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
Christy
All Quiet on the Western Front
File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents


Anne Hawn Smith's favorite books »

I'm reading 30,000 pages.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Tale of Hawthorn House (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, #4)

The Tale of Hawthorn House (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, #4)The Tale of Hawthorn House by Susan Wittig Albert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars




Fairies take center stage in this book also and we get to know them even better as they interact with the “big people.” During the village fete, a baby is deposited on Beatrix Potter’s doorstep with a sprig of hawthorn on it. Beatrix would love to care for it herself, but the care of her demanding parents and her work as an author seem to make it impossible. Still, she lives with regret, which is made even more poignant, by her work as a children’s author and her instinctive understanding of them and the magical world they inhabit.

Keeping the baby is no problem for her friend, Dimity though. All thoughts of having children seem to have gone from Dimity’s life with the marriage of the Boer War hero from the last book. Dimity has loved him all her life and she has never married, content to keep house for her brother and make herself respected and useful in the village.
But where did the baby come from? The only clue is the hawthorn sprig tucked in with the baby. It apparently has come from Hawthorn Manor, an unfortunate old mansion cursed by the spirits in the Hawthorn trees ruthlessly chopped down to improve the view of the lake. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the trees had been informed and treated with reverence. Part of the curse put on the house is that no babies will fill its walls. An old crone was seen running to Beatrix’s house with a bundle and many of the villagers think she was the spirit of the hawthorns or a fairy in disguise.

This book was especially good, I thought. There was a little more of a mystery in this one and it took some research and more active sleuthing on the part of Beatrix to solve. The development of the children is richer in this book also and they are becoming characters with a following as well as Beatrix and her friends.
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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, #3)

The Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, #3)The Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood by Susan Wittig Albert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this third book of the series, the local children are attempting to get the fairies to help them and they find a true believer in Beatrix Potter. Susan Wittig Albert writes about fairies with the same mix of awe, reverence and fear that Tolkien does. The quest for the fairies help and the plight of the children is by far, the most important thread in the book. We are led into a world where fairies do get involved with the life of the “big people,” but they can never be taken for granted or controlled. They come and go as they please and are only visible to the young at heart.

In contrast, the “big people” are embroiled in their own problems and most don’t see how fairies could possible be a part of them. The local Boer war hero, has returned dreadfully wounded, but with a new bride who sets the village’s teeth on edge. What in the world could he be thinking of? She is totally inappropriate for village life and she isn’t even nice. To add to it, there is something suspicious in her relationship to a new man who appears to be a relative of the vicar’s and has come to stay, and stay, and stay.

One of the things I like about this series is that it follows the life of Beatrix Potter and weaves known attitudes and events into a beautifully crafted historical and yet fanciful--- tale. It is a wonderful series to curl up with on a rainy day and enjoy to the fullest. There is just enough mystery to keep you engaged while you enjoy life in a kinder and gentler time.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Tale of Holly How (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, #2)

The Tale of Holly How (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, #2)The Tale of Holly How by Susan Wittig Albert

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this second tale of life in the village, Bearix Potter is beginning to fit in better because of her kind manner and quiet ways. The villagers don’t know what to make of her determination to run her farm by herself though, but they like the fact that she is attempting to build up a herd of local sheep which are in danger of dying out. When she goes to look over some sheep she has bought, she finds the body of the elderly shepherd and it appears that he has been murdered.

At the same time, she is struggling to build an addition to her farm so that she can keep on the family who have worked the farm for so long and yet give her the privacy of her own home. Working with the local builder is a daunting task, but Beatrix is proving to be tougher than she looks.

In the village a crisis has arisen when the job of head teacher is vacant and the hiring of a new head is suddenly called into question. Everyone favors the primary teacher, but the lady of the manor has suddenly brought in a new candidate with much better credentials. Something seems wrong about him though and it is not just his credentials. The Lady’s personal assistant seems to be wielding more and more power and things just smell funny to Beatrix.

This is a delightful book to just sit back and read or, even better, listen to as an audiobook. The people are engaging and the animals keep up enough chatter to push the plot ahead and sometimes get through to their owners.


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Monday, April 25, 2011

The Tale of Hill Top Farm (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, #1

The Tale of Hill Top Farm (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, #1)The Tale of Hill Top Farm by Susan Wittig Albert

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a delightful tale based loosely on the life of Beatrix Potter while she was staying on a village farm in the lakes district which she bought with the proceeds of her books. It is a combination of the Miss Read tales with The First Ladies Detective Agency books. There is a mystery here, but it is secondary to the goings on of the village. This is especially charming because the village animals and Ms Potter's pets also talk to each other to move the plot along and provide commentary.

In her description of village life, I could hear the echoes of Miss Read as she describes the little puzzles of life in Thrush Green. Many of these seem like mysteries because the reader is unsure of how the problems can be resolved in a way that is good for all the people involved.

This is definitely a cozy mystery and a comfort book, wonderful to read when you are tired of the complexity of your life and the plights or our modern world. The book is a far cry from Osama bin Laden and the Japanese earthquake and will definitely recharge your batteries.
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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Folly

FollyFolly by Laurie R. King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a very compelling look at madness and healing. I found it different from anything else I have read by Laurie R. King. The main character is a woman, Rae Newborn, in her 50's, who has been subject to severe depression and several suicide attempts, and who has come to a deserted island in the Juan de Fuga straits. She was attempting to reconstruct the house left by her mysterious Great Uncle Desmond. The house burned and Desmond disappeared many years before and for some reason, she has an odd connection to both the house and her Uncle Desmond. Rae had been a successful artist whose worked with wood brought her fame and wealth, but after the tragic death of her husband and small daughter, and the madness it drove her to, has turned to building as a form of healing and finding herself again.

The most interesting aspect of this book is the intersection between paranoid madness and the possibility of actual physical danger from a real person who is stalking and intent on killing her. Rae struggles to differentiate between the two and to heal herself by reacting appropriately to the very real danger she is in.

Laurie R. King's skill at creating characters is never stronger than in this novel. The complexities of Rae, her daughter Tamara, and their relationship is the best of all her books. In Rae, she has given a window into madness and the struggle to reach beyond the chaotic thoughts of the insane to sanity. I have a relative who is mentally ill and I found real insight into the self-destructive impulses that can not be controlled despite a true desire to be sane.


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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Home to Holly SpringsHome to Holly Springs by Jan Karon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book while I was visiting in Mississippi about 60 miles from Holly Springs. I was there for a funeral and I experienced so many of the things mentioned in the book. Some have criticized it because of the number of questions that were answered in seemingly miraculous ways, but when you visit a place after a number of years, word gets around and people come to visit and talk and many of the mysteries of your childhood are explained or understood. We know that God does act in human events and just because the time in this book is telescoped, does not make the events outside possibility.

Father Tim began his journey because of a cryptic note that told him to "come home." Sensing that there is something important in the request, he takes his dog and heads South. He visits a hardware store and meets people there who catapult him into his boyhood. Word is spread that he is visiting and old friends and enemies contact him. Some of the information he receives is very difficult for him to hear, but he accepts what he hears as something that God wants him to know and act on.

This is a good story with enough mystery to keep the reader wondering, but it is also inspirational. As Father Tim learns things about his past, he has to change his view of many people he knew and to be both forgiving and forgiven. The courage that he exhibits is an inspiration and a reminder that we are not put on this earth for our own happiness, but to do the will of the One who sent us.

I was amazed to find that Jan Karon was not from Mississippi. She has managed to capture the language and customs of the Deep South with amazing accuracy. I was especially pleased when she added a little known custom of asking the person you are visiting to “come along with me.” To me that has always meant that you were having such a good time visiting that even though you had to go, you wanted the person to go with you and continue the visit.




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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mansfield Park

Mansfield ParkMansfield Park by Jane Austen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit that this is my least favorite of Jane Austen's novels. Her character, Fanny Price, is just a little too humble and nice. I think everyone would like her better if she just got angry with the way she was treated from time to time. She was a niece of her mother's sister who was taken in by the family when she was about 11. Her own mother did not marry well and the poverty of her home and the large number of siblings prompt her Aunt Norris to suggest to her sister that Fanny come to live at Mansfield Park. Fanny begins her life with the four Bertram cousins, and while she is educated, she lives a life of a half-servant, waiting on her Aunt Bertram.

As the novel progresses, we see the superficiality of her cousins and their parents as well as the interfering hypocrisy of her Aunt Norris. Sir Thomas has made his wealth by dealing in slavery, his wife is so indolent and self-absorbed that she neglects her children and does not seem at all interested in developing their character, which leads to disastrous consequences as the book progresses. As with most of Jane Austen's books, the main focus of the book is marrying someone wealthy.

Fanny somehow has managed to have a deep moral sense and spirit of humility and stands in contrast to her cousins. The only one whom she has a relationship is her cousin, Edmond, the youngest son. His desire is to take Holy Orders and, unlike most wealthy young men of his class, does it from a true desire to minister to the people he is called to serve.

Into this mix come a brother and sister who are visiting the local Vicar. While they are superficially charming, they are extremely shallow and amoral. Edmond falls in love with Mary and while she tells him that she will never be a clergyman's wife as there is no prestige or income, she flirts with him outrageously and tries to change his position. Her brother is very attached to the two older sisters, but eventually decides to flirt with Fanny to amuse himself and ends up falling in love with her.

I have to admit that this is my least favorite of Jane Austen's novels. Her character, Fanny Price, is just a little too humble and nice. I think everyone would like her better if she just got angry with the way she was treated from time to time. She was a niece of her mother's sister who was taken in by the family when she was about 11. Her own mother did not marry well and the poverty of her home and the large number of siblings prompt her Aunt Norris to suggest to her sister that Fanny come to live at Mansfield Park. Fanny begins her life with the four Bertram cousins, and while she is educated, she lives a life of a half-servant, waiting on her Aunt Bertram.

As the novel progresses, we see the superficiality of her cousins and their parents as well as the interfering hypocrisy of her Aunt Norris. Sir Thomas has made his wealth by dealing in slavery, his wife is so indolent and self-absorbed that she neglects her children and does not seem at all interested in developing their character, which leads to disastrous consequences as the book progresses. As with most of Jane Austen's books, the main focus of the book is marrying someone wealthy.

My objections to the book are that it sags in the middle under the weight of too many examples of the superficial details of the main characters lives. Fanny is appalled at their behavior and that redeems her, not because she is a prig, but because she stands alone against overwhelming derision. Her own background in her parents home is chaotic at best and she could hardly have learned such virtues there or at Mansfield Park. I think it is this strength of character that keeps her from being a simple character in a morality play. While this is a harder book to read that any of Austen's other works, it is still filled with the kinds of things we expect from her works.


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Monday, April 18, 2011

The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire, #1

The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire, #1)The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I listened to this book in my GPS on the way home from Mississippi. This is a new experience, but it worked very well. The book was fairly well written although it dragged a bit in the middle. One thing I objected to was the language. When you are reading a book, you can skip over it, but in an audiobook, especially in the car, you are forced to just sit there and be assaulted.

The story begins with the murder of a boy who was the ring-leader of a group of 4 boys who raped and abused a Native American girl who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. They received very light sentences and two of the boys showed very little remorse. Someone has murdered the most obnoxious boy and there is a strong feeling that the murder has taken justice into his/her own hands. When another boy is killed, the sheriff is desperate to protect the two remaining boys.

The book is interesting, but there are some supernatural scenes which become tedious. The ending also could have been foreshadowed or at least some groundwork done to make it fit the book better.


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Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Body Snatcher and Other Tales (Dover Thrift Editions)The Body Snatcher and Other Tales by Robert Louis Stevenson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a collection of three very different short stories by Robert Lewis Stevenson. The first is a story about medical students and the grim work of the resurrectionists. It is set in the 1800's in Scotland and involves the action of young medical students and their secret work of digging up fresh graves to provide corpses for dissection. The very action of learning often compromises their own morality when the cause of death is suspiciously opportune and the identity of the corpse is known. It reminds me of Burk and Hare trials in 19th century and I think it has been the basis for several movies.

The second tale is completely different and reminds me of something out of Grims' Fairy Tales. It deals with the greed of an old woman and the results of her choices for her family. Like most old tales, there is a strong sense of morality and justice in it.

The last is also a folk story about a shaman/magician and the greed of his son-in-law. The old shaman needs his son-in-law's help and reveals the source of his wealth to be a magic island. The son-in-law returns to the island to steal the money and becomes ensnared in the magic of the island. Again, there is a strong sense of morality and revenge.

All of these tales are similar to those of Hawthorne and feel like they are based in true legends and morality tales. Each is complete and I could feel like I was sitting around a fire listening to an old sage reveal the legends of the ancestors.







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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It has been a while since I read this and we were talking about books most re-read and this was mentioned. This has always been one of my favorite books and every time I read it again, I see something new.

The story is set in the 19th century and centers on an extremely proud and wealthy young man, Mr. Darcy and a strong minded, intelligent young woman, Elizabeth Bennett, who forms a strong prejudice against Darcy because of his pride and hurtful manner.

Elizabeth's family is a complete disaster. Her mother flutters over her five daughters and thinks only of getting them married off to wealthy men. She is unbelievable silly and most of the time offensive. She allows her silly and fickle younger daughters to flirt with any prospective young man and when that leads to absolute disaster, she still doesn't see what she has done. Elizabeth's father, while intelligent and kind is no match for his frivolous wife and younger daughters, and rarely interferes, no matter how distastefully they behave. He is only attached to Elizabeth and the kind and lovely oldest daughter, Jane.

Mr. Darcy's friend, Mr. Bingley, has fallen in love with the beautiful Jane, but his snobbish sisters, and Darcy himself are determined that there should be no match which would end in any relationship with the horrible Bennett family no matter how respectable Elizabeth and Jane are. The middle of the book is a saga of offenses, cross purposes, and star-crossed love.

As with all of Jane Austen's books, the plot is not the most important aspect. It is her ability to draw carefully constructed characters who grow and change throughout the book which makes her works classics. Along with the dynamic main characters, there are a number of unforgettable minor characters who are memorable and drawn to perfection. These include, the impossible Mrs. Bennett; the silly and flirtatious sisters, Kitty and Lydia; the supercilious, but somehow redeemable, clergyman, Mr. Collins; the scoundrel Mr. Wickham; and the kind, intelligent, but flawed and lazy Mr. Bennett. Sometimes I think it is the minor characters that draw you in and keep you reading while the more dynamic characters wrestle with their flaws and eventually emerge wiser and more mature; and, since this is Jane Austen, in love with each other. These minor characters are so real, you find yourself trying to figure out who they are reminding you of. Of course, they are an exaggeration, but only in that they are an amalgam of more real traits than are usually found in one person. All their actions ring true and if Mr. Collins would walk into the room, you would know him in an instant.

I know there are many who don't like Jane Austen because there is too much description, too many words and "flowery language," and main characters too concerned with money and getting married, but this is the world she was writing in. Her writing is like a hidden camera on the 19th century. Unfortunately, many people miss learning about this world and human nature because they don't want to do the work necessary to unlock what Jane Austen has to say.
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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Emma

Emma (Coscom Blue Banner Classics)Emma by Jane Austen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a re-read, probably for about the 5th time. It is always fresh no matter how many times I read it. There are so many things that I find that I have missed.

The story is set in England in the 19th century. While the village is only 17 miles from London, it is deep in the country. Emma, the bright, clever, pretty and beloved daughter of one of the first families in the district, has been spoiled dreadfully in her upbringing. She has no social equals and after the loss of her governess and friend, she sets to work to manipulate the lives of others in the village by attempting to make matches between the people she knows. The only person who has ever not spoiled Emma is the local, most eligible, bachelor, George Knightly. While he cares deeply for Emma and her father, he has always tried to bring some semblance of discipline into Emma's life by speaking the truth plainly to her.

As with almost every book by Jane Austen, there are plots and subplots, innuendo, misinformation, and wrong assumptions. Even though the elements of her stories are similar, the characters stand out almost as real people. In fact, next to Dickens, I believe Jane Austen created the most memorable characters in English Literature. Sometimes I think I re-read this book just to encounter the deliciously obnoxious Mrs. Elton.

Emma is a dynamic character and I found myself very irritated with her for the first half or more of the book. She meddles in people's lives and thinks she knows what is best for them. She has a deep seated snobbishness but a kind heart and, where she has found favor, a lack of class consciousness. In other words, she is a complex character who is basically kind and loving, but the petting and spoiling of her early life has led her to believe that everything she believes is right. She cheerfully meddles in people's lives and then is chagrined when the desired outcome does not work the way she intended.

There are some rough places in the book, especially when listening to an audiobook. The silly, boring and incredibally talkative Mrs. Bates, can be easily be skimmed over in a book, but she is hard to skip in an audiobook. She goes on and on and I am sure Jane Austen meant for her readers to experience just how boring she could be. There is also a lot of description which may irritate some readers, but to me evokes a time when lives moved at a slower pace and the concerns of the people were more mundane and closer to home. The endless discussions of what people should eat, or the superiority of the local doctor by Emma's father were similar to conversations I listened to in the 60's on the isolated Eastern Shore of Virginia. Where there is very little that changes, conversations center on the tiny details of daily life and family and this is what Jane Austen shows us. As with all of Jane Austen's book, in the end the threads are gathered together, all ends well, and dear Emma has come out a wiser and happier young woman.

This is classic #10 for the year. Fifteen more to go.
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Saturday, April 02, 2011

Cure

CureCure by Robin Cook

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not my favorite kind of book. I love the forensics and the medical mystery but I do not like anything to do with Mafia or other crime organizations, spies or anything of that sort. First, they are always callously "bumping people off", and second, they are all such unpleasant people who are usually only two dimensional.

Unfortunately, this not only has New York crime organizations, but two rival organizations from Japan. It seems as if the Mafia has turned over a new leaf, at least in New York. There is sort of a bargain with the police; if they quit murdering people right and left, the city will not look too closely at the drug operations. How cynical is that???

The action picked up in the second half of the book and, while there is still a lot Mafia operation, this part of the book was more about the medical and personal side. The conclusion is good and keeps you turning the pages.


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Friday, April 01, 2011

Cain His Brother (William Monk, #6)

Cain His Brother (William Monk, #6)Cain His Brother by Anne Perry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This was another good book in this series. William Monk has a case that involves twin brothers who are like Cain and Abel. When Angus, the proper family man, turns up missing, his wife knows that his evil twin, Caleb has murdered him. She engages Monk to find out for certain that Caleb has murdered him and turn up the body, or have him declared dead so that she can either get a new manager for his business or sell it while it is still profitable to provide for herself and her five children. When everything the woman says appears to be true, Monk looks in earnest for the murderer and Angus's body.

At the same time, typhoid fever has broken out in the slums and Hester, Lady Callandra, and the missing man's stepmother work ceaselessly in the same area Monk is searching for Angus and Caleb. As usual, the cases intersect and Hester becomes involved with Monk’s search for Caleb. To add to this mix, Monk has gotten involved with a person who is determined to extract revenge for something that he did early in his career and for which he has no memory.

At one point, the book seems to drag, but then another plot thread begins and the book is takes off again. As usual, Monk runs into his former callous self and has no memory of things he has done and people he has wronged. One of the interesting things about Monk and the way Perry has developed him is that he is still basically the same person he was before he lost his memory, but he has seen himself and wants to change. So, while he does not want to treat people in his old callous way, he finds himself being inconsiderate and thoughtless towards Hester, only now recognizing it and feeling guilty. This is the main reason I like the Monk books better than the Pitt series. I think that Monk is changing in the way a real person would, two steps forward, one step back.


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