I saw Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day on DVD and didn’t care for it. It was probably because I had seen Amy Adams as the perfect princess Giselle in Enchanted, and it was too painful to watch her play a floozy in Miss Pettigrew. (If I were Disney, I’d have made Amy Adams sign a morals clause preventing her from playing flooozies, ever!)

So I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy the book on which it was based, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson. But Audible had it on special in January and it had good reviews there, so I decided to give it a listen. The audio book is read by Frances McDormand, who played Miss Pettigrew in the film. The story is delightful, even though Miss Lafosse starts off as, well, a floozy. Ms. McDormand is an excellent narrator, although she occasionally lapsed into a different voice at inappropriate moments. It was minor enough that I won’t even take off half a star. 5 stars for this one!

I finished several books in January and February for which I never got around to writing reviews. I’ve gotta get some of these back to the library, so let’s get the reviews taken care of…

I liked Edna Ferber’s So Big . I think I’d have liked it even more as an angst-ridden teen; not sure how I missed this one back then. I’d never even heard of it until a friend mentioned it recently. It’s got a bit of that Gatsby-type realism from the early 20th century, but not nearly as depressing as Gatsby or Sister Carrie. 4 out of 5 stars.

I *loved* Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring when I read it last year. I read the book, saw the movie, then read the book again. (NOTE: the movie is better if you’ve read the book so you can mentally fill in all the stuff they left out). So I decided I’d enjoy some of her other books, and picked up Falling Angels. Disappointing. Depressing. Weirdly feminist and anti-feminist at the same time (a main character is a suffragette). 2.5 stars. Can I do that?

Susan Elizabeth Phillips is my guilty pleasure. Her latest is Call Me Irresistible. Clever dialogue and almost ridiculous characters make for fun reading. A little, ahem, steamy romance thrown in. Excellent, if you like that sort of thing. 5 stars.

I needed a distraction to get my mind off cancer things. So I picked up A Secret and Unlawful Killing which was still sitting on the bookshelf after my first abortive attempt at reading it. You know, it had similarities to its prequel, My Lady Judge, but it wasn’t as derivative as I’d thought it would be based on the first couple of chapters. But I admit I was left wondering how anybody will be left alive in the burren after the 5th book, since the bodies keep piling up…! It was entertaining enough – 3.5 stars.

This one appealed to me because Gracie is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: Saving Gracie: How One Dog Escaped the Shadowy World of American Puppy Mills. The chapters were a little disjointed, as the author switched back and forth between narrative stories about the rescued dogs, and the legal and political maneuverings used to fight the puppy mill trade. But I still highly recommend it if you are a dog lover. It will really make you stop and think about where you get your next dog. 4 stars.

I thought Jacqueline Novogratz’s The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World would be about ways to, well, Bridge the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World. It’s actually more of an autobiography. She’s got some experience; she worked with poor women in Rwanda before anybody had heard of Rwanda the genocide, among other places. What I liked about the book is that her solution isn’t to throw more money at the problem, it’s to use the aid money smarter, specifically using market-based solutions. 4 stars, if you’re into books about saving the world.

More on saving the world: The Pursuit of Ecotopia: Lessons from Indigenous and Traditional Societies for the Human Ecology of Our Modern World. Indigenous people good, Western civilization people bad. Really, what did I expect? I can’t count this liberal screed in my 52 in 52, as I couldn’t finish it. 1 star, based on what I did read. (How unfair. Maybe the last 3/4 of the book is simply excellent?)

More tomorrow. I read a trilogy!

I have a bit of unhappiness in my life right now. Good thing I in January I decided to listen to Gretchen Ruben’s The Happiness Project on Audible again. My faith in God has really helped me through these last few weeks, as has the love and support from my fabulous friends & family. But sometimes you just need some practical advice on how to feel good, or right, in a situation. That’s where The Happiness Project comes in. The audio-book is particularly good because it’s read by the author and she’s charming.

Good news; it’s out in paperback tomorrow.

This one I loved: Lady Macbeth: A Novel

I didn’t expect to – the first chapter made it clear that this is not the Shakespeare version! But the author had assured the reader that her book was based on the best modern scholarship, so I was curious as to who this Macbeth and his Lady really were.

It was romantic, violent, exciting. By the end, I knew what was going to happen, but I still whispered to myself, “Please don’t die. Please don’t die.” They died anyway. (I don’t think I needed to give you a spoiler alert on that – Shakespeare did get some things right).

I tried to read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies last year, thinking it would be a lighthearted, funny take on the classic. It was just ridiculous so I gave up about a quarter of the way through.

But I decided to try another Jane Austen riff, Pemberley by the Sea: A modern love story, Pride and Prejudice style. At least this one didn’t have ridiculous zombies. But one chapter into it, I was wondering how this book got so many 5-star reviews on Amazon. Had any of those reviewers actually read the original? The writing and storyline were so bad that I honestly thought my friend Heather and I used to write better romance stories in 8th grade. The Erin(Jane) and Scott(Bingley) romance was based on Erin’s obsessive neediness. They were also sleeping together within days of meeting each other, which is SO un-Austen. The Cassie(Elizabeth) and Calder(Darcy) romance was likewise unbelievable and immature. Calder kept referring to Cassie’s “wit” which attracted him, and I kept wondering why the author didn’t insert any actual wit! He was also portrayed as an immature brat who hated his family and wanted out from under their thumb. I think the author was trying to draw a comparison with Darcy’s rejection of Lady Catherine’s demands, but in the original P&P, Darcy is portrayed as strong, while in this version “Darcy” seems simply petulant.

This one has turned me off of the Jane Austen knock-offs forever. I am just thrilled that the body of work she left us is enough so that I can read each of them every couple of years to get my “fix” and not be bored!

I’m finding the problem with intentionally trying to read more books is that you’ll read more bad books.ūüė¶

I had high hopes for The Language of Secrets by Dianne Dixon. What would you do if you traveled to your childhood home and found a grave marker showing you’d died when you were 3? It sounded fascinating, plus the story is set in Southern California which made it even more interesting.

Without giving too much away, let me just say that the plot was UNBELIEVABLE. It’s just beyond belief to think that a seemingly normal family could have done what they did and lived together to a ripe old age. As a reader, I cared nothing for any of the characters, not even Justin, the man who “died” at age 3. There were numerous plot holes (death certificate, anyone?), and the relationship between Justin and his wife and her father seemed to be added for additional drama, as if there wasn’t enough already.

Disappointing.

I was the lucky recipient of two Brother Cadfael mysteries at a Christmas book exchange. I’d never read any of the series, nor am I a big mystery fan in general. But these were very fun. One Corpse Too Many: The Second Chronicle of Brother Cadfael
is the second book in the series, although it was a stand-alone story that could be read on its own.  In the book, Brother C is responsible for preparing 94 executed bodies for burial. But he counts 95 bodies Рwhy the extra body?  The next 200 pages follow Brother C weaving his web to find the killer.  A few twists and turns (the killer was NOT whom I expected!) and all is right with the world again.

The first book I finished in 2011! Yay!

I was hesitant to read this one because of the subject matter. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America is a non-fiction book about the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. One of the main story lines in it is about a serial killer. (Who knew serial killers existed in the 19th century?). But I ended up enjoying the book very much.

The book is about the challenges faced in building an entire city within a city for the World’s Fair. It reads like a novel but, despite the drama, is entirely non-fiction. Even the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 is woven into the story – you’ll have to read it to find out why.

While the “good guys” were building the fair, there was a really bad guy living nearby who murdered young women for fun. I was apprehensive about reading this, but the author handled it well. He gave just enough details so that the readers know how twisted the guy was, but he didn’t dwell on or glorify the details. Nevertheless, I recommend NOT reading this late at night; it disturbed my sleep just a little. Oh, and we have a walk-in hall closet with a door that slowly closes on its own – I recommend if you have one of those, don’t enter the closet for a few days after reading the book; you might be a bit jittery about doors closing behind you…

If you are a lover of history, I highly recommend this book. It would also be excellent for mature high school students as background material for reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, or Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, both of which took place in Chicago during that time.

I picked up my 2nd read for 2011 on New Year’s Day: Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession. I hadn’t read Julie & Julia, nor seen the movie, but when I saw the author’s latest book on the “New” book shelf at the library, I thought I’d give it a try.

I get to page 9. In reference to her husband, after giving him all the credit for her success with her first book, Julie writes, “He gets lonely. So do I. Still, I elect not to answer (his phone call).” Hmm. Wait…something’s bugging me.¬† She’s not going to have an affair, is she?¬† I turn to the dust jacket.¬† The author has a “lover she can’t resist” in addition to a husband.¬† I spend a few minutes flipping through the book, and yes, it’s all right there.

I put the book down.¬† I’m sure I’ve read books by adulterous authors.¬† And I’ve read books ABOUT adultery.¬† But to read an auto-biographical work by a woman who’s glorifying it as she goes through the affair – ewwww.¬† Not my thing.¬† As I always tell the kids about popular characters, “She’s not a role model!!!”

So as of noon on New Year’s Day, I am 0 for 2.¬† Hope I can actually get through the next book.

I’ve decided to document reading at least 52 books in the 52 weeks of 2011. The reading shouldn’t be too hard, as I’m pretty sure I’ve read more than 52 books a year since I turned 6. But we’ll see how the documenting goes…

I started reading my first pick on New Year’s Eve:¬† A Secret and Unlawful Killing: A Mystery of Medieval Ireland by Cora Harrison. I had read her first novel, My Lady Judge: A Mystery of Medieval Ireland , last month and enjoyed it. It was entertaining, and the historical aspect of it was fascinating. So I expected to like Killing as well.

My Lady Judge is a mystery surrounding  the death of an unpopular lawyer who was hated by everyone in the burren.   The lady judge interviews everyone who has a grudge to find the killer.

On to A Secret and Unlawful Killing.¬† It’s a mystery surrounding¬† the death of an unpopular tax collector who was hated by everyone in the burren.¬†¬† The lady judge interviews everyone who has a grudge to find the killer.¬† Really?¬† As entertaining as the first book was, I decided life was too short to read a second book with the same plot – my first resolution for the new year.¬† I got to page 48 and put it down.

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