REVIEW: Riding Lessons by Sara Gruen

riding lessonsFormat:  Paperback
Genre:  General Fiction / Equine Fiction
ISBN:  978-0-06-124108-6
Published:  2004

Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Back of the Book Blurb:

As a world-class equestrian and Olympic contender, Annemarie Zimmer lived for the thrill of flight atop a strong, graceful animal. Then, at eighteen, a tragic accident destroyed her riding career and Harry, the beautiful horse she cherished. Now, twenty years later, Annemarie is coming home to her dying father’s New Hampshire horse farm. Jobless and abandoned, she is bringing her troubled teenage daughter to this place of pain and memory, where ghosts of an unresolved youth still haunt the fields and stables—and where hope lives in the eyes of the handsome, gentle veterinarian Annemarie loved as a girl . . . and in the seductive allure of a trainer with a magic touch.

But everything will change yet again with one glimpse of a white striped gelding startlingly similar to the one Annemarie lost in another lifetime. And an obsession is born that could shatter her fragile world.

My Thoughts (**spoiler**):

Well, I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it. I found it disappointing after having read Water for Elephants a few years back, which I loved. I pretty much disliked every single character in Riding Lessons…which makes you wonder why I went on and read Flying Changes. I found AnneMarie to be ridiculously immature for a woman of 38 years, married 18 years and mother to teenage daughter. She doesn’t seem to have outgrown her own adolescence, and maybe that was a direct result of her career-ending accident when she was 18, but her seeming inability to admit her weaknesses and learn lessons from them was very frustrating. Add to that the once overbearing father who is now dying – and with whom there are unresolved issues, an iron-fisted mother who is intrusive and continues to parent her daughter as if she were still an adolescent, and Eva, with a huge attitude and a smart mouth.

I suppose a woman who has not yet resolved issues with her own parents can not be expected to be a mature, effective parent to a daughter just like herself. Particularly when she is going through a divorce from a cheating husband, a husband whom her daughter adores, and who therefore blames the split on AnneMarie. Still, there does come a point when big girl panties are necessary.

**spoiler**

As much as I disliked almost every character, the book did have some redeeming aspects to it. I related very much to AnneMarie’s devotion to finding the truth of Hurrah’s lineage, and what really happened to him. I also appreciated that, in the end, AnneMarie recognized how much damage she had done, and used her own money to set it right. She was so selfish and had blinders to everything except what was immediately in front of her for so long, that I was gratified to see her make this very real effort, since she had basically run the stable into the ground.

REVIEW: Needles and Pearls by Gil McNeil

needles and pearlsFormat:  Paperback
Genre:  General Fiction / Chick Lit
ISBN:  978-1-4013-4129-9
Published:  2010

Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Back of the Book Blurb:

Slip one …A year after her husband’s death, Jo Mackenzie is finally starting to get the hang of being a single parent.

Knit two together …The boys are thriving in their new seaside home, the wool shop is starting to do well and despite two weddings, an in-school knitting project and Trevor the Wonder Dog coming to stay, she’s just about keeping her head above water.

Cast off …But boys, babies and best friends certainly make life a lot more interesting. Can Jo cope when things get really complicated? Because if knitting truly does keep you sane when your life starts to unravel then it looks like Jo is going to need much bigger needles.

My Thoughts:

Funny, I didn’t expect to like this book more than The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club, but I did. Perhaps Gil McNeil hit her stride with this one. Perhaps it was due to several (somewhat unexpected) details that I really liked. Regardless, this one is better.

I won’t give away details, but I will say that I appreciated so much the fact that Jo Mackenzie is character who is growing. I do not enjoy characters who are all they are going to be from the very beginning, and do not learn from mistakes or gain at least some sort of wisdom from their existence. Jo (thankfully) is not that kind of character…at least not so far. She is not given to airs, she seems solid & grounded, and she doesn’t take the easy way out of problems (nor advise her friends to do so). That is refreshing, especially given that this is sort of a departure from what is societally popular right now. She also speaks her mind, and when the occasion warrants it, will put others in their place when they have crossed the line. She gets this trait honestly, and I truly love it, in large part because she also knows when to hold her tongue.

When I read Beach Street Knitting Society, I didn’t realize it was a series, but I’m a sucker for series when they have characters I enjoy. Despite the fluffiness of the books, I do like the characters, and frankly, they provide a nice break from the heavy reading I’m doing this year (and there is plenty of that). Of course, the cliffhanger ending (cue major emotional manipulation) makes it a bit difficult to stop at this point, knowing there are plot resolutions out there that I have not read. I’m glad I finally got around to it.

REVIEW: The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club by Gil McNeil

beach street knitting societyFormat:  Trade Paperback
Genre:  General Fiction / Chick Lit
ISBN:  978-1-4013-4122-0
Published:  2009

Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Back of the Book Blurb:

For every woman who has ever dreamed of starting over, or being a better mother, or just knitting a really nice scarf . . . Jo Mackenzie needs a fresh start.  Newly widowed with two young sons and a perilous bank balance, she leaves the bustle of London to take over her beloved Gran’s wool shop in her sleepy seaside hometown.  There, she finds unexpected comfort in a “Stitch and Bitch” knitting group that meets every week to trade gossip, and, occasionally, a new stitch.  When a man enters Jo’s life, the knitting club has even more trouble confining the conversation to knit one, purl two.  The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club is an uplifting, winning tale about the healing power of friendship and new beginnings.

My Thoughts:

I rated this book 3.5 stars…I didn’t love it (for good reason), but I definitely liked it a lot. It was a quick, light read that was great for the holiday break. McNeil’s style reminded me of Elizabeth Buchan and Elizabeth Noble in many ways, but most particularly in the lead female character. She was strong and likable, had flaws that the reader could identify with, and was successfully moving forward from a losing a spouse (who was a wanker, but still). All in all, it was a good story that had me kind of wishing I could move to a small town on the coast and run a yarn shop. Of course, learning to knit would help.

As much as I enjoyed the book (and I did), I kept stumbling over how the author presented fatherhood. With the exception of one good guy, who was both a devoted husband and father, her attitude about fathers seemed to be that they were not only expendable, but they were really a nuisance, and actually ended up bollixing things up entirely. She presented men as great for dating (and for shagging), and evening marrying (if that’s your thing), but pretty much useless for parenting. I despise this point of view, because it not only diminishes men in general, but it also diminishes what women should expect from a partner, and it diminishes respect for good men…because the flippant attitude that men are useless becomes so pervasive.

That being said, this didn’t ruin the book for me. The author wasn’t heavy-handed with this view, but it was overt and matter-of-fact, and assumed that all men were the same in this regard. Still, there was much to enjoy, including knitting as the theme throughout. Every time a read a book is built around knitting, it makes me want to try it (again), so that in itself was enough to balance it out. I will read the sequel.

10 Best Books of the Year (So Far…)

c8774-toptentuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This feature was created because they are particularly fond of lists at The Broke and the Bookish. They love to share their lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists! Each week they will post a new Top Ten list that one (or more) of their bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget so that everyone can check out other bloggers lists! If you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It’s a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers. All of us readers have those books that really started us on our way to becoming book lovers. It could be something we read as young children, or it could be a book we picked up in adulthood after years of a reading drought. Or, it could be an author or book that introduced us to a new favorite genre. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday puts a spotlight on those books and authors that we credit with our bookishness.

10 Best Books of the Year (So Far…)

1.  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – definitely my favorite of the year!  I have always been drawn to WWII, and specifically Holocaust, literature.  There is something sadly riveting about it, and I am always struck, even with novels, by the lengths of depravity that human beings are capable of reaching.  Zusak has written a book that will, in my opinion, be a staple in the literary canon, as it is certainly a worthy representative of quality literature in general, and of 20th century fiction in particular.

2.  The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers – I am amazed at the fact that McCullers produced this when she was only 23 years old.  She clearly had wisdom beyond her years, and deeply understood the nature of loneliness.  This is an excellent book…dark and sad certainly,  and McCullers has the ability to draw you in and make you feel like more than just an observer.

3.  Animal Farm by George Orwell – A brilliantly written allegory that is a total and utter indictment of communism.  Everyone should read it.  EVERYONE!  I’m sort of aghast at myself for not having read it until now, and I am m-a-n-y years removed from school.

4.  The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides – I thoroughly enjoyed this book…much more, in fact, than I thought I would.  Interestingly, in all my years of reading and through both B.A. and M.A. in English, I never heard the term “marriage plot.”  I read a number of the novels referenced by this book, but I do not recall ever discussing the marriage plot, and how it is a prevalent literary convention in Victorian literature.  Either I completely skirted any class that would have addressed it, or it wasn’t covered.  I’m leaning toward the latter.  At any rate, this is a worthy book, and while it is enjoyable on its own, it is better if you’ve read some Victorian lit.

5.  Philippians – easily one of my favorite books of the Bible.

I don’t actually think anything else qualifies as the best of the year so far, so five it is.

Top Ten (or Seven) Series I Need to Finish


Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This feature was created because they are particularly fond of lists at The Broke and the Bookish. They love to share their lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!
Each week they will post a new Top Ten list  that one (or more) of their bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget so that everyone can check out other bloggers lists! If you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It’s a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers.
All of us readers have those books that really started us on our way to becoming book lovers. It could be something we read as young children, or it could be a book we picked up in adulthood after years of a reading drought. Or, it could be an author or book that introduced us to a new favorite genre. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday puts a spotlight on those books and authors that we credit with our bookishness.

Top Ten (or Seven) Series I Need to Finish (or Start and Finish, as the Case May Be)

  1. Millennium series by Stieg Larssen – I read (listened to) the first book with my husband, and he went on to finish, but I haven’t yet.  I l-o-v-e-d the first book, so I need to either make the time to listen, or just plow in and read them.  One of my favorite series ever.
  2. Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling – I’ve read six of the seven, and I still have the seventh sitting on my bookshelf.  I fear it’s been so long since I read them that I need to start from the beginning again.  Again, loved the series, but I got distracted and never got back to it.
  3. Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis – This is a series I have never read.  I grew up with my head in the literary sand, and I have never put this at the top of my “to-be-read” list.  However, this is the year.  My son starts 3rd grade in the fall, and he will be reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for school, so I will be reading with him.
  4. Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke – I have read (or listened to) about half of these books, and I always thoroughly enjoy them.  Dave Robicheaux is a character I love, and I especially appreciate how he has developed over the years I have been acquainted with him.  Additionally, the bayou setting really functions as character in and of itself, and it is a setting I love.
  5. Anna Pigeon series by Nevada Barr – Another series I have dipped into quite a bit, but have only read (or listened to) about half of the books.  She is another detective character that I have loved over the years, and her job as a park ranger takes her all over the United States, so the location is constantly changing, but the setting is always within the federal park system.  It’s different, and that is one of the major reasons I enjoy this series.
  6. Lord of the Rings series by J. R. R. Tolkien – I have never read this series.  <GASP>  I have seen the movies, which were brilliant, and I fully expect the books to be even more brilliant.  It is a bit of a travesty that I am mid-way through my 40s and have never given these a try.  My husband raves about them, and my son will read them for school at some point, so they are definitely in my future.
  7. The Gunslinger series by Stephen King – I hope I get back to these books one day.  I read the first three as soon as they were published, but got distracted and caught up in other things while waiting for the fourth book to come out.  I tried 2-3 years ago to listen to The Gunslinger, and I had to set it aside because I thought it was awful.  I actually dreaded listening, and that is unheard of for me.  I love Stephen King, so it is really hard for me to admit that, and I’m hoping that it’s more a case of being in the wrong frame of mind for that series than to have truly had a chance of taste such that I can no longer enjoy it.  We shall see…

Top Ten “Gateway” Books/Authors in My Reading Journey

 
Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This feature was created because they are particularly fond of lists at The Broke and the Bookish. They love to share their lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!

Each week they will post a new Top Ten list  that one (or more) of their bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget so that everyone can check out other bloggers lists! If you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It’s a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers.

All of us readers have those books that really started us on our way to becoming book lovers. It could be something we read as young children, or it could be a book we picked up in adulthood after years of a reading drought. Or, it could be an author or book that introduced us to a new favorite genre. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday puts a spotlight on those books and authors that we credit with our bookishness.

These are my Top Ten…ok, Top Fifteen… “Gateway” Books/Authors (in somewhat random order):

  1. My Bible Friends – Etta B. Degering
  2. Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories – Arthur S. Maxwell
  3. The Ugly Duckling – Hans Christian Andersen
  4. A Girl Called Tommie, A Nurse Called Tommie, A Wife Called Tommie – Thelma G. Norman
  5. Little House in the Big Woods (Little House #1) – Laura Ingalls Wilder
  6. My Sister Mike – Amelia Elizabeth Walden
  7. The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Elizabeth George Speare
  8. Now – Merikay McLeod
  9. A Little Princess, The Secret Garden -Frances Hodgeson Burnett
  10. Unblessed – Berneice Lunday
  11. Unleashed – Leon Orr
  12. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
  13. Johnny Tremain – Esther Forbes
  14. Nancy Drew Mysteries – Carolyn Keene
  15. Biographies of everyone from George Washington & Thomas Jefferson to Paul Revere, Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, George Washington Carver…you name it, I read it.

Amazing that a list like this does not include The Chronicles of Narnia, anything by Dr. Seuss, no Maurice Sendak, barely anything in the traditional canon of children’s literature.  I am thankful that The Witch of Blackbird Pond made it into my hands, as it was one of my few reading experiences outside the narrow sphere of denominational sanctioning (as a young adolescent, anyway), and it lit a spark.

A Bookish Bucket List – Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This feature was created because they are particularly fond of lists at The Broke and the Bookish. They love to share their lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!

Each week we will post a new Top Ten list  that one of their bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget so that everyone can check out other bloggers lists! If you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It’s a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers.

So, without further ado…My Bookish Bucket List!

  1. Read Les Miserables…one of these days, when my kiddos are grown.
  2. Finally read Anna Karenina.
  3. Finish The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor.
  4. Read Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis.
  5. Read The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis with my sons.  My first time through will be when I read them with my oldest son.
  6. Read everything by Willa Cather, Cormac McCarthy and Kent Haruf.
  7. Have over 300 classics on my finished list.  I’m currently at 186.
  8. Buy no new books for an entire year…including Kindle books.  Limit my reading during that year to my personal library and our local public libraries.  (I’ve tried this before and failed magnificently.)
  9. Get back to reviewing books on this blog.
  10. Own my own used (and loved) book store…perhaps with a reading nook complete with coffee and comfy chairs.