Book Review: Spinning Silver

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

First line: The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard.

Summary: When Miryem takes over her father’s money lending business she excels at it. She has a talent for making silver into gold. Slowly bringing her family out of poverty, she garners a reputation but it may not be as all she thought it would be. She draws the attention of the Staryk king, a creature of ice and cold who preys on the people of Vysnia.

Highlights: This book is beautiful! It has classic fairy tale themes, Rumpelstiltskin, and the feeling of a Russian folktale. I wish that I had read this in the dead of winter because it is very atmospheric. The story is dark and rich. So much detail and story is packed into it that it takes a while to digest. This is not a summery beach read but one that needs to be savored.

There are at least six points of view throughout the plot and each character has a symbol to represent them. It is a nice touch to separate the narratives. Each character brings their own voice and thoughts to the story. Miryem is the moneylender’s daughter who is stolen away by the Staryk king. Wanda, the servant girl, gives us a peak into the prejudices of the village folk but also the wonder of girl who has been given a chance to better herself. Her younger brother, Stepon, is the innocent who watches and does not completely understand what is happening around him. Irina, the daughter of a duke, has been forgotten and neglected until her father hatches a plan to ensnare the Tsar and therefore putting her in danger. The young tsar, Mirnatius, has a dark secret. And finally Magreta, the nurse who raised Irina and is determined to keep her young charge safe.

With so many plot lines intertwining you would think it would get confusing but it does not. They all come together and conclude the story. The last few chapters are fast paced and the perfect way to end. Be prepared to spend time with these characters in this world. It is a hearty read but worth it.

The Staryk was a tale for a winter’s night.

Lowlights: I love the detail of the story and the characters. Every few chapters though felt a little longer than they needed to be. I am a fan of short chapters so when one stretched on for 50+ pages it took me a little longer to get through.

FYI: Read Uprooted by Naomi Novik. It is fantastic! It is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast which is my favorite fairy tale.

Get great books cheap at library book sale

It’s that time of year again, when reading can take center stage as you find time to relax and rejuvenate yourself. Whether you’re hanging by the pool, on vacation at the beach, or just lying in a hammock in the backyard, a good book can make that moment even better.

If you are in need of good, inexpensive reading material for times like those, the Friends of the Derby Public Library has got you covered. Come to the Friends book sale at the library July 21 and 22 to find reading treasures, at just 25 cents for a paperback and 50 cents for a hardcover.

There will be hundreds of books to choose from, so you are sure to find something you will enjoy. Music CDs, DVDs and books on CD are also available at the nominal cost of $1 for music CDs and $2 for DVDs and books on CD.

If you are a member of the Friends group, you are lucky enough to have access to a Friends-only preview sale 6:30-8 p.m. Friday, July 20. If you aren’t yet a member, you can join for only $10 at the sale.

The book sale will be 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, July 21, and 1-4 p.m. Sunday, July 22, in the Community Room at the library.

Volunteers are needed to set the sale up Friday; to work the sale Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday; and to box up what books are left after the sale on Sunday afternoon. If you are interested in volunteering, please email the Friends group at friends@derbylibrary.com.

Lit Pairings – The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

For the past six months, Arthur Moses’s days have looked the same: He tends to his rose garden and to Gordon, his cat, then rides the bus to the cemetery to visit his beloved late wife for lunch. The last thing Arthur would imagine is for one unlikely encounter to utterly transform his life.

Eighteen-year-old Maddy Harris is an introspective girl who visits the cemetery to escape the other kids at school. One afternoon she joins Arthur—a gesture that begins a surprising friendship between two lonely souls. Moved by Arthur’s kindness and devotion, Maddy gives him the nickname “Truluv.” As Arthur’s neighbor Lucille moves into their orbit, the unlikely trio band together and, through heartache and hardships, help one another rediscover their own potential to start anew.

This is one of those beautifully heart warming stories that really makes you believe everything can work out in the end. If you find yourself down in the dumps or maybe lately you’ve just been reading books that are way too serious, you need this story in your life! Like right this minute! FOR REAL!

And the food. Oh the food! I think food, or perhaps meals are a major character in this book. When Arthur is on his own he keeps it pretty simple. He takes a sandwich to the cemetery everyday for his lunch. Though they tend to be simple I think the fact that he rotates his filling choices shows he still cares a little bit about his noon meal. At dinner Arthur seems to feel more alone and that is reflected in his cooking or lack there of. But I will say I love the way he threw together his beans! I think beans can be one of the most simple and comforting meals. This isn’t Arthur’s recipe but it’s one of my favorite ways to enjoy beans Shrimp with White Beans on Toast. 

Another character, Arthur’s neighbor Lucille, is one heck of a baker and chef. She likes to show her love through food, and she woos Arthur with wonderful confections like her Orange Blossom Cookies  which he thinks about often. When Lucille decides to start teaching a cooking class she agonizes over what her first recipe should be. She settles on her Pistachio Party Cake. I’m not sure what her exact recipe is but I knew she would be appalled if I included one that used a box cake mix! At Thanksgiving Lucille is in full crazy holiday cooking mode! She decides to make 14 things but assures Arthur and Maddy it’s really not that big of a deal since two of the 14 are cranberry sauces. When she finds out there will be a last minute guest she decides she really needs to make Pumpkin Tea Bread, because you can’t entertain without it. Lucille is a lady after my own heart!

The Story of Arthur Truluv truly shows what “Food is Love” really means. I think cooking for and sharing food with those you love is one of the greatest experiences humans can enjoy. Let me know if you make any of the recipes from the book or just enjoy reading it.

 

The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings

I have a miniature dachshund named Winston.  He HATES fireworks.  In the last few years, I have learned some tricks to help him deal with the holiday.  One of my favorite traditions now is a movie marathon with lots of action to drown out the booms.  This year we watched The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogies.  Watching these movies took me back to childhood.

One of my earliest memories is being read to every night by my dad.  One of the books that stands out the most is The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I remember him checking out an illustrated copy from our local library.  It felt so special having him read when we knew he was tired.  He worked in Wichita and had an hour commute every day to and from work with a 4 a.m. alarm.  I loved the story of Bilbo Baggins and the company of Thorin Oakenshield.  My favorite scene is and always will be the chapter, Riddles in the Dark, where Bilbo meets and outwits Gollum.  I was always a little worried for Bilbo.  Answer the riddle or be eaten?!  How scary.  Followed by giant spiders in the forest of Mirkwood.  (Why is there always giant spiders?)  Then when they reach the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo has to face the dragon, Smaug.  This book gets better and better.  But I still remember being saddened at the end with the death of Thorin.  I still am sad about it actually.

When I was in high school, my dad and I went to see the first of the Lord of the Rings movies.  I was blown away by the sheer magnitude of this movie.  It was visually stunning with an amazing cast and a great story.  I had never read the LOTR books but I did remember the story, The Hobbit.  I immediately had to buy the trilogy and start reading.  I LOVED them.  The detail that Tolkien puts in his books is beautiful and complex.  The following years, I went to see The Two Towers and The Return of the King and was so happy to see that Peter Jackson followed the source material so well.

Then several years later Jackson announced they were adapting The Hobbit!  I was stoked.  They were bringing back some of the original cast and adding new talent.  Going to the theater to see the first movie was like being a kid again.  Once again, the casting was amazing.  Martin Freeman as Bilbo and Richard Armitage as Thorin were both exactly what I wanted.  Even though the movies veered off the story line, I felt that Jackson still gave us the feel of Tolkien.

When I happened upon an exact copy of The Hobbit that my dad read to us in a used bookstore I snatched it up immediately.  I placed it in a spot of honor next to my illustrated copies of Harry Potter!  There is nothing like a special book that makes us feel young again.  What is your favorite book from childhood?  We’d love to hear your comments!

Book Review: The Haunted Queen

Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir

First line: “A health to the bride!”

Summary: Jane Seymour is the daughter of knight. With aspirations of becoming a nun, she did not consider that life at court was in her future. However, when her plans to join a nunnery change she joins the household of Queen Katherine, the wife of Henry VIII. Jane is devoted to the queen so when a maid of honor, Anne Boleyn, starts to attract the king, Jane must decide where her loyalties lie. When Anne becomes queen, Jane is forced to serve her. As Anne’s power wanes the king’s eye begins to stray. Jane becomes the focus of his attention and his future queen.

Highlights: Weir’s portrayal of Jane Seymour is the best one I have read. Jane is a very boring queen. She has very little time to establish herself in history but what we know of her is that she was meek and obedient. At least this is what we assume but in The Haunted Queen we get a little bit of fire injected in to her character. She has opinions, thoughts and questions. Even though she is afraid to voice them, we as the reader get a look into her mind and see more than the quiet mouse she is remembered as.

Lowlights: I felt that more of the book was centered around Anne Boleyn (who is my favorite of Henry’s wives). We see the events unfold through Jane’s eyes but not much about Jane herself. Which leaves a small portion at the end of story to center around her time as queen.

FYI: Weir does a great job so far on each of the queens. Check out Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen and Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession to read the first two books in the series.

Book dilemma: purchase or borrow?

I love books. I’m an avid reader and sometime collector of books. OK, probably more than just “sometime.” I work in a library and have ready access to thousands of books. I hold a library card for Wichita libraries where I have access to thousands more books. So why is it that I feel compelled to purchase books?

My bookshelves are filled with hundreds of books. Many of them haven’t yet been read. I tell myself I will read them before I buy any new ones, but then I find three more books I “need” to own. And don’t even start me on the used-book sales at local libraries!

It’s easy to make the decision to buy some books. For instance, Nancy Drew. I loved reading them as a kid and I love reading them as an adult. So, I have a shelf full of them. And I have my favorite authors, whose books it’s easy to know I am going to love. Then there’s the classics that I love to read and want to own copies of. These include The Count of Monte Cristo, Pride and Prejudice, and most of Agatha Christie’s titles, among others.

Sometimes I have to own multiple copies of the same book. Namely, Harry Potter. Yes, I own a set of first editions in hardcover from when my kids were younger and we were all reading them. They’re actually my second set, because I gave my first set to my most Harry Potter-loving kid. Then the illustrated editions began to be released, and they are so beautiful, so I needed them. With the 20th anniversary of the release of the first book last year, new editions in house colors were released, and of course I had to start my collection of Hufflepuff house books.

So, how do you decide which books you want to buy and what titles you’ll borrow from a library? I’d love to know how you make those decisions. If you’ll share in the comments, I’d love to do a future blog post about your answers.

Book Review: The Last Time I Lied

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

First line: This is how it begins.

Summary: When Emma Davis is asked to return to Camp Nightingale it brings many memories and fears to mind. One summer, fifteen years before, Emma was a camper at Camp Nightingale and the three girls from her cabin all disappeared. Now as an artist on the rise, she continues to paint the missing girls Vivian, Natalie and Allison. Maybe going back will help Emma get past her demons and find out what truly happened to the girls of Dogwood cabin.

“I want to go inside, look around, see what memories it dredges up. That’s why I’m here, after all. Yet when I twist the doorknob, I realize my hand is shaking. I don’t know what I’m expecting. Ghosts, I suppose.”

Highlights: Sager’s latest novel is one of nostalgia for me. Having attended a summer camp near a large lake and cabins with no AC, this brought back many memories for me. The uncomfortable nights where everything is hot and sticky, canoeing on the lake, campfires and crafts. My sister, my cousins and I attended Quaker Haven Camp in Northern Indiana for two summers. We loved every minute of it. We made friends, crafts and memories. Even at church camp, you hear the stories of some creepy man that stalks the woods or a ghost that kidnaps children. This is what summer was as a kid at camp.
I could picture Camp Nightingale as clear as day. As Emma looks deeper into the events of fifteen years before she slowly reveals more memories that she has kept hidden. The author leads us in many different directions to keep us guessing. I loved the mystery of the lake. With each new tidbit, I was even more intrigued.
The ending was not what I expected. It wrapped up, we got the mystery solved but then…that ending! Holy cow! My chest was tight. My heart was pounding. I had to set the book down and breathe after the last page. The fact that Sager once again got a five star review from me is astounding. I cannot wait for his next book.

Lowlights: The only downfall was that I could not be reading this in a lawn chair on the shores of Dewart Lake in Indiana. That would have made this perfect.

FYI: This is the perfect book to take on a weekend trip to the lake!

Book Review: The Sunshine Sisters

The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green

First Line: All those years when Ronni thought she was sick, all those years convinced that every mole was melanoma, every cough was lung cancer, every case of heartburn was an oncoming heart attack, after all those years, when the gods finally stopped taking care of her she wasn’t scared.

Summary: Ronni Sunshine is a London-born actress who made it to the B list in Hollywood during her prime. Now, years later, her life is coming to an end. Her last wish is to have her three estranged daughters return home to be with her in her final hours. Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy endured a rough childhood, taking second place to Ronni’s career, and now with their mother calling them home, they must face their insecurities, jealousies, and the reconciliation they secretly desire.

Highlights: This book is an excellent summer read! It’s dramatic, but not overwhelming, romantic, but not mushy, and full of juicy gossip, beach-side leisure, and even a little tears. The best element of this book are the characters; they are deep, complicated, and flawed. The relationships between them is so relatable, especially for readers who’ve experienced family drama. While the story isn’t the most groundbreaking, it’s easy to connect with and makes for a quick and enjoyable read.

Lowlights: The weaker parts of the novel are in the middle part of the story which slows down as we experience the sisters’ backstories. The book also gets convoluted at times as people come and go in the story. The story may also not be great for readers who enjoy a lot of action in the plot. Most of the events in the story center on the character’s development so it may read more slowly for a reader seeking a story with constant movement.

FYI: This book is great for lovers of Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, and authors Celest Ng and Lianne Moriarty. Also, note that this book does have a few steamy sections that would rival erotica, but there aren’t enough to qualify the book itself as a romance.

Book Review: As Bright As Heaven

As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

First line: Morning light shimmers on the apricot horizon as I stand at the place where my baby boy rests.

Summary: When the Bright family, Thomas, Pauline and their three daughters, decide that they are going to move to Philadelphia they believe that it will be a new start away from the sorrow of the last few months. Thomas is apprenticing his uncle’s mortuary business. This seems a strange place to bring a family after the loss of their infant son and brother but for Pauline it helps her heal and understand death better. But suddenly the war and the Spanish Flu descend on the family. They have to deal with more than they ever expected.

Highlights: Susan Meissner can write beautiful stories rich with historical detail and human emotion. Her characters are always amazing and deep. It was a very fitting time to read about the flu after the strong strain that hit the U.S. this year. It is also the 100th anniversary of the epidemic. I liked the love stories and the history.

“She says the flu wanted to make barbarians of us, to have us think life is not precious and the dead are not worthy of our kindest care. Our humanity is what made what happened to us so terrible. Without it, nothing matters.”

Of course I had to search Newspapers.com (using the link on our library website) to see how Wichita reported the events of the time.  It seemed that the who country shut down to help protect civilians from the dreaded flu that was wiping out millions of people.


Lowlights: I felt like the narratives of Pauline and Willa were not completely necessary. They did not provide too much to the story. The story could have been shortened by 50 pages or so. I ended up skimming the last 40 pages to see how the characters and story wrapped up.

FYI: I loved her book, The Secrets of a Charmed Life, which is set during the Blitz in London during World War II.

Book Review: The Death of Mrs. Westaway

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

First line: The magpies are back.

Summary: When Harriet Westaway receives a letter from a lawyer she is confused by its contents. It is informing her that her grandmother has died and that her presence is needed at the reading of the will. Harriet has never met her grandmother. She never even knew she had one. Maybe they got the wrong person. Nevertheless, with a loan shark hounding her for money and bills piling up she decides to see what is behind this letter. Upon arriving at Trepassen she meets the rest of her “family”. Can she deceive these people and take their money? On the other hand, is there more here than she thought?

Highlights: This is by far Ruth Ware’s best novel. It took me a while to read but not from lack of interest. I liked Harriet. She is a young girl in an impossible situation. She does the best she can to take care of herself in an uncertain world. I really enjoyed the diary entries that give the reader a peak into the past and snippets of facts pertaining to the mystery. I kept coming up with new scenarios and answers. Ware did a great job setting up each little twist and turn. In addition, I was truly a little frightened by Mrs. Warren. She was always there with some dark comment or ominous look.

I didn’t mean you—I just meant—well, look, Mrs. Warren’s always had a touch of the Mrs. Danvers about her.

Lowlights: The loan sharks were the driving force to get the story started but then the threat disappeared as the plot progressed. I understand that they were just a starting point for why Hal decided to impersonate the Westaway heir but if it was a big part of the beginning maybe it should make an appearance at the end?

FYI: Ruth Ware is also the author of The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Lying Game.