Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Little Pink Houses

A few years ago, my daughter announced mere days before Christmas that Santa was bringing her a pink dollhouse. Santa, who thought she had everything checked off on her list, then made a mad dash to stores big and small to find one that was indeed pink and that could be purchased with what was left of the gift budget. Christmas morning arrived. The flicker of disappointment that it wasn't the dollhouse she had dreamed of in size or hue (only the roof was pink) lasted a moment, but soon the allure of playing with a new toy took over.

If I had only had read this book that year, Santa may have been a bit more sensible. The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll written by Patricia C. McKissack and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney is set in the Depression. It's almost Christmas, but as Nella tells us, Santy Claus only shows up "once in a while" for her and her sisters. This year, though, she has her heart set on a store bought doll. When her dad surprises them with the Baby Betty doll, Nella convinces her sisters it should belong to her. As the day progresses, Nella realizes the doll is kind of boring when left with it on her own. 

Pinkney paints the family in vivid colors in contrast to the faded-newspaper walls of their home. Through deft sketches of posture and facial expressions, he also captures the conflicting emotions of elation, frustration, resignation, and contentment. Emotions that are as predictable on Christmas morning as the orange in one's stocking. And as palpable as Santa's sigh of relief.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"How I Came to Sparkle Again"

The title of this novel caught my eye. Maybe it's because I've felt less than "sparkly" lately. Usually when that happens I find a book set here.

It was a welcome change, then, to find Kayla McLaren's book. As in most novels of this kind, the characters are dealing with loss. But there is a comforting satisfaction in knowing that everyone will end up with a new resolve or a new love as they are running down the beach, or in this case, skiing down a mountain. 

Jill has just had a miscarriage and discovered her husband with another woman. She decides go back to Sparkle, Colorado, a place she called home when she was a teenager. There she finds her old friend Lisa, who is struggling to find love in the small town filled with ski bums and tourists. Living nearby is a young girl, Cassie, who is grieving for her mother.  

Jill finds temporary lodging with Lisa's neighbors and their dogs in a trailer home dubbed the Kennel. It is here the novel finds relief from all the heartache and inserts some touchingly comic moments. Jill also starts babysitting Cassie and helps her find ways to channel her grief.  As Lisa tries to mend her ways, she stops teasing and starts listening to her friend Tom.   

Though it may be predictable, sometimes hot chocolate by a warm fire, snow falling outside, is all you need. Even if it's only on the page.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"tiger princess on her invisible skates"

Have you ever wondered what your new love interest is thinking about? Ellen, the protagonist of Liane Moriarty's newest novel, skips all that barking like a dog nonsense and goes straight for the good stuff when she hypnotizes her new boyfriend. 

Ellen is a professional hypnotherapist living in Sydney. She has a fulfilling practice, lives in a beautiful glass-walled house on the beach, and has a new boyfriend.  All is going along swimmingly until she discovers Patrick is being stalked by his ex. Ellen is more intrigued than freaked when she soon figures out the ex, Saskia, has been masquerading as one of her clients. 

Saskia has been following Patrick and his son Jake for the past three years. She met him soon after his wife died and became a de facto mother for the young Jake. When Patrick breaks up with her she is devastated. And determined to get him back. 

Told alternately by Saskia and Ellen, the novel paints a sympathetic picture of both. We feel sorry for Saskia and cringe with Ellen as she turns up again and again to invade their privacy. 

Moriarty has filled her novel with a full cast of witty, memorable characters from Ellen's aloof mother to Saskia's coworker's wife Kate.  The plot will keep you turning pages, but Moriarty's clever turn of phrase (see post title) will keep you on the page. The Hypnotist's Love Story - it's not an exaggeration to say it was mesmerizing.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


I love this time of year and all the book lists it yields. Here are a few more that peaked my interest.

For the cook

For the fictitious

For the kid

For the history buff

For the mom

For the winner

For the stay-up-all-night-reader

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Remembering When

A few years ago I became obsessed with this show. A woman hits her head and wakes up with no memory of who she is. As she puts the pieces back together, she realizes she wasn't a very nice person.

A similar plot emerges in the book What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. Alice hits her head at the gym. Even though she knows who she is when she wakes up, she has forgotten the last ten years of her life. Alice is amazed at how fit she looks, but she is more shocked to realize she hasn't become a very nice person. 

Moriarty tells the story through Alice, her sister Elisabeth, and their adopted grandmother Frannie. While Alice is mourning the loss of her memories, Elisabeth is dealing with infertility. Frannie, meanwhile, is wondering if she's ready to let go of her fiancee that died years before. Humorous and touching, this story highlights all that can change in the span of ten years. And more importantly, all that can change in the blink of an eye.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


As evidenced in a movie I recently watched, everyone romanticizes an era from the past. For some it's the Belle Époque. For some it's the Roaring Twenties. For me, I've always been fascinated by the era captured in Simon Mawer's book Trapeze.  

As the book opens, a plane is flying over rural France. A young woman waits her turn to parachute into the darkness. Her real name is Marian Sutro. Having learned French from her mother and British English from her father, she has been tapped for a special mission involving an old family friend living in Paris. Having shed the security of her identity as Marian at the border, she must juggle aliases, relay messages, and otherwise pass through the streets of heavily check-pointed Paris undetected. 

Will she succeed? Will she survive? It's not only Marian, but the reader, who anxiously asks these questions.  Regardless of whether Marian in the end is successful, Trapeze, in effortlessly capturing the suspense and suspicion of the time, accomplishes its mission.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Grip, Stance, Sight

A letter from a stranger. A key to a safety deposit box. Goons in the parking garage. Julia Heaberlin has taken these elements typically found in Christie or Doyle and successfully set them in Cowtown in her novel Playing Dead

Tommie McCloud grew up on a ranch in Ponder. Her daddy taught her to ride and shoot and her mama taught her to play the piano. But soon after her father's death, she receives a letter that calls into question the family she's always taken for granted. 

Tommie's search for the truth is a suspenseful, Dr. Pepper-fueled read. Those of us from here will delight in the local references. Those of us who aren't may just want to come see what all the fuss is about.