Confessions of a Shopoholic by Sophie Kinsella

Title:  Confessions of a Shopaholic

Author:  Sophie Kinsella

Paperback:  350 pages

ISBN:  0440241413

On Monday morning I wake early, feeling rather hollow inside.  My gaze flits to the pile of unopened carrier bags in the corner of my room and then quickly flits away again.  I know I spent too much money on Saturday.  I know I shouldn’t have bought two pairs of boots.  I know I shouldn’t have bought that purple dress.  In all, I spent… Actually, I don’t want to think about how much I spent.  Think about something else, quick, I instruct myself.  Something else.  Anything’ll do.

I’m well aware that at the back of my mind, thumping quietly like a drumbeat, are the twin horrors of Guilt and Panic.

Guilt Guilt Guilt Guilt.

Panic Panic Panic Panic.

If I let them, they’d swoop in and take over.  I’d feel completely paralyzed with misery and fear.  So the trick I’ve learned is simply not to listen.  My mind is very well trained like that.

-Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella, page 154

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella lends a comedic voice to an all-to-real problem plaguing many today.  It’s a story told by the main character, Rebecca Bloomwood, as she struggles to gain control of her shopping addiction.  From the private thoughts and justifications, like the item’s on sale so buying two saves more, to the terror when seeing the credit card bills in the mail.  At times I heard a few of my own thought processes echoed in Bex, lol.

Miss Bloomwood tries to get her spending under control, even going so far as to work through a self help book… unfortunately, though, she ends up spending a lot more money than she did without the book, as well as stinking up the apartment with the smell of defeat and bad curry.  Her father offers the advice that she has two choices:  Cut back or make more money.  Obviously cutting back was a bust, so she tries the MMM approach.  Her short-lived career in retail ends in disaster when she learns the hard way that hiding clothing from the customer will get you fired.  She also finds that she is NOT the craftiest person and the “make money at home” thing isn’t for her.  Nor can she force herself to fall in love with a millionaire, no matter how much her friend might want it.  It would seem that she is destined to retreat to her parents and regress from adulthood, and even there she can’t escape her incompetence.

Can this shopaholic make it?

Just then the post plops through the door, and I go to pick it up.  There’s a handwritten letter for Suze and a postcard from the Maldives.  And for me, there are two ominous-looking window envelopes.  One from VISA, one from Endwich Bank.

For a moment, my heart stands still.  Why another letter from the bank?  And VISA.  What do they want?  Can’t they just leave me alone?

-p. 155

For the most part, I enjoyed this book.  It was funny and truthful.  The scene in the store with the customer wanting the pair of pants Becky had been planning to buy after her first day of work had me rolling.  And the romantic tension between Luke and her is quite delicious.  I did, however, find her mildly annoying after awhile.  Honestly, there were points toward the end where I was yelling at the book, “For goodness sake!  Just tell the truth!”  For shopping is not Rebecca Bloomwood’s only vice, lying seems to be her native tongue.  Sometimes, she even lies for no apparent reason.

All in all Confessions of a Shopaholic is a bit of fluff that can be a quick escape from the more serious books, and I’ve been holding off on watching the movie until I’ve finished the book.  I suspect this will be one of those examples where the movie is better than the book…. then again, after watching a trailer for it, I realized NONE of the movie is what I had remembered the trailers before the book (I thought Amy Adams played Rebecca and Chris Noth Luke Brandon!), nor is it very much at all like the book.  Ah, well!  I give Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella 3 out of 5 stars.

Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

homers-odysseyTitle:  Homer’s Odyssey:  A Fearless Feline Tale, Or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat

Author:  Gwen Cooper

Hardback:  289 pages

ISBN:  9780385343855

Challenges:  ARC Challenge

The last thing Gwen Cooper wanted was another cat. She already had two, not to mention a phenomenally underpaying job and a recently broken heart. Then Gwen’s veterinarian called with a story about a three-week-old eyeless kitten who’d been abandoned. It was love at first sight.

Everyone warned that Homer would always be an “underachiever,” never as playful or independent as other cats. But the kitten nobody believed in quickly grew into a three-pound dynamo, a tiny daredevil with a giant heart who eagerly made friends with every human who crossed his path. Homer scaled seven-foot bookcases with ease and leapt five feet into the air to catch flies in mid-buzz. He survived being trapped alone for days after 9/11 in an apartment near the World Trade Center, and even saved Gwen’s life when he chased off an intruder who broke into their home in the middle of the night.

But it was Homer’s unswerving loyalty, his infinite capacity for love, and his joy in the face of all obstacles that inspired Gwen daily and transformed her life. And by the time she met the man she would marry, she realized Homer had taught her the most important lesson of all:  Love isn’t something you see with your eyes.

Homer’s Odyssey is the once-in-a-lifetime story of an extraordinary cat and his human companion.  It celebrates the refusal to accept limits -on love, ability, or hope against overwhelming odds.  By turns jubilant and moving, it’s a memoir for anybody who’s ever fallen completely and helplessly in love with a pet.

-Inside dust cover of Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

Okay… breathe…  I’m going to do my best to review this book on the its merits alone, and not gush about the author herself.  It would be easy for me to go on about how, upon hearing that my daughter, also named Gwen, loves animals and has a black cat, was really excited by the book when I got my advanced reader copy and wanted me to read it to her, emailed me for my address and not only sent her a signed copy of the finished book with a beautiful hand-written card and pictures of Homer, but also sent her a copy of the audio book.  AND that, with all that she’s got going on in her life with book-signings, fundraisers and feeling under the weather, she still takes time message us and even remembers my daughter’s cat’s name.  But this is a review of the book, not the author, so I will focus my attention on that.

Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper is a memoir of how the things that we might never choose on our own can be exactly what we need.  It is about recognizing value in someone or something and building your life around it.  It is about how, by looking at life and love through the eyes of another, we take on the traits we admire in that person.  In Gwen Cooper’s case, that person was a blind wonder cat, through whom she learned courage, how to love, and perseverance.

One thing I really like about this book is the format.  It’s set up as a journey from who and where Gwen was when she got the call from the vet about the eyeless kitten whom nobody wanted and would likely be put down if she, his last chance, didn’t adopt him, continues through jobs and moves and romances, and ends with what she has learned and insights she has gained through knowing and loving and living with Homer.  But, each chapter is also a tale in and of itself, making it a book that can be devoured straight through (honestly, it’s very hard to put down) or you can nibble on it and ponder each lesson.  Also, each chapter begins with a picture, usually of Homer, but occasionally of Scarlett or Vashti, Homer’s big sisters, and a quote from the other Homer, the Greek storyteller.

Another thing that I enjoyed with this book is Gwen’s sense of humor.  There are so many laugh-out-loud moments,  like bringing her date in and the two of them being greeted by a cat who not only discovered the tampons, but how to unwrap them, proudly carrying them in his mouth to show to his mommy.  Also, there is a quality to her writing that made me feel like we’ve been friends for years.

Like life, though, the book isn’t all sunshine and roses.  There are real dangers and some terrifying moments, like waking up to find a burglar in her apartment.  As well as the heart wrenching days after September 11th, when Gwen tried desperately to get back to her cats who were trapped in their apartment, just blocks from where the two towers had stood.

I found Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper to be moving and inspirational, at times hilarious and touching, and am thankful that there was a vet who refused to accept that an eyeless kitten was better off being put down, that Gwen Cooper was in the vet’s contacts list and opened her heart to him, and that she has shared Homer and his wisdom with all of us.  I give Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper 5 out of 5 stars.  It’s one of my favorites and I’ll be rereading it again and again :-)

Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg

home-repairTitle:  Home Repair

Author:  Liz Rosenberg

Paperback:  352 pages

ISBN:  9780061734564

Challenges:  ARC Challenge

But it was more than facing the clutter and the mess, this grip of cold gloom that surrounded her.  She had never been prone to depression, not even after Ivan died, but what she suffered now felt like a disease of the soul.  She wandered aimlessly around the house.  The flowers in their clay pots out on the front porch were long dead and withered.  A few brown leaves stuck out from the stems.  She seemed to be staring at the demise of everything.  Everything she’d already lost, all the losses still to come.  It all headed toward grief in the end.  Humans were soap bubbles, clinging to any solid surface.  They rested briefly, then were gone.  Her mother would be gone soon, and not long after, it would be herself, and one day even her own children…

A chill stabbed her heart.  Why on earth bother?  Why clean, take out the trash, make the beds.  Why not let it all alone to rot?

- Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg, pages 183-184 (ARE)

I’d first like to thank Jennifer, aka Book Club Girl, for the opportunity to read Home Repair and participate in a discussion with Liz Rosenberg, the book’s author.  You can listen to her July 8th broadcast on Blog Talk Radio with the author by clicking here.  It was my first time participating in a live discussion with an author, and was an interesting experience.  It would definitely be more interesting to have the author’s voice at a book club discussion more often.

One of the things that sticks out most for me with Home Repair is that it truly has a feeling of authenticity.  Often in books, when the tragic or fantastic occurs, it feels contrived or manufactured, a vehicle for the author to get the characters from one point to another, or to teach a lesson.  However, with this book, the events feel natural.  When Eve and her seventeen-year-old son, Marcus, get into a fight about him going for a ride in his friend’s new sports car, it had a very familiar feeling to me, a mother of two teens of my own.  The events that followed the argument also felt familiar and made me think back to something that had happened within my own family.  Another aspect of Home Repair that I kept thinking of while reading it was that the characters were very real to me.  At times I could see my own mother in Charlotte, Eve’s mom, with Eve playing my part, at other times Mrs. Dunrea could’ve been me.  Also, Rosenberg has set Home Repair in her home town of Bignhamton, New York, adding even more realism to the book.

Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg begins on a bright, sunny and unseasonably mild day as Eve holds a garage sale to clear out some of the clutter in her family of four’s life.  As the day progresses, she becomes aware that her husband, Chuck, has taken the opportunity to clear out for good.  Eve is left with the task of explaining to her two children, Marcus and Noni, that he’s left them, and to somehow manage to dig down within herself and soldier on.  The book takes us on a year journey as Eve rediscovers who she is, develops friendships and connections with new and different people, and deepens her relationships with those she already knows.  When her mother moves up from Tennessee to “help,” Eve is faced with her mother’s own eventual mortality and humanness, as she struggles in the in-between land of mother caring for her own children while being a child caring for her mother.  Home Repair is the story of healing, family and friendship that will stay with you and gives hope that “This too shall pass.”

“Why does anyone get married?  Why do middle-aged men leave their wives, or women abandon their families and run off to Tahiti?  Why does anyone bother to become friends with anyone, or adopt a child, or own a pet, for that matter?  We’re all going to die sooner or later, if that’s what you’re thinking,”  Charlotte said.  “That’s life.  Nothing we do can change that.  We’re all going to someday say good-bye.  We’re all going to have to cry, little girl,” she said, putting one hand out to touch Eve’s hair.  The touch did not quite happen, but hovered, and then settled back down, like a butterfly, still quivering.  “We might as well be happy while we can.”

-Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg, page 324 (ARE)

Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg is a comfort, homey read that reminds us that we’re not alone and gives us hope.  It tells us that we’re stronger than we think and love is the best home repair.  I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Fruits Basket Volume 3 and 4 by Natsuki Takaya

KYO KYO!!!!Title:  Fruits Basket, Volume 3

Author:  Natsuki Takaya

Paperback:  200 pages

ISBN:  9781591826057

Challenges:  Manga Challenge

The third installment of Sensei Takaya’s delightful manga series that gives the reader a window into the life of the cursed Sohma family and how Tohru Honda, a sweet and naive young orphan they’ve taken in and with whom they’ve shared their secret that some in their family are possessed by the vengeful animal spirits of the Chinese zodiac, features the rebellious cat-posessed Kyo Sohma on the cover.  Kyo is probably one of my favorite characters, he is certainly one of the funniest, and this book introduces another of my favorites:  Hatsuharu, the bull.

The book begins with a school race, which the highly-competitive Kyo sees as an opportunity to beat his ultimate rival and cousin, Yuki Sohma, the rat.  The pictures had Maggie and I laughing out loud in public places, trying to keep ourselves under control but often not able,   class=”hiddenSpellError” pre=””>Kyo with his cat ears, fangs, eyes and tail with electric energy swirling around him as he focuses on thoroughly trouncing “That damn rat Yuki” in the race was hilarious.  It’s during the race that Haru shows up and challenges Kyo to a fight, during which Black Haru comes out and makes sexual innuendos about what he’s going to do with Tohru.

Valentine’s Day happens in this book, as well, which brings Kagura back… much to Kyo’s displeasure.  Hatori, the Sohma family doctor, is introduced and Momiji makes another appearance and invites Tohru, Yuki and Kyo to the Sohma family spa for White Day.  Momiji, the rabbit, is another one of those funny, slightly naughty, characters who likes to look pretty.  The trouble is, though, the dress-wearing, fingernail-polished, blonde is a BOY.  Also, the interactions between Kyo and Momiji is reminiscent of the baby brother tag-a-long and annoyed older brother.  Kyo often noogies, pinches and restrains the over-zealous Momiji, who cries and whines loudly to any who’ll listen that he’s being abused by Kyo.

The final page of the book still makes me laugh, and I’ll often repeat it back to Mags, who will break out in groaning laughter and rolling her eyes.  Shigure shows Haru the little cosplay maid outfit he’s bought for Tohru as his White Day gift saying, “I can’t wait for her to call me Master wearing this.”  To which Haru replies, “Just Make sure you don’t get arrested, okay?”

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ShigureTitle:  Fruits Basket, volume 4

Author:  Natsuki Takya

Paperback:  216 pages

ISBN:  9781591826064

Challenges:  Manga Challenge

Fruits Basket, volume 4 begins with a new year at school and the addition of Haru and Momiji as first years at Yuki, Kyo and Tohru’s high school.  Akito, the abusive, frightening, mercurial head of the Sohma family visits the school, specifically to see Tohru.  He tries to come off as being kind, but it’s even scarier than when he’s his normal evil self.

Tohru is meets another Sohma in a shocking way when Yuki’s older brother, Ayame, crawls into her clothing in his snake form.  Ayame’s visit is an attempt to get closer to his brother, but Yuki seems to dislike and resent him.  Ayame’s visit also brings a reunion  of the Madubachi Trio (The nickname of Shigure, Hatori and Ayame as a group in high school) and stories of their escapades when they were in school.

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As a series, Fruits Basket is fun and light, with a bit of sexual humor and the occasional homosexual undertone.  Ayame owns a dress shop that may be a  “>cosplay store, and may or may not be in love with Hatori.  Haru also makes a comment about Yuki being his first love.  There is also violence, some amount of mysticism and Tohru’s ancestor worship with her mom’s picture… a Japanese thing, I know.  But, all in all, the story, writing and artwork tickles my funny bone and Maggie loves reading it with me, which is one of the best thing about them :-)

Fruits Basket Volume 2 by Natsuki Takaya

Fruits Basket volume 2 by Natsuki TakayaTitle:  Fruits Basket volume 2

Author:  Natsuki Takaya

Softcover:  200 pages

ISBN:  1591826047

Challenges:  Manga Challenge

From the back cover:

A family with an ancient curse…
And the girl who will change their lives forever…

Ever since Tohru Honda discovered the Zodiac secret of the Sohma clan, her eyes have been opened to a world of magic and wonder. But with such a great secret comes great responsibility. When her best friends Hana-chan and Uo-chan come to the Sohma house for a sleepover, Tohru has her work cut out for her keeping the “Cat” in the bag and the “Dog” on a leash.

Mags and I started to read just a chapter or so last night and, before we knew it, there was one lonely chapter left.  The clock read 12:30 am, and we had church to go to, so we saved those last few pages for today.  Okay, the cover has Yuki Sohma on it, aka Prince Charming, Prince Yuki, Rat Boy and Damn Rat (the last one is Kyo’s pet name for him), and Maggie’s lip marks have permanently tarnished Sohma-kun’s face.  She’s eager for us to finish with book three, which has Kyo on the cover, so she can kiss all over him, too, and then make book 2 and book 3 fight over book 1.  What a deal, not only do we get books to read, but they’re dolls and action figures, too.  LOL!

So book 2 picks up after Tohru’s been staying… or shacking up as her aunt and cousins call it… with Shigure, Yuki and Kyo, and in this book her two best friend’s Hanna (she has electrowave powers) and Uo (who used to be a Yankee, which is like a gang girl, I guess) come for a sleep over.  This can prove disastrous if the guys aren’t careful, since an embrace from the opposite sex, accidental or on purpose, can cause them to transform into their zodiac animal.  Also in this book is a cross-dressing Yuki, a half-German boy who likes to wear girls clothes (Yuki was coerced, Momiji dresses that way because he likes to look pretty), New Year’s banquet, and Tohru is summoned to the Sohma estate to meet with Hatori, the one who erases people’s memories when they find out about the Sohma family curse.  Lots of sugar and love from Tohru and lots of animosity and rancor back and forth between Yuki and Kyo, with a smattering of perv-ishness from Shigure.

Oh yeah… and a herd of cats.

If you want to watch the whole vid, it’s cool. The song’s great, Mags and I will randomly sing it without realizing it… occasionally at the same time, weird. But the parts I’m after is from 2:29 to 4:58, OR for an even shorter snippit, 3:29 to 3:46 for just the “Kyo and the herd of cats” part.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Title:  Water for Elephants

Author:  Sara Gruen

Paperback:  335 pages

ISBN:  9781565125605

…[Camel] comes to a stop in front of a stock car.  “Joe!  Hey, Joe!”

A head appears in the doorway.

“I got a First of May here.  Fresh from the crate.  Think you can use him?”

The figure steps forward onto the ramp.  He pushes up the brim of a battered hat with a hand missing three of its fingers.  He scrutinizes me, shoots an oyster of dark brown tobacco juice out the side of his mouth, and goes back inside.

Camel pats my arm in a congratulatory fashion.  “You’re in, kid.”

“I am?”

“Yep.  Now go shovel some shit.  I’ll catch up with you later.”

-Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, page 33

Jacob Jankowski was one week and his final exams away from being a vet.  Then tragedy hits, claiming the lives of his parents, and revealing that they’d mortgaged everything to keep their only child enrolled in Cornell University.  The weight and guilt of this bears down on young Jacob, and he just walks off from school… and keeps on walking.  When he finally stops for the night, he decides to jump aboard a passing train, only to find he’s just joined the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. 

Vividly imaginitive and well-researched, Water for Elephantsby Sara Gruenis a compelling, character-driven tale with the feel of magic and wonder we feel as children going to the circus for the first time.  It has a gritty realism to it and exposes the behind-the-scenes working and stratification of classes of the travelling circus.  Bosses, freaks, an exotic menagerie, performers, clowns and dwarfs, working men and roustabouts… in that order.  Everyone has a history, and a pervasive loneliness binds them all together.

I was enrapt by both the writing and the story in Water for Elephants.  Gruen, a female writer, captures the male perspective amazingly well.  The story takes place in two timelines:  Young Jacob at 23 and joining the circus, and the elderly Jacob, who is either 91 or 93 (he can’t remember anymore), in an assisted living facility, dealing with the emotions of being left behind -by his kids and his deceased wife- in a place where there’s baby food to eat, your neighbor poops his pants, and your desires and opinions are discounted and ignored.  I was carried along through the story, and it was over before I even knew it.

I loved Water for Elephantsby Sara Gruen and give it 5 out of 5 stars :-)

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Ladies and Gentlemen, children of all ages!  Presenting a video clip of Ringling Brothers Greatest Show on Earth!

:-)

You Suck: A Love Story by Christopher Moore

Title:  You Suck:  A Love Story

Author:  Christopher Moore

Hardback:  328 pages

Date Published:  2007

Publisher:  HarperCollins

ISBN:  9780060590291

MiscellaneousYou Suck is a sequel to Moore’s book Bloodsucking Fiends.

It turned out that superhuman vampire strength came in handy when shaving a thirty-five-pound cat.  After a couple of false starts, which had them chasing Chet the huge shaving-cream-covered cat around the loft, they discovered the value of duct tape as a grooming tool.  Because of the tape, they weren’t able to shave his feet.  When they were finished, Chet looked like a big-eyed, potbellied, protohuman in fur-lined, duct-tape space boots — the feline love child of Gollum and Dobby the house-elf.

I’m not sure we needed to shave all of him,” Tommy said, sitting on the bed next to Jody as they considered the bound and shaven Chet on the floor before them.  “He looks creepy.”

“Pretty creepy,” Jody said.  “You’d better drink.  Your wounds aren’t healing.”  All her scratches, bruises, and love bites were completely healed, and except for a fleck of shaving cream here and there in her hair, she was as good as new.

“How?” Tommy asked.  “How do I know where to bite him?”

“Try the neck,” Jody said.

-You Suck:  A Love Story by Christopher Moore, pages 29-30

You Suck by Christopher Moore is a fun, light read about two young vampires in love who must face the difficult tasks of being UNDEAD in a day-slave world.  They face the HUNGER and must feed, they must deal with vampire killers, they have to find an apartment, and… for the LOVE of ALL things UNholy!  They have GOT to figure out a way to drink a cup of joe without the coffee making a forceful return trip to spooge on their shoes!

While, technically, this book is a sequel to Moore’s Bloodsucking Fiends, it is more than capable of standing alone.  The past events are mentioned in a very natural way, so that you don’t have that sense of being late to the party. 

Some of the best qualities of You Suck is the unusual characters and the way they all mix together.  Take Blue for instance:  An aging Vegas hooker whose career-prolonging gimmick is that she’s painted blue from head to toe, inspiring the reoccurring line, “Didn’t you want to bone a smurf when you were a kid?”  And then there’s Abby Normal (day slave name, Allison Green) who is the  emo/goth/vamp-wannabe minion of Jody and Tommy, our romantic heroes.  And one of my favorite characters of the book is William, the dirty, fat, drinking/stinking bum with the 35-pound cat.  William makes his money sitting in high-pedestrian areas, holding a sign that says “I’m poor and I have a huge cat” and charging passersby to touch his huge cat. 

Another quality of You Suck that I enjoyed is Moore’s sense of humor, his sarcasm and his ease-of-reading writing style.  He doesn’t take himself too serious as a writer, and mixes up the story telling from omniscient 3rd person and “Diary of a Put Upon Goth (closet perkie) Girl,” the subjective point-of-view of Abby Normal, which provides the outsider-wanting-in view.  And Abby’s journal entries are so funny, complete with self-abasement and bunny-trails and updates on her sister’s head lice problem.

You Suck:  A Love Story by Christopher Moore was my first experience with the author, but it won’t be my last :-)  In some ways, he reminds me of Janet Evanovich, who is one of my favorite “fun authors.”  I give You Suck 4 out of 5 stars :-)  It’s a fun book you can sink your teeth into ^,…,^

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The following video just really makes me chuckle.  The guy in the vid could SoOOooOoo play Jared if they ever make a movie version.

Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith

Title:  Love Over Scotland

AuthorAlexander McCall Smith

Illustrations by:  Iain McIntosh

Paperback:  357 pages

Publisher:  Anchor Books (div. of Random House)

Publish Date:  2007

ISBN:  9780307275981

Miscellaneous:  This is the third book in McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series.

There was no electricity in the village, of course, and when night descended – suddenly, as it does in the tropics – Domenica found herself fumbling with a small Tilley lamp which the house servant had set out on the kitchen table.  It was a long time since she had used such a lamp, but the knack of adjusting it came back to her quickly – an old skill, deeply-ingrained, like riding a bicycle or doing an eightsome reel, the skills of childhood which never left one.  As she pumped up the pressure and applied a match to the mantle, Domenica found herself wondering what scraps of the old knowledge would be known to the modern child.  Would that curious little boy downstairs, Bertie, know how to operate an old-fashioned dial telephone?  Or how to make a fire?  Probably not.  And there were people, and not just children, who did not know how to add or do long division, because they relied on calculators; all those people in shops who needed the till to tell them how much change to give because nobody had ever taught them how to do calculations like that in school.  There were so many things that were just not being taught any more.  Poetry, for example.  Children were no longer made to learn poetry by heart.  And so the deep rhythms of the language, its inner music, was lost to them, because they had never had it embedded in their minds.  And geography had been abandoned too – the basic knowledge of how the world looked, simply never instilled; all in the name of educational theory and of the goal of teaching children how to think.  But what, she wondered, was the point of teaching them how to think if they had nothing to think about?  We were held together by our common culture, by our shared experience of literature and the arts, by scraps of song that we all knew, by bits of history half-remembered and half-understood but still making up what it was that we thought we were.  If that was taken away, we were diminished, cut off from one another because we had nothing to share.

-Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith, pages 174-175

Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith was both the first book out of the 44 Scotland Street series that I’ve read, as well as my first experience reading Alexander McCall Smith.  It will not be the last on either account.

At first, though, I was uncertain if I would like it.  McCall Smith has a quiet writer’s voice.  Whereas other authors may have said Irene was a self-absorbed, narcissistic mother who lived her life vicariously through her six-year-old son Bertie, McCall Smith does this by simply having Irene constantly saying, “Melanie Klein says” this or that, as if to let the other person know they are a stupid twit and should stop talking (including her own husband, Bertie’s father).  Irene is an absolute helicopter mom, and McCall reveals this about her through Bertie, who thinks, “nobody [is] always there, except perhaps [my] mother.”  McCall Smith’s writing is subtle, and instead of compelling the reader forward, he floats you along on the currents of the story.

While being a 3rd book of a series, Love Over Scotland is perfectly capable of being a stand alone novel.  It may have helped in the beginning had I had the background, however the characters show themselves and develop quite well on their own in this book.

Quick Summary of Love Over Scotland:  44 Scotland Street is the address of the apartment building in which most of the characters live, with the exception of Angus, Matthew, Pat (who lived there in the previous novels but has moved), and Big Lou, who owns the coffee shop they all frequent. 

  • Irene, Stuart and Bertie are a young family in one flat, and the “Bertie Project” is Irene’s attempt at making Bertie into a super-genius and prodigy.  She pushes and bullies people, only listens to Dr. Fairbairn (Bertie’s therapist) because he’s the only one who is as intelligent and informed as she, and even goes so far as to manipulate the Edinburgh Teenage Orchestra into admitting her six-year-old son, much to Bertie’s lament and opposition.
  • Pat and Matthew are co-workers and Matthew has a thing for Pat, who sees him as being a “nice guy,” which means boring.  Pat, on the other hand, meets a man who calls himself “Wolf” and is smitten (or bitten?).  But honestly, is it possible for a guy named Wolf and who uses “Hey there, Little Red Riding Hood” for his pick-up line to be any good?
  • Domenica is an anthropologist who has gone to study pirates in Malaysia.  When she arrives at her bungalow in the village, she is told the young man on the porch is there to serve her in every way. :-D  While Domenica is having her tropical adventures, her friend Antonia, who is writing a historical fiction about sixth century Scottish saints behaving badly, is subletting her 44 Scotland Street flat, and isn’t getting along very Angus.  Cyril, Angus’s dog is dog-napped while tied up outside an Italian market and has to make his “Incredible Journey” back to his man.
  • And Big Lou’s heart is in the right place when she loans her fiance Eddie a big chunk of cash (£34,000) to open his own restaurant AND made him co-owner of her coffee bar.  When Eddie begins telling her of his new waitresses, ages 16 and 18, and his aspirations to open a gentleman’s club (complete with pole dancing) instead of the restaurant, Big Lou remembers his past legal troubles in the US with underage girls.

The book is altogether fun, with a message of loving and accepting each other and that you can greatly increase the happiness in the world by giving someone a gift. :-)  The book is written from an omniscent third person POV, but not exactly the omnipresent.  You kind of flit from mind to mind, listening to the thoughts of each participant briefly, including peeks into Cyril the dog’s thought processes.

My favorite characters were definitely Bertie, Angus and Cyril, and Matthew, and I was rather fond of Big Lou, too.  I have mooched 44 Scotland Street from PBS and added Espresso Tales (the second book of the series) to my wishlists.  ALSO, there is a fourth book in the series, The World According to Bertie, that came out last year, and I’ve added it to my WLs, as well.  I’m going to have to give The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books a go, too.  *sigh*  So many books, so little time!

For it’s fun, light hearted and warm storyline and characters, I give Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith 5 out of 5 stars.

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The following video clip is of a street performance in Edinburgh.  I thought it encompassed Bertie’s love of music, Wolf’s smexiness, and the city the book takes place in, not to mention the desire being felt by several characters and the exotic setting of Domenica’s pirates….  and okay, I admit it… the lead drummer is hawt! :-D

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

Title:  Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Author:  Winifred Watson

Paperback:  234 pages

Publisher:  Persephone Books Ltd

Publish Date:  2008

ISBN:  9781906462024

…She must state her errand and go.  She must give up her position of equality as Miss LaFosse’s ally and take her correct one of humble applicant for a job, which she felt in her bones she would never get.

She knew too much about the private affairs of Miss LaFosse.  Miss Pettigrew had endured many hard knocks from human nature and understood how intolerable to a mistress such a situation would be.  She felt a hopeless, bitter unhappiness invade her.  But there was nothing she could do.  She must at last get her presence explained and end this wonderful adventure.

She couldn’t bear to do it.  She had never in her life before wanted more to stay in any place.  She felt she couldn’t endure to leave this happy, careless atmosphere… where some one was kind to her and thought her wonderful…  She felt the tears of loneliness and exclusion sting her eyes.

… Oh, if only for once the Lord would be good and cause some miracle to happen to keep her here, to see for one day how life could be lived, so that for all the rest of her dull, uneventful days, when things grew bad, she could look back in her mind and dwell on the time when for one perfect day she, Miss Pettigrew lived.

-Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson, pages 52-53

I have not enjoyed reading a book as much as I did reading Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson since my last Stephanie Plum book!  I literally laughed out loud in several spots, and wore a silly grin of delicious pleasure throughout most of the book. 

There was something about Miss Pettigrew, weird as this sounds, that reminded me of Amelia Bedelia.  Perhaps it’s that both characters are domestics, Amelia being a maid and Miss Pettigrew a governess, and both have a charming simplicity about them.  Both characters are not very bright nor skilled in their professions, yet they are greatly cherished by both their employers and readers alike.  Both are unfamiliar with the slang phraseology used (it has never left my memory when Amelia was asked to “draw the curtains” she pulled out paper and pen), and seem to be out of a different era altogether from the rest of the characters in their worlds.

Miss Pettigrew had spent all but the last ten years of her life in the northern, more provincial areas of England before moving to London.  The forty-year-old spinster is the daughter of a clergyman, has lived a virtuous life, has never tasted alcohol nor worn make-up, and has never been flirted with, kissed, or otherwise known the affections of a man.  When she arrives at Miss LaFosse’s door, she is there to apply for a position of governess, painfully aware that if she does not get the job, she will be homeless and will be forced to go to the workhouse.

However, it is quickly apparent that the starlet LaFosse not only doesn’t have any children, but is the antithesis of everything Miss Pettigrew has ever been or known.  In the span of a few hours, she observes her would-be employer physically amorous with three different men and LaFosse tells her of even more men who have professed love for her.

LaFosse invites Pettigrew into her exciting world of glamor, flirtations, vices, night clubs and parties, and all sorts of naughtiness, as her friend and equal.  Miss Pettigrew is led away from her “dowdy, spinster governess” self like a daughter of Hamlin and LaFosse the pied-piper, and decides that if she could just have this life of the other half for just one day, the memories of that day could carry her through all the bad remaining in her life.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is not only a fun little tale the adventures of a woman who finally decides to LIVE, it is also a peak into a past era.  Set in the mid to late 30s, the reader is treated to a fascinating glimpse of the society of women in a time when “talkies” are a new, exciting thing and telegrams are still sent, when Vaudeville acts and stage performers were on equal ground with film stars, and where the “upstairs-downstairs” mentality still abounded along with the old families-versus-new money tiffs, though social mindsets were beginning to change.

I cannot say that this book was profound or changed me, if all books were like that I’d probably stop reading, but it was a treat and a joy to escape in.  The writing isn’t hard, though some of the words are out of date and I had to look a few up (curate, “funked it,”and a Chesterfield are a few that threw me… and “cheroots?”  I divined there were something between a cigar and a cigarette given the context).

For the gift of laughter and rapturous pleasure this book brings the reader, I give Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson 5 out of 5 stars.  It’s  a classic and now one of my favorite books :-D

hated it!didn't like itit was okayliked itLoved it!

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day has been adapted (albeit loosely from the looks of the trailer) into a movie. I’ve added it to my Netflix queue, but I’ll probably wait a bit before getting it. Like most people, I get so frustrated and angry when Hollywood ruins a book I really love. BUT… I thought I’d include the trailer for your viewing pleasure :-) It does look like an equally fun movie.

Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer


Title: Eclipse
Author: Stephanie Meyer
Hardcover: 629 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publish Date: September 2007
ISBN: 9780316160209

“Can I tell you what the worst part is?” he asked hesitantly when I said nothing… “The worse part is knowing what would have been…” Jacob shook his head. “I’m exactly right for you, Bella. It would have been effortless for us – comfortable, easy as breathing. I was the natural path your life would have taken…” He stared onto space for a moment, and I waited. “If the world was the way it was supposed to be, if there were no monsters and no magic…”

I could see what he saw, and I knew that he was right. If the world was the sane place it was supposed to be, Jacob and I would have been together. And we would have been happy. He was my soul mate in that world – would have been my soul mate still if his claim had not been overshadowed by something stronger, something so strong that it could not exist in a rational world…

Two futures, two soul mates… too much for any one person. And so unfair that I wouldn’t be the only one to pay for it. Jacob’s pain seemed too high a price. Cringing at the thought of that price, I wondered if I would have wavered, if I hadn’t lost Edward once. If I didn’t know what it was like to live without him. I wasn’t sure…

“He’s like a drug for you, Bella.” His voice was still gentle, not at all critical. “I see that you can’t live without him now. It’s too late. But I would have been healthier for you. Not a drug; I would have been the air, the sun.”

The corner of my mouth turned up in a wistful half-smile. “I used to think of you that way, you know. Like the sun. My personal son. You balanced out the clouds nicely for me.”

He sighed. “The clouds I can handle. But I can’t fight with an eclipse.”

-Eclipse, pages 598-600

I am soooo addicted to this series. It’s everything I’ve loved in reading. It’s Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice (Twilight). It’s Romeo and Juliet (New Moon). It’s Heathcliff and Cathy from Wuthering Heights (Eclipse). In fact, I found that Edward points to these three couples on page 28 when I checked back to make sure I spelled Heathcliff correctly :-D . Makes me wonder if Breaking Dawn will be Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester. (Those of you who’ve already read it, DON’T TELL ME!!!!)

I really enjoy Meyer’s writing style. Yes, this series is romantic in that it’s about lovers whose love is epic and the opposition to their realization of this love almost insurmountable. It’s everything I fell in love with when I read Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice as a teen. This series brings the same feelings of hope, agony, love, desire and despair, all occurring at the same moment, that I had at 15 with my first real boyfriend (by real I mean the first one you kiss for hours and wonder what’s beyond the kissing but the kissing is satisfying enough not to cross that boundary… the first boyfriend you park with… that first boyfriend that when we broke up it felt like my heart had been ripped out with a dull spoon).

Okay, I admit it… The Twilight series isn’t an intellectually stimulating set of books, they are more like brain candy. But it’s so nice that at 35 I can feel those fresh and new emotions. I give Eclipse 4 out of 5 stars.

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