Wednesday, November 18, 2015


(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.)

In 1939 Kraków, 7-year-old Anna Łania lives with her linguist professor father. Anna's father teaches her many different languages and encourages her to befriend all kinds of people in order to practice her linguistic abilities. One day, Anna's father leaves for a meeting at the local university and never returns. None of Anna and her father's friends take her in and she must fend for herself. One day, Anna meets a very unusual man who seems to be able to talk to birds. This mysterious man allows Anna to accompany him. The two become wanderers and skilled in the art of deception. The mysterious man does not allow Anna to use her name and never gives her his own so the two become known by the psedonyms of "Sweetie" and "Swallow Man."  As the two travel through Poland and beyond, they encounter a variety of individuals--some friendly and some not. As their years together pass, readers get a glimpse into turbulent WWII Poland and the atrocities of war through the eyes of Anna and the Swallow Man.

While this book has been suggested for the Young Adult reader, I think it is most appropriate for high school age students and beyond. There is some very difficult content within the book. The story is beautifully lyrical and the characters are complex and interesting. However, the narrative may be difficult for some to understand. Much has to be inferred rather than explicitly spelled out. Readers may draw different conclusions about both the motives of the characters and who they really are. Even the ending is ambiguous. The story offers a different look at WWII Poland as told through the eyes of people living on the fringe rather than directly on the war front.  I think this book could offer some great discussion for book club groups as readers puzzle out the meaning of different moments within the story.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. A lovely and often heartbreaking look at the hard lessons of war. Readers who like very clear cut motives and endings may struggle with this one. There are no definitive explanations of character motives or even of what happens at the end.  Much like war itself.

ANNA AND THE SWALLOW MAN will be published on January 26, 2016.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

THE SECRET CHORD by Geraldine Brooks and **GIVEAWAY**

(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher)

Geraldine Brooks has a real talent for helping readers connect to history in a very personal way. In her latest book, she turns to the Biblical story of David for inspiration. We are given the basic of David's life in the Bible. We know of his fame in youth from his battle with Goliath. We know of his difficult rise to power through conflict with Saul and the punishment brought on through his misstep with Bathsheba. We also know of his famed son Solomon. Brooks takes the bare bones of David's story and fleshes them out so that readers can see David in his his flawed glory.

THE SECRET CHORD is told from the perspective of the prophet Nathan. Brooks uses the traditional Hebrew names in the book so Nathan is referred to as "Natan" and Solomon as "Shlomo." The book begins with Natan looking back on his life with David and remembering one of the tasks that David gave to him. When David no longer took to the battle field, he grew restless and lacked occupation. Natan took the project of writing David's biography and left to interview the key figures in David's life. Through the stories of these characters as well as Natan's own memories, we begin to see the story of David come to life. It is a far darker and unpleasant story than the Sunday School version. However, David's flaws humanize him as much as they also tarnish his golden image.

As someone who regularly attends church and teaches Sunday School, I found myself drawn into this story on a very personal level. I am not sure how the experience would change for someone who is either not religious or not at all familiar with David's story in any form. One of the things I found so interesting about this book was comparing my memory of David's story with the one that Brooks presents in the book. It definitely made me want to get out my Bible and go back over the Biblical story of David.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. I found this book to be quite enjoyable. Some more conservative Christians may take issue with David's portrayal but I found it compelling and sympathetic. When the book was over, I found myself wanting more. Perhaps a follow-up on the life of Solomon?


I am so lucky to be able to offer a copy of this book to one winner!  (United States address only, please)

To enter, leave a comment telling me your favorite story from the Bible. (if you have one)

Make sure I have a way to contact you if you win.

This giveaway ends on October 5, 2015 at 8:00am PST.


Wednesday, September 02, 2015

FEAR OF DYING by Erica Jong

(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher)

I am embarrassed to say I have never read FEAR OF FLYING. It seems like a serious reading omission for any feminist worth her salt. After reading FEAR OF DYING, I have decided I need to immediately run to the library and pick up the one I missed.  Jong returns to the familiar territory of sexuality and marriage with FEAR OF DYING.  Vanessa is a 60-year-old actress happily married to a man 25 years her senior.  Vanessa's parents are both very old and ill. She is facing the hard realities of age while fighting to remain youthful and relevant. In an attempt to deal with everything happening in her life, Vanessa decides to post an ad in a Tinder-like service called Zipless in the hope of making a sexual connection and feeling alive again.

There is a lot going on in this novel. I would say Vanessa's frustrated sexuality is probably one of the least interesting parts of the novel. I love the fact that Jong is delving into the complexities of life at 60 for women. When I was in my twenties, I looked at the women in "Sex and the City" who were in their thirties and forties and marveled at how glamorous they were!  Now, I am 40 and looking ahead to Vanessa and her peers for guidance as to what comes next. Instead of dealing with common aging subjects such as menopause and body changes, Jong instead chooses to focus on not only desire and sex but also at the complex emotions that rise out of the deaths of our parents. The fact that Vanessa's husband is so much older than her also offers an interesting side to the story. The whole book gave me a lot to think about.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. I can't really explain why but I loved this book. I thought Vanessa was a wonderful character and found her struggles with death and aging incredibly compelling and interesting.  The ending was a little out there but I thought the book was really terrific overall.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher)

When my son started Kindergarten two years ago, I was afraid about what knew social pressures he would face. Our Back to School theme for that year was taken from Sting: "Be Yourself No Matter What They Say."  I didn't want him to lose those parts of himself that were so special just to fit in with the other kids. So far so good!  If this book had been around two years ago, it would definitely have been one of his first day of school gifts.

ALLY-SAURUS AND THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL follows the adventures of an imaginative little girl named Ally who loves dinosaurs and likes to pretend that she is one. Ally hopes to meet other dinosaur-loving children at school. Ally quickly discovers that not all kids love dinosaurs as much as she does. Some love space and some love lions and some even like (gasp!) princesses. Ally has a difficult moment with the "princesses" when they tell her that dinosaurs are not allowed to eat at their table. She quickly meets other friends, however, and the children figure out how to play together in all their imaginative forms.

The illustrations in this book are so charming.  I love that Ally and her friends reveal their alternate identities through child-like scribbles.

I also really enjoyed how the book included some conflict and demonstrated how the children worked through this conflict. I think it is important that children understand that they will be facing new ideas and situations at school and that there are ways to figure out how to work out differences in a positive way. The book is very sweet and I loved how it ended with a visit to the school library!

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended!  Very sweet illustrations and a charming message about being yourself while letting others be themselves as well.

Thursday, August 06, 2015


(I received a copy of this book from the publisher.)

THE DRESSMAKER is one of those books that manages to be funny and sad and dark and infinitely readable all at the same time. Tilly Dunnage has finally returned to her small Australian hometown after twenty years ago.  She left in the midst of scandal and spent her years away learning about fashion in Europe. She returns home to take care of her ailing mother and discovers that the past has never really left.

Ham has come with an amazing and interesting cast of characters. The small town of Dungatar is filled with all manner of scandals behind closed doors--illicit affairs, children out of wedlock, cross-dressers, madness, financial ruin. Ham's vision of small-town life is utterly captivating even if it can be difficult to keep track of the large cast of characters. As the bastard child of the town "harlot," Tilly was ruthlessly bullied as a child. The flashback scenes to her childhood are horrific and painful. The scandal behind Tilly's departure is slowly revealed throughout the story.

While the book is often funny and always entertaining, it is also very dark and sad. This is a revenge story and no one really gets a happy ending. I found the book very hard to put down. I was a bit disappointed with the ending. There is a complicated plot line involving a play that I felt caused the story to drag. It was necessary in order for the ending to occur but I felt it was a bit of a letdown after such an entertaining story.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. This book is currently being made into a movie starring Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth. I am interested to see how a story with so many characters and so many plot lines can be developed into a movie. I am hoping the movie will have a little more humor and a little less darkness. While I was disappointed in the ending, I found this book to be a very enjoyable read overall.

See the international trailer for the new movie here.

Monday, August 03, 2015


(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher)

I have been getting so many quality children's books to review lately.  This one is no exception.  I was immediately charmed by this book because of our recent addition to the family:

(Bacchus the Brave)

MAX THE BRAVE is about a fearless and brave kitten named Max. Max desperately wants to chase mice but he doesn't know what a mouse is. Max visits a variety of animals trying to find a mouse to chase. Through some clever misdirection, he is eventually led to a monster and told that the monster is a mouse. Brave little Max decides to take on the monster. In spite of the monster's big teeth!

This book is absolutely adorable.  This was my very favorite illustration:

I love the simple and graphic illustrations and the story is quite amusing. The little kitten's journey will remind some readers of I WANT MY HAT BACK.  I think this would be wonderful to pair with SKIPPYJON JONES.  Skippyjon is another kitten with delusions of grandeur and I think the two go together quite nicely.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.  A charming book about one kitten's quest to be a brave mouse-chaser.  Very sweet story with wonderful illustrations!

Friday, July 31, 2015

YOUR ALIEN by Tammi Sauer and GIVEAWAY!!!

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I am so excited about this one!  YOUR ALIEN is an absolutely charming children's book from Tammi Sauer and Goro Fujita.  A little boy looks out his window one day to see an alien spaceship crash landing. He and the cute little alien become good friends and have a lot of fun together. That night, however, the alien gets sad and the boy has to figure out how to comfort his new friend.

Not only is this book incredibly sweet but the illustrations are so charming!  The rhythm and style of the text are reminiscent of Numeroff's IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE books. My 7-year-old son read the book out loud to me. There were only a few tough words and he was able to use picture clues to figure them out.  He laughed out loud several times during the story and told me this was his favorite part:

I loved that this picture book was both funny and sweet.  It has lovely things to say about friends, family, and helping others. I think kids of all ages will like this one but especially Preschool through 2nd Grade.  Even if your child is already a good reader, the story and illustrations will draw him/her in.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. Incredibly sweet and charming. Lovely illustrations and a great message.


Want to win a copy of this wonderful book?
Leave a comment telling me your favorite alien in books, television or film. 
Open to US residents only.  Contest closes August 7, 2015 at 8:00am PST.

SUSIE IS THE WINNER! Thanks for playing!  I will have more giveaways soon!

Monday, July 27, 2015

NIGHT SISTER by Jennifer McMahon

(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.)

Jennifer McMahon writes really creepy books. And this one is no exception. Some of you may remember my review of her book THE WINTER PEOPLE.  McMahon returns to the supernatural suspense genre with her latest book entitled THE NIGHT SISTER.  As in THE WINTER PEOPLE, McMahon moves back and forth through time to set up her story.  In 1955, sisters Rose and Sylvie are growing up at the 28 room motel that their parents run in a small town off Route 6 in London, Vermont.  The Tower Motel is known for its tower feature that the girls' father built for his English wife. Sylvie is the golden child and Rose is struggling to grow up in her shadow. Sylvie has big plans to run off and be a famous Hollywood actress. She idolizes Alfred Hitchcock and writes him letters about her life in London.  One day, Sylvie disappears and leaves a letter behind about her desire to leave and start a new life.  In 1989, Rose's daughter Amy is living at the crumbling motel with her English grandmother.  Her best friends are sisters Piper and Margot.  As the girls run wild around the motel, they discover a dark secret.  In 2013, Piper receives a call from Margot saying Amy and all of her family are dead supposedly killed by Amy's own hand. Amy leaves a cryptic note behind that says "29 Rooms."  Piper and Margot immediately know what it means.

THE NIGHT SISTER is a really creepy book.  I couldn't put it down. I had to know what was going to happen. There are supernatural elements to this book so do not read it expecting a traditional suspense/mystery. I think McMahon does a great job in developing characters.  Although there are quite a few heavy hints that point to what is going to happen, it is still an enjoyable read.  I was a little disappointed by the ending. It felt a little too far-fetched. Even for a supernatural thriller. But, overall, I thought it was a fun read.  Perfect for a rainy night.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended for lovers of suspense.  Save this one for a rainy night or a cold Winter evening.  A fun, quick read for lovers of supernatural suspense.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


(I received an advance copy from the publisher)

This novel was perplexing.  I had a hard time trying to figure out what it is about.  A woman named A lives with a female roommate named B.  A dates a man referred to as C. A's life is defined by the consumer world around her. Her time with C is spent watching either television or porn. A finds herself mesmerized by a news story about a man who became a celebrity by buying all the veal he could get his hands on. She constantly refers to animated commercials for an artificial food product called Kandy Kakes and spends her time outside of her apartment at either her boyfriend's, her job, or the nearby Wally's supermarket. A's relationship with B has a "Single White Female" quality to it. B's behavior seems bizarre and she appears to be trying to make herself look more like A. C has all the control is his relationship with A and is the only one allowed to define their interactions. One day, A looks out the window to discover her neighbors leaving their home covered in white sheets. She begins to learn about the cult they have joined and decides that this group may have the answers to her questions about identity and self.

I think there are some truly inspired moments in this book. Kleeman is so gifted at description. I could instantly visualize the Kandy Kake commercials and setting that she described in such detail. I had a very clear idea of setting and character. However, I was completely confused most of the time about everything else. I feel like Kleeman has important things to say about identity and self in our consumer culture but I had a hard time following the thread. I was confused in a way I haven't been since reading A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD.  Because of this, I just didn't enjoy the book. It was very difficult to get through and I didn't find the ending particulary satisfying or enlightening.

BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended.  Although Kleeman is clearly a gifted writer, I just couldn't follow the story. I found the whole thing very confusing.  This very well may be my fault as a reader. I would definitely read future works by Kleeman but this one was a miss for me.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Meet Max the Brave!

“Are You My Mother?” meets “I Want My Hat Back” in the hilarious new picture book, Max the Brave (Sept. 8), by author and illustrator Ed Vere. Follow fearless Max as he encounters every other creature except the one he’s searching for…mouse. Check out the trailer!

Full review coming soon!

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

ORION AND THE DARK by Emma Yarlett

I picked up this little gem on a whim when I saw it on the shelf at the library.  While my child has never had an issue with the dark, I know that many other children do.  ORION AND THE DARK helps children with this phobia in this charming picture book story.

Orion is a boy of many fears--girls, heights, spiders, etc--but his greatest fear is the dark.  He dreads going to bed every night and has trouble sleeping because of his fear of the dark and all that it could possibly bring. One night he finally snaps and tells the dark to go away.  Instead, the Dark becomes an anthropomorphic figure and befriends Orion.  The two new friends explore the night and all of its noises.  Soon, Orion learns not only not to fear the Dark but to embrace it as a friend.

There are some absolutely charming die-cut pages in this book and the illustrations are wonderful.  My one complaint would be that the handwritten text can be difficult to read at times.  I think the story will speak to children of many ages and would be perfect to pair with this classic:

BOTTOM LINE: Highly Recommended. A terrific story for children who may have fear of the dark.  Beautifully illustrated and incredibly sweet.

Monday, June 29, 2015

ANIMAL GAS by Bryan Bollinger

(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.)

While I am not huge fan of potty humor, everyone loves a good fart joke. Especially kids. Bryan Bollinger's new picture book celebrates the humor in farts. In the book, a variety of animals try to convince others that THEIR farts smell wonderful.  Each animal in turn is disabused of that notion until one animal surprises everyone at the end.  I think Bollinger manages to include just about every slang term for farts that one can think of: foof, poots, cut the cheese, breaking wind, etc. It is definitely funny.

 I really enjoyed Bollinger's whimsical and cartoonish illustrations:

My 7-year-old was highly amused.  I found myself wishing that the book included an additional element of either the science and mechanics of farting or something about manners regarding farts, Instead, the book exists simply as one long fart joke.  For reluctant readers, a fart joke might be just what is needed to encourage them to read.

Special thanks to Sterling for sending a whoopie cushion along with the book. My child had never seen one before and now I have to watch where I sit!!!

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended.  Potty humor is not my favorite but kids will enjoy this one. 

My First Experience at ALA Annual Conference

Since ALA was right down the road this year, I decided I had to go and check it out.  My friend Monique is a publicist with  New World Library and it was great to see her in action!  Monique hooked me up with PARENTING WITH PRESENCE which I am really excited to read!!!

I then ventured further onto the exhibit floor.  I was overwhelmed!!! It was hard to know where to begin.  I was excited to check out a lot of the children's book publishers.  I also had Penguin and Random House on my radar.

My first stop was with Mighty Media Kids. Their books are adorable!!! I had never heard of their Monster and Me series and was delighted to pick up a copy of MONSTER NEEDS YOUR VOTE:

This little gem comes out in August.  I will post a review closer to that date. Love the button!!!

I almost fell over when I saw Merry Makers booth!  All my favorite children's book characters in plush form!!!  Their Fall line is so adorable! They gave me a backpack charm of Bad Kitty which looks just like our new mischievous kitten.

The ladies at the booth brought Amy Krouse Rosenthal's UNI THE UNICORN to my attention. Not sure how I missed that one! Their plush version of the unicorn comes out this Fall!

There was a big push going on for CIRCUS MIRANDUS but I missed getting a copy. Definitely looks intriguing!

I was also happy to see that there THE DAY THE CRAYONS CAME HOME will be coming out in August!

Philip C. and Erin Stead books are absolute "must buy" books for me and I was THRILLED to see they will have a new release in October.

I was very very selective about galleys.  I only ended up with four but I very pleased with my haul.  Especially the new Bohjalian!!!

If I hadn't been so overwhelmed, I probably would have picked up more.  Still, I had a lot of fun!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher)

THE BOOK OF SPECULATION has a lot of my favorite elements: family drama and secrets, rare books, magical realism, librarians.  The book offers the perfects setup for a reader like me.  Librarian Simon Watson is casting about for something to do after an unexpected layoff.  One day, an old book arrives from a rare book dealer who believes that the book may have connections to Simon's family.  As Simon sits in his crumbling house, he begins to delve into the mysteries of the book. It appears to be the logbook of a traveling circus from the late 1700s and Simon begins to recognize some of the names.  The book may hold answers to the family curse that has taken a woman from each generation by drowning. On the exact same date.

Many times this book reminded me of THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK by Geraldine Brooks. The chronicle of this traveling circus becomes the history of several families and the book carries the imprint of its journey within the pages. I loved the circus setting and how many physical objects within the story such as the book and Simon's house become characters themselves. There are several touches of magic throughout the book which add to its charm.  I loved the family history that appeared throughout the book but I was not fond of Simon or his sister. They seemed to be the weakest characters for me and I often found myself feeling irritated when they appeared. The intricacies of the family history and how the various characters are related also felt a bit forced and convoluted at times.  Overall, though, I enjoyed how the story went backwards and forwards through time and how some secrets came to light and others never did. Much like all family histories.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended. An enjoyable read.  The circus setting is charming and the secrets of this family will keep you guessing and wondering about the roles of fate and self-determination.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Bloggiversary Approacheth

Do you remember when people first started blogging?

When I wrote my first blog post on June 20th, 2003, I thought of blogging as an online journal that would help me keep in touch with far away loved ones.  We weren't really thinking about oversharing or who could see what you wrote or how to monetize your blog or even how to post photos at that point.  I look back at those early posts and cringe.  I also try to figure out who that young woman was. I was dating a man that I had nothing in common with and didn't particularly like. I was struggling in a job that I didn't feel fulfilled in.  I felt pretty lost and it shows in my writing.  The one thing I really knew then was that I loved books.

For awhile, my blog was a hybrid of personal anecdotes, book reviews, and creative pursuits.  For me, the knitters were the ones who really figured out the potential of blogging.  They shared projects and hosted fun swaps and got knitters to connect with one another.  I started to see what blogging could really be.  A chance to connect with like-minded people all over the world and share ideas and projects.  In May of 2007, I decided that I needed a separate blog for creative stuff and I decided to maintain Life by Candlelight as a book/personal blog.  In Crafting by Candlelight, I shared all my crafty endeavors and participated in a bunch of swaps. I really miss swaps. Why doesn't anyone do them anymore?

So much has changed since then.  Many of the bloggers I met in the early days have closed up shop.  Some people say blogging is a dying art form.  I disagree. I still think it offers wonderful inspiration and the opportunity to connect with like-minded people.

I think I have lasted so long as a blogger because I am not interested in making money doing it.  It is just something that I enjoy and I only do it when I have time or something worth sharing.  I don't feel any pressure to post or need to please to advertisers or sponsors.  I will keep book blogging until they quit offering print galleys.  Because I am a purist and hate reading books on a screen.  I like to underline and take notes and it is more meaningful to me to do that in my own handwriting.  Maybe my son will look through some of my books one day and smile at finding some of my scrawled marginalia.

On June 20th, I may or may not write another post to mark the 12th anniversary of this blog. In the meantime, I will keep reading and I hope you will too!

(from 2007)

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

ENCHANTED AUGUST by Brenda Bowen with GIVEAWAY!!!!

(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.)

When I was 16, I went to see a movie called "Enchanted April."  Not long after, I saw "A Room with a View" and my love for and fascination about Italy was well and truly formed.  Where "A Room with a View" was a romantic film, "Enchanted April" was a film about women finding themselves in an idyllic Italian setting in the 1920's. It was the perfect escapist film. And book!  I loved the fact that the women in the story come from all different walks of life and background but they are all drawn to Italy and the chance to get away from it all. And, of course, they all become fast friends.

Brenda Bowen reimagines these same women in a more contemporary setting.  The names and general story are the same but Bowen updates the story for a modern audience.  Sweet Lottie Wilkes has an overbearing husband who controls every aspect of her life.  Rose Arbuthnot is a harried mother. One day, these two unlikely friends discover a notice about a Maine vacation rental on the bulletin board at their preschool.  They come to the conclusion that they absolutely MUST get away.  But money is an issue and they need to recruit two other women for their adventure.  They decide at accept movie start Caroline Dester and elderly Beverly Fisher. (not knowing that Beverly is actually an elderly gay man!) Once they arrive at their vacation rental, all four individuals are transformed

 Much as I am usually enchanted by modern interpretations of Shakespeare, I love how this story works as perfectly in a modern setting as it did in its original 1920's setting.  Women are still dealing with many of the same kinds of problems!  With even more added on!  The updated story is just as charming as the original and makes for the perfect beach read!

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended. A very sweet update adaptation of THE ENCHANTED APRIL. The perfect beach or vacation read!


Win a set of ENCHANTED APRIL and ENCHANTED AUGUST in paperback!    Comment by telling me what your ideal getaway destination would be.

Giveaway closes Thursday, June 11th at 5:00pm PST.  Open to U.S. residents only.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Not New but Notable with Lydia: FROG MUSIC by Emma Donoghue

(Editor's Note: Welcome to our new guest blogger, Lydia Valdés!  So excited to have her on board!)

As Donoghue’s follow-up novel to her wildly successful and imaginative ROOM, I welcomed the opportunity to reunite with this author. What I found was a story I wanted to devour but had to trudge through, at times. Donoghue uses a historical fiction format to infuse suppositions and create a narrative frame for the research she gathered about a real-life, unsolved murder.

FROG MUSIC takes place in San Francisco, summer of 1876. Jenny and Blanche quickly strike up an unexpected friendship, and Jenny’s murder soon after they meet leaves Blanche wanting answers. Blanche sets out to find Jenny’s killer, and we continue learning about Jenny (and Blanche herself) through Blanche’s investigation. Jenny, a professional frog catcher, sold frog legs to local restaurants. Her methods and ethics were questionable, and her penchant for cross-dressing was off-putting to many at a time when cross-dressing was illegal in San Francisco.

Blanche is a burlesque dancer and prostitute with complicated relationships. Her profession and network allows her to ask some questions that others might not in her quest to solve the murder. Blanche also has cause to examine her own choices as she looks into who would want Jenny dead.

The story weaves music throughout and touches on various social taboos, many of which remain controversial today. It is a story of friendship, love, motherhood, and the dance between the personal and societal definitions of what it means to be a woman.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with Reservations. The story itself is compelling, but the delivery is convoluted and did not hold my interest fluidly. Various plotlines and too many characters with non-distinctive traits run together leaving the reader flipping back and forth between pages to remember who’s who. 

Monday, April 27, 2015


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

For such a short novel, THE GRACEKEEPERS is incredibly difficult to describe.  When I started reading it, it instantly brought to mind the movie "Waterworld."  However, where "Waterworld" was a failure in its depiction of a world mostly covered in water, THE GRACEKEEPERS is much more successful. THE GRACEKEEPERS takes place in the future where much of the world is now covered in water. Humanity is now broken into two factions--the landlockers who lives exclusively on land and the Damplings who live exclusively on water.  The two groups are even separated in death.  When damplings die, their loved ones must bring them to a gracekeeper for burial. Gracekeepers live solitary lives in the middle of nowhere and survive primarily on the payment given to them for conducting burials. The deceased are wrapped in a shroud and submerged in the waters surrounding the Gracekeeper's cottage.  The Gracekeeper then suspends a birdcage over the body.  The cage holds a special kind of bird called a grace. Graces serve as physical reminders of the length of a period of mourning. The graces are not fed and, when they die, the mourning period is finished.  Callanish is a Gracekeeper and her solitary life helps her to protect a secret. Elsewhere, we meet North who is a circus performer.  This circus on the water travels from island to island entertaining the "clams" in exchange for food and other goods.  North's performance is special because she does an act with a bear. In a world with very little land, bears are unusual. Eventually, the paths of Callanish and North will cross and their lives will never be the same.

Logan has created a really beautiful novel.  The characters are fascinating and Logan manages to convey a lot of story in such a short book.  My only gripe is that I was left with so many questions!  I would have loved for Logan to spend more time introducing us to this world. There was so much more story to tell!  While the story that Logan gives us is ultimately fairly predictable, the beautiful language and imagery distracts the reader from the tale's ultimate conclusion.  Logan does a wonderful job of giving readers a very clear idea of what this world looks like. I only wish there had been more.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. A lovely tale of love and loss set in a watery futuristic landscape.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A REUNION OF GHOSTS by Judith Claire Mitchell

I received an advance copy of this book from the Amazon Vine Program.

This was a very unusual book. It reminded me a little bit of THE WEIRD SISTERS by Eleanor Brown. The book focuses on three sisters who live together in a rent-controlled apartment in New York City that generations of their family have lived in.  The eldest sister, Lady, has been suicidal for years and has attempted to end her life many times. The middle sister, Vee, is terminally ill with cancer. The youngest sister, Delph, follows the lead of her older sisters as they have been better maternal figures to her than her own mother ever was.  The sisters come from a seemingly cursed family where many members have met untimely ends. The sisters believe their family might be cursed and that the curse stems from their scientist great-grandfather whose creations may end up having killed millions.  The sisters decide to write the history of their doomed family as they face decisions about their own mortality.

Mitchell is a very gifted writer.  I found myself underlining quite a bit in the book. The Alter family is truly an interesting creation. That being said, I never really found myself connecting with the characters. They were interesting but I could not connect with them emotionally. This meant that the book didn't have quite the impact it could have. Although I found the ending a bit frustrating, I felt the last chapter was the best one in the book.  The story of the Alter sisters makes the reader think about the legacies we inherit and how much blood really affects our destinies.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended with reservations. An unusual story that may be off-putting to some.  I didn't particularly care for the story overall but I think Mitchell is a wonderful writer.  I look forward to future novels from her.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Quarterly Book Riot #BKR06 Unboxes **SPOILERS**

I don't do many subscription boxes anymore.  We limit ourselves to Kidstir for my son and the occasional PopSugar Must Have box for me. But the one I can't get rid of is my Quarterly Book Riot subscription.  At $50, it is my most expensive subscription but I can't help being drawn to all things bookish.  Plus, it is only quarterly rather than monthly.

Here is the theme for #BKR06:

"We've chosen a chilling theme to go with the oh-so-chilly weather.  Hunker down, huddle up, and wrap your mind around some matters of life and death and the in-between."

Here is the first thing I saw when I opened the box:

There was a bookmark right on top that accompanied the mass market paperback:

While I typically not a fan of mass-market genre fiction, I am willing to give this one a try as I trust Book Riot's taste.  It could be fun!

Next in the box was a flask:

I am not much of a flask-user but I found this one amusing. I may have to find a reason to use it.

Next in the box was another book:

Although I am more of a fiction reader, this title interests me.  We just recently got a copy in the library.

Finally, there was this cute composition book:

This was probably my favorite thing in the box.  It is almost too cute to use! I'll have to think of something special to do with it.

Although I like to price out my other subscription boxes to see the value, I don't do that with my Book Riot boxes because you can't really put a value on being exposed to new authors and ideas.

Can't wait to see what the next one brings!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Story of Toulouse

Today, I am remembering my beautiful cat Toulouse. I had to say goodbye to my constant companion of 14 years yesterday and I am heartbroken.

Go to my creative blog to read the Story of Toulouse.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Something New

A long time ago, I attended college at Trinity University in San Antonio. I entered college with some pretty negative opinions about the Greek system. My only examples of Greeks growing up were the cookie cutter girls from SMU.  Trinity has a local Greek system and does not do pledging until the Spring. The fall of my freshman year, I noticed some sophomore girls in my anthropology class who just seemed unbearably cool. They were confident and intelligent and interesting. You could have knocked me over with a feather when, on Jersey Day, every single one of those women showed up wearing a red Greek jersey.  I couldn't wrap my mind around it. How could women this cool belong to a sorority? Maybe I needed to rethink this whole Greek thing.  And maybe I needed to find out which sorority wore red jerseys.

I did my due diligence and, to my amazement, Zeta Chi welcomed me into their ranks in the Spring of 1994.

(That's me on the left!)
I met a lot of amazing women in my time with Zeta Chi but, over the years, I lost touch with almost all of them. This is one of the reasons why I am so thankful for Facebook. Because of Facebook, I managed to reconnect with many of the women of Zeta Chi.  Some of them I even got to know better through Facebook than I ever did in college.  One of these women is Lydia.  Lydia is also an avid reader and she and I definitely share the same taste in books. I am humbled by the fact that Lydia has been enjoying this little blog and has gotten some good book recommendations from it.  As hard as I try, however, I can't always hit the many terrific books that come out each year on my blog.


Lydia is going to be a guest poster on my blog doing a new feature called "Not New But Notable."  She'll be checking in with some titles that I may have missed so we can cover more ground with reviews here on Life by Candlelight. She already has some great ideas for reviews and I can't wait to share them with you!

Stay tuned for Now New But Notable with Lydia!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

On the Wish List: A Little Free Library

I have a milestone birthday coming up. This May, I turn 40 years old.  Wow.  How did THAT happen?!

For several years now, I have been wanting to put up a Little Free Library in my front yard. I live in a neighborhood with an interesting mix of people.  We get lots of foot traffic going by our house. I love the idea that people could stop by and get a free book right in front of my house.  The next best thing to my dream of owning a brick-and-mortar bookstore!

(Photo borrowed from and owned by Little Free Library)

My problem has been that these Little Free Libraries are usually $300-$350.  If only I had the woodworking skills and tools to make my own!  I am not going to give up though.  What better gift to my neighborhood than the gift of free books?  This is why I think print books are not going to go away.  A print book requires no technology beyond itself. And it can be shared again and again. 

I think this is a great goal for my 40th year.  What do you think?

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

THE FIFTH GOSPEL by Ian Caldwell

( I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.)

Ian Caldwell has not written in a book in ten years since he co-authored THE RULE OF FOUR with Dustin Thomason.  It is clear that a lot of thought and research went into this new book. The book will draw inevitable comparisons to DA VINCI CODE but I would caution readers about looking for a new Dan Brown story within Caldwell's work.  On the literary spectrum, I would say Caldwell falls closer on the scale to Umberto Eco than Dan Brown. While Dan Brown is a good storyteller, he isn't much of a writer.

THE FIFTH GOSPEL takes place in 2004 as the end of Pope John Paul II's reign.  Father Alex Andreou is a Greek (Eastern) Catholic priest who lives inside the Vatican walls with his young son.  Father Alex teaches the gospels to young men hoping to someday become priests.  Father Alex's brother is Father Simon Andreou who is a Catholic priest holding a prestigious position high in the Secretariat. The two brothers have grown up with close ties to the Catholic church with a father who was a Greek Catholic priest and an uncle who holds a position high within the Church. The brothers embody the split between Western Catholics and Eastern Orthodox that came from a great schism within the church hundreds of years ago. Both of them are closely involved with a mysterious exhibit that is about to take place in the Vatican Museums.  The curator, Ugolino Nogara, claims to have made an important discovery regarding the Shroud of Turin. Before Nogara can open his exhibit, he is found in Castel Gandolfo dead from a gunshot wound.  Simon is fingered as the killer and Alex must figure out who is framing his brother and why.  As he attempts to discover what other secrets the exhibit may have been carrying, Alex must figure out who to trust and how to protect his family.

This is a very difficult book to summarize. There is A LOT going on here.  There is a murder mystery and a secret exhibit with a possible coverup within the Church. We see Pope John Paul's final days as the leader of the Catholic Church and his attempt at building a legacy.  There are two brothers and the intricacies of the relationship as well as the legacy of their family.  There is Alex who struggles not only with his complex feelings surrounding his brother but also with his life as a solo parent in the aftermath of his wife walking out five years before.  There is the difficult relationship between the Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholics and all the history that surrounds that relationship.  Whew! It is hard to keep track of everything! 

Caldwell is a careful writer who takes him his time in allowing his story to unfold. He offers a lot of detail about the history of the Church and the Shroud.   While DA VINCI CODE was a fast-paced thriller where every single chapter ended on a cliffhanger, THE FIFTH GOSPEL does not need to resort to that kind of plot device.  Caldwell allows his story to unfold slowly and methodically. He takes his time with his characters so that we know and understand them all very well.  We get a lot of back story not only of the characters but of the Church as well. While the story of the exhibit and Shroud take center stage, the relationship between the two brothers and their family is just as important.

There was so much going on in the book that I sometimes found it difficult to follow what was happening. There were a lot of characters to keep track of!  Still, I really enjoyed the book. It was thought-provoking and interesting.  The best part for me was the story of this unique family and their complicated bonds. I found it even more compelling than the mystery of the exhibit and Nogara's death. Fans of the DA VINCI CODE may be disappointed if they come here looking for more of the same. This isn't a fast-paced conspiracy-driven thriller.  It is much more thoughtful. Instead, I would recommend this book to individuals fascinated with religion and Catholic Church history.  Reading this book definitely made me want to go and do my own research about Church history and the Shroud of Turin.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.  Ignore all comparison to the DA VINCI CODE. This book stands on its own as a well-researched and well-written story of the history of the Catholic and Orthodox churches and the Shroud of Turin.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I have been very attracted to suspense/thriller novels lately.  Maybe it's the time of year.  This particular book has been compared to Hitchcock and GONE GIRL so I was especially excited to read it.

Rachel is an alcoholic.  She has never recovered from her divorce two years ago and the subsequent loss of her job due to her alcohol problem. Each day, she takes the train into London in order to appear to others as if nothing has changed.  As she rides the train, she finds herself looking at the window at her old house where she had lived so happily with her husband. Now, he is making a new life there with a new wife.  A few doors down, Rachel notices another happy couple.  She names them Jess and Jason and creates a fantasy life around them. One day, Rachel notices "Jess" kissing another man and her fantasy life falls apart.  She decides to get off the train in her old neighborhood and confront someone in her unhappiness. The next day, Rachel cannot remember anything that happened. But she sees in the newspaper that a woman named Megan ("Jess") has gone missing.  Rachel finds herself drawn into the drama of Megan's disappearance as she tries desperately to remember what happened that night.

I absolutely loved the setup of this novel.  It definitely has a "Rear Window" feel.  The fact that Rachel is an alcoholic who blacks out definitely adds something to the drama. Overall, however, this book did not work for me.  Every single character was completely unlikeable.  I could never emotionally connect with the story. It also appeared fairly obvious to me early on as to what was going to happen. Hawkins is a bit heavy-handed with her clues. I feel like Rachel got too directly involved in drama to make the suspense really work. I also found the ending dissatisfying.  I am baffled by the GONE GIRL comparisons. There was never an "AHA!" moment in GIRL ON THE TRAIN. I never really felt the dramatic twist worked since it was so obvious what was going to happen.

BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended.  This book had a lot of potential but it just didn't work for me. I was hoping for so much more!

Monday, January 05, 2015

Best of 2014

2014 was full of calamity for me.  Although I did a lot of reading, I had trouble keeping up my reviews. Mostly because I did so much reading from a sick bed.  Here are some of my favorite reads from 2014 (in no particular order):

1. US by David Nicholls--I think this book found me at the right time. I just loved it. Much much more than ONE DAY.

2. THE BOY WHO DREW MONSTERS by Keith Donohue--Think of M. Night Shyamalan in book form.

3. THE STORIED LIFE OF AJ FIKRY by Gabrielle Zevin--Incredibly sweet book reminiscent of SILAS MARNER.

4. CHAPLIN AND COMPANY by Mave Fellowes--Full of quirky characters!

5. THE BOOK OF YOU by Claire Kendal--The scariest thing I have read in a long time!

6. THE BOOK OF LIFE by Deborah Harkness--A fun ending to a great trilogy.

7. DOLLBABY by Laura Lane McNeal--Think Fannie Flagg crossed with THE HELP.

8. THE VISITORS by Sally Beauman--I have had a hard time convincing anyone to read this.  This is an old-school novel where you have to take your time.  It is worth it!

9.  CLOSE YOUR EYES, HOLD HANDS by Chris Bohjalian--Bohjalian does it again!

10. AND THE DARK SACRED NIGHT by Julia Glass--I am not usually a Glass fan but I really loved this one!

I tried to include only those books published in 2014 on this list.  I also read some great books that will be coming out this year.  So much to look forward to!  Happy Reading!