers of the Washington Post with his wide-ranging adventures in his small city garden. The best of his columns, collected here, reflect an uncommon zest for gardening, along with mroe good advice than you can find in a dozen how-to books. In fact, as he says, ‘If gardeners spent less time running about doing things they think they are supposed to do and more time contemplating the beauty of the world’s plants, they’d get more out of their gardens and be less of a pest to the civilized world.’”

Why this book? After we got the garden plot, I headed to the library to do some research. I found plenty of books, but most seemed aimed at gardeners with larger plots and budgets and more permanent homes. Since this was a collection of newspaper columns aimed at local gardeners, I thought Mitchell’s collection, if not perfect, would at least have something useful to say to me from that perspective.

My take: This was my on-again, off-again book of essays that I picked up and read a few pages of every little while for a couple of months. I found the book helpful in a few instances (I was able to identify Virginia creeper in my garden and remove it before it took over) and otherwise merely comfortable reading. A nice collection of essays for the gardener in your life.

Pages: 254

Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time, by Rob Sheffield

From the jacket: “What is love? Great minds have been grappling with this question throughout the ages, and in the modern era, they have come up with many different answers. According to Western philosopher Pat Benatar, love is a battlefield. Her paisan Fran Sinatra would add the corollary that love is a tender trap. Love hurts. Love stinks. Love bites, love bleeds, love is the drug. The troubadours of our times agree: They want to know what love is, and they want you to show them. But the answer is simple: Love is a mix tape.”

Why this book? I’ve been meaning to read it for a while, intrigued each time I’ve seen it in the bookstore. This time, I saw it in the library and it came home with me.

My take: It didn’t register in my conscious mind that I pulled this from the new biography section as opposed to the new fiction section until after I read the first chapter. The author’s voice, which reminded me of the music reporter on CBS Sunday Morning — informed yet lost, unsentimental yet nostalgic, hopeful yet melancholy. The book, thematically arranged around mix-tapes for certain people or events (like a school dance) or time frames, looks at how one man overcomes the heartbreak of a relationship suddenly ending. While the memoir describes a very specific life, its use of music as a vehicle breaks the story open and shows us how universal such a tale is. I admit to crying along with the author in several of the chapters and to humming the songs as they appeared in various mixes. Music aficionados will enjoy the mix tape track lists.

Favorite quote: “When we die, we will turn into songs, and we will hear each other and remember each other.”

Pages: 224

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling

From the jacket: “Ever since Harry Potter had come home for the summer, the Dursleys had been so mean and hideous that Harry wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he’s packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature who says that if Harry returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike.”

Why this book? The final countdown.

My take: I think this may be my least favorite book in the series. Sure, it features a flying car, the first glimpse of the Burrow, gigantic spiders, a huge killer snake, and an overly-protective, yet dangerous house-elf. But it just seems blander than the rest. I wonder if it’s because Lockhart, the Defense against the Dark Arts teacher, is more of a buffoon than any other secondary character in the series.

Pages: 341

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling

From the jacket: “For twelve long years, the dread fortress of Azkaban held an infamous prisoner named Sirius Black. Convicted of killing thirteen people with a single curse, he was said to be the heir apparent to the Dark Lord, Voldemort. Now he has escaped, leaving only two clues as to where he might be headed: Harry Potter’s defeat of You-Know-Who was Black’s downfall as well. And the Azkaban guards heard Black muttering in his sleep, ‘He’s at Hogwarts … he’s at Hogwarts.”

Why this book? Prep work.

My take: Second only to Sorcerer’s Stone in terms of lightness, this book is the only one not to place Voldemort somewhere amidst the action in some form or another. Yet it remains a favorite because it introduces two wonderful and pivotal characters to the story, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, who are key players in the upcoming movie. (Incidentally, last weekend, at the library convention, I met a girl wearing a tshirt that read, “I love Lupin.” I agreed and we spent several merry minutes talking about the upcoming film and finale.)

Pages: 435

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling

From the jacket: “Harry wants to get away from the pernicious Dursleys and go to the International Quidditch Cup with Hermione, Ron, and the Weasleys. He wants to dream about Cho Chang, his crush (and maybe do more than dream). He wants to find out about the mysterious event that’s supposed to take place at Hogwarts this year, an event involving two other rival schools of magic, and a competition that hasn’t happened for a hundred years. He wants to be a normal, fourteen-year-old wizard. Unfortunately for Harry Potter, he’s not normal — even by wizarding standards. And in his case, different can be deadly.”

Why this book? Inching ever closer to movie #5 and book #7. I am ready.

My take: Until this book, you could make the argument that this is merely a light series aimed at kids. But when book four ends, you are aware that this series takes seriously the battle between good and evil and that the lines have been drawn. Beware those who choose the wrong side.

Pages: 734

The Accidental Florist, by Jill Churchill

From the jacket: “Jane Jeffry and longtime beau Detective Mel VanDyne finally decide to marry … But during what should have been a blissful interval between the engagement and the bouquet toss, several other occurrences take place. Mel convinces Jane and her best friend, Shelley Nowack, to take a women’s safety class. They learn a lot, but the class is cut short when a dead body is discovered. So between Jane’s wedding planning, her new writing project, and a battle between both mother-in-laws (which Jane encourages), a murderer must be found be found before this bride can walk happily down the aisle.”

Why this book? We were at the SLC Library’s used book shop and this was the only mystery by a writer I hadn’t read. Since that’s one of the caveats of the Summer Mystery Reading Challenge, this is what was left for me.

My take: First, do we think that the people who write the book jacket blurbs actually read the books? (Because rereading this one would indicate the answer is no.) Second, who knew someone who’s won an Agatha Award could write this badly? There were contextual errors. Brand names were sprinkled throughout the book liberally as if someone had told the author she needed to be more specific (or as if she’d been paid for product placement). The author listed herself as one of her main character’s favorite authors. And the mystery? So peripheral and superfluous to the story as to be easily forgotten that you’re reading a genre novel. The only good thing about the book? It was done by the time I got off the plane home.

Pages: 209

Keeping the Moon, by Sarah Dessen

From the jacket: “While her mother, aerobics queen Kiki Sparks, spends the summer touring Europe, fifteen-year-old Colie is stuck in sleepy Colby, North Carolina, with her aunt Mira. At first, she’s sure it’s going to the the worst summer of her life — but she finds herself changing her mind. For one thing, Mira’s a sweet, laid-back eccentric; for another, no one in Colby knows that, back home, Colie is seen as a loser — formerly fat, and ‘easy.’ And then, by fate or by accident, Colie lands a waitressing job where she meets Morgan and Isabel … two wisecracking — and wise — twentysomething[s].”

Why this book? Debby recommended this book to me twice, and it finally came into my library from the hold I placed on it back in March. I was feeling a bit off the night it arrived, and I thought that it might be comforting.

My take: Devoured in one sitting. A wonderful story of friendship and of be(com)ing comfortable with yourself and with others. A gentle coming of age book and one I will keep my eyes open for at the local bookstores to buy for myself and as a gift. Destined to be reread.

Pages: 228

Vineyard Stalker, by Philip R. Craig

From the jacket: “J.W. Jackson, the ex-Boston cop turned fisherman, cook, and jack-of-all-trades, delves deep into the mysterious depths of his beloved Vineyard in author Philip Craig’s most compelling caper yet. With his wife, Zee, and two kids visiting relatives in ‘America,’ J.W. is alone and quickly tiring of his temporary bachelor status. A request from Carole Cohen comes as a blessed diversion. Carole wants J.W. to find the person who’s stalking her brother, Roland. … And when a body turns up near Roland’s land, what seemed like a property dispute takes a detour — with J.W. in the midst of the action once again.”

Why this book?Mum recommended this series when I solicited suggestions for the Summer Mystery Reading Challenge, and this title happened to be featured in the new mystery books at my local library.

My take: As Mum predicted, I liked both the author and the main character. J.W. is grizzled, but affable, and he seems like a typical New Englander (and a typical year-round resident of a beach town) in his crotchety behavior. After reading the Churchill book, I had despaired a bit of the genre, so I’m glad this book restored my faith in mystery writers as able writers who appreciate plot and rely on suspense instead of self-promotion and bland writing. Both the main character and I explored some wrong turns in our analysis of the crime and its perpetrator, and although the ultimate criminal was someone I had considered, I was not confident enough to cross others off the list before the end of the novel. And what more can you ask for in a mystery novel? Recommended for anyone who enjoys a good cozy — particularly those whose hearts lie in New England.

Pages: 239

Total pages read in June: 2664

Category: books. There is/are 7 Comments.

I recently read Keeping The Moon myself! My godchild told me how much she loved it, so I picked it up. Sarah Dessen is a great YA author.

Before Goblet of Fire came out, Prisoner was my favorite Harry Potter book. Now it remains tied for second favorite, with Order of the Phoenix (which I REALLY disliked the first time I read it. Oddly, it keeps growing on me)

Comment by Jenn 07.04.07 @ 8:21 am

Forgive me for posting such a long comment, but I saw that you had read THE ACCIDENTAL FLORIST. My sympathies. Since you read it for my Summer Mystery Reading Challenge, I thought I would post my review here.

I am a person who almost never puts down a book until I finish reading it. Yes, there are exceptions. I have put down books that had too much colloquial language and annoyed me, books that were too gory and turned me off, and I have had real life intervene and force me to abandon a good book now and then. But I feel that every book has some redeeming characteristic in it that makes it worth reading. Frankly, I was hard pressed to find anything good to say about The Accidental Florist – it is by far the worst book I have ever read.

And I am going to qualify that by saying that I think something has gone wrong behind the scenes and this book is just a manifestation of it. Like what? You ask. I am going to guess that either something is wrong with the author, the publisher, or both.

I don’t read reviews of a book until I read it and write my own review so that I can be unbiased about it. But when I told my husband how bad this book was, he suggested I check the reviews on Amazon to see how others felt. This book and the author were savaged there. Diehard fans chimed in to suggest the book be recalled, pulped, or boycotted. Apparently, the quality of this book is a radical departure for Churchill (this is the only book of hers I have read, I think). One of the reviewers suggested this book was written to terminate her contract with her publisher. Personally, I would be concerned with the health of the author.
What makes this such a bad book? First of all, there is really no mystery to speak of. Secondly, it reads like a to do list for the main character’s wedding and home remodel and has approximately that much charm, too. This book should never have seen the light of day. If you are a Jill Churchill fan, I would suggest that you skip this book and write her a nice note, because something is horribly wrong.

Favorite character? No. Did I guess it? Not a mystery. Will I read another? Maybe, Churchill obviously has a following so I may try an earlier book.

Comment by Liz Clifford 07.04.07 @ 9:08 pm

I picked up the Life is a Mix Tape from the library shelf, looked at the various lists, put the book back on the shelf, went home, and played some of the music. Does that count?

Comment by DOD 07.05.07 @ 10:20 am

By chance, Dad has in the library pile a Jill Churchill book…I ran to see which one it was, as it certainly would have gone straight back to the lib!!! However, it’s previous story…I’ll let you know if it’s worth picking up another!!!!

Comment by Mum 07.05.07 @ 10:23 am

I’m so glad you enjoyed Keeping the Moon. If I could find an adult version of this sort of story, I’d read it in a heartbeat! I wish I could join the summer mystery reading challenge with you, but I’m swamped. (I am reading a mystery right now but it’s going to take a while). Please keep us posted on how that goes!

Comment by Debby 07.06.07 @ 10:08 pm

Hmm, what have I been reading lately?

Having watched the Dresden Files on Sci-Fi, I had the impression that the books by Jim Butcher would probably be a lot better than the show. I picked up a bunch of them, and read Storm Front, and started into Fool Moon and feel my thinking was correct. It’s a fun magical detective universe that Sci-Fi did a mediocre rendition of. Magic is just hard for for the TV folks to get right.

It’s a bit dark to just delve into that world exclusively, so I’ve been switching off with Chris Delacy’s series about dragons. Actually, The Fire Within is as much about squirrels as it is about dragons. The main character David Rain moves into a house with a single mom and her young daughter. David entertains young Lucy by writing a story about the squirrels that live in their garden. The Pennykettles make clay dragons, and are very quirky and secretive about them. You learn more about why in Icefire. The third book, Firestar is next on my list to tackle.

Before that, I read Terry Goodkind’s Phantom, the latest installment in his Sword of Truth series. Since Chainfire didn’t include Kahlan at all, it was good to see her again, though I had hoped that her troubles would have been resolved in this book. I understand that the main storylines will be wrapped up in the next book, Confessor which comes out in hardback later this year (I want the paperback to match the rest of my collection). Goodkind has said this is only sort of the end of the series as he still likes these characters and plans to tell other stories about them and this universe he has created. I look forward to it.

I can’t remember the order of things back beyond that, though the list contains Jane Lindskold’s latest Firekeeper installment Wolf’s Blood, which I may have already mentioned.

I’m sorry it’s taking me so long to write things for you on greykitten.com – I had hoped to get some more writing done while off of work, but with Joan and Subby in town and all the things we have planned, there’s not much time to sit in front of a laptop typing away. Today I have a birthday party to host, tomorrow sailing, monday balloon ride – all very exciting adventures!

Comment by Grey Kitten 07.07.07 @ 2:55 am

Okay…I read the JC book and won’t consciously pick up another. Can’t in the world imagine why she has rec’d such accolades as the Agatha award unless they are quite meaningless. I have been trying to think of why I didn’t like it. I do think because her characters are so full of themselves. And she repeats herself (though she will qualify that with an ‘again” for those of us who notice, but that in itself is annoying), thus giving the impression that she doesn’t think most are as intelligent as she. I kept plugging through it thinking that perhaps I was jaded by your comments, but no. On the first page, she literally writes that her book (that the character is writing) “isn’t exactly a mystery, but I think all good novels are mysteries….” Thus ends our own little mystery of what qualifies in the genre. Anything goes! It wasn’t the absolute worse book I’ve read, but it is one that you say if she can succeed, why shouldn’t I!!!! And it was quite clear from the beginning who the ‘villain’ was; she practically had a red arrow pointing over his head!

So, all in all, I’d not bother with another!

Comment by DOD, but Mum 07.08.07 @ 10:40 am