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Friday Favorite: Favorite Memoir

November 12, 2010 1 comment

Let me say one thing about favorites.  I have a lot of them.  My husband always teases me that I don’t know the real meaning of the word “favorite.”  The truth is, I do know the definition, but I perhaps bestow the title of “my favorite” too liberally.  This is something I got from my mom, who never hesitates to call something a “favorite” if she likes it a lot in that moment.

So while something is my favorite whatever this week, it might not be next week or next month or next year.

Anyway.

Okay, it took me a while to come up with a category for this week, but I finally did.

Favorite Memoir.

I’ve chosen The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson.  This book came out a few years ago, and being a big Bill Bryson fan, I read it as soon as it did.

First of all, everything I’ve ever read by Bill Bryson is hilarious.  Laugh out loud funny.  Full of perfectly couched one-liners that I share with my husband.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid was no different.  I laughed and I cried (because I was laughing so hard).

It’s all about growing up in the fifties, and even though I didn’t grow up then, I can still appreciate the time period with all its wackiness and uncertainty.  I also think that no matter when you grew up, there are certain themes and rites in everyone’s childhood that make this book incredibly familiar to anyone who’s ever been a child.  Which is to say, all of us.

I love Bill Bryson.  He is probably one of my top five favorite authors of all time.  And he definitely is my favorite non-fiction writer.  If you haven’t read anything by Bill Bryson, you are totally missing out.  For some reason, I usually end up taking Bill Bryson books on trips, but why that is, I don’t know.  Maybe because he’s mostly a travel writer?

(Disclaimer: Bill Bryson does use occasional foul language in his books for all easily offended friends out there.  Personally, I hardly notice it, but I know that is a big thing for some people.)

Four and a half stars for being awesome.  I would actually probably give all Bill Bryson books a four and a half.  (Except for A Short History of Nearly Everything, which I would give a four only because it’s so dang long.)

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The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

August 1, 2010 1 comment

The Sugar Queen is the last book of Sarah Addison Allen’s that I read.  She’s only written three so far– Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen and The Girl Who Chased the Moon.

I liked The Girl Who Chased the Moon, so then I read Garden Spells. I REALLY liked Garden Spells.  And I LOVED The Sugar Queen.

Here’s the blurb:

Josey Cirinni is sure of three things: winter is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and her passion for the man she loves is best kept a secret, even from him. Josey has grudgingly settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, but her one consolation is the secret stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she keeps in her closet. One morning, she opens her closet for a sweet, but finds Della Lee Baker hiding there instead. Della Lee is a local waitress on the run who is one part nemesis—and two parts fairy godmother. Under Della Lee’s guidance, Josey is soon living in a world where the color red has startling powers, and passion is so real it can make eggs fry in their cartons. And that’s just for starters.

I just don’t even know where to start with this book.  I loved it.  I loved the magical elements of this book.  Maybe I just related to Josey.  I don’t have a secret stash of goodies, but I wish I did.  And I wish I could make a sandwich like Chloe.

And I wish that books just showed up whenever I needed them.  That has got to be the coolest magic ever.  I really liked Claire’s ability to cook foods that could do certain things in Garden Spells.  But books that follow you around and give you advice?  So cool!

The main protagonist, Josey, is 27.  But she’s been shut up in her house playing dutiful daughter to her aging Southern belle mother.  So she kind of acts more like a teenager.  That may be another reason this book appeals to me– it’s got a little YA attitude hiding in it. 🙂

Just like her in her other two books, Sarah Addison Allen builds a believable small town in North Carolina.  In this book, it’s called Bald Slope.  Now Bald Slope doesn’t really exist, but you wouldn’t know it by reading this book.  I actually looked it up on Wikipedia after I was finished reading.

Nope.  Not a real place.  But I believed that it was.

Sarah Addison Allen is such a talented writer.  She’s my best find this year, and you’ve haven’t read her– you’re missing out on some delightful storytelling.

Five stars because I can’t say enough good about this book.  I loved it, and I’ve added it to my favorites list.

Murder at Mansfield Park by Lynn Shepherd

July 26, 2010 1 comment

I first heard about this book just from perusing the lists on LibraryThing.  But then, I won it on the Early Reviewers page!  I was so excited 1) because I never win anything, and 2) because I read a lot of Jane Austen “fan fiction”– sequels, rewrites, and the like.  So I fancy myself knowledgeable about this particular genre.

I love the word “fancy” as a verb– it seems so Austen-esque.

By the way, don’t you just fancy the cover?  It’s lovely, I think.

Anyway, here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

“Nobody, I believe, has ever found it possible to like the heroine of Mansfield Park.” –Lionel Trilling

In this ingenious new twist on Mansfield Park, the famously meek Fanny Price–whom Jane Austen’s own mother called “insipid”–has been utterly transformed; she is now a rich heiress who is spoiled, condescending, and generally hated throughout the county. Mary Crawford, on the other hand, is now as good as Fanny is bad, and suffers great indignities at the hands of her vindictive neighbor. It’s only after Fanny is murdered on the grounds of Mansfield Park that Mary comes into her own, teaming-up with a thief-taker from London to solve the crime.

Combining genuine Austen elements—the same characters, and the same episodes, but each with a new twist—with a murder mystery scenario, and complete with romance, intrigue, and crimes of the heart, Murder at Mansfield Park is an irreverant new twist on an old classic.

Austen-lovers have long been debating Fanny Price.  She’s either loved or hated.  Some MP fans love her romanticism and respect her gentility.  Personally, I spent most of the original Mansfield Park want to throttle her and tell her to get up off her rear and take control of her life.

I didn’t like Fanny Price in this book either, but you’re not really supposed to.  She’s the spoiled, horrible, and mean one, while Mary Crawford is the heroine—more closely resembling Elizabeth Bennet than the original cunning, condescending character she’s named after.

I’m usually not a murder mystery reader, but I really enjoyed this one!  And it wasn’t obvious who the killer was.  (Although I must say, I’m not terribly observant when it comes to these things, and I don’t really try to hard to figure it out, either.)  If Jane Austen had written murder mysteries, this book is exactly what it would be like.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for sending me this book.  I really enjoyed it and will be recommending it to all my Jane Austen-loving friends.

I also really enjoyed hearing Lynn Shepherd’s background about the book, which you read here.

Four stars = fabulous fun!  Well-written in Jane Austen’s own style, and much better than the original Mansfield Park.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

July 13, 2010 1 comment

I stumbled upon Sarah Addison Allen while perusing the bestseller shelf at my library.  I read her newest book, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, and I really, really liked it.  Garden Spells is her first book; it was published in 2007.

Here’s the blurb from her site:

Welcome to Bascom, North Carolina, where everyone has a story to tell about the Waverleys. There’s the house that’s been in the family for generations, the walled garden that mysteriously blooms year round, and the wild rumors of dangerous loves and tragic passions. Claire has always clung to the Waverleys’ roots, tending the enchanted soil in the family garden from which she makes her sought-after delicacies. She has everything she thinks she needs, until one day she wakes to find a stranger has moved in next door and a vine of ivy has crept into her garden… and Claire’s carefully tended life is about to run gloriously out of control.

I wouldn’t necessarily count this as a “fantasy book,” but there are a lot of fantasy or supernatural elements.  However, there are no witches or princesses or castles, so I hesitate to put it in the fantasy category.  But I wouldn’t know what category it SHOULD go in, so I’ve tagged it as fantasy anyway.

Apparently, I’m feeling a little contradictory today.

Anyway, I really liked this book because of the beautiful setting and the small supernatural details that seemed pretty believable at times.  I could easily picture the town of Bascom, and wished I could move there.

I’d especially love to have a neighbor like Evanelle, Claire’s distant cousin whose “gift” tells her to give people things, though she doesn’t know why they need them.  She gives Claire clean sheets and a box of Pop-Tarts, the grocer a mango splitter, and the dairy farmer a jar of maraschino cherries, and it goes on and on.

Know what else I love about this book?  The ending.  I don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll just leave it at that. 😉

Four and a half stars, because it’s not a favorite (yet), but it’s close!