Books Review – The Christmas Scrapbook & The Mitford Snowman

NOTE: In honor of the holidays, I thought I’d do a couple holiday stories, so it’s a bonus twofer review day! I know that these are competing series, but hey, why not?


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TITLE: The Christmas Scrapbook
AUTHOR: Philip Gulley
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 2005

Okay, so I needed a Christmas book for the reading challenge, and I found this on the shelf.  It was short, so I grabbed it.  I’m not big on Christmas stories in general, and I’ve already read Skipping Christmas and Ester’s Gift, and a couple other short ones.  Thus, this one it was…

The book is apparently a stand-alone companion book to the popular Home to Harmony series of books.  I haven’t read them, but I had no problem following along with who everyone was.

In this story, the MC is Pastor Sam, determined this year to get a better gift than the almost two-decades of crap he’s managed before, so he’s off making her a scrapbook. Misunderstandings happen.  Hilarity ensues.  Or something. [Side note.  If you’re the type of husband that can’t manage something better than a friggin’ pelican to hold your kitchen sponge, you are doing this husband thing wrong.  He’s supposedly been married 17 years.  I don’t know why either one of them put up with the other.]

Look, I’m sure these are supposed to be cute and wholesome and whatever – and this felt like a rejected Andy Griffith Show story line.  But unlike Andy, Sam’s just annoying.  And the busybodies all over town are just … annoying.  And I know I said that about Sam, but let’s just say that if this beauty parlor had the only shampoo in existence, I’d never wash my hair again instead of having to deal with these twits.  Apparently being a total gossip is a “good Christian” quality.

And the wife…  So, this is a minister and his wife.  When Sam has somewhere to be Wednesday nights and a bad lie to cover it up, why does she automatically assume he’s cheating on her?  I’m not saying clergy can’t cheat, but I’d like to think they operate under a higher morality clause than the rest of us.  And I’d like to think that even if they were acting all suspicious, a minister’s wife would assume just about anything else before cheating.

Honestly, this book did less than anything for me.  Maybe people who love this series will think this is a cute story, but I think that it could have seriously used about 1000 more words to flesh some things out instead of weak transitions and the glossing over of stuff.  For instance, at one point somebody twists an ankle.  And since the response to that is more important than the actual ankle being twisted, it was reduced to about half a sentence.  That could have at least been an exciting paragraph.  But no.

In the end, I suggest reading this to put yourself to sleep.  If you like your fiction so saccharine sweet (with an undercoat of hen chatter) that you get diabetes, maybe you’re the target audience, but I know that I certainly am not.  2/5.

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TITLE: The Mitford Snowman
AUTHOR: Jan Karon
FORMAT: Hardback Large Print
PUBLISHED: 2001

For those not in the know, Jan Karon has a series of books that take place in the little town of Mitford, and center around a sleepy southern town and a priest.  I haven’t read any of the novels, but I did review the other Christmas book about a year ago.

So this one.  The Mitford Snowman is a simple – and very short – story that starts with a couple guys sitting around talking and then it starts snowing.  Next thing everyone knows, an impromptu snowman building contest starts up, and everyone up and down the street gets involved.

It’s cute, and it’s simple, and I think it’s pretty much what it should be.

With that said, it’s short.  Like 1800 words.  Which isn’t necessarily bad for a gift book at Christmas, but I have several issues with this version.  Like I said, I got the large print one, which came out from Wheeler Publishing.  Unfortunately, this version has all black and white illustrations, and the short internet search I did about this book shows that the interior is actual in color in the regular print version, so I was sad to miss out on that.  Also, because Large Print somehow costs oh-so-much-extra to print, the cover price on this is $26.95.  Yes, $27 for 1800 words and some should-be-in-color illustrations in black and white.

And because it’s Large Print, it felt like I was reading a Children’s book.  There were something like 45 words per page.

So I was seriously disappointed with this version.

Bottom line.  For the story itself, I totally think its worth the read.  But the Large Print book isn’t worth it at all. I don’t want to even give this version of this book a rating.  But I must, so I’d give it a 3/5, mostly because the story is good.  The price with the B&W is a total ripoff.  That said, I’d give the regular version a 4/5, so if you can get your hands on that one, read it instead.  But if you have a friend that’s really into the Mitford books, this would be a great Christmas gift with a nice box of tea.

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Either book satisfies the Christmas Book portion of the challenge.
Book 6/52.  (And yes, I know these reviews published out of order.)

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Book Review – Memories of My Melancholy Whores

TITLE: Memories of My Melancholy Whores

AUTHOR: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
TRANSLATED BY: Edith Grossman
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 2005

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Originally in Spanish, Memories of My Melancholy Whores tells the story of an old man, starting on the eve of his 90th birthday.  He talks about the women in his life, and the story really weaves in an out like a love story.

The main bulk of the story, though, is his ongoing dealings with a Madame, who he calls very early in the story, demanding a virgin.  She finds him a 14-year-old, and he travels to his brothel to meet the girl.

Okay.  <insert sound of needle scratching across a record> Say What??!

Yeah.  A 90-year-old guy buys himself a 14-year-old.  I’m kind of grossed out.

I’ll totally admit that when I got to that part I was willing to shut the book and not come back to it.  But the book never stirred much of a controversy, and this is the same author that wrote 100 Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, among others.  So I decided to stick it out since it’s short.  (It’s only a novella.)  The first night with the girl, he ends up watching her sleep (naked) and leaves his money on the pillow for her anyway, because he wants her to have it.

So, let’s just say you shouldn’t read this book in the break room at work.

The rest of the story is fairly simple.  There’s some stuff about his family – mostly his mother – and the old family homestead.  There’s a little bit about his long career as a newspaper columnist, but mostly modern stuff about his column.

It’s short.  (Around 25k by my estimate)

It’s quite simple and ridiculously complex at the same time.

I think it’s worth a read, but I’ll warn you that you’ll feel weird after reading it.  Let it marinate for a couple days.  4/5.

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Book 5/52.

This book satisfies the Not Originally In English
component of the challenge…

Book Review – Green Angel

TITLE: Green Angel
AUTHOR: Alice Hoffman
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 2003

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Green Angel is a novella (or maybe even novelette) about a teenager named Green.  Her parents and sister set off to go to the market in the city and she gets left behind (because somebody has to).  Unfortunately, there’s a fire in the city, and almost nobody gets out alive.

The family of four becomes a sad, lonely teenager.  This book is about her dealing with her grief and continuing on as a human being.

So right off the bat, several things stand out.  First, while it is Green telling her story, it feels like we’re hearing it in her head.  There’s no dialogue, really, and in this case, that really works.  You feel one with the main character fairly quickly.  Second, the time frame.

I don’t have any idea whatsoever what time frame this story is supposed to be in.  The family carts vegetables off to market.  There are silversmiths.  But there is also a mention of the great traffic outside, which is a modern word that stands out (whether meant to or not).  I couldn’t tell if this was supposed to be ages ago or a simpler time in the future or something else.  And on one hand, I really wanted to know, because I couldn’t figure it out on my own, but knowing or not knowing doesn’t affect the enjoyability of the story.

I liked it though.  I thought it was really unique from everything I’ve read, and I totally enjoyed reading it.  The imagery from Green was just incredible, and I’m really sorry that I couldn’t see pictures of some of these things.  (From the cover artist – omg.)

Easy 5/5, for sure.

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This satisfies the Book I Can Read In A Day portion of the challenge.

4(I think)/52 books completed

Book Review – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

TITLE: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
AUHTOR: L. Frank Baum
FORMAT: EBook
PUBLISHED ORIGINALLY: 1900
THIS VERSION: 2000+ (exact year unknown)

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The baby took a nap, so I was finally able to finish this book.  I have to say, I had forgotten how many things were different between this and the movie, since it’s been so long since I read this the last time.  I’ve probably seen the movie 1000 times (daily for a year or so, 3D IMAX, television for years, etc), but this is only the third time I’ve read the book (and the first time was abridged when I was a kid).  I should also add for the sake of disclaimer that I’m not entirely sure that the copy I had wasn’t abridged, but it doesn’t specify either way in my copy, and I can’t find my print copy to verify (not that I checked that hard, but still).

For those somehow out of the know, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz centers around a young teenage girl named Dorothy who is caught in a cyclone and whisked – house and all – from Kansas to Oz, wherever that is.  She meets several witches, a scarecrow, a tin man, and a cowardly lion, and travels through several lands to get to the Emerald City to get the Great and Powerful Oz to grant several requests.

From the book to the movie, there are certainly some similarities – Dorothy drops a house on a witch in Munchkinland, for instance – but there are most certainly some differences as well – the slippers are silver (Red was for Technicolor), the part where the Wizard takes off in the balloon is only about 75% of the way through the book and not at the end, there are Winkies and all four witches and…  Look, at one point the Wicked Witch beats somebody with a switch so she can keep them as slaves.  This is definitely not the beloved children’s movie with Judy Garland where its all just a dream.

But I think it’s worth a read.  I’ll warn you that the language feels a little off, but that’s to be expected with a story that was written in 1900.  And some of the things that happens are just weird.  But there are some cool lands that don’t make it into the movie, and it’s nice to see a wrap-up of where all four characters go and not just Dorothy.

If you’re a fan of the movie, I think you should read this to know where it all began.  I’m going to give it a very cautious 4/5.

Also, a word of note.  There are a dozen Oz books that Baum himself wrote (and at least another dozen that other people wrote).  He only wrote sequels because the public begged him to and he actually hated all of them.  So read the first book, but don’t feel obligated to read the rest of them.

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This book satisfies the 100 years old + category.

2 books of 52 completed.

Book Review – Silver Needle Murder

TITLE: The Silver Needle Murder (Tea Shop Mystery #9)
AUTHOR: Laura Childs
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 2009

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The tea shop mysteries are a series of books that center around Theodosia Browning and her little tea shop in Charleston, SC.  She’s an amateur sleuth that just happens to be somewhere that gets her involved in a mystery at any given time.

In this one, a film festival is about to be held, and she’s catering something with sandwiches and pots of hot tea when the speaker gets murdered in front of everyone and the killer knocks Theodosia out of the way to use the dumb waiter as means of escape.  Thus, she’s involved.  Oh, and her friend-slash-employee gets knocked out in the kerfuffle.

The book is supposed to be a cosy mystery.  And it sort of is, but Laura Childs has a pretty extensive vocabulary and so the book isn’t the same easy reading as Sue Grafton’s ABCs or the Miniatures series I reviewed last year.  The resulting effect is sort of, um, obnoxious.  Everyone sounds pompous and a bit arrogant and as a reader, I just kept wondering when they could relax already and say something that didn’t leave them sounding like a snob.   Because education and vocabulary are fine and all, but when every character sounds like an Ivy League stereotype, you’re doing it wrong.

A couple other issues I had… I know these are tea mysteries, and thus the theme is going to be in everything, but I can’t imagine that *anyone* cares this much about tea.  Even Laura Childs.  A high society film festival is in town, let’s brew some tea.  The main detective in town (hello, it’s Charleston…there has to be more than one somewhere, but she only ever talks to the same one…) wants lunch, so he miraculously loves sipping fresh brewed tea and having finger sandwiches.  I live in a household with somebody who likes tea.  I can guarantee you that she’s never gone to a tea house.

Also, I know it’s nit-picky, but there are like a dozen food references and each one of them is some over-done seafood extravaganza.  I don’t even like to smell seafood, so every time they started talking about what was in the meal, I started skimming and not caring.  The meals in her “meager shop” were several courses and probably $15+ each and the most unappetizing drivel ever.  I will spare you the bad analogy I want to use here, but it was like food porn for the author’s sake and nothing else.

If Theodosia’s shop were real, I wouldn’t step foot in it.

So the story in this particular book is a little weak.

I mean, not a lot happens, but Theodosia keeps having conversations that don’t seem all that important to me, and there’s a whole not a lot revealed until the very end where she’s suddenly smarter than the police and figures it out.

When I started reading it, I wanted to give it a better rating, but as the book progressed, I kept getting annoyed with things.  So I’m going to end the review at a 3/5.  Worth a read when you’re in the mood for a cozy, but a lot of room for improvement to make this an awesome story.

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This book satisfies the MYSTERY
component of the reading challenge.

1 book down and 51 books to go…

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