goodreads: (Peanut: Book geek)
Title: Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia from My Italian Mother-in-Law
Author: Katherine Wilson
Genre: Memoir, Cultural
Rating: 4/5
# pages: 304
Date read: January, 2016

I love living vicariously through other people - especially on travels - so the minute I saw the description of "Only in Naples", I knew it would be right up my aisle. Katherine Wilson travels to Napoli - originally only for 6 months - and ends up falling in love with the city, the people, the mentality and the language... and when her future husband's family take her in as one of their own, she knew she was never going back.

The first few chapters were a bit slow-moving. I got slightly frustrated with Katherine at times, and wasn't sure where she was going with her memoir. As she became more familiar with the country and its customs the frustrations lessened though, and before long it came to the point that I smiled involuntarily just from picking up the book, because its charm had so completely captivated me that I felt like I knew these people, and were reading about friends of mine.

Originally I'd assumed it to be a travelogue, but it's more a story of an unexpecting ex-pat falling in love with a new country. As such, it didn't inspire my wanderlust, as much as it made me relive my own experiences abroad, and I therefore connected with the book on a different level than I had expected, and found it intensely relateable.

Highly recommendable.
goodreads: (Peanut: Book geek)
Title: Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography
Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder
Genre: Memoir
Rating: 5/5
# pages: 400 pages
Date read: June, 2015

Pioneer Girl follows the Ingalls family's journey through Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, back to Minnesota, and on to Dakota Territory sixteen years of travels, unforgettable experiences, and the everyday people who became immortal through Wilder's fiction. Using additional manuscripts, letters, photographs, newspapers, and other sources, award-winning Wilder biographer Pamela Smith Hill adds valuable context and leads readers through Wilder's growth as a writer. Do you think you know Laura? Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography will re-introduce you to the woman who defined the pioneer experience for millions.


The fact that it took me almost a month to read this is in no way an indication of what I thought of it, but simply due to its size and how RICH on details it is.

An absolute must for an fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It is chock full of facts about the people, places and events that Laura write about in her autobiography, and provide an extremely interesting insight into her life. As a life-long lover of LIW's books, it was fascinating to see where the books correspond with real life, and where she added details or changed things around to make a better story. There's no doubt that the life of the real LIW was a lot harder than that of her fictional counterpart.

I'm not sure the book ever answered the question of why it was published now -- where has the manuscript been hiding all these years? But I may just have missed it, as I did only skim the prologue/foreword. No matter what, I'm glad it was published. It gave me a new appreciation of some of my all-time favourite comfort books.
goodreads: (Peanut: Book geek)
Title: Plan B: What Do You Do When God Doesn't Show Up the Way You Thought He Would?
Author: Pete Wilson
Genre: Christian non-fiction
Rating: 2.5/5
# pages: 222
Date read: August, 2013

Pete Wilson reaches beyond the typical Christian response to offer frank understanding, honest encouragement, and real hope for your Plan B reality. Drawing on real-life stories from the Bible (David, Joseph, Mary, and Martha) and the present day, he writes to help you:
* Move past the feelings of crisis: panic, fear, paralysis, and overcontrol
* See God in your circumstances--even when he doesn't seem to be there at all
* Make peace with doubt, which can actually be an expression of faith
* Find hope through the redemptive power of community
* Ask the right questions in order to find real, satisfying answers
* Explore the relationship between shattered dreams and true spiritual transformation

Lots of questions, but no real answers. Basically this book gave a lot of examples of situations where people were forced into a Plan B, and then related their responses to it. But the only answer offered to the subject question is "Trust" ... and perhaps "Hope". Both true answers to be sure, but nothing I wasn't aware of already.

But to be fair, I don't exactly now what other kind of answer I was looking for... possibly just some more concrete examples of how to trust in God. Rather than just offering the platitude of "Let God be the editor of your life" (which doesn't even make much sense to me), I'd like specific instructions of how one goes about doing that. Probably impossible to give, as they're bound to differ from person to person, but in that case, just some examples of how real-life people set out to do it.

Unfortunately that's my problem with many Christian self-help books.
goodreads: (Peanut: Book geek)
Title: When God Was a Rabbit
Author: Sarah Winman
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4/5
# pages: 338
Date read: February, 2013

This is a book about a brother and a sister. It's a book about secrets and starting over, friendship and family, triumph and tragedy, and everything in between. More than anything, it's a book about love in all its forms.

In a remarkably honest and confident voice, Sarah Winman has written the story of a memorable young heroine, Elly, and her loss of innocence-a magical portrait of growing up and the pull and power of family ties. From Essex and Cornwall to the streets of New York, from 1968 to the events of 9/11, "When God Was a Rabbit" follows the evolving bond of love and secrets between Elly and her brother Joe, and her increasing concern for an unusual best friend, Jenny Penny, who has secrets of her own.

Very unusual book both in plot and in writing style. I really liked it, but it's certainly not for everybody. The rabbit/god played a surprisingly small part though.

A sweet childhood/growing-up story where people were just generally nice for a change. Not unrealistically so, but kind people who made mistakes not out of maliciousness, but because they were human. I grew to care about all the characters and were happy to see them evolve.
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Title: Don't Try This at Home
Author: Kimberly Witherspoon
Genre: Essays, non-fiction
Rating: 2.5/5
# pages: 278
Date read: October, 2012

From Gabrielle Hamilton on hiring a blind line cook to Michel Richard on rescuing a wrecked cake to Eric Ripert on being the clumsiest waiter in the room, these behind-the-scenes accounts are as wildly entertaining as they are revealing. A delicious reminder that even the chefs we most admire aren't always perfect.

Not as good as I had expected, unfortunately. It's a collection of essays written by several different chefs, making it very clear that while some chefs can write as well as they cook... others definitely can't.

Which is fine - I don't expect them to - but it does seem off in a book like this.

Some of the chapters were fun and interesting, but as a whole, it unfortunately fell somewhat flat.
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Title: West From Home
Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder
Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: 3/5
# pages: 174
Date read: August 2012

In 1915, Laura Ingalls Wilder traveled by train from her home in Missouri to San Francisco. Laura's westward journey to visit her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, coincided with a spectacular event taking place in that city-the Panama Pacific International Exposition.

Her husband, Almanzo, was unable to leave their Missouri farm, and it was Laura's letters that gave him the chance to see what she saw during her visit to California.

Great era-snapshop and description of the fair in San Fransisco, but honestly, I don't think I'd have been all that interested, if it hadn't been seen through the eyes of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I've always wanted to know "what happened next", and this gives a nice look into her curiosity, desire to learn and her relationship with Rose and Almanzo.

I was very interested in reading that she and Almanzo had considered moving to New Zealand at one point though. I wish they had - I would have LOVED to read her description of that!
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Title: On the Way Home
Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder
Genre: Non-fiction, memoir
Rating: 3/5
# pages: 128
Date read: August, 2012

In 1894 Laura Ingalls Wilder, her husband Almanzo and their seven-year-old daughter Rose left their drought-stricken farm in South Dakota and traveled to a new farm -- and a new beginning -- in the Ozarks. In this extraordinary diary Mrs. Wilder describes the towns passed, the rivers crossed, and the many people they met along the way. And between the lines, and in Rose Wilder Lane's beautiful setting, we sense some of the happiness this frontier family shared.

Interesting to read, but I'm glad I read Little House on Rocky Ridge before reading this one, as Laura (naturally) takes for granted that the reader is aware of a lot of background information. Makes sense as it was originally written as a diary, so I'm glad I had the background from Rose.

Even so, my favourite parts of the book were all the photos, and the end letter from Laura to her readers. But it's a very quick read that should be of interest to people who want to know "what happened next".
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Title: The First Four Years
Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder
Genre: Classics
Rating: 2.5/5
# pages: 160
Date read: August, 2012

Laura Ingalls Wilder is beginning life with her new husband, Almanzo, in their own little house. Laura is a young pioneer wife now, and must work hard with Almanzo, farming the land around their home on the South Dakota prairie. Soon their baby daughter, Rose, is born, and the young family must face the hardships and triumphs encountered by so many American pioneers.

By far the weakest of all Laura books, and a book that leads credence to the theory that Rose Wilder edited all of Laura's other books, because the writing style is so vastly different from the rest of the series.

I enjoyed learning what happened after Laura and Almanzo got married, but was sad to see that they started out their marriage with such hardship! Every year just seemed to be worse than the one preceding it. Whereas the rest of the series are lovely comfort books, this one definitely isn't.
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Title: Blackout & All Clear
Author: Connie Willis
Genre: Sci-fi, historical fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
# pages: 512p, 643p
Date read: February, 2012

In Blackout, award-winning author Connie Willis returned to the time-traveling future of 2060 - the setting for several of her most celebrated works - and sent three Oxford historians to World War II England: Michael Davies, intent on observing heroism during the Miracle of Dunkirk; Merope Ward, studying children evacuated from London; and Polly Churchill, posing as a shopgirl in the middle of the Blitz. But when the three become unexpectedly trapped in 1940, they struggle not only to find their way home but to survive as Hitler's bombers attempt to pummel London into submission.

Now the situation has grown even more dire. Small discrepancies in the historical record seem to indicate that one or all of them have somehow affected the past, changing the outcome of the war. The belief that the past can be observed but never altered has always been a core belief of time-travel theory - but suddenly it seems that the theory is horribly, tragically wrong.

Meanwhile, in 2060 Oxford, the historians' supervisor, Mr. Dunworthy, and seventeen-year-old Colin Templer, who nurses a powerful crush on Polly, are engaged in a frantic and seemingly impossible struggle of their own - to find three missing needles in the haystack of history.

An absolutely amazing series, but I am very glad I knew from the set out that "All Clear" was one book split out in two volumes, rather than two individual books. I would have been furious with the cliffhanger at the end of "Blackout" if I hadn't known this in advance. For the same reason I am going to review the two books as one.

In a word - I loved it, and it brought back everything I had loved about Connie Willis' writing in "The Doomsday Book". I liked the way the different plotlines intertwined and was chuffed to spot some of the links before they were made obvious. But as usual, trying to figure out the theory behind time travel gave me a headache ;)

I had serious problems putting the books down, and finished the last one over the weekend. But can somebody explain the ending to me? I have a couple of theories, but wish it had been spelled out for non-mystery solvers like myself...
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Title: A Homemade Life
Author: Molly Wizenberg
Genre: Essays
Rating: 4/5
# pages: 336
Date read: October, 2011

When Molly Wizenberg's father died of cancer, everyone told her to go easy on herself, to hold off on making any major decisions for a while. But when she tried going back to her apartment in Seattle and returning to graduate school, she knew it wasn't possible to resume life as though nothing had happened. So she went to Paris, a city that held vivid memories of a childhood trip with her father, of early morning walks on the cobbled streets of the Latin Quarter and the taste of her first pain au chocolat. She was supposed to be doing research for her dissertation, but more often, she found herself peering through the windows of chocolate shops, trekking across town to try a new pâtisserie, or tasting cheeses at outdoor markets, until one evening when she sat in the Luxembourg Gardens reading cookbooks until it was too dark to see, she realized that her heart was not in her studies but in the kitchen.

Part essay-collection, part cookbook, I was greatly charmed by this book by Molly Wizenberg. Her essays were short and sweet, and fully explained to the reader, Molly's love of cooking and anything cooking-related. The recipes were unusual, and most of them sounded absolutely delicious. I've bookmarked pretty much half of them, to try out myself sometime.

Molly Wizenberg comes across as a charming and sociable person. I think I would like her :-)
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Title: The Professor and the Madman
Author: Simon Winchester
Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: 3/5
# pages: 230
Date read: August, 2010

"The Professor and the Madman" is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary -- and literary history. The compilation of the OED began in 1857, it was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.

This is one of those weird books where the subject matter is extremely interesting, but the writing only so-so. I'm glad I stuck it out though, because the descriptions of what it takes to complete a reference book as complicated as th Oxford English Dictionary was absolutely fascinating! It must have been an insanely daunting task, and I'm impressed that they didn't give up from shear overwhelmedness (yes, that's a word ;) ).

The story of the madman himself actually didn't interest me all that much, although it did make me wonder how much of a difference there is between the treatment of the criminally insane now and back then.
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Title: My Name is Will
Author: Jess Winfield
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: 8/10
# pages: 285
Date read: May, 2008


Review: Meet Willie Shakespeare Greenberg – a struggling thesis-writer, small scale drug-user and future scholar. Meet also William Shakespeare – a womanising youth, closeted Catholic and future bard. Two men, 300 years apart in time, but joined by name and history.

My Name Is Will is the story of two Wills who have more in common than one would think at a first glance, because really – isn't it almost sacrilege to suggest that a 1986's pot-head and wanna-be thesis-writer should have anything at all in common with the greatest bard in English history? At the surface, one would think so, but then, how much do we know about Shakespeare's life before he became... well, Shakespeare? Isn't it very logical to assume that his life couldn't have been all smooth sailing for him to be able to write of such passionate love and dysfunctional families as we see in his plays and sonnets? Jess Winfield clearly thinks so, and manages to weave a fascinating tale where every second chapter follows William Shakespeare in the weeks up to his marriage to Anne Hathaway, and every second chapter follows Willie Shakespeare in his quest for knowledge about himself, and his famous namesake.

In the beginning one has to get used to the jumping back and forth in time every time a chapter ends, but like in Peg Kerr's "The Wild Swans" the transitions work and the two-stories-in-one mesh together very well as I constantly found hints in one of what would happen (or had happened) in the other.

My Name Is Will is subtitled "A Novel of Sex, Drugs and Shakepeare" for a good reason. It is not very reverent, and Shakespeare-lovers who are easily offended should probably stay clear of the book. However, I appreciated seeing even a fictionalized human side of the legendary bard. It is perhaps not a very scholarly read, but definitely a very enjoyable one.

Oh and yes, we are given at least a hint of an answer to the old and burning question: why did Shakespeare leave Anne his second-best bed in his will.

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Title: Looking Forward
Author: Marcia Willett
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 8/10
# pages: 312
Date read: March 2008


Summary: Kenya 1957, Felicia, Sam and Susanna's parents and older brother are killed and the three kids are sent to their grandmother Frederica "Freddy" Chadwick in Devon.

Freddy has experienced a lot of sadness and pain in her life, and she would be helpless without her two devoted friends, Ellen and Fox, who also help and support her in this difficult time. Freddy's brother-in-law, Theo, is also ready to help, while her three grandchildren try to find a way out of the grief and forward in life.

"Looking Forward" is the first book in the saga of the unforgettable Chadwick-family.

Review: Marcia Willett has been compared to Rosamunde Pilcher, and with good reason. This first book in the Chadwick saga reads a lot like what I've come to expect from RP's books. And that's a good thing :) It was rather slow-moving, but not in a way that made it boring, but just to emphasise the atmosphere of the book as being relaxed and unpretentious. It's the first in a trilogy (I think) and I'm looking forward to reading the other two, as you really get to love the family.

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Title: Free the Beagle, Beagles of Destinae and Beagles Visit the Seven Sisters
Author: Roy H. Williams
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 8/10
# pages: Audiobook
Date read: April, 2006


Summary: Destinae chronicles the transformational journey of a lawyer named Intellect and a Beagle named Intuition as they travel the pathway of life. On the surface, it's an enchanting children's fable but ponder the comments youíll find between chapters and the book explodes with colorful new meanings

Review: [livejournal.com profile] zaklog recommended this trilogy to me around Easter, so I downloaded it, and finally got to listen to it this weekend. It reminds me a bit of "Pigrim's Progress"... only better (but then, I only read the first half of PP, so I may be biased). It's a sweet little story and I reall enjoyed it.

The two sequels (Beagles of Destinae and Beagles Visit the Seven Sisters are somewhat repetitive, but still enjoyable.

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Title: To Say Nothing of the Dog
Author: Connie Willis
Genre: Sci-fi
Rating: 8/10
# pages: 493
Date read: December, 2007


Summary: Ned Henry is badly in need of a rest. He's been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s searching for a Victorian atrocity called the bishop's bird stump. It's part of a project to restore the famed Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in a Nazi air raid over a hundred years earlier.

But then Verity Kindle, a fellow time traveler, inadvertently brings back something from the past. Now Ned must jump back to the Victorian era to help Verity put things right--not only to save the project but to prevent altering history itself.

Review: Definitely not CW's best book. I had a very hard time getting into it, and it wasn't until around page 200 that I really started enjoying it, as I found the beginning very jumbled and confusing. I'm glad I'd already read The Doomsday Book or it would have been even more confusing.

I did end up enjoying it though, and managed to read the last 300 pages in less than 24 hours - feeling very smug that I'd guessed at least part of the mystery already on page 230 :-D

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Title: Butcher of Dreams
Author: Kay Williams & Eileen Wyman
Genre: Suspense
Rating: 6/10
# pages: 404
Date read: August, 2007


Review: Lee Fairchild has realized ever actor’s dream – a theatre of her own. Unfortunately she quickly discovers that having a theatre of her own is not all it’s cracked up to be. Instead of being able to focus solely on her acting, she now has to be in charge of all the administrative work, worry about finances and sweet-talk actors and directors intent on getting on each others’ nerves.

Lee starts to get into troubles when a dead homeless person is found in the theatre. At first they think he just crawled in there to get out of the cold and accidentally OD’ed, but when they discover that somebody cut off one of his fingers, and that money is missing from the theatre office, foul work is suspected. Things go from bad to worse when more murders and attempted murders take place at the theatre and they become more and more ritualistic in nature. Is it a satanistic cult that’s at large? Or just one really deranged individual?

I often found myself yelling at the characters, because what they ought to do and what they actually did do were two very different things, and you never knew where you had them. Just as I thought I’d gotten them figured out, they’d turn and show a completely different side of themselves.

Butcher of Dreams is a believable whodunit with lots of interesting characters. Even though I'd guessed the culprit almost from the very beginning, the authors did a good job of making me second-guess myself as conflicting pieces of evidence rose to the surface, and you end up suspecting just about everybody. A daring attempt, as it often seems over-done, but here it works.

The writing could have been sharper, something that’s often the case in a co-authored book, as these usually need a firmer editor, but that didn’t stop me from being caught up in the plot and chilled by how it unfolded. A very disturbing read indeed. (Written for Armchair Interviews.)

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Title: The Velveteen Rabbit
Author: Margery Williams
Genre: Classics
Rating: 7/10
# pages: Audiobook
Date read: August, 2007


Summary: A stuffed toy rabbit (with real thread whiskers) comes to life in Margery Williams's timeless tale of the transformative power of love. Given as a Christmas gift to a young boy, the Velveteen Rabbit lives in the nursery with all of the other toys, waiting for the day when the Boy (as he is called) will choose him as a playmate. In time, the shy Rabbit befriends the tattered Skin Horse, the wisest resident of the nursery, who reveals the goal of all nursery toys: to be made "real" through the love of a human. "'Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'"

Review: When I found this one at Librivox, I figured I had to hear it, as I otherwise only knew it from its being mentioned in 'Friends'. It's a cute children's story that I'd be very happy to share with my kids once I have any. A bit on the cutsey side obviously, but totally appropriate and adorabe for its target audience, so I can forgive that. Unfortunately the reader is one of my least favourites at Librivox, as she reads in a sing-song tone without any changes of emphasis at all, making everything sound like a lullaby. It makes it very hard to concentrate!

Speaking of 'Friends', I still don't get Joey's comment to Kathy when he gave her the book. "Because you like cheese"? Huh? Help please?

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Title: An Ideal Husband
Author: Oscar Wilde
Genre: Play
Rating: 7/10
# pages: 42 installments from DailyLit
Date read: August, 2007


Summary: Sir Robert Chiltern is a successful Government minister, well-off and with a loving wife. All this is threatened when Mrs Cheveley appears in London with damning evidence of a past misdeed. Sir Robert turns for help to his friend Lord Goring, an apparently idle philanderer and the despair of his father. Goring knows the lady of old, and, for him, takes the whole thing pretty seriously.

Review: I'd seen this play performed in London 5 years ago, but remembered nothing of it other than that I liked it, so I wanted to read it. An enjoyable display of Wilde's quick wit and biting sarcasm, and a good example of why we should never put people on pedistals. Nobody ever deserves it, and we're invariably hurt and disillusioned when they fall.

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Title: These Happy Golden Years
Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder
Genre: Classics
Rating: 5/5
# pages: 237
Date read: July 2007, January 2010, August 2012


Summary: Fifteen-year-old Laura learns that living away from home and teaching school can be a bit frightening when most of the students are taller than she is, but every week Almonzo Wilder arrives to take her to her family for the weekend.

Review: I love all of Laura's books, but if I had to choose a favourite, it would probably be this one. It takes up exactly where "Little Town..." leaves off and describes Laura's life now that she's suddenly a grown-up school teacher. I couldn't imagine teaching school at an age where I still ought to GO to school! It's fascinating. And the courtship between her and Almonzo is just adorable. I always finish this book with a content sigh :)

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Title: Little Town on the Prairie
Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder
Genre: Classics
Rating: 4.5/5
# pages: 223
Date read: July 2007, January 2010, August 2012


The long winter is finally over, and with spring comes a new job for Laura, town parties, and more time to spend with Almanzo Wilder. Laura also tries to help Pa and Ma save money for Mary to go to college.

This is one of my favourite LIW books. I'm fascinated by the descriptions of life in town. Two things that struck me in particular were a) how modestly they lived and b) how quickly they had to grow up. Just think of Laura, going off to teach at age 15. I was no where near mature enough for that at that age. And they all seemed so selfless too - always passing on things to each other, because they didn't need them themselves, and thought the other person would like them more.

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