Do You Believe in Ghosts?

August 4, 2014 at 4:51 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

the_thirteenth_taleTitle: The Thirteenth Tale
Author: Diane Setterfield
Length: 406 pages
Publisher: I read from the Atria Books Book Club Edition

The first time I read this book it was July of 2011. I was no longer on maternity leave, but my daughter still seemed very, very small. We were a sleepy household then, despite her running around long before her playmates and peers had begun taking their first steps. I remember mostly listening to this book on audio because I had a hard time keeping my eyes open when I was home – but I wasn’t actually napping ever. It was excellent and I adored it. That’s why I encouraged the HPB book club to read it for our August discussion that will take place tomorrow night (August 4th, 2014).

One of my fellow clubbers emailed me already, saying he only gave the book a 5.5 out of 10. He had questions I can’t repeat in a review due to spoilers. I had meant to take this month off and discuss from memory, but his questions and low rating for a book I remember describing as the perfect tale forced me to pick it up and read it again.

And I discovered that I disagree with him…

I feared I would have my mind changed by time and growth. I feared I would have read so many wonderful things since my first reading that somehow the magic wouldn’t shine to brightly and mysteriously the second time around. I feared the ghost story wouldn’t feel so ghostly, knowing the ending.

But my fears were unwarranted, because I still loved it. I loved it all.

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.” – pg. 9

thDiane Setterfield has expert hands. She manipulates words deftly. She takes a reader prisoner with her storytelling. Vida Winter winds herself around your limbs like spider silk and will enthrall you. Charlie will render you so terrified you will not move, except to turn the page; Adeline March will pierce your skin, and become a knot stuck in your throat; Isabelle will enter your blood and startle you; Emmeline will numb your thoughts. It is the best, most believable ghost story I’ve ever read.

Also this week, I’ve watched the BBC screen version of the story. Yes, there were a few things changed, much left out, but overall I was pleased with the production.  We were able to watch it on youtube.

First of all, it was brilliantly cast with Vanessa Redgrave.  I adore her and she is exactly how I imagined someone like Vida Winter to be.  She appears in so many of my literature to film favorites, like Atonement, Howards End, and Mrs. Dalloway.  She’s such a classy lady.  I must say, too, that I think she looks fabulous with Vida’s red hair.

Some people express a distaste for the “name-dropping,” the characters discussing books and how they shaped their lives.  There are a lot of Jane Eyre references.  If you’ve read my book (The Bookshop Hotel) you’d know that I am not one to find this unfavorable.  In fact, that is my favorite sort of  book, and it is in this fashion that I have discovered my most cherished reading experiences: from characters who pointed me in the right direction.  Characters always have more impact on me than real people.  They have no stake in it, I can trust them, they gain nothing by convincing me or failing to convince me to choose a certain book or behave a certain way.  For this I love them.  For this I respect them more than the living and breathing.

Only a character could get me to listen to a ghost story with an open mind.  Only a character can bring to life the fantastical, the magic, the mystery, and the excitement of a ghost story.  Only a character could make me see and understand a ghost.

Do you believe in ghosts?  No? Read The Thirteenth Tale and Vida Winter might change your mind.


Permalink Leave a Comment

Happy Fourth of July

July 5, 2013 at 7:05 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


The Half Price Books Humble book club read John Adams by David McCullough this month.  We discussed it together Monday night, even though I had only read the first 400 pages.  The best thing about holidays, for me, though is their ability to mandate what gets read off the TBR pile next.  So this week, as I researched for book club, lounged with family, watched fireworks, and read to the kiddo… this is what freedom looked like:

John AdamsTitle: John Adams

Author: David McCullough

Genre: History

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Length: 751 pages

1001 and one things to discuss about this book, and we mostly got caught up in the assessment of the character of John Adams.  Was he an ambitious man willing to run off from the family and farm at a moments notice to pursue more exciting ventures of fame? Or, was he a great man of virtue who was gifted with the sight of the big picture, willing to sacrifice personal happiness for the greater good of the establishment of our country?  Before reading the book, considering my skepticism regarding ALL politicians, I probably would have said the former.  But McCullough has me convinced it was the latter that held true.

Of course, I am biased, mostly by the sheer fact that Adams was a great reader.  Nothing romanticizes a person more to me than their love for a good book, for the art of research, and for a passion for knowledge and action.  Several times throughout the biography, Adams is quoted saying such excellent things as,

“I must judge for myself, but how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened by reading.”

Where others in the group found him willing to cast aside his wife and children for politics, I found him endearing.  He wrote to his wife avidly.  He and Abigail would often refer to each other as ‘dearest friend,’ and their relationship seemed to be what kept him grounded and successful.  In addition to that, it also seemed that any chance he had to take his children with him, he did.  Off sailing across the pond to Europe, the boys equipped with an educated father and a personal tutor, they got first hand experience seeing how nations make peace and build relationships.  Sure, Adams renounced his son Charles later in life and that relationship was never rebuilt before Charles’ death, but in my opinion Charles did not deserve anymore second chances.  Charles, the favorite as a child, turned out to be the bad seed in the bunch – possibly spoiled by being the favorite to so many – as he turned to alcoholism and abandoned his family.  It was John and Abigail who raised his children and looked after his wife, leaving their own son to his own devices as they tried to do right by all his mistakes.

John Adams was quite the fascinating man, one I have, until now, always overlooked in history.  Having shared a birthday with George Washington my whole life, he always got my ‘favorite’ vote as a child.  As an adult, the Alexander Hamilton vs. Aaoron Burr phenomena fascinated me – mostly driven by that infamous ‘Got Milk’ ad as well as Joseph Ellis’ riveting storytelling in Founding Brothers.  It wasn’t until reading McCullough’s version of Adams life that I really began to understand what a crucial role Adams played in the timing of the Declaration of Independence and all the aftermath of our fight for freedom.  And of course, timing is everything.

With all this important political talk, I found it necessary to re-read the Declaration.  With toddler in tow for nearly all my reading ventures, it’s important to find kid friendly things to read alongside all my own reading.  That’s where Sam Fink comes in handy…

Sam FinkTitle: The Declaration of Independence

Illustrated & Inscribed: Sam Fink

Publisher: Scholastic Nonfiction

Length: 160 pages (but only takes about 15 minutes to read aloud)

I absolutely adore this copy of the Declaration of Independence.  As a homeschool mom, I love creating my own curriculum and finding unique ways to share information with my kid.  Kiddos everywhere, whether homeschooled or public schooled, should find this a fun way to absorb the meaning behind the declaration and be introduced to the ideas of why it was so important for it to be made and signed.

With large print, clear illustrations, and political cartoons to accompany nearly every sentence – if not sentence fragment – Fink helps walk a kid (and even some adults) through every nuance of our founding fathers’ meaning and intention.  If read often enough, you may find you have a kid who has memorized the declaration long before they are ever asked to do so for school purposes.  This is just a good old fashioned fun picture book that just so happens to also be an important document to our country’s history.  Sam Fink is pretty awesome and I am so glad he tackled this project.

In addition to all that,

George IIITitle: George III

Author: Christopher Hibbert

I’ve been plucking through a biography of King George III for awhile now.  It’s been loitering on my TBR pile and periodically I get the bug to read a chapter or two.

I am no where near finished reading this book, Hibbert is very detailed but also very dry as a biographer, but I find it a handy reference and do look forward to the times that I decide to sit down with it.

I like having large sweeping views of history as well as the tiny details.  Reading through John Adams and peeking here and there at George III this week, I was grateful to have already tackled Napoleon’s Wars recently. It helped me keep straight in my mind what was happening with the French while a few of the Adamses friends were busy getting beheaded. Another handy tool for both children and adults while reading through history is The Time Chart of History of the World. I don’t take a step into non-fiction without it.


Permalink 3 Comments

Emma, my introduction to the Viking era

September 12, 2012 at 9:36 pm (Education, Reviews, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: Emma: The Twice-Crowned Queen, England in the Viking Age

Author: Isabella Strachan

Publisher: Peter Owen Publishers

Length: 192 pgs.

First of all, let me premise this by informing you that like the Catherines/Katherines of Henry VIII’s time, the name Elgiva/Emma runs rampant during the Viking age of England.  For instance, the subject of this biography was born Emma but the English chose to call her by the Latin equivalent: Elgiva.  Emma was the second wife of the widowed Ethelred, whose first wife’s name was Elgiva.  When Ethelred (king of England under the Saxons) dies and his land then conquered by the Danes (while King Swegn ruled), a Dane named Canute (Cnut) came to power.  Emma becomes his wife as well, but guess what? He already has a ‘wife’ named… any takers? anyone? anyone? Yep, Elgiva.  This makes for some interesting reading, but Strachan eases the issue by always referring to Emma as only Emma and providing a handy-dandy cast list in the front of the book.

When I first heard of Emma, I expected a woman who was cunning and manipulative.  Someone with political the intrigue of a Cleopatra or Elizabeth I.  I thought I’d be reading about a woman with a deep political agenda, always out-playing others in a real-life chess match.  Instead I found a woman who seems to me to have been more adaptive, reactive, a survivor constantly caught between a rock and a hard place.  The Twice-Crowned Queen is less of a political master mind and more of a drowning victim always bobbing up to the surface of the water just moments before death.

She was young when she became the bargaining chip in an arranged marriage to King Ethelred.  It was a political ploy of others that ensured the Normans and Vikings were kept at bay during a time of imminent war, as both her father and half-brother were Dukes of Normandy with close, friendly ties to the Vikings.  After Ethelred dies and England taken over by the Danes, Canute is chosen to be the new King.  The problem with this arrangement is that the Church and Cabinet wanted Emma to remain the Queen.  It remained good political sense, but Canute already had a wife.  Canute had a handfast wife, referred to as Elgiva of Northampton.  From what I gather from Strachan, a handfast wife was the Medieval equivalent of a ‘Common-law wife.’  Handfast wives had all the political and societal rights of a true spouse, but were not recognized by the church.  Later William the Conqueror’s own mother would turn out to be a Handfast Wife, which was why he was a Duke of Normandy but still got called William the Bastard.

Either way, there was a lot of drama surrounding Emma’s marriage to Canute.  He seems to have been completely in love with Elgiva of Northampton and despite promising that Emma would be his only Queen and her children heir to the throne, Elgiva was the only one granted regency rights over her own lands and it was her son Harold that took the throne upon Canute’s death.  Emma was again just a political pawn to keep the peace, and in keeping the peace was forced to send her own children (from Ethelred) away to grow up abandoned by their mother while fighting tooth and nail to keep her children by Canute in the running for the throne.  There is a poem called Samiramis that I’d like to get my hands on, written by the Normans of the time, that tells their account of the entire incident.

What I initially saw as an intense woman ensuring each of her children had a chance to rule (as her son Harthacnut from Canute and her oldest son Edward from Ethelred both eventually become King, while her daughter was the Queen of Germany), after the biography I feel that most of this was just chance and circumstance.  Harthacnut was indeed fought for to be King, but his half-brother Edward the Confessor became King despite his mother.  Edward actually stripped Emma of all her political rights as soon as he gained the throne.  One of the clenchers for me having been interested in studying her was that she was William the Conqueror’s great-aunt, but he did not seem to have much of a tie to her, he merely showed a bit of respect for his cousins.

I am glad I read the book.  Although I am disillusioned about her character, I think she’s still mighty impressive and wonder why she was left out of my education.  Reading this biography made me intensely interested in reading additional history on William the Conqueror and his mother Arlette (Herleva).  Lady Godiva also makes a cameo appearance, which piqued my interest as well as a man named Olaf Haraldsson.  As I always say, the more you read, the more you discover you need to read.

This book would make a great addition to a well-read 11-12 year old’s Medieval history curriculum.  It is short, sweet, and informative of not just Emma but a huge piece of history that made the English monarchy what it later became.  And I loved it.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Meet Behcet Kaya

May 2, 2012 at 3:41 am (Interviews) (, , , , , , , )

Just last week, I read the debut novel of Behcet Kaya (who goes by Ben).  Voice of Conscience was beautiful, interesting, and made me extremely curious about its author.  (Read my Review here.)  Luckily, Ben agreed to an interview! Maybe I should have looked through his website a little more closely prior to the interview, because I definitely would have asked him about his acting experiences! This is him on

Many reviewers have referred to Voice of Conscience as a Shakespearean Tragedy.  Was that your intention?

Not at all. Although I have read Shakespeare extensively, the inspiration for Voice of Conscience was the 1958 movie “The Bravados” starring Gregory Peck, who seeks to avenge the murder of his wife and, in the process, nearly destroys himself.

You were born and raised in Turkey? So was Ramzi.  Did you want to write a biographical novel to celebrate your roots and experiences? Or was The Voice of Conscience merely an example of someone writing what they know?      

As a first time writer, I wanted to tell a story in a way that would remain in the reader’s mind, a story with the message that vengeance only destroys, and so I wrote the story and based the characters around what I was familiar with. Since most of my readers think this is my biography, I began having doubts as to whether I was a writer or not. In an attempt to find out whether I could write a story completely separate from any of my experiences, I spent two years doing in depth research and completed my second novel, Murder on the Naval Base in December of last year.

Both in your book and in your real life you’ve spent time at the Texas Pancake House in London.  As a proud member of the Lone Star State who has never been to England, I have to ask: What’s so Texas about it? Do you know if it is still there? And have you ever spent time in Texas?                     

The walls of the Texas Pancake house were filled with photographs of scenery of Texas, the booths were large and comfortable, and the portions served were Texas-size. The restaurant specialized in pancakes, and they were so large that most people could not eat more than two. Unfortunately no, it is no longer there. It is now a McDonalds. Yes, I have been to Texas, but only passing through, and I am still amazed with the vastness and beauty of the area, and the fact that it takes more than two days to drive across the entire state.

Other than what you’ve included in your novel what would you like your readers to know about your homeland?    

Where do I start? Turkey has 13,000 years of history.  Over the centuries, Constantinople, renamed Istanbul in 1923, has been the point where East meets West, the crossroads of many civilizations, and the capital of two grand empires. The Byzantine Empire lasted from the fourth century to the 15th century, when the Ottoman Empire took over, ruling through the end of World War I. Just to name one of our many treasures – in Istanbul, we have one of the greatest houses of worship in both the Christian and Muslim worlds: Hagia Sophia, the Great Church of Constantinople. Built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the early 6th century on the grandest scale possible, it faces Jerusalem. It was later converted into a mosque by the conquering Ottomans and today it’s a museum. Beyond Istanbul, there is Izmir, Konya, Cappadocia, and so many more areas with historical and cultural significance. Our history is rich; the diversity of our landscape is immense; from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, from Istanbul to the Georgian border. Although Turkey is 90% Muslim, we are NOT an Arab country. Modern Turkey was born in 1923 from the ashes of the old Ottoman Empire and we are proud to be a secular democracy. Our people are friendly and welcoming to more than 31 million tourists a year.

I’m a big foodie and enjoy celebrating good books with a good meal.  What’s your favorite Turkish dish?

I have several favorites, all of which are traditional Turkish dishes, including kuru fasulya (white beans with meat), shiskabab with rice pilaf, and siron (very thin bread topped with yogurt, garlic and melted butter).

From what I understand, you’ve been living in the U.S. for years now, after spending time in England.  What are your favorite things about the three countries you’ve called home? What made you choose the U.S. for now?    

I am proud to say my roots and culture are Turkish, my education and love of learning comes from my schooling in England, and the U.S. is where I feel at home.

Who are your favorite authors? What genre do you prefer to read? Which do you consider your major influence?   

My favorite authors are Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Yashar Kemal, and I prefer to read classic literature. Being a Turk, I would have to say Yashar Kemal is my major influence. However, in writing my second novel, Murder on the Naval Base, I did extensive research by reading biographies of prominent naval heroes, and many fiction as well as non-fiction novels about the navy.

How did you come to be published by AuthorHouse? In your future ventures in the publishing world, what would you do differently?

Frustrated at not being able to enlist the help of an agent, I decided to self-publish and AuthorHouse was recommended. I would prefer, in the future, to be represented by a literary agent, and published by one of the major publishing houses.

You’ve written two books in addition to The Voice of Conscience.  Can you tell us a bit about them?

My second book is Murder on the Naval Base, a murder-mystery about a young navy lieutenant falsely accused of the murder of his wife and former best friend. It is currently in publication in e-book form and available for Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader and Apple. My third book, Erin’s Story is still in progress, and it is the sequel to Voice of Conscience. Ramzi’s daughter, Erin, returns to Turkey on a mission of self-discovery, and in the process finds mystery, intrigue, and love.

How would you feel about having your books made into movies?      

Thrilled!! I can see Voice of Conscience being made into a three-part movie (movie of the week perhaps?) and preferably produced by the BBC. Murder on the Naval Base, according to Pacific Book Review, “is easily adaptable for a screenplay and an excellent choice for a Hollywood blockbuster.”

For more information on Voice of Conscience, Murder on the Naval Base, Erin’s Story, or Behcet Kaya himself, check out his site:

Permalink 2 Comments

The Forgotten Garden, an Overlooked Book

September 3, 2011 at 3:31 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , )

Over and over again, I saw Kate Morton’s House at Riverton lurking on the general fiction shelves at Half Price Books.  I never picked it up, the cover just wasn’t right.  Book jackets are magical things.  Between the author, the publishig company, brilliant marketing people, and the perception of the onlookers – a book jacket tells all.  The House at Riverton just wasn’t telling me what I wanted to hear.  Then one day, my boss waves The Forgotten Garden in front of my face.   “This is amazing.”  It looked amazing.  The antique cream color, the ivy, the fairies, the magical nostalgia of a Frances Hodgson Burnett novel… I desired it immediately.  I was dumbstruck to realize it was the same author.

The Forgotten Garden is beautiful.  Twins, secrets, best friends, a family saga, England, Australian, painters, storytellers, an authoress, spooky deaths… It was the perfect mood follow up to The Thirteenth Tale.  It was an amazing read.  It took me too long to discover it due to the terrible marketing of the author’s previous book.  Thank God, the publisher’s finally gave Morton’s writing her book cover art due.

If you are wondering, I have broken protocol and abandoned my book cover instincts for the sake of reading Morton’s previous work – I bought The House at Riverton and its horrible cover.   I plan to read it around Christmas, a review to follow.  Her third book, Th Distant Hour is scheduled for me to read Spring 2012.

Buy Here:

Permalink 1 Comment

The Woodlanders

July 3, 2011 at 7:49 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , )

A quick blurb:

I’ve been up and down with The Woodlanders, mostly based on my mood.  I loved it, it lulled, I hated it, and now with its final sentence I love it again.  I am finding more and more that this is the sway of things with Hardy and me.  His characters are so dynamic and unique and yet you find familiarity in each one every time you turn.  He has nailed the human race time and time again, yet he is most known for his nature descriptions.  I truly recommend every avid reader to enjoy at least one Hardy a year for literary sustenance.

Scentsy pairing: Shades of Green in the room you are sitting in, but keep Honey Peared Cider going in the adjacent room and let them subtly linger together.

Permalink Leave a Comment

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

July 2, 2011 at 5:24 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , )

A Review of Helene Hanff’s sequel to 84, Charing Cross Rd.

At the end of 84, Charing Cross Rd. when Helene’s correspondence with London bookseller Frank Doel seemingly came to an end – I cried.  Now, in Duchess of Bloomsbury Street when Helene first sees Charing Cross Rd. with her own eyes – I cried again.  Helene Hanff is simple, witty, clever, and utterly enjoyable every time she takes pen to paper.  I enjoy romping through London with her and cannot wait to read what she has to say about life in America when I finally find myself a copy of Apple of My Eye.  And, if I ever visit London, I hope I have even half as many wonderful people available like The Colonel and PB to escort me to all the best sites, and then maybe my trip could be almost as perfect.

Permalink 1 Comment

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

February 25, 2011 at 9:02 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , )

A Review on the biography by Amanda Foreman319300

For starters, I am baffled by how many people mistake this book for a novel.  I have read so many reviews that say it was too historical, too dry for a novel, and that they didn’t get a chance to get into the characters because the story read like a research paper.  These people are ridiculous, because it’s a biography and because it was the most fascinating ‘research paper’ I’ve ever read.

I was amazed at how many people Georgiana managed to charm in her life.  When you read about all her flaws and mishaps, you expect the world to hate her.  I expect that I would have hated her.  She constantly gambled, lost all her money, and was continuously lying to everyone around her.  She seems silly and a bit hairbrained.  But when it comes down to it, everyone that knew her loved her.  She set trends, led a political party to greatness, and was a best friend to her children.  (Despite the few years she neglected them to go have another child from another man, even her children thought her to be the best mother in the world.)

Prior to this biography, I had no idea that she was a great ancestor to the infamous Princess Di.  I also found it refreshing to read a biography on royalty that was non-Tudor related.  I highly recommend the book, and the movie made after it starring Keira Knightley, although after reading the biography I find the movie a bit deceptive on the character of the Duke.


Permalink 1 Comment

Rosalind Miles’ Guenevere

April 21, 2010 at 12:23 am (JARS, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Guenevere, Queen of the Summer Country:
The First of the Guenevere Novels by Rosalind Miles

Though racier than I would have liked, Rosalind Miles portrays the Arthurian Romance of Guenevere, Arthur, and Lancelot exactly how I should think someone going for historical and religious accuracy should. Miles captures the thoughts and rituals of the pagans well and interweaves the young Christian societies the way they must have seemed to the Druids of the time. This first chapter of Guenevere’s life shows the gradual change from pagan feminism to the changing views of the times that brought women to more submissive roles, as she is caught between a husband trying to be a Christian King and an upbringing where royalty was passed down through the female line with sexual freedoms to boot. Can’t wait to read the second and third parts.

Click Here to Purchase

Permalink Leave a Comment

Gloriously Symmetrical

January 18, 2010 at 12:32 am (Reviews, The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

As beautiful as The Time Traveler’s Wife is, Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry is awful.  Every moment, every line is filled with mystery, sadness, and the terrible selfishness of humanity.  I loved it.

People have described this second novel as disappointing.  I feel as though it was done on purpose.  I cried on page one, knowing that the rest of the book could not be even remotely as beautiful or as happy; and by the end I had been disappointed by every character so often, I merely settled into a sigh of understanding.  Of course it ends this way, of course.  The novel was gloriously backwards, in comparison to Niffenegger’s first book, just as Valentina is a backward version of Julia.

If you read it, I think you’ll understand my meaning.

Buy Her Fearful Symmetry

If you liked it, I also recommend:

The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold (although The Lovely Bones is not nearly as fascinating, the writing is most excellent)

The Mercy of Thin Air – Domingue (equally calm and spooky, but add a southern American drawl)

Swan – Frances Mayes (for the characters and her always amazing prose, also set in the American south)

Permalink 5 Comments

Next page »