Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review – Letters From Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien

Letters from Father ChristmasLetters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are many books and stories that I think of when I think of Christmas reading. There’s Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, of course, and O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi, which is one of my favorite Christmas stories! The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe has always had a very Christmas-y feel to me, especially considering that iconic image of the lamp-post beaming in the middle of a snowy wood and a personal appearance by Father Christmas, himself. But I must admit that, until now, J. R. R. Tolkien never featured heavily in my Christmas reading. And then I discovered Letters From Father Christmas.

A charming collection of letters that Tolkien wrote for his children each year, Letters From Father Christmas, is simply a delight to read! Each letter features the adventures of Father Christmas and the other inhabitants of the North Pool, most notably the North Polar Bear. From the mishaps of the well-intentioned but accident-prone Polar Bear to fighting off incursions by wicked goblins, each letter is filled with the latest news from the North Pole and is accompanied by images of the letters themselves, with the text in Father Christmas’ shaky handwriting and fun little illustrations that Tolkien drew as part of the letters.

My only complaint is that, since the letters were written to the Tolkien children, they sometimes include references to people, places, or pets that they knew well, but that the reader wouldn’t necessarily understand. A couple of well-placed footnotes would go a long way in these instances, but otherwise, I enjoyed Letters From Father Christmas very much and will definitely add it to my list of favorite holiday books!

View all my reviews

Share this on:Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on Tumblr

Book Review – Summerlong by Peter Beagle

SummerlongSummerlong by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Synopsis (From Goodreads.com): One rainy February night, while dining at a favorite local haunt, Abe and his girlfriend Joanna meet waitress Lioness Lazos, new in town and without a place of her own. Fascinated and moved by the girl’s plight, Joanna invites Lioness to stay in Abe’s garage. Lioness is about to alter the lives of Abe, Joanna and those around them forever.

My Thoughts: As a life-long Peter Beagle fan, I am always excited when a new Peter Beagle book is released so I was thrilled to discover his latest book, Summerlong. It’s hard to discuss this book in detail without giving away too much of the plot, so for those who are looking to avoid spoilers, let me just say that I enjoyed Summerlong for the most part. I went through a massive mythology-reading spree as a kid so, when I was pretty tickled when I realized who Lioness really was and what story Beagle was playing with. (I was also amused by all the great little details Beagle scattered throughout the story that seemed insignificant until that plot twist is revealed). I have my issues with the ending – which is the only thing that makes this a four-star review instead of a five – but I can’t go into that without some serious spoilers, so proceed at your own risk.
.
.
.
.
So Summerlong is Peter Beagles’ take on the Persephone myth. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, Persephone was the daughter of Demetria, goddess of the Earth. She was stolen away by Hades, the god of the underworld and her mother grieved for her so much that it caused the world’s first winter. The other gods forced Hades to release Persephone from the underworld and Demetria is so overjoyed to see her that everything begins to grow and bloom again on Earth, bringing in the first spring. However, because Persephone ate some pomegranate seeds while in the underworld, she must return to Hades for several months every year – one for every seed she ate – and winter comes again.

In Summerlong, Lioness (aka Persephone) runs away from her husband, Hades, and hides out on this tiny commuter island, where an older couple – Joanna and Abe – take her under their wing. All hell breaks loose (pardon the pun) when Hades comes to retrieve his missing wife and this is the point where Summerlong goes off the tracks. Beagle paints Lioness as a woman on the run from an abusive marriage. She cannot bear the cold of Hades realm and is terrified when she realizes that Hades has come for her but then she does an odd about-face and is suddenly willing to return “home” to the underworld for no reason that I could understand. Not that Hades is all that bad. Even Lioness admits that he has always tried to be good to her but if there was just a dissonance between the panicked woman on the run and the way the story ended.

I was also less than thrilled with how the story ended for Abe and Joanna. Their unconventional relationship was one of my favorite parts of the book, with so much love, history, and understanding between them that it felt like a punch in the gut that it ended the way it did. If it had helped Lioness or if Joanna and Abe were able to still be friends and not lose everything that was between them, I would have been more reconciled to the lose but the feeling that it was all for nothing tainted the ending of an otherwise wonderful book for me. Don’t get me wrong, Summerlong is still more than worth the read – even a flawed Peter Beagle book is still an amazing book – but I don’t think Summerlong will be displacing The Last Unicorn or Tamsin as my favorite Peter Beagle novels anytime soon.

View all my reviews

Share this on:Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on Tumblr

Celebrating World Photography Day

Happy World Photography Day, book lovers! I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this before but back in the days before C. S. Literary Jewelry when I had a lot more time on my hands, I really enjoyed going out with my Nikon and looking for fun things to photograph. My favorite thing to shoot was portraits, especially at events like festivals, Renaissance fairs, and historic reenactments, but I also enjoyed shooting flowers, animals and pretty much anything else that caught my eye. In a lot of ways, photography is a lot like the Dr. Seuss book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry StreetYou just need to keep your eyelids open and see what you can see.” In fact, the best shot I ever took, of a trumpet player leaning on a lamp-post in Central Park, was something I spotted while heading to shoot something else. I never made it to the event I originally intended to shoot but that unexpected moment more than made up for it! 

I don’t get much chance to get out with my camera anymore but in honor of the day, I thought I would share some of my favorite photos from my days as an amateur photographer.

And if you have an interest in photography, I recommend you check out this review of one of my favorite photography books, The Moment If Clicks by Joe McNally.

The Moment It Clicks: Photography Secrets from One of the World's Top ShootersThe Moment It Clicks: Photography Secrets from One of the World’s Top Shooters by Joe McNally
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I could sum this review up in three words. Seriously cool book!!!! Joe McNally’s The Moment It Clicks is the best photography book I have ever read. A must-read for any aspiring photographers, especially anyone who is interested in taking amazing portraits, the book features tons of incredible pictures, many of which you will recognize from magazines. For each shot, McNally shares the story behind it and the lesson he learned from it. You get to see the creative process behind his work, both the times when inspiration and circumstance aligned to produce an amazing photo and the times when he was left scrambling and improvising. McNally also shares the technical elements of each shot… how he lit it, what he used to shoot it, and why. These details alone makes the book worth it and believe me, I will be absorbing that wealth of information for quite a while.

But even if you have no interest in the technical aspects of photography, this book is fascinating. With it portraits of interesting people, both in front of and behind the camera and its insights into the challenges, sacrifices, joys and frustrations of being a professional photographer, The Moment It Clicks is simply an amazing read.

View all my reviews

That’s it for me today! Until next time, take care and happy reading!

Share this on:Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on Tumblr

Book Review – The Seafront Tearoom by Vanessa Greene

The Seafront Tea RoomThe Seafront Tea Room by Vanessa Greene
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Seafront Tea Room is the sort of pleasant, easy-going read I have come to expect from Vanessa Greene. It follows the same basic format as The Vintage Teacup Club, also by Vanessa Greene, in which three women come together and discover love, strength, and friendship as they search for a special tea-themed treasure. In this case, the main characters: Charlie, Kat, and Seraphine are on a quest to discover wonderful little tearooms to feature in Charlie’s magazine. Along the way, the ladies face challenges and obstacles, custody issues, fall-out from an adoption, trouble balancing work and romance, and a fear of coming out to family, but make it through with the help of their new friends.

While I thought that the author skimmed through the resolution to many of the problems the ladies faced, The Seafront Tea Room, was as warm and relaxing as a hot cup of tea and a great read for when you want something light and feel-good.

View all my reviews

Share this on:Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on Tumblr

Book Review – Everybody Behaves Badly by Lesley Blume

Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also RisesEverybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises by Lesley M.M. Blume
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you ever wondered what the story was behind Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, you might want to pick up a copy of Everyone Behaves Badly. The book tells about Hemingway’s real-life experiences that led to the writing of the book and the people that he (not too subtly) based the characters on. From a disastrous, drama-filled trip to a bull-fighting festival to a literary masterpiece, Lesley Blume shows us the evolution of the novel and the creation of Hemingway’s larger-than-life persona. While I found the book interesting and certainly enjoyed hearing about what happened to the real-life Brett Ashley, Hemingway himself comes across as petty, back-stabbing and willing (if not eager) to bit any and all hands who fed him.

View all my reviews

Share this on:Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on Tumblr

Book Review – My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

My Salinger YearMy Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you like behind-the-scene glimpses into the lives of famous authors and introspective musings on how (and why) certain authors touch us the way they do, you will probably enjoy My Salinger Year. The book is based on the real-life experiences that the author, Joanna Rakoff had while working for a literary agent who represented the famously private and eccentric author, J. D. Salinger.

I think one of the things I really appreciated about My Salinger Year is that Rakoff didn’t come to the job as a Salinger fangirl. I somehow missed going through the obligatory Catcher in the Rye phase as a moody teenager and only discovered Salinger as an adult. Likewise, Rakoff had never read Salinger until she came to work at the Agency. This late arrival to the Salinger party may seem a bit suspect at first. I mean, what could be more (if you will pardon the phrase), phony than a writer trying to cash in on a much more famous and successful author? But Rakoff’s discovery of Salinger and her re-telling of the weekend where she practically devours all of Salinger’s books and stories allows the reader to re-live the experience of discovering a great author. Also, by coming to Salinger as an adult, she is able to form a more nuanced view of him and his writing than if she had to fight through the typical adolescent obsession with Holden Caulfield.

Another thing I enjoyed about the book were the fan letters to Salinger. Since the author didn’t want anything to do with fan mail, the Agency intercepted the letters that fans wrote to Salinger and replied with an impersonal form letter. As an assistant, Rakoff was responsible for these replies. The letters, ranging from Holden Caulfield wannabes to veterans who found peace and healing in Salinger’s writing, added more layers to the reader’s view of Salinger, his place in our literary culture and how his writing affects different kinds of readers. And Rakoff’s reactions (and occasional non-form-letter replies) were interesting and thought-provoking.

Ultimately, even though Salinger himself does make a few appearances in the story, My Salinger Year isn’t really about J.D. Salinger. Instead, it is about finding the things (like a famous author and his books) that speaks to you enough to help you find your path.

View all my reviews

Share this on:Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on Tumblr

Book Review: Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood

Mrs. HemingwayMrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

ABOUT THE BOOK: Told from the perspective of each of the four “Mrs. Hemingways,” Hadley, Fife, Martha, and Mary, Mrs. Hemingway is a fascinating look at the life of author, Ernest Hemingway, from his early ex-pat days as a struggling writer in Paris to his eventual suicide. The book focuses on the transitions from wife to wife, with each Mrs. Hemingway detailing how they won and lost the famous writer. Together the narratives of the four wives paint a fascinating portrait of one of the giants of the Lost Generation, from his charismatic, larger-than-life personality to the demons that haunted him.

MY THOUGHTS: An excellent summer read for lit lovers, Mrs. Hemingway had it all – fabulous places, gossip about famous writers, love, loss, and bold, vivid characters. And since the Hemingways spent a lot of time on vacation during the book, with lots of descriptions of swimming, diving, and playing in the water, Mrs. Hemingway is the perfect book to enjoy on the beach or by the pool. Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Share this on:Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on Tumblr

Book Review – The Red Door Inn by Liz Johnson

The Red Door Inn (Prince Edward Island Dreams, #1)The Red Door Inn by Liz Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A light and thoroughly enjoyable read. I sat down with the intention of reading a chapter or two of The Red Door Inn and ended up staying up all night to finish it. My only complaint is that I now I want to visit Prince Edward Island even more than I did before, (as a life-long Lucy Maud Montgomery fan, that is saying quite a lot), only now, in addition to a farmhouse with green gables, I’ll also be on the look out for a charming B&B with a red door!

View all my reviews

Share this on:Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on Tumblr