Top Of My Head

Thoughts on everything from Politics to Video Games

Category: Book Reviews

Cold Sassy Tree

There are times when you read a book so touching that it stays with you long after you close the back cover. Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns is one of those books. I checked the Cold Sassy Tree audiofile out of my local library. Listening to Tom Parker (aka Grover Gardner, who read Mark Twain’s autobiography) I was mesmerized.

Mr. Parker’s voice carries to to Cold Sassy in July, 1906.  The voice may be Mr. Parker’s, but the story belongs to 14 year old Will Tweedy.  As the story begins, Grandpa Blakeslee has arrived at Will’s house with some news.  Everyone is worried about Grandpa Blakeslee, as it has just been 3 weeks since his wife, Mattie Lou, died.  Since he won’t let his daughter’s take care of him and he won’t hire anyone, he has an idea.  Grandpa intends to marry Miss Love Simpson – his store’s milliner and a Yankee to boot!  Needless to say, this causes a ruckus that drives the story all the way to the end.

This book will make you laugh and cry.  If you listen to the audiobook, you’ll be at the edge of your seat.  Mr. Parker’s voice is perfect for a story that takes place in Georgia in 1906 and he lulls you along, believing that you know these people.  The story is well thought out and written by Olive Ann Burns.

It isn’t often that a book does this and I don’t say it lightly, but this book has renewed my faith in God and humanity.  It touched me that much.

Shadow of the Wind

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I read 435 words per minute with an 85% comprehension rate. This trait served me well in college when I needed to write a paper and left the research until the last minute. I could devour books and other research material in rapid time and leave myself plenty of time to write.

While reading Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, this trait was a detriment. I wanted to savior every word, every description, every page turn. I found myself both trying to find out what happens next and wanting to slow my reading to enjoy the journey.

Shadow of the Wind is rich with descriptions of Barcelona, Spain that you can almost taste the air as you turn the pages.  Every step you take with Daniel, the narrator of this lush adventure, you feel as if you’re truly there, seeing what he sees.  The story starts in 1945 with Daniel and his father visiting the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.  Inside the great library, Daniel adopts The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax.  The book so touches his sole that he goes in search of the author.  What he finds takes him on a journey of love, loss, life and death.  Each turn of the page takes you one small step closer to solving the mystery and just when you think you have it all figured out, Zafon throws in a curve you didn’t see coming.

When I finished reading Shadow of the Wind, I set out to purchase another Zafon book.  The author’s talent seems to have no bounds.  I highly recommend Shadow of the Wind.

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Book Review: The Chilli Queen

Last Thursday, having found myself in Milwaukee with two hours to kill and no idea how to kill them, I went to a Barnes & Noble to find a book to read.  I had been listening to Sandra Dallas’s “Buster Midnight’s Cafe”, so I figured I would find another one of her books to read.  I found The Chili Queen: A Novel and I could not put it down.  The slim novel – only 304 pages – is packed with humor, love and, truth be told, a little horror.

I should probably mention right up front that I’m not really into westerns and I usually don’t read books that go back in time any farther than the 1920’s.  But, The Chili Queen draws you in and makes you want to know what happens next.  The best is how Sandra separates the story from one person to the next.  There’s enough twists and turns to keep you hopping.  I’m usually pretty good at detecting the twists before they happen, but one twist at the end had me catching my breath.

If you like your mystery surrounded by a little humor, The Chili Queen will not disappoint you.

The Laceyville Monkeys, Say the Right Words

“Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That’s the old saying that my father taught me way back in the last century when I was a little girl. For the most part, my father was right. Words never hurt me physically, but whenever a harsh word was sent my way, pain would resonate longer. Words may never break your back, but they can break your spirit. This is the lesson I believe Harriett Ruderman wants children to learn in her book, The Laceyville Monkeys, Say the Right Words.

The Laceyville Monkeys are a trio of amazing monkeys that can sing, perform gymnastics and dance. However; if you don’t say the right words, the monkeys will not perform for any audience. With charming illustrations by Beverly Luria, Ruderman has created not only a world that will delight children, but passes on the very valuable lesson of choosing the right words. The rhyming tale is certain to delight children and parents alike.

Miss Hepzibath Mott arrives in Laceyville with her three monkeys; Eva – the ballerina, Sheva – the singer, and Keva – the gymnast. To begin their delightful performance, Miss Hepzibath Mott says the right (and kind) words. She wishes to enter the trio in the big talent contest, but Granny Scott has other plans. On the day of the contest, she sneaks the monkeys out of the house and enters them into the contest. However; Granny Scott has never learned the lesson of using the right words and the monkeys refuse to perform. Without giving too much away, you can be rest assured that your children will be enthralled with the wonderful ending.

The book’s colorful pictures and rhyming words will teach the lesson of kindness that will stay with your children long after the back cover is closed. In this day and age of harshness, perhaps a few adults could read the tale and learn the lesson as well.


The Hole In The Sky

The Hole in the Sky has on its cover an amazing piece of artwork. Created by Katherine Navarette, it is worthy enough to be framed and hung on the wall. When you open that beautiful cover, the front piece contains a map of Murantenland drawn by Joan Swan. The book includes two ribbons for marking your place, perfect for reading along with your child. The included ribbons will stop a reader from turning down the corners to mark their place – a personal pet peeve. When you read the copyright page, you learn that the book is made from mixed sources – well managed forests and recycled paper.

The presentation of the book from its beautiful cover to the map to the book mark ribbons would be a disappointment if the author, Barbara A. Mahler, had not written a story to warrant such an amazing presentation.

The Hole in the Sky is about 13-year old Kaela Neuleaf. She lives with her father, who is a rather sad man after the death of her mother. Kaela is your average teen. She has struggles in school, wondering where she belongs and she dreams of something magical happening to her. Kaela is not alone in her awkwardness; she has her cousin, Shawn, who wears glasses and gets picked on – a lot.

The magical appears to Kaela and Shawn in the form of Netri. Netri is from Murantenland and he helps them go through the hole in the sky. Kaela, it has been determined, is the red haired girl mentioned in the prophecy that will end it all.

The Hole in the Sky was written for 8 to 12 year olds. However, any parent would enjoy reading the book right along with his or her child. There are many themes of love and loss throughout the book that lend themselves to wonderful, thought-filled discussions with your child. The book made me wish I had a young daughter and we could read it together.

A bit slow in the beginning, the story soon picks up speed and carries the reader through an impressive ride through a beautiful new world. When the young reader comes to the end, she will have learned lessons about love and healing. The best part is that the story weaves the lessons in a manner that is not preachy. The Hole in the Sky is the first book in a trilogy. After closing the back cover, I was wishing the second book was available and I believe you will wish the same.


Happy Reading!

Book Review – Just Desserts by Carl Reiner

Before I start this review, I should take a moment to say that I love Carl Reiner. I grew up watching re-runs of the Dick Van Dyke Show. I loved his Alan Brady. I can see an episode and tell you, this one, Mr. Reiner wrote. This is the man who turned George Burns into God and Steve Martin into a Jerk. The man is a comedic genius and I am his biggest fan.

Being his biggest fan, I jumped at the chance to review his new book Just Desserts. Then, the book came and in the PR document that accompanies the book, I see this line: “Noland appeared as a successful novelist in Reiner’s NNNN: A Novel, in 2006.” Oh, no. Now what do I do? I didn’t like NNNN: A Novel. In fact, even though I was listening to the MP3 version read by the author, I stilldidn’t like it. It was the first and only thing Mr. Reiner ever did that I didn’t like.

What’s a reviewer to do? What’s Carl Reiner’s biggest fan to do?

Give Nat Noland – the lead character in NNNN: A Novel – a second chance.

I have to tell you, I’m glad I did.

The entire premise of Just Desserts is what happens if you email God and He emails you back? What if you offered Him suggestions and He took them and put them to good use? What happens is that you and God work together to create a brand new world in a thought provoking and funny manner. Or, is it?

Mr. Reiner has written a book that will provoke thought, a self-discussion of faith and the sound of laughter from any reader. The book, actually, the novellelah, is a very quick and delightful read. You might even find it a little pithy.

If you found NNNN: A Novel to be a good book or if you like a little humor with your religion, I suggest that you read Just Desserts. You’ll be glad you did.

God Bless and Happy reading.

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built: The New No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is the latest book in the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. I love this series and have ever since I read the first book when it came out years ago. This new book is no exception. The conversations between characters, the descriptions of Botswana bring you into the lives of Precious Ramotswe, her husband – Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni – and her assistant, Mma Makutsi. The book is a quick read and will draw you in until you feel like sitting down and having a cup of Red Bush Tea.
God Bless


Nothing Sacred

I’ve mentioned Lewis Black in a previous post – look in the archives and you’ll find it.

Anyway, I’m reading his book Nothing Sacred. I have to tell you, it is good. At places, it is really, really funny, but more importantly, it is thought provoking. For example, on pages 10 and 11, he writes about playing war as a child. He ends this little look into his childhood by saying:

“It should be noted at this time not one of us ever had an interest in real guns or ever bought one. Then when it came to raising kids, my generation didn’t allow them to play with guns. That’s when things took an abrupt turn for the worse. I certainly wouldn’t say there is a connection, but it is strange that only a few kids play out these war fantasies in their backyards and yet there seems to be more violence among them.”

It made me stop and think for a moment. We are, certainly a much more violent society now than we were in the fifties and sixties. I don’t remember such violence encroaching on my childhood in the seventies.

So, my point is that you should read this book. I started it today at lunch and I’m almost done. It is a very quick read. And, if any of my family or friends are reading, my birthday is coming up and I would very much like an autograph copy of it. That would be a really cool gift for me.

God Bless,

You’ve got to see this guy. He’s really funny! Take the time to check out Mr. Black’s video “Black on Broadway”.

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