books I've read

Anne Hawn's books

Who Moved My Cheese?
If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans
Scientific Secrets for Self-Control
Just One Damned Thing After Another
The Vanishing
Exercises in Knitting
The Good Dream
The Very Best of Edgar Allan Poe
The Chosen
BT-Kids' Knits
Talking God
The Professor
The Christmas Files
The Finisher
Home Decor for 18-Inch Dolls: Create 10 Room Settings with Furniture and 15 Outfits with Accessories
Dracula and Other Stories
A New Song
All Quiet on the Western Front
File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents

Anne Hawn Smith's favorite books »

I'm reading 150 Books

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Woman in White

The Woman in WhiteThe Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've read this several times in my life and I am reading it again for a group I belong to. I had forgotten how good it was. It has all of the elements of a Gothic mystery. There is a spooky old mansion with a lovely and rich young girl, an earnest but poor young man who loves the girl but can't marry her, a capable older sister, a weird, reclusive old uncle/guardian, a mysterious suitor/husband, a creepy Count and the mysterious "woman in white" who appears and disappears throughout the story.

Of course, the beautiful young girl, Laura, marries the mysterious suitor, Sir Percival Glyde, who turns out to be a cruel monster, terribly influenced by the Count Fosco and his wife, who happens to be the sister of the reclusive uncle and is bitter about her lack of inheritance. Her sister, Marian Halcombe, comes to live with Laura and tries to protect her from her husband and Count Fosco. Her devotion to Laura knows no bounds and there is a wonderful scene where she proves her mettle by climbing on the roof of the mansion and listening to an important conversation between Sir Percival and Count Fosco in the pouring rain. The poor young lover, Walter, comes back into the picture after he returns from a long time in the jungle in Ecuador, where he attempted to recover from his devastation over the loss of Laura. Walter then attempts to solve the mystery of the Count and Sir Percival and their machinations.

The two best characters in the story are Marian and Walter, and that was one of the things that bothered me about the book. When Walter first meets Marian, he sees her at a distance and she appears to have an especially beautiful figure and presence, but when she turns around, he sees that she is ugly. When he meets Laura, he finds her beautiful and falls in love with her even though, Marian is, by far, stronger, more intelligent and interesting of the two. As the book proceeds, Marian becomes his friend, partner and confidant and yet all his love still goes to Laura. I am sure I am being unfair to Collins, as he was a product of his time, but to my way of thing Marian was a much better candidate for a life companion!

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Gourmet Rhapsody

Gourmet RhapsodyGourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pierre Athens is a renowned food critic who is givin 48 hours to live. He remembers something that he tasted years ago when he was a youth, long before he became a food critic. The taste was the single thing he has been looking to find again for years and now that his life is ending he is desperate to find it.

After reading The Eloquence of the Hedgehog, I was anxious to read this. The story was written after Eloquence, but it takes place before it in the same apartment building. So far it is pretty good.

You can't read this book very fast. The sentences are complicated and there is an abundant use of metaphors that need to be understood and related to in order to get any meaning. The writing is very precise with each sentence often written to evoke a specific image without which, there is no meaning to the text. I have to stop myself and reread some passages because I realize that I have not kept up with the metaphors and have no idea where the text is going. At first, this seems tiresome because I want to finish the book and then I remind myself that this author is trying to create, for her readers, all of the sensory details of the taste of a food.

I've learned something from this book. Here's an example. When I was a child and visiting Mississippi one year there was a bumper crop of watermelons. There were so many that we went in the fields and broke melons open and only ate the heart. I have since eaten scores of watermelons and none ever tasted that good no matter where I got them. From this book I realized that it wasn't just the melons, it was the combination of sensations that made them the best I would ever taste. I was young and playing in the fields and creeks and I brought to the watermelon a desire for the taste, the wetness and the coolness that I will never have again. The watermelon was at its peak and had just been plucked from the vine. There was a wild abandonment in breaking it open on the sandy ground and digging out the heart that I will never experience again. It wasn't just the taste of the watermelon that I would need to create, it would be the whole experience. That is what Pierre Athens is looking for.

This was extremely interesting. At first, I didn't think the conclusion worked, but after thinking about it, it was perfect. The language was beautiful. There were so many sentences I wanted to read again and again just for the sheer pleasure of the words. This is not a book for everyone, but I enjoyed it and I think it left me changed.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Mysteries of Winterthurn

Mysteries of WinterthurnMysteries of Winterthurn by Joyce Carol Oates

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have read the first two books in this combined novel. I have to say I have been disappointed. There are so many loose ends in the books and so much is left to the reader to explain. I understand that the author started from the idea that crimes do not all have tidy endings, but some major plot elements, even ones that lead to the conclusion are just left dangling. I could write a "locked-room" mystery if I didn't have to explain how the murder was committed or who did it, and I am not a writer. I expected more from this author and I think if this were her first novel, it would never have been published.

There are vivid characters and plot elements that are developed and concluded, so the books are not a total waste, it is just better to go into them prepared that to keep expecting that everything will be revealed.

I have finished the third book in the series and I can't say that I am much more enlightened. I understand the third book and perhaps the ending, but a part of me wants to say, "What was the point?" There may be some who like mysteries written like this, but I am not one of them. This was pretty much a waste of time...and the waste of a good story. By that, I mean that there was a good plot going if it had just come to a better conclusion. I felt like I should give this 3 stars because Oates is such a good writer, but I just can', alas, it's two.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Little Women

Little WomenLittle Women by Louisa May Alcott

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this when I was a child and loved it. Reading it again at this stage of my life, I still enjoyed it and I can see why it is a classic.

It is the story of the four March sisters and what happens to them as they become young women and adults. It is autobiographical and most of the story elements represent what happened to Louisa and her sisters.

Jo is Louisa and she tells the story of her family and her early writing. Her writing is so vivid that it makes the characters seem to be friends and I found myself identifying with each of them. What happens to Beth seems as poignant today as it was when I read it so many years ago and I found myself crying once again.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

The Double Comfort Safari Club

The Double Comfort Safari Club (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #11)The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love this series so I bumped this up to the top as soon as it was available in an audiobook. It was another beautiful visit with Precious Ramothswe and her friends and family. In this story we learn a little more about Mme Makutsi when her fiance is injured in an accident. When Mme Makutsi meets up with a ferocious Auntie it seems as if she might be defeated.

In the midst of her troubles, Mme Ramothswe decides that the two women need to make a journey to the other side of Bothswana, the Okavango Delta, to a safari camp where they attempt to locate a guide who has done such a good job that an American woman has left him a legacy. The adventures at the safari camp reminds us that the tame and pleasant city life is only a small part of Bothswana.

The 50% Violet Sephotho is back again with another clever scheme to defraud someone and build her life at the expense of another. Without giving away the plot, suffice it to say that Mme Makutsi enjoys her encounter with Violet at the end of the book. Mma Potokwane puts in an entrance to the delight of everyone and helps resolve a very sticky situation.

I enjoy the beauty of the language of Alexander McCall Smith and the common sense he gives to his characters. When I finish the book, I long for the next book so I can visit with these wise and charming people again.
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Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Darker Place

A Darker Place (Anne Waverly)A Darker Place by Laurie R. King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't like this as much as the other books by Laurie King. The premise wasn't as interesting and there were long periods of soul searching by the main character that I found to be very boring. Still, it did have some very interesting twists and turns and was worth reading. King is just such a good author, I think I was expecting too much.

The story is about Professor Anne Waverley, a university religion teacher and expert at infiltrating cults for the FBI. As a young woman, she and her husband and small daughter were in a cult and when she left for some soul searching, all the members committed suicide leaving her with tremendous guilt that has been somewhat assuaged by working with the FBI. She adopts a different persona and infilterates the cult giving the FBI information that helps to establish if the cult is dangerous or not.

Several times throughout the book there are exerpts from books or lectres she has written for the FBI for their training in understanding cults. To me this was the most interesting part of the book. There was a fascinating discussion as to what makes a cult leader explode with violence and what are the danger signals. She also talks about the difference between a small break-away religious group and what we know of as a cult.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Daddy Long-Legs

Daddy Long-LegsDaddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this a long time ago and found it to be so entertaining as is its sequel. It is an old book, written in 1912, but still delightful. Jerusha Abbott has been raised in an orphanage, but one of the trustees noted that she was very bright and arranged for her to go to college to study to become a writer. The only thing he requires of her is that she not know who he is and that she writes to him monthly. He only responds to her through his secretary. The only thing she ever saw of him was his legs which were very long and she took to calling him "Daddy-Long-Legs." She writes letters in a cheerful and engaging way as she details her life in college. Her benefactor is very generous and as she meets young people and is invited places, he provides her with clothes and the things she needs. She doesn't like to take his money and is determined to pay him back, so she writes stories to sell to magazines.

This is such a sweet story and very entertaining. The reader is able to get an idea of who Daddy Long Legs is and watches "Judy," as she calls herself, develop. The ending is never in doubt, but since her benefactor never writes back to her there is still some question as to how it is all going to work out.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Scones (44 Scotland Street, #5)

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones (44 Scotland Street, #5)The Unbearable Lightness of Scones by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Unfortunately this book is finished and I have to wait for the last one to come by Interlibrary Loan. I enjoy being with the people in these books so much and I miss them when they are "gone."

This story sees Bertie joining the "Cub Scouts" much to his mother's dismay. Occasionally Bertie's father prevails, and this is one of them. Alas, girls may join the cubs now and Olive has caught wind of it and she shows up to torment Bertie and Tofu. If you want to know what Bertie's horrid mother was like as a child, just look at Olive.

Bertie's therapist has moved to Aberdeen and he has a new one from Australia and for a while it looks as if Bertie might graduate out of therapy. This new doctor is not a fan of Melanie Klein and not, seemingly, Bertie's mother, but unfortunately, something happens to make him keep least for a time. Personally, I'm glad. Poor Bertie needs a good therapist to help him cope with his mother.

The rest of the neighbors are back in full force. Matt is swept out to sea on his honeymoon and I won't tell what happens next. Angus and Domenica are playing thief and then police which is a new role for them, and narcissistic Bruce undergoes the greatest change of all...but can he truly reform?

These delightful stories are about real people leading everyday lives that Alexander McCall Smith manages to find humor, pathos and comfort in. It is his genius that makes us see them as we hopefully see ourselves with all our faults and all our goodness.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The World According to Bertie (44 Scotland Street, #4)

The World According to Bertie (44 Scotland Street, #4)The World According to Bertie by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bertie is just about my favorite character and in this book we see a lot of him. His biggest problem in this book is, of course, his mother and we have the addition of a baby brother, Ulysses, who looks suspiciously like Bertie's therapist. Bertie, who doesn't lie, mentions this a couple of times. His mother has decided that he should have his good "friend" Olive over to play with him weekly and he is in despair, not only can he not stand her, but his mother has painted his room pink again.

Pat is having her heart problems again. She and Matt have begun a relationship when the unbeliveably and narcissisticly handsome Bruce is back in Scotland. Matt is sweet and kind and...Pat is confused again.

One of the biggest problems in the book is that Angus Lordie's dog, Cyril, has been arrested for biting people and is in the pound awaiting trial. He is almost sure to be put down and Angus is beside himself. How can he get Cyril out of jail?

Reading this book is like visiting old friends.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Love Over Scotland (44 Scotland Street, #3)

Love Over Scotland (44 Scotland Street, #3)Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is another visit with the characters in and around 44 Scotland Street in Edinburgh and are introduced to two new and very promising characters; a very shady character from Glasgow who is a special friend of Bertie's and anthropologist Domenica Macdonald's friend who has come to stay in her flat while she is studying pirates. In this book we find Bertie managing to rebel against his horrid mother a little more with the help of his father. He also manages to get loose in Paris to his intense delight, and manages very well. Bruce sells his flat and Pat has to find someplace new to live which manages to usher in the "love" over Scotland Street, but not in the way she imagines.

I love these books because they charming without being trite. Smith has a wonderful way of creating characters that are real and likeable even with all their faults. I feel like I am catching up with old friends and when I finish a book, I feel a real sense of sadness. I find myself wanting to know how they think and feel about my world and I find myself changing because of some of the subtle bits of philosophy that resonate with me.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Espresso Tales (44 Scotland Street, #2)

Espresso Tales (44 Scotland Street, #2)Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I loved 44 Scotland Street and this was just as good. It is the characters that make this series so rich, as it is in all Alexander McCall Smith's books. I feel like I'm visiting people I know. Undoubtedly, Bertie is the best character. He is the not quite 6 year old prodigy who is now ready for the Steiner school, when he really wants to go to a nice Rugby playing school. Bertie wouldn't be Bertie if it wasn't for his awful mother...the character you love to hate. And then there is Lou, the big-hearted coffee-shop owner whose loyal customers fill these pages. And her opposite, the narcissictic Bruce who can't pass a mirror without looking in it. Pat, Matthew, Dominica, Angus and his beer drinking dog Cyril round out the main characters, although Bertie's dad, Stewart, is making himself known. They are wonderful, charming, entertaining and thoroughly real. Like his other series, you don't read the "44 Scotland Street" series for its plot. The books are about the characters and I love them all.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Deception on His Mind (Inspector Lynley #9)

Deception on His Mind (Inspector Lynley #9)Deception on His Mind by Elizabeth George

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just finished this for the second time. I couldn't remember all the details of the end, so I decided it was time to enjoy it again. I love the books in this series that involve Taymullah Azar and his delightful daughter. They are both very good characters.

The plot of this book, like most of her work, is pretty complex. A Pakistani man was murdered on the beach and the Pakistani community is up in arms because they feel that a white person has done the crime and that the local police will try to pin it on someone from their own community. They call in Taymullah Azar from London, who is a relative of the slain man's brother in law. Barbara Havers is on leave because of a beating she took and she follows Azar to the seaside town thinking the University Professor won't be able to take care of himself. When she gets there she finds a friend is leading the investigation and leads Emily to believe she has been sent from Scotland Yard to give some help. She neglects to mention that she knows Taymullah Azar. Emily gives her the job as liaison between the police and the Asian community leaders led by Azar and his cousin.

This story is filled with twists and turns and a lot of red herrings, and it does slog a little in the middle, but the conclusion is exciting and for the most part satisfying.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Fate of Katherine Carr

The Fate of Katherine CarrThe Fate of Katherine Carr by Thomas H. Cook

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wouldn't call this a mystery book. It is a story within a story. The first is the story of George Gates, whose 8 year old son was kidnapped and murdered. His young wife also died and now he is alone. He was a travel journalist who specialized in places where people disappeared, but after the tragedy, he became a reporter for a small newspaper. A retired detective got him involved in the disappearance of a poet, Katherine Carr who had previously been assalted and left for dead.

So many people have reviewed this that I am not going to add much more to the plot. It is essentially a novel about dealing with tragic deaths, especially with violence. I think the main question posed, after the immediate, "Why?" is "Why do they get by with it?" In an earlier generation it would be the question that the man screams at God with his fists raised. Why does a serial killer die in his bed of old age when his victims died too young and too horribly?

I figured out where the book by the poet was going fairly early and thought that it was a novel ending and fairly satisfying although many would not feel that way. It is a story about people who can't believe in God trying to reconcile the world they find themselves in when faced with atrocities.

I listened to an audiobook for this title and I would not recommend it. There are two different narrations; George Gates and Katherine Carr. Because both deal with abduction and tragedy, it is easy to forget who is speaking and I found myself having to backtrack when I was in the mindset of the wrong character. Other than that, I found it very well written, if disturbing. When dealing with violent deaths the usual practice for most people is to try to keep the details OUT of our minds, but this book dwells on them quite a bit and that was disturbing at times. It is not for the squemish.

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Great Expectations

Great Expectations (Oxford Bookworms)Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is at least my 4th reading of this book and each time I see new things in it. Young Pip is orphaned and living with his short-tempered sister and his friend and brother-in-law, Joe Gargery. There are two events in his childhood that shape the rest of his life. While he is out on the moors, he is accosted by an escaped prisoner and made to bring him some food under threat of death. He does this, but the consequences in his home are dire.

The next event comes about when he is summoned to meet Ms. Haversham and her ward, Estella in a setting so creepy that it would take the imagination of Dickens to come up with it. Pip is to come to tea and visit with Estella whenever he is summoned.

Years later, as a young man, he is summoned by a lawyer and told that he has "Great Expectations" and that he is to be sent to London and raised as a gentleman. It seems apparent to Pip that his benefactor must be Ms. Haversham and that he is destined to marry Estella. He feels that this must by why she had him come and visit when he was a child.

The rest of the story revolves around the education of Pip in not only schoolwork, but in life. He makes new friends and loses them and he leaves behind old friends and mourns their passing out of his life too late.

I love Dickens. There is no other author who has given the world such well known and instantly recognizible characters. His books are filled with characters so real that we feel that they must have existed in the flesh. How can Scrooge or Tiny Tim not have existed? There are people who feel that Dickens is too wordy, which may be true if your goal is to just get to the end, but Dickens is to be sipped and savored. His characters need to live in your imagination and act of their own accord. Taking up Great Expectations is like visiting an old friend.

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Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Innocence of Father Brown

The Innocence of Father BrownThe Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Father Brown, that innocent cleric, always has the answer because he is used to dealing with good and evil and is able to see it more quickly than his more jaded companions. It also helps that he has an amazing intellect and keen observation.

These stories are so much fun. A crime is committed and no one can see how it could have been done. Father Brown gives 3 or 4 explanations and his companions are stupefied. He explains that they said there could be no explanation and he has provided 4, none of which is correct. Then this innocent innocuous little priest explains exactly what happened.

As you would expect, he is always completely moral and concerned more about the spiritual condition of the criminal than the offense to society. He has some interesting ways for the criminal to be reconciled to God though and than makes these stories even more interesting.

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Friday, March 04, 2011

The Devil's Half Acre (Mysteries of Winterthurn #2)

The Devil's Half AcreThe Devil's Half Acre by Joyce Carol Oates

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the second book of the Winterthurn series and is marginally better than the first. The plot centers around a small plot of land with an unrepentant sinner buried on it and a reputation for sinister happenings. Five shop or mill girls end up being murdered there by what they call the "Gentleman Suitor." It is pretty easy to figure out who the murderer is as the reader follows the young detective, Xavier Kilgarvan around his home town of Winterthurn. Even getting the proof of the murders is not too difficult, but the trials are something else. There is a lot that doesn't ring true and while Xavier solves the crime, the reader is left very unsettled.

I found this book to be more satisfying to read than the first one until the end of the trial. From then on, I felt like the book unraveled. As with the first of this series, the book could have been good, but it just doesn't quite make it. The author may want to demonstrate that in real life, crimes don't always wrap themselves up neatly, but if that was what I wanted, I would read true crime, which I also enjoy. The best true crime writers, however, manage find as much background as they possibly can to attempt to explain the workings of the criminal's mind and to present as much of a resolution as is possible. I feel like good fiction should go even further since the murderer is known to the author and has been created with a personality which should follow a kind of logic, even if it is twisted, at least as it applies to the most important aspects of the crime.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Virgin in the Rose Bower (Mysteries of Winterthurn #1)

The Virgin in the Rose BowerThe Virgin in the Rose Bower by Joyce Carol Oates

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was very stange. I have read everything I could find on the web to get an idea of what I was missing. Apparently it was written this way in the misguided idea that rarely in real life to we have all the answers in a mystery. What this means is that the reader is struggling to figure out what the various strange happenings and murders in the Honeymoon bedroom mean, who did them, why, and most importantly, how. Well, you are never quite sure of most of the above, especially the "how."

I also read that is was a parody on the Gothic mystery, but I wasn't really satisfied with that. I agree with one reviewer that it needed to be either a parody or a Gothic mystery, but not both. On the other hand, the book was very interesting. It had the feel of The Moonstone and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and I think it could have been as good if there was an explanation of the mystery. I did like it and I figured out enough of the solution to feel somewhat satisfied, but it could have easily been a great book.

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