The Savvy Bookworm

My Personal Book Review Site

Mozart’s Sister

Written By: Erika - Jul• 20•07


by Nancy Moser

This book is the story of Nannerl Mozart, the sister of famed composer, Wolfgang Mozart. Historically, very little is known about Nannerl, other than that she was his sister, and that although she herself was talented in music, she never got the chance that her younger brother had, simply because she was a woman.

This story is historical fiction. Much of it is historically accurate and gleaned together from family letters saved by the Mozart family. The fictional aspects brought into it fit right in, and I certainly cannot tell fact from fiction in this novel. I loved this book. It was very well told and I was drawn right in to Nannerl’s plight to be heard. I literally could not put this book down, with every page turn I hoped that her time would come soon. I found myself tearing up several times during this book as Nannerl and her parents gave up everything for the sake of young Wolfie. Nannerl even gave up her heart as a result of his unbecoming behavior towards the archbishop.

Well told, and full of historical information and insight into the Mozart family, I highly recommend this book for any fan of historical fiction, or for anyone who enjoys classical music.

Winter Birds

Written By: Erika - Jul• 19•07


by Jamie Langston Turner

This is one of those books that I didn’t even read the premise. I just picked it up at the library and checked it out. Sometimes I end up really sorry that I did that. In this case, I was glad of the end result.

This book is the story of an 80 year old woman and her internal journey to finish out her life. She is a bitter woman, still dealing with the betrayal of the one person who she thought she knew the best. She moves in with her nephew and his wife to finish out her life, assuming that they took her in only because of the promise of money at the end of her life.

When we first meet Aunt Sophie she is a recluse. She keeps to herself for the most part, and doesn’t even hardly talk. She stays in her room almost all the time, and measures time according to the re-runs that are on TV at the moment. She ventures out only when the rest of the house is empty and has a morbid curiosity in the funeral home across the street. It takes a long while, but eventually, Sophie opens up a bit to the people in her life and discovers that there’s more to the rest of her life than simply giving up and dying.

This book took so long to unfold. It took a very long time for Sophie to unfold herself and share all her thoughts with us, the reader, before anything actually happened. Overall, I did like the story. The story of redemption and starting over. And the truth that you’re never too old for a new beginning, I like that very much. For my preference though, I would have preferred a quicker pace. This book would be a great beach read, or something to read leisurely and casually over the course of time. It’s definitely not a rip-roaring adventure, and not one to just sit down and read in an afternoon. It takes a little bit of time to develop, but over time I did come to grow fond of Aunt Sophie and her family- and I loved her thoughts about her nephew. Her nephew seems to think he has the answer for everything, and she never lets on to him what she really thinks of some of the things he says. Getting into Aunt Sophie’s head provides a few laughs along the way.

Recommended with some time involved. Allow this one to digest a bit, and I think this one is also geared more towards women than men.

The Sparrow

Written By: Erika - Jul• 16•07


by Mary Doria Russell

This book was…different, I guess. I still haven’t completely decided if I enjoyed it or not.

The idea of the book is that life has been found elsewhere. In Alpha Centauri, to be exact. A group of friends discovers that intelligent life from another solar system sings, and so begins the adventure. A team is immediately organized to head out into space, determined to make contact with other sentient beings that God must have created. And the people organizing the mission and footing the bill are none other than the Society of Jesus- also known as the order of Jesuits.

This book is written in a very different style- we get to see the story unfold from two different timelines. One timeline is the one of the people on the mission- and prior to their mission. The other timeline is that of several years later, after one lone survivor returns to earth from the planet Rakhat. The timelines are woven together nicely for the most part, but I didn’t care for the blatant foreshadowing that would develop because of it.

I don’t know… I never really felt connected with many of the characters- they just felt underdeveloped to me. The dialogue seemed forced at time, and not really believable. What I would have liked is less build-up for the mission to Rakhat, and more of the actual mission. We spent half the book just building up to the historical mission, and then the mission itself was kind of downplayed. What I really wanted to know was what the alien creatures looked like, and we got a really poor description of them- of both of the species encountered.

I liked the concept of this book. Reading a Q&A with the author, what she was trying to do was feed off of the exploration of the Americas. What mistakes did the explorers make way back then, and in retrospect, would explorers learn from those mistakes. Since there was no place left on earth to explore, the exploration headed off-planet, and The Sparrow was the result. What I didn’t care for was the blatant blaming of God for the problems, and I also didn’t care for the portrayal of the Jesuits themselves. I found it difficult to believe the actions of many of the priests in the novel, and I think they were treated unfairly by the author. (And I’m not even Catholic!)

Evidently there is a sequel, where our survivor has to go back to the planet that haunts his every waking moment, and every single dream. Will I read it? I still don’t know the answer to that. The Sparrow kept me turning the page, but I really felt let down at the end, like it was incomplete. Perhaps the sequel will complete it? I’m unsure. I also understand that a movie is in the works…yikes to that. A graphic scene or two in the book will not translate well to the big screen I fear.

So this book is recommended with reservations. It’s kind of science fiction, definitely not Christian fiction, but does raise some theological questions… Certainly not recommended for the squeamish, but perhaps those with an open mind will enjoy it- it certainly has great reviews on Amazon!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Written By: Erika - Jul• 11•07

*This book review is a cross-post. I enjoyed it so much, and feel it so worth reading, that I am sharing it on both Tummy Treasure, and The Savvy Bookworm.

by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara has been making a few appearances on my reading list lately. This one is a bit different, as it is not fiction. Not in the least. This is the chronicle of one family’s attempt to eat local for the period of one year. Essentially, this book chronicles the way of like I so want to attempt, and as such, I loved it.

I grew up on Little House On The Prairie. I loved the books and would read them over and over. I can’t tell you how many times I would read an account of food life and think that I could do that. As an example, in Little House In The Big Woods the family slaughters and preserves a pig for winter. It’s a big deal, and as I finished reading Laura’s account of the process, I felt certain that I could do the same thing if needed-even at the age of 10. I have always felt this deep-seeded desire to return to rustic life and grow much of my family’s food and attempt raising our family’s meat. We’re still a long way off from doing just that, but for a few days I was able to live vicariously through Barbara Kingsolver and her family.

This book is so full of information, that it’s hard to know where to begin a proper review. I learned so much about organic farming and why we really should be buying local. I’m still not 100% convinced that eating local all the time is the best way to go, but I loved seeing it done. With young children who practically live on fruit, I don’t know how willing I would be to let go of our daily fruit ration- however out of season it may be. One of my favorite parts of this book was the argument against vegetarianism. Ms. Kingsolver actually used to be a vegetarian, and I have also considered it many times in the past. She clearly pointed out that we are designed to be a carnivorous species, and actually took us through the calendar year and proved that during the winter months we are designed to sustain on carbohydrates and proteins from animal products. I do agree with her wholeheartedly about sourcing meat as local as possible. If we lived in the country, you can bet that before I even finished this book I would have been out back building a chicken coop and ordering some chicks. Our family has taken almost exclusively to buying meat from a local butcher who gets all their meat products locally. The only exception is fish- and since we live in the Midwest, fresh fish is hard to come by.

This book was entertaining and informative the whole way through. As I’m reading their daily accounts with the massive garden, I kept heading out to my tiny garden plots, wondering how I could squeeze more into my tiny space. I found out that I am not insane to want to grow all I can and “put it by” for winter times. In fact, yesterday as I finished up the book, I promptly headed into the kitchen and put up three quarts of pickles. It may not be very much, but those cucumbers fresh from my garden will be a welcome addition to my Thanksgiving table. Provided they make it that long. While we are thoroughly enjoying every morsel that comes out of my garden, I am inspired by Animal, Vegetable, Miracle to try and save every scrap I can for leaner months ahead. At the end of harvest, as Barbara talked about the shelves lined with jars of tomatoes and bushels of root vegetables, I want my pantry to look the same.

And I learned about potatoes. Every year I consider buying a big 50# bag of potatoes from local farmers, and I always figure that we’d never eat them all before they spoil. After all, there are plenty of times where a 5# bag doesn’t make it before the potatoes begins sprouting an shriveling. I learned in this book that I should buy the local potatoes in the fall and that they will likely survive until March or so without rotting from the inside out. Potatoes have a natural life cycle that permits them to sit in a root cellar for months without sprouting. When we buy potatoes in the grocery store and they begin sprouting shorty thereafter, that means that the potatoes are at the end of their life cycle and were easily pulled from the ground some 6 months ago in another climate. I never knew that! You can bet that I will be on the prowl for some bushel baskets to tuck in my larder and that those jumbo bags of potatoes at the farmer’s market will be making their way into them this fall.

Same thing with onions! I always have onions go bad on me in my pantry- and this of course affects the rest of the onions. By purchasing onions at the farmer’s market in the fall, I am ensuring that my onions will make it to early spring still intact.

I could go on and on about this book and all that I learned from it. Yes, there were some things that I don’t particularly agree with in the book, but those were few and far between. Mostly I learned that it is entirely possible to do what I want to do, and do it in a way that doesn’t leave us feeling deprived. The Kingsolver family ate well the entire year- they did not starve come the end of winter. Instead they looked ahead at what was to come, and they continue to eat locally as much as possible. You can see some of their progress and see some great pictures at their website www.animalvegetablemiracle.com. You definitely need to check out their turkeys. The turkeys get a few special sections of this book and I love that they give us a picture of them on their website- they are gorgeous birds.

So overall, read this book. It is an excellent book about sourcing food locally, and the many reasons for doing so. I know I will be going back to it time and time again to re-read a section here and there. Right now I’m thinking about sourcing some heirloom seeds for next year’s vegetable garden. We’ll see how I do.

Friendship Cake

Written By: Erika - Jul• 10•07


by Lynne Hinton

I really wanted to like this book. The premise was based around friendship and love- and it had the potential to be a great book about female bonding and friendship. (I was thinking along the lines of Ya-Ya Sisterhood.) And while it tried really hard to be just that…it really fell short. We would be introduced to a character and get a glimpse of their life, just enough that we start to get drawn in and care, and then the point of view changes to someone else, and we are left wanting. The relationships amongst our group of women seem forced and contrived and really unreal. I felt like I was reading about women who were forced to pretend to get along like children. The storyline was also pretty incomplete- the tone would change so abruptly and then move on to someone else…problems appeared out of nowhere, and there was never much of a sense of closure to each problem. The problems would tidy themselves up, but there was never any real closure.

I guess what I’m saying is that this book is completely forgettable. In fact, I had forgotten about it and had to check my reading history at the library to even remember what this book was called. I’m terribly disappointed because I liked the premise and I liked the foundation of characters, there just wasn’t any depth. Had the author written twice as much and filled in all the blanks it might have been a great book to read. Recipes included, I have to admit that not a single one called to me, and I have to wonder if they are even real recipes because the quantities of ingredients seemed way off to me at times. So do yourself a favor and pass by this book if you see it… it’s not worth the few hours you will waste reading it.

Follow The Stars Home

Written By: Erika - Jul• 09•07


by LuAnne Rice

After reading one novel by LuAnne Rice that I enjoyed, I thought I’d give another one a shot. This was the book I’d been interested in after all, as it was a TV Movie starring Kimberly Williams, and I’d caught most of it one night while home alone. I wanted to know how the story ended, and determined I’d pick up the book.

First off, the TV movie very accurately portrayed the book. I found myself following along and remembering what came next up to a certain point. Whether or not the movie was faithful to the end…I have no idea. But the story did end with a satisfying conclusion and I was happy to have the story ended for me.

Now my beef with the book. Apparently when you’ve read one book by LuAnne Rice you’ve read them all. Since I was already familiar with her writing style, I found myself predicting the bulk of it ahead of time. I hate it when that happens. If I hadn’t wanted to know the ending so bad, I may very well have not finished this book. It was a nice story, but predictable. It had its heartwarming moments to be sure, but I don’t know if I’ll be reading many more of her novels- at least not anytime soon. If you’re looking for a light beach book or something to just pick up every once in a while, this is a great book for that.

Elm Creek Quilts, Etc.

Written By: Erika - Jul• 09•07


by Jennifer Chiaverini

Rather than post review after review about the books in the Elm Creek Quilts series, I thought I’d post one generic review about the series in general. I was wandering through the library looking for something light and fun for summer reading, and this series literally jumped off the shelf at me. I hesitated, as I am not a quilter, and was concerned about it being full of quilting jargon.

And it was…but presented in such a way that it didn’t take over and distract me from the stories at hand. My only problem with these books is that I literally know very little about quilting, and often they’ll be talking about a specific quilt block pattern, and I’ll have no clue what they are talking about. I really wish the books would come with a small section of quilt diagrams to show me what they are talking about. Overall though, the stories are what shine.

Jennifer Chiaverini is an excellent storyteller. I was drawn right into each of her books that I’ve read, and I’m looking forward to reading more. What I really love about what she writes is that each book in the series is completely different from the others. The group of people who are the focus in book 2 are not the same group of people who are the focus in book 3- but we still get interaction from the book 2 cast. They are really expertly woven together. And of course, these books really make me want to learn quilting- which I’d already had a mild interest in, but I have determined that this coming winter I intend to learn some basic quilting techniques.

The focus of the books is a retreat called Elm Creek where people can escape for a week to quilt camp and learn quilting- whether they are beginner or advanced quilters. There’s such a camaraderie that develops among the quilters that it certainly makes me wish there really was an Elm Creek Quilt Camp to get away to for just a week. (Of course, I’m certain there are such places, but I want to go to the fictional one.) I will definitely recommend these books to anyone looking for a fun light read that still has some depth and character to it. And no doubt, a seasoned quilter will also enjoy all the quilting details woven into the stories.

Hungry Planet:What The World Eats

Written By: Erika - Jul• 09•07


by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio

It isn’t very often that I pick up non-fiction to read. Other than cookbooks of course. A few weeks ago though, a national magazine brought to light a few excerpts from this book and I had to read the whole thing. I checked it out at the library and literally could not put this book down. It was so incredibly moving and truly amazing.

The premise of Hungry Planet is that families from around the world are photographed with a week’s worth of groceries. Included with the photos is a detailed list of what the family eats on average, and how much it costs them. It was very eye opening to see how the rest of the world eats. Most notable were the families from the poor nations- refugees from Chad immediately come to mind. They were photographed with the most meager amount of food, and that was a feat to them. The essays that accompanied talked about daily life as a refugee and the massive amount of work that goes into feeding a family every day.

Equally stunning is the photos of the families in the more developed nations. It’s astounding to see how American eating is having an effect the world over in the form of processed food. Nearly every photo in this book contained some form of Coca-Cola. It’s incredibly sad to me to see that the more money a country and family has, the more they spend on processed food.

By far my favorite essay in this book is the one on the family from Okinawa. With the longest life expectancy in the world, Okinawa is a culture to pay attention to. They eat very little meat- instead indulging daily in fresh fruits, vegetables, and seafood that comes from the surrounding waters. Okinawans also have a saying- Hara hachi bu, which means “eat only until 80 percent full.” What a great philosophy to have, in my opinion. We live in a country full of all-you-can-eat buffets and supersizes, imagine how much more healthy we would be as a country if we ate only until 80% full.

Overall, this book has had me thinking a lot about the food we eat. It makes me embarrassed to throw food in the garbage, when there are so many people worldwide who would be thrilled with my scraps. It’s eye-opening, and sometime this fall, I intend to do my own grocery experiments and see what a week’s worth of groceries looks like all spread out. I bet it will be embarrassing to myself to see how much food we go through. I highly, highly recommend Hungry Planet, and even though I got my copy from the library, a copy will be making it’s way to my bookshelf soon to serve as a reminder to be more conscious of what we eat.

The Poisonwood Bible

Written By: Erika - May• 23•07


It’s been far too long since I updated. I have a pile of books that I’ve read, but not reviewed, so in the next day or two I’m going to try and update all of them.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

This was another excellent book by Ms. Kingsolver. I have to admit that it took me a while to get used to her style of changing up the point of view for each chapter. This books she’s really done it well, giving us the perspective of a group of four children- ranging in age from six to sixteen, as well as adults. And it works fantastically to give us this story.

The Poisonwood Bible is the story of a missionary and his family. Set on 1960 the family embarks on a quest to save the people of The Congo. They were told not to go, their church withdrew their support, but Nathan Price has determined that it is God’s calling that they go anyway. The story that ensues is both endearing and tragic. An Evangelical Baptist preacher, Nathan immediately chastises the native people for nakedness, and declares that they must all be baptized to be saved. What Nathan doesn’t know is that a tragic accident involving crocodiles in the river and the village children has everyone afraid of the water. Animosity ensues, and Nathan and his family of four daughters and wife struggle to live in The Congo amongst the people. With no way out, can they survive?

I enjoyed this book immensely, despite disagreeing with much of it. I understood the point being made about Fanatical Christians forcing their beliefs on others, but I don’t think that most missionaries or Christians, for that matter are that fanatical about their beliefs. I found the characters of Mrs. Price and her daughters Rachel, Adah, Leah, and Ruth May to be all very believable. And I also took something away from this book. I learned a lot about the rustics in Africa, who I imagine still live quite similarly to The Congolese in the 1960’s. Of particular poignancy to me was the part where an African man was standing in a grocery store in Georgia, just staring at all the Shampoos. And he makes a comment along the lines of “do Americans really need all this?” It broke my heart. To think that in our country we can sit and spend hours pouring over all the bottles of Shampoo in an aisle to find just the right one. Meanwhile there are people in Africa who have never even seen a bottle of shampoo. We have dozens of kinds of toothpaste to choose from, but many African children are losing teeth before the age of twelve because they have no dental hygiene and spend their days sucking on sugar cane.

This book just added to an already increased awareness of how much we have, and I loved this book for that. It was a great story, and while I wish the missionary had been portrayed in a better light, overall, I can highly recommend it.

The Yellow Wallpaper

Written By: Erika - Apr• 23•07


by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This was actually a short story- and part of a collection. And I have to say, it was one of those pieces that really reflects how an author feels. The Yellow Wallpaper itself was the story of a young wife who is sent to a country home for some “rest.” In this home, in her bedroom, is this yellow wallpaper that she becomes obsessed with. It becomes her metaphor. She feels other women in the wallpaper- trapped behind yellowish lines. She understands how the women in the wallpaper feel, and she wants to help them out. The descent into madness is very believable and well-done.

The other short stories in this book also captured my attention, and I found them to be fascinating pieces from an era gone by. I imagine many women back then felt just as Charlotte Perkins Gilman did, and I imagine there are still women today who feel trapped in a situation, and would identify wholly with Gilman’s writings. Do I agree with her? Not a chance. I am thrilled with my “station” as a housewife and mother. I don’t feel the need to do more- and I certainly don’t feel trapped. But I do know it’s not for everyone. Even though I do not agree with Ms. Gilman’s assessment on wife and motherhood, her writing is fascinating. She captures such emotion in inanimate objects- like the wallpaper. I would likely read more by her if I could find it at my library.

Prodigal Summer

Written By: Erika - Mar• 29•07


by Barbara Kingsolver

I picked up this book at the library because I was actually looking for a different book by Barbara Kingsolver, and they didn’t have it, so I chose a different one. I had no idea what this was about, but it didn’t take long to get sucked right in.

This book is actually three woven into one. There are three separate characters who tell different stories. They all live in the same area, but they don’t really interact with each other, so they are really three separate stories. We first met Deanna Wolfe, a nature biologist who is basically a mountain woman. She lives alone in a very rustic cabin, and devotes her life to maintaining the forest around her. When we meet her, she is hot on the trail of something very exciting- she has discovered a pack of coyote, which are not native to the area, and she is very excited to study them further. While out tracking, Deanna meets Eddie Bondo, a coyote hunter from Wyoming, and it doesn’t take long for a strange romance to ensue.

The second character we meet is Lusa. Lusa is a young wife who finds herself widowed shortly before her first wedding anniversary. She is now a farmer, with no idea what she is doing, and her husbands family of five sisters is not making life easy for her. She grapples with the decision as to whether she should stay on her deceased husbands farm and try to save it, or should she run, and go back to the life she knew before. The journey on the way to the decision is full of surprises.

And the third character is a grumpy old man named Garnett Walker. We discover that Garnett thinks he has an enemy in his elderly neighbor Nannie. Nannie is an organic farmer, and Garnett is not. Nannie is constantly after Garnett to stop using his pesticides and his herbicides, and the struggle between the two is rather humorous. We find that Garnett is on the forgetful side, but has devoted his remaining time to breeding chestnut trees. The demise of the great chestnut to the blight so many years ago is constantly on his mind, and it is his dream to develop a generation of chestnut that is resistant to the blight.

All three stories interweave to tell a much grander story about conserving the earth. The message is pretty blatant, but the stories were engaging, and I particularly enjoyed the story of Lusa. And while I also enjoyed the stories of the other two people, I found Deanna’s story to be a bit disturbing. Deanna’s story is, quite frankly, the romance portion of the novel. Some of the details could have been done without, in my opinion. And while Deanna did contribute to the other two portions of the novel, I just felt some of the “details” a little un-necessary, and just not to my liking. But that is my preference, of course.

After I finished reading this book I felt a serious urge to move to an Appalachian valley and try my hand at organic gardening, and goat raising. The message contained within the stories was received loud and clear, and I suppose it did have some effect since I would like to learn more about the science behind organic gardening. I already garden, to some extent, but don’t use chemicals, so technically, it is organic gardening, but I would like to learn more about which plants grow well together, and what kind of bugs are good for certain plants, that type of thing.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel, and I will not turn down another opportunity to read Barbara Kingsolver, and I recommend it with reservations. If adult situations bother you, this book is not for you. But if you can get past them with no problems, I think this book is worth reading.

Table For Five

Written By: Erika - Mar• 25•07


by Susan Wiggs

As this book begins, we are introduced to Lily, a schoolteacher about to have a tough parent-teacher conference with her best friend, Crystal,and Crystal’s ex-husband, Derek. In this brief introduction we discover that Lily is a very dedicated teacher, but still tries to keep the line that keeps her from becoming too involved in her students lives. The meeting doesn’t go very well, and the fighting couple leave without any resolution. After leaving the meeting, Crystal and Derek meet a tragic end, and suddenly there are three children left without parents.

Enter Uncle Sean. Sean is a single bachelor golf-player who is living the single life to the fullest. Sean becomes single dad overnight, and resigns to put his career as a PGA golfer on hold for his nieces and nephew.

Lily has been in these children’s lives since they were born, and decides to help Sean in whatever way possible, despite having doubts in his parenting ability. As this motley group of people move along in the grieving process, we begin to see hope and life after tragedy begin to unfold. The story concludes in predictable fashion, but shows that even amidst death, love can triumph.

As a Mom, this story was heart wrenching. The grief of the children at losing two parents was very well-done and realistic. I found myself full of tears at more than one occasion, and often found it difficult to continue reading. Continue I did, and I was rewarded for my efforts. While this book was overwhelmingly predictable, the characters were very well done and I found myself engrossed in their intertwined lives. This book accurately portrayed the grieving process, and it was engaging to see how each character dealt with it in a different way.

I definitely recommend this novel if you’re in the mood for a good cry. I was moved to tears several times throughout the book and couldn’t put it down until it was finished. Definitely read with a box of tissue nearby, but overall it was a very satisfying read, and I would love to see another book that furthers the story of this little family.