Katie's Reviews




Katie's SRP Reviews

(all ratings out of 5)





Review #1: Back on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber

Finished: June 2
Genre: Women's fiction
Pages: 393
Rating: 3.8
This is the third* in Macomber's series about a yarn store in an idyllic place called Blossom St.  I actually liked it better than the second.  Each book rotates in perspective between Lydia, the shop owner, and a few of the students in her current knitting class.  (The pattern being used in the class is included, too.  I knit the baby blanket from the first book; it was quite nice, if a bit boring.)  Each woman is generally facing some sort of family or life crisis, and knitting brings them together across their disparate backgrounds.  There are definitely Issues with a capital I, and some are resolved pretty heavyhandedly - there are definitely Lessons Macomber is trying to impart to her readers.  And it's all a bit saccharine.  If you can get past that, though, they're enjoyable in a Hallmark TV movie sort of way.  Plus, there's knitting.  That helps.
* Or maybe the fourth?  Before this one came one called Susannah's Garden, about another shop on Blossom St., not the yarn store.  I'm not sure whether it's considered one of the series.


Review #2: Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language by Seth Lerer

Finished: June 5
Genre: Linguistics, history
Pages: 305
Rating: 4.5

This fascinating book provides an overview of the history of the English language, focusing on the way it changed over time and what caused these changes.  It starts with Caedmon's Hymn (7th century) and goes up through e-mail and the Iraq war.  Along the way, it touches on the Norman conquest, the Great Vowel Shift, attempts at standardization and dictionary-making, and authors from Chaucer to Shakespeare to Twain to Dickinson.  I have to admit that I found the earliest parts of the book to be the most interesting (and I really want to learn Old English now), but that is likely due to my own interests and has nothing to do with the book itself.  Lerer explains things remarkably clearly, and at times I was shocked at how much of his sometimes technical explanations I (with no formal linguistics training) could understand.  I did have some trouble "hearing" some of the things he was trying to explain about pronounciation, but I don't think that took much away from my enjoyment of the book.  My one caveat in recommending it is that I sometimes found myself having trouble keeping track of where he was when I tried to read too much of the book at a time; his chapters stand alone nicely, so make sure you take lots of breaks to process and mull over the wealth of information Lerer provides.


Review #3: Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer

Finished: June 8

Genre: Science fiction

Pages: 334

Rating: 3.6

An alien arrives at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and asks to speak with a paleontologist.  That paleontologist happens to be dying of lung cancer.  They become friends and share information and argue about the existence of God.  For about 200 pages.  And then, finally, something sort of happens.  And then something big seems like it's happening, but then it doesn't.  But at that point I didn't really care, because Sawyer had been telling me, not showing me, about these characters and ideas for 300 pages and I was sick of it.  And I ended up being really disappointed, because it seemed like this book had a lot of potential; it kept being on the verge of being really good, but then it wasn't.  Which was worse than if it had just been mediocre.  And then the paleontologist makes a decision that infuriated me, so at that point I sort of just wanted him to die.  And even though I was pretty annoyed at the whole thing by  the end, the last chapter still almost made me cry.  Which just made me hate the whole thing.  So, basically, this book had me on an emotional rollercoaster, but not at all in the way the author intended.  Don't bother.


Review #4: Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - And Doesn't by Stephen Prothero

Finished: June 11

Genre: Religion, current events

Pages: 296

Rating: 4

Prothero, a religious studies professor at BU, argues that Americans need to be more "literate" about religion in order to understand cultural references as well as current national and world events.  Among other things, he believes that students should learn about the Bible and world religions in public school.  His argument is pretty convincing, but I think in his zeal he underestimates how difficult it would be to enforce that teachers taught about religions without arguing for or against them.  He certainly made me want to learn more about various religions, though.  I thought the most interesting part of the book was the short history he provides of religion in American public life in general and in public education in particular.  After his argument, Prothero provides a "dictionary of religious literacy" - almost 100 pages of terms, definitions, and explanations.  He says that he concentrated on those concepts that have played a large role in recent political and other events, but it still seemed odd that he didn't even mention Wicca or other pagan religions.  You'd think that would at least come up in Harry Potter/witchcraft/censorship discussions.  Prothero could have used a better editor - I found a bunch of typos, and at least two different dates given for the Westminster Confession.  And the subtitle bothered me, because it sounds like the "doesn't" means "doesn't need to know" rather than "doesn't know."  Overall, though, it was a thought-provoking read.


Review #5: Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Finished: June 14

Genre: Literature

Pages: 455

Rating: 4.2

I have a love-hate relationship with Jodi Picoult.  I really like her characters and some of the situations she creates, but at the same time, she drives me crazy.  Especially her endings.  This time, she addresses the causes and effects of school violence by looking at it from the viewpoints of the shooter himself, his parents, local lawyers (one of whom was a character in Salem Falls as well), cops, and judges, and affected classmates (one of whom happens to be the judge's daughter).  As usual, I got pretty attached to some of the characters, and had trouble putting the book down during certain sections.  And, actually, the ending wasn't anywhere near as dumb as the ending of, say, My Sister's Keeper.  (I have to confess that I peeked ahead at the ending, so I'd be prepared if it were as awful as some of her others.)  My main problem with this book was a few big factual errors.  Glaring.  In a scene set in 1990, a character refers to Elaine Chao as the head of the Dept. of Labor.  Chao is the Secretary of Labor NOW (since 2001), not 17 years ago.  And in a scene set in 1995, Jeanne Shaheen appears as the governor of NH.  Shaheen was elected in 1996 and didn't actually become governor until 1997.  Other than that, though, it was a pretty good read, even if the explanations it provided were a bit facile at times.


Review #6: The Fortune Quilt by Lani Diane Rich

Finished: June 15

Genre: Chick lit

Pages: 262

Rating: 4.6

Frankly, the synopsis of this book didn't grab me: a television producer does a story on a psychic quiltmaker and is given a quilt with psychic reading, and then her life falls apart and she blames the quilt.  So she goes back to the quiltmaker and ends up living for a while in the eccentric small town where the quiltmaker lives.  And then elements of her old life resurface and she has to decide how or whether to combine her lives.  It sounded pretty formulaic and gimmicky, what with the psychic quilt and all.  It ended up being much much better than I'd expected, though.  The main character is sufficiently flawed as to be likeable, and the situations in which she finds herself are a bit weird but not ridiculously extreme.  And her struggle to decide what she wanted in her life was exactly what I was in the mood to read about.  There's a large cast of interesting (if wacky) secondary characters and believable personal growth in several areas.  It's definitely a feel-good read, and I will be looking for more by this author.


Review #7: You Know You Love Me by Cecily von Ziegesar

Finished: June 18

Genre: Young adult

Pages: 227

Rating: 3.6

This is the second book in the Gossip Girl series, which I started reading because there's a TV show of it (with Kristen Bell) starting in the fall.  They're complete trash, but fun and addictive.  Total candy.  Cotton candy, actually.  Very little substance.  The characters in this series are superrich teens at snobby private schools in Manhattan.  They spend lots of time shopping, drinking, and smoking pot in Central Park.  They all have Issues, of course - family stuff, eating disorders, etc.  But these are just touched on, not explored in any deep fashion.  Much of this second volume revolves around college visits and applications.  Some of the characters are pretty awful, but most have redeeming qualities of some sort.  Give this series a try if you want a quick, mindless summer read.


Review #8: Looking for Alaska by John Green

Finished: June 21

Genre: Young adult

Pages: 221

Rating: 4.5

This novel has been much-discussed in YA circles, and it was one of those books I almost didn't want to read because I was afraid it wouldn't be as good as everyone said it was.  And... it wasn't, honestly.  It wasn't the Best Book Ever.  But it was extremely good.  It tells the story of a somewhat pretentious loner who goes to boarding school and meets, among other people, a unique, captivating girl named Alaska.  The book revolves around a tragedy that occurs in the middle of the story, and I could tell what was coming practically from the beginning, but I don't think that really ruined anything.  This story is more about how the characters react to events than it is about the events themselves.  The pretentious tone annoyed me until I realized that it fit with the characters perfectly.  The book may have been taking itself way too seriously, but the fact that the main characters took themselves way too seriously made this okay.  I'm planning to read another book by Green soon, so we'll see if the tone really belongs to him or the characters.


Review #9: Anyone But You by Lara M. Zeises

Finished: June 22

Genre: Young adult

Pages: 245

Rating: 4.7

I picked this up somewhat randomly from a display at the YA section of my local library, and I was very pleasantly surprised.  It was great.  It's about teenage almost-stepsiblings (Seattle's dad dated Critter's mom and then disappeared, leaving her with the ex-girlfriend) and what happens to them over the beginning of a summer.  Seattle* and Critter have always been best friends, but suddenly they're growing up and things get weird.  They each start dating someone the other hates, but what's really behind the hatred?  How do they really feel about each other?  And then Seattle's dad comes back, and things get really complicated.  The chapters alternate between the two characters, and Zeises does a very good job of making these voices different from each other but both believable.  Seattle uses a bunch of skateboarding technology I didn't understand, but that didn't really take much away from the book as a whole.  The romantic in me sort of wanted a more idealized ending, but the actual conclusion of the novel is just how it should be, I think.

I was already pretty impressed, but a few hours after finishing the book, I suddenly realized that at one point, Critter watches Clueless and then has a dream in which his girlfriend sort of becomes Alicia Silverstone but with elements of Seattle.  This little detail seems very telling, as Clueless ends with Alicia Silverstone's character getting together with her almost-stepbrother.  The whole thing is very subtle, but it would be too coincidental - Zeises must have done it on purpose.  And this made me hopeful about Critter and Seattle's future.  Because, as we've established, I'm a hopeless romantic.  But anyway.  Read this book.

* What's with the weird place name thing in the books I'm reading?  Alaska, now Seattle...

** Confession: because I'm a dork, there was an intermediary step in this revelation.  Critter/Seattle actually reminded me of Knightley/Emma, and then I realized the Clueless thing after that.


Review #10: Family Tree by Barbara Delinsky

Finished: June 29

Genre: Women's fiction

Pages: 358

Rating: 3.7

I read this book while home sick, and it was perfect for that sort of thing.  Completely mindless, pretty bad writing, iffy characterization, but a page-turner.  It's about a white couple who gives birth to a baby who looks African-American, and what they go through between themselves and with their families and communities.  I have a feeling it was supposed to make me think about lots of Important Issues, but it really didn't, since it all seemed so bloody obvious.  And the big shocking reveal at the end?  It was exactly what I thought was going to happen.  Basically, the whole time I was reading the book, I was thinking "this is really pretty awful," but I couldn't put it down.


Review #11: On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl's Guide to Personal Finance by Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar

Finished: July 4

Genre: Personal finance

Pages: 191

Rating: 4.6

I've been wanting to become more educated and informed in regards to money matters, and a few friends recommended this book, so I thought I'd give it a try.  It was great.  It managed to explain things on a basic level without sounding patronizing, and it had a very good balance of information and advice.  It covered a wide variety of topics, from budgeting to retirement savings to investing to getting out of debt to buying a house.  I'm not going to necessarily follow all of their advice word for word, but it was definitely helpful.  Based on this book, I was able to make a plan for how I will save to buy a new car in the next few years.  I got this from the library, but I'm planning to buy a copy eventually so I will have it for future reference.


Review #12: All I Want Is Everything by Cecily von Ziegesar

Finished: July 4

Genre: Young adult

Pages: 215

Rating: 3.6

This is the third in the Gossip Girl series, and there's not much to say that I didn't say in Review #7 above.  The books are fun, but I thought some of the characters were more annoying in this book than the last.  I will keep reading them, but they're not necessarily a priority.


Review #13: I Heard That Song Before by Mary Higgins Clark

Finished: July 8

Genre: Mystery, psychological suspense

Pages: 318

Rating: 3.7

I read lots of Mary Higgins Clark in middle and high school, so I was curious to pick up one of her new ones and see what I thought now.  I didn't like it as much as I had liked them then, but I'm not sure whether her books have gotten worse or my tastes have changed, or both.  This was enjoyable, but I didn't think it was as thrilling or clever as I remember thinking her older books were, but that is likely because I've read so many more adult mysteries now than I had then.  This one is about a librarian who marries a rich recluse whose family her father used to work for.  He was a "person of interest" in the disappearance of a friend long ago and in the death of his first wife a few years ago, and these cases are reopened around the time of his new marriage.  The main character, whose name I have apparently forgotten in the month since I read this, has to decide whether to trust her husband and how to protect herself, as the killer is almost certainly someone in her husband's family or employ.  There were lots of twists and turns, some more interesting than others, and I kept thinking it was about to become Rebecca, but it never did, quite.  It was enjoyable enough, and made me want to read some of the books I missed in the 8-10 years since I stopped reading Clark regularly.


Review #14: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Finished: July 21

Genre: Young adult, fantasy

Pages: 759

Rating: 4.8

No spoilers here!  I'll just say I loved it.


Review #15: One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding by Rebecca Mead

Finished: August 5

Genre: Sociology

Pages: 245

Rating: 4.5

This was a fascinating exploration of the business side of weddings.  Mead talked to wedding planners, photographers, ministers, travel agents, and many brides; she went to a wedding dress factory in China, various wedding business conventions, and wedding-oriented resorts in Aruba and Jamaica.  Her main point was to show the way that the wedding industry has shaped the perception of what is "traditional" or even "necessary" for American weddings, and to explore what this says about American culture in general.  To some extent, she is trying to find out what weddings really "mean" now that they often don't mean the start of living together, having sex, etc.; she concludes that a lot of the consumerism associated with modern weddings serves as a substitute for meaning.  Mead has a somewhat holier-than-thou attitude which is finally explained in the epilogue, when she mentions that she herself got married halfway through writing this book.  (Personally, I would have liked to have had that information in the beginning.)  I'd definitely recommend this to anyone who is getting married, participating in a wedding, or just interested in weddings or social history.