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Published April 13, 2014 by myliteraryleanings

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My Top Ten for 2012

Published January 1, 2013 by myliteraryleanings

My Top Ten of Books Reviewed in 2012

The fact that these books are all different made my choice difficult but this is the best I can do. This does not mean that I didn’t like many of the other books that I reviewed. They just didn’t make the cut.

10. Eragon by Christopher Paolini

9. The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan

8. The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs by Alexander McCall Smith

7. Anne’s House of Dreams (I had originally written Anne of Windy Poplars by mistake. Sorry) by Lucy Maud Montgomery

6. Mozart’s Sister by Nancy Moser

5. Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

4. Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

3. The Stolen Crown by Susan Higginbotham

2. Spartan by Valerio Massimo Manfredi

and finally, drum roll please……

1. The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani

Happy New Year!

Alice in Zombieland

Published December 15, 2012 by myliteraryleanings

alice in zombieland coverReview of Alice in Zombieland by Lewis Carroll and Nickolas Cook

Overview from They were indeed a queer-looking party that assembled on the bank-the birds with draggled feathers, the animals with their fur clinging close to them, and all dripping wet, cross, and uncomfortable. All of them were covered in Alice’s now cold and congealed blood, which made them even tastier looking to poor hungry Alice.

When little Alice follows the Black Rat down into the gaping darkness of an open grave, she falls and falls. And soon finds herself in an undead nightmare of rotting flesh and insanity. Venturing further into this land of zombies and monsters, she encounters characters both creepy and madcap along the way. But there’s something else troubling poor Alice: her skin is rotting and her hair is falling out. She’s cold. And she has the haunting feeling that if she remains in Zombieland any longer, she might never leave.

Can Alice escape Zombieland before the Dead Red Queen catches up to her?

My Review:

Forgive me for this one if it’s not to your liking but I decided to step a little out of my comfort zone for this one. I had been curious about these books that seemed to come out of nowhere about three years ago.

It seemed to have started with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but then I quickly noticed a whole slew of this new type of genre that combines the works of the classic author with some type of horror story. Zombies didn’t seem to predominate but I think there were also some that featured vampires.

I couldn’t believe anyone could murder the classics I had grown up with in this way but I have always believed that someday I should read one of them myself and give it a fair shot. Who knows? I might like it.

When I saw this book offered one Friday as a freebie, I figured it was a good of time as any to give it a shot. Still I put off reading it for a while until this week when I wanted a short book to finish out my week.

So what did I think? Well, I am not sure if I would exactly recommend it. It is not really my style. Zombies just don’t interest me that much. I don’t know why but I think it because they give me the creeps and eat brains–though this author’s zombies seem to prefer dead limbs instead.

Still I can’t say that it wasn’t educational. I finally have an idea of how these novels are done. I won’t say that I understand why people like to read them, because it certainly wouldn’t be my first choice of genre to read. However, I could have found worse ways to spend my time.

If you’re looking for some light entertainment and you’re not too grossed out by blood and dismembered limbs, this might be just the thing for you. However, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Contains: blood, violence and some scary illustration—might not be suitable for young children

Anne of Windy Poplars

Published September 8, 2012 by myliteraryleanings

Review of Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery

Overview from Anne Shirley has left Redmond College behind to begin a new job and a new chapter of her life away from Green Gables. Now she faces a new challenge: the Pringles. They’re known as the royal family of Summerside – and they quickly let Anne know she is not the person they had wanted as principal of Summerside High School. But as she settles into the cozy tower room at Windy Poplars, Anne finds she has great allies in the widows Aunt Kate and Aunt Chatty – and in their irrepressible housekeeper, Rebecca Dew. As Anne learns Summerside’s strangest secrets, winning the support of the prickly Pringles becomes only the first of her triumphs.

My Review:

Novel number four in the Anne of Green Gables series finds our main character, Anne Shirley in yet another town and a different job. She is now the principal of a high school in the town of Summerside which is apparently a little different from being a principal of a high school in the modern-day USA. She teaches her own class in addition to disciplining wayward students that other teachers send her way.

Unfortunately for Anne, the deck is already stacked against her long before she arrives to take up her position. The town’s royal family of sorts, called by the last name Pringle, wants to punish her for getting the job ahead of one of their own. They do everything they possibly can to thwart Anne’s attempts to assimilate, even banning her from the church choir.

However, she does have a few residents on her side including Aunt Chatty and Aunt Kate (and their housekeeper Rebecca Dew) who have taken her on as a border at Windy Poplars after the Pringles refuse to. While she eventually succeeds in making the Pringles and their offspring behave she still struggles with a new coworker who is determined not to like her.

Just like the last novel in the series, Anne of the Island, this story is filled with a cast of colorful characters. I once again came to fall in love with many of Anne’s new friends, even when they seemed unlikable. Anne has a way of digging beneath the surface and finding out what the real trouble is in a given characters’ life and making him or her change for the better. I love her for this though it makes me a little sad that I have not met an Anne in real life. This book, I guess, is the next best thing. When I felt a little depressed at times, Anne got me through. Much of the story is told through Anne’s letters to Gilbert and sometimes I would imagine that Anne was writing the letter to me and not him. This worked most of the time.

My favorite character besides Anne herself was little Elizabeth. She tugged at my heart when her name changed along with her mood. Her grandmother was so mean that it broke my heart to see such a sweet girl so pulverized till there was little of her courageous spirit left.

I can’t say enough good things about this Anne book but there was one thing I didn’t like about it. Gilbert is not in most of the story. Anne’s letters to him are really the only sense you get that he’s even still around. I guess this was appropriate though given that they hardly see each other at all during the three-year period that this novel covers. I have a feeling that the next book will feature him more and I am glad for it. I hope you will agree.

Moll Flanders

Published May 12, 2012 by myliteraryleanings

Review of Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe:

Overview from A tour-de-force of writing by Daniel Defoe, this extraordinary novel tells the vivid and racy tale of a woman’s experience in the seamy side of life in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century England and America. Born in Newgate prison, and seduced in the home of her adoptive family, Moll learns to live off her wits, defying the traditional depiction of women as helpless victims. First published in 1722, and one of the earliest novels in the English language, its account of opportunism, endurance, and survival speaks as strongly to us today as it did to its original readers. This new edition offers a critically edited text and a wide-ranging introduction by Linda Bree, who sheds light on the circumstances out of which the novel grew, its strengths and weaknesses as fiction, and the social and cultural issues examined in the novel. In addition, her comprehensive notes clarify meanings, allusions, and other references.

My Review:

It’s been a long time since I had read any classics so when this story came into my mind, I thought it is about time I finally read it. I had been thinking about reading this one for a long time. After reading Robinson Crusoe, Mr. Defoe’s other novel, and loving it, I remembered hearing that there was some controversy surrounding this one. That got me curious.

Two weeks ago, I finally downloaded a free version of this story to my Nook and started reading it. From the beginning, I was amazed that Mr. Defoe wrote a story from a woman’s point of view (I doubt many authors in those days did), but also wrote about issues that probably shocked most of his readers. The main character, Moll Flanders, does some terrible things– things that are even somewhat shocking in this day and age. But she tells her story, I believe, as a cautionary tale, as well as to shed some light on the condition of women who are born into similar station of life during this time period.

I’ll be honest. The story is sometimes difficult to follow mostly to Moll’s reluctance to state certain details outright. Although these things were frequently talked about on the Jerry Springer show, I suspect in those days they were swept under the rug. Therefore, we can understand Moll’s reluctance and do our best to pick up on what is not said.

Moll learns early on what it means to be woman with no family connections. Her mother was a convict who “pleads her belly” or her pregnancy with Moll to get out of going to the gallows for her crimes. Her mother is then sent off to the American colonies in lieu of being hanged. Thus Moll is left all alone in the world and raised by the kindness of a strange woman who loves her almost as though she were her own child.

When that woman dies however, Moll is once again alone in the world until she is taken on by another family as a servant. This is when most of her trouble start. The two sons of the family vie to have her as their own. At first, the older one wins, making her his mistress and promising to marry her as soon as he comes into his inheritance. He later tells her that he cannot marry her since he won’t come into his inheritance until his father dies. When he discovers that his younger brother wants to marry her, he encourages Moll to accept him.

At first she refuses, believing it is isn’t right to have sexual relations with two brothers, but when it becomes apparent that she has few options left, she reluctantly agrees. Though her husband is kind to her, Moll still hurts when her former lover marries another. And when her husband dies, she leaves their children with their grandparents and strikes out on her own.

Thus her story of whoredom, bigamy, and thievery continue. Moll knows that her best chance to get ahead in life is to find a man to take care of her and to that end she gets married again. After that marriage ends with her abandonment, she finds another. And so it continues. In the end, she marries five different times with some of the marriages never having been legally dissolved.

For a while, she takes a break from the marrying game and resorts to thievery with the help of a “governess”– I still don’t know why she uses this term to describe the woman who helps her with her life of crime. Many times she is nearly caught and sent to Newgate, the prison her mother had been in when Moll was born, but she always seems to escape detection.

When her luck changes, she too must find a way out of the gallows. At first she also tries to plead her belly but knows that she will soon be caught since she is not pregnant and can no longer conceive. Eventually she turns to a local minister to repent her sins and turns to him to help her get out of her predicament.

I won’t tell you how the story ends but I will say that I didn’t anticipate that it would end the way it did. I will say that Moll eventually does leave behind her life of crime and finds a way to be happy. The woman who at first felt trouble feeling any remorse for her actions, does come to see how her choices have affected the lives of the other people that she loves. I believe this, as well as her attempt to lead an honest life, are the very things that bring her the most happiness in the end.

Though the story, at times, is hard to read, I think it is a good one. I learned a lot about what life was like for women at this time. I also found the description of the American colonies of that time fascinating since I used to live near some of the places that Moll visits. If you can get past the language, I think you too will enjoy it.

Contains: criminal behavior

Leaving Before It’s Over

Published May 5, 2012 by myliteraryleanings

Review of Leaving Before It’s Over by Jean Reynolds Page

Overview from From the author of The Space Between Before and After comes a compelling novel that explores the true meaning of family.
When Roy Vines married his wife, Rosalind, he traded his family and his inheritance for love—a painful choice that has blessed them with years of joy nestled in rural North Carolina with their beautiful daughters, sixteen-year-old Lola and little Janie Ray.
But their happiness is threatened when Rosalind suddenly falls ill. Desperate to get her the help she needs, Roy does the one thing he swore he’d never do—turn to his heartless and bitter identical twin brother, Mont, for help.

My Review:

My book for this week brought a lot of questions to my mind. I don’t mean to say that the book left anything unresolved or in dispute, at least not as far as the plot was concerned. I mean that I got my thinking in more detail about something I’d never thought about– identical twins.

In this story, two identical twins seem to be anything but identical. Sure they look the same, and in some ways even their demeanors are the same but that is where the similarities end. The main character, Roy, in many ways discovers that his twin brother gives new meaning to the phrase “evil twin.”

One day Roy makes the hard choice to go back to his estranged parents and the afore-mentioned brother in Virginia to beg for money for his wife who is sick with some kind of blood-related condition. In the middle of his visit he encounters the son he is thought to have fathered with an ex-wife. When that son, a 17-year-old named Luke, gets busted with drugs, his brother Mont uses Roy’s desperation as a chance to get Luke out of the way and keep him from ruining Mont’s chances at a run for senate.

Roy reluctantly accepts the offer but is worried about how it might impact his current wife and two daughters. Luke, however, earns a place in their hearts rather quickly. He finds that the man that he thinks of as his biological father is not who he thinks he is. But what Luke doesn’t know is that Roy isn’t his father and the man who is,never claimed him as his own.

Roy is determined to protect Luke from that knowledge after he sees that the kid has a good heart. He soon finds that he is willing to do anything to prevent Luke from finding out the truth regardless of the cost to him and his family. While Luke may not be the son of his blood, he is the son of his heart. He is, perhaps, the son that Roy always wanted but could never have.

Since Luke’s biological father seemed to be the main issue that the story was centered around, I started thinking about that. It made me wonder, if two identical twins were thought to have fathered a child, is there a way to determine conclusively which one actually did? I did some research on it and discovered that the answer is no. They have the same DNA so therefore it is impossible to determine which one is the real father.

It turns out that I needn’t have bothered to research this issue. At the back of the book the author answers this question along with others that readers may have about this and many other medical conditions that feature in this story. I thought this was a nice touch. It seems that other readers had these questions as well.

But beyond the questions, it was a great story. I guess I would call it a coming of age story as well as family drama, though I think the coming of age aspect of it might apply to all of the characters and not just the teenage ones.

I liked the character of Roy. He was very down-to-earth and though he was what many people might consider “religious” he seemed to know that being a Christian was not merely going to church or following the rules. He lived his faith through his kindness to his fellow-man and his later devotion to his family. He built a life with his second wife Rosalind that exemplified that faith too though he (and his wife) refused to excuse their own actions that resulted in the break-up of Roy’s first marriage.

Roy’s parents, in contrast, are everything that Christianity shouldn’t be. They are demanding and judgemental, making Mont the favorite of the twins and blaming Roy for abandoning Luke when they knew all along that Luke was not his son.

I was glad that this book had both sets of characters and didn’t just portray all Christians as being heartless and judgemental the ways some other stories I read have done. The truth is that there are hypocrites and legalist in both the secular and the religious world. Those with the good hearts always rise to the top though. And, in the fictional world at least, they are always rewarded for their goodness.

I also appreciated that although there were a few things that I would have prefered that the author leave out of the story (such as some profanity), on the whole it was entertaining without being smutty. Even Roy’s affair ends up being mere attraction to the woman who became his second wife as they never acted on anything. True, he did divorce his first wife to be with Rosalind, but neither of them excused their behavior either.

I think anyone who is interested in a good family drama will appreciate this story. Let me know if you agree, or even if you don’t.

Contains: profanity, drug references and some sexual situations

The Shoemaker’s Wife

Published April 28, 2012 by myliteraryleanings

Review of The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani

Overview from Beloved New York Times bestselling author Adriana Trigiani returns with the most epic and ambitious novel of her career—a breathtaking multigenerational love story that spans two continents, two World Wars, and the quest of two star-crossed lovers to find each other again. The Shoemaker’s Wife is replete with the all the page-turning adventure, sumptuous detail, and heart-stopping romance that has made Adriana Trigiani, “one of the reigning queens of women’s fiction” (USA Today). Fans of Trigiani’s sweeping family dramas like Big Stone Gap and Lucia, Lucia will love her latest masterpiece, a book Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, calls “totally new and completely wonderful: a rich, sweeping epic which tells the story of the women and men who built America dream by dream.”

My Review:

When The Shoemaker’s Wife came out I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I checked the Nook book price at the Barnes and Noble website but found it was a little high for an e-book. I didn’t want to pay that much but I wanted to read it.  I was really excited when I found out that my local library would soon have it. The book just came out so I didn’t expect that. I think I am the first one of the library’s patron’s to read it.

Of course I love Ms. Trigiani’s books. She writes great stories about everyday people who touch the heart without being corny or cheesy and without a lot of sex and profanity. I think she is one of my top ten favorite modern authors.

This book though was a little different from what I expected at first. The two main characters, I believe, are her grandparents or great grandparents who came from the Alpine area of Italy. I had no trouble liking Enza but I did have a little difficulty liking Ciro at first.

I knew the storyline had something to do with how they met and fell in love. Because I was having trouble liking Ciro at that point I began to hope that Enza would marry someone else. Ciro didn’t seem to deserve her. He also didn’t seem like he really cared about her that much in the beginning, not like the way Enza cared for him.

It seemed that I wasn’t the only one because, to my relief, Enza addresses my concerns in one of her conversations with Ciro. She tells him how much she thought of him while he seemed to think of her only every now and again. Ciro tries to insist that they have a few little moments which he equates with having a history. Enza sets him straight.

“Enza pulled her hand from his and placed it on her lap. ‘No, Ciro! Listen. A man who wants a woman will do anything it takes to win her. If you thought I went back to Schilpario, why wouldn’t you write? Why wouldn’t you move heaven and earth to find me? No ocean, no obstacle, no excuse could have kept us apart had you wanted me.’

‘That’s true.’ His heart grew heavy as he realized she was right.” p. 281

After this moment, it was a lot easier for me to like him, though I still think that I like Enza better. Before that moment I wasn’t really sure I even wanted him with Enza. I thought she had better chances with Vito Blazek. He seemed to be willing to do everything for her.

It turned out that I was wrong though. Later in the novel we see how Vito’s life became a mess. And Enza, though she may not have been wealthy, was better cared for as Ciro’s wife than she would have been with Vito. When Ciro got married, he had been much better prepared to settle down.

During Enza time away from Ciro, she has some fantastic adventures of her own. She and one of her best friends manage to find a way to crawl out of the hole they are in. In Enza’s case, it means going from being a virtual servant to a distant American relative and her daughters-in-law in Hoboken to working for the great Enrico Caruso at the Metropolitan Opera House. Fans of Caruso will undoubtably appreciate reading about their idol and his love for his home country.

Another part that I liked was the sections featuring descriptions of the checkpoints at Ellis Island. I have been there and I pictured that place as I read. I also found some similarities between what my great grandparents had endured in trying to adapt to life in this country and what awaited Ciro and Enza as they tried to fit in. Perhaps they appreciated their American citizenship so much because of everything they had to endure to get it. It is often that way in life that we only really appreciate the things that we have to fight for.

I don’t want to say much more about the story for fear of giving too much away. I will just say this– in the end, I loved it. It was powerful and real. I think if you like historical fiction and stories about REAL Italian people struggling to make it, you will love this. As I mentioned earlier, there is also a little bit of romance, but it does not dominate the story as much as I was afraid it would.

In the end, it is just another great Adriana Trigiani story about everyday people trying to survive and trying to find some meaning in their lives. I think future readers will enjoy this one as much as I did, maybe more. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a good, wholesome story.

Contains: some language, and brief allusions to sexuality.

Below is the book trailer.