Sunday, November 24, 2013

BookLook Review
“Carla Kelly’s Christmas Collection”

When author Carla Kelly moved to Utah we got another state treasure. She’s right up there with the Tabernacle Choir, Arches National Park, and the seagull.

She has written more than 40 books and has won many awards including two RITA awards from the Romance Writers of America for Best Regency of the Year.

When I asked Kelly why she wrote a collection of romance stories about Christmas she replied, “From ‘The Little Match Girl’ to Della in ‘A Gift of the Magi,' Christmas stories make the season for me. It's a privilege to write my own, because anything goes at Christmas.”

Her book titled “Carla Kelly’s Christmas Collection” contains four Regency romance stories that I absolutely loved. I’m not a romance novel reader so this was an unexpected pleasure. Each story has a Christmas theme and is just the right length for holiday reading with a cup of cocoa in front of a cozy fire.

The first story, “The Christmas Ornament”, begins in London in 1815 as two gentlemen plot to bring their adult children together in marriage. A socially awkward son who is too wrapped up in academics and an intelligent daughter who is too well-read to be considered a proper wife, are an entertaining pair.

“Make a Joyful Noise” reminds the reader that love conquers all as two people who have suffered greatly find love. Kelly shares her love of Welsh singers by weaving these musicians into the choir competition.

“An Object of Charity” brings the reader to the coast and the hardship of those who sail the seas. It is a story of families and forgiveness and of course romance.

In the opening scene of “The Three Kings”, the reader meets the English noblewoman Lady Sarah who has been caught in Spain by the French army. Her bravery and compassion make her a great character and a true romantic heroine.

This book is appropriate for all the ladies on your list from young adults to grandmas. Readers will enjoy talking about the stories and defending their favorite of the four.

Women love to get a book for Christmas because it gives us an excuse to postpone housework and ignore requests for meals saying, “I’m enjoying the Christmas book you gave me so much I just can’t put it down.”  Don’t ever give a self-help book to a woman for Christmas – it’s like a mop and a bucket. Give them a sweet, sentimental romance novel instead.

If you’d like to join me and purchase the majority of your Christmas gifts from local companies this year, go to the Cedar Fort outlet store on the west side of I15, at 2373 W. 700 S. Springville  Call (801) 489-4084 for hours and more information.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

New Springville Museum book is a work of art 

Springville Museum of Art: History and Collection Authors: Vern G. Swanson, Jessica R. Weiss, Ashlee Whitaker, and Nicole C. Romney

 It took several years and four authors to produce THE book about the Springville Museum of Art. There are more than 160 years of history and thousands of pieces of art in the permanent collection condensed down to 417 pages. It is a work of art and a tribute to those who wrote, designed and published it.

 The first 50 pages begin with a reminder that the art collection began many years before the building was constructed or the little town of Springville existed. “The first intimations of an Art Movement came in 1848, two years before Springville was founded.” Pioneer artist Philo Dibble came to Springville with a vision of creating an art gallery or museum.

 Quick quiz questions: What is the oldest visual fine arts museum in Utah? What was the Spanish Colonial style building before it was an art museum? Which painting and sculpture started the art collection?

 Quick quiz answers: I’m sure you got the first one correct – the Springville Museum of Art which was completed in 1937. The second question is a common query from visitors – it has always been an art museum. The answer to the last question is in the book. Okay, I’ll tell you – it’s Mountain Stream by John Hafen and the plaster statue Paul Revere by Cyrus Dallin.

 The majority of the volume focuses appropriately on the art and artists of the museum collection. Fascinating biographical information about Utah, American and Russian artists and descriptions of their selected art work surround large color reproductions. Some of the paintings will be recognized by museum visitors since they have hung on the walls in the upstairs galleries, or have been featured in recent shows. Due to the size of the collection, many art works are stored and rarely viewed. This volume allows readers to enjoy those seldom seen pieces.

 Some books were never meant to be downloaded. Some books were never meant to be viewed on a tiny palm-size screen. THE Springville Museum of Art book is a book to read, to turn the glossy pages and spend time with vivid art images reproduced from the collection. It is available for your Kindle, but I’d recommend purchasing a volume for your bookshelf. I suppose you could also download it for airplane travel.

 It’s a little early for Christmas shopping, but my dad will be getting one of these books for Christmas. He enjoyed painting and visiting museums until his health closed those doors recently. This will be a treasured gift he can enjoy for many years.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Booklook review: “Marriage 101 for Men: Why Taking Out the Trash is a Turn-On”

This catchy title makes “Marriage 101 for Men” a great addition to a wedding gift basket. I cello wrapped it with garbage bags, a whisk broom, dish soap and fabric softener.
Author Sherri Mills isn’t a marriage counselor or family therapist but she is a hairdresser. After listening to 40 years of women (and men) talk about their marriage problems while she cut and colored, Mills came to a startling conclusion.

“I discovered that men (including my husband) really have no idea the hardships women go through after working a job all day only to come home to another full-time job, one with no time off, no sick leave, and little or no appreciation, understanding, or respect.”

So she decided to write a book to help men with this problem. Of course, this could be a bit tricky since many married males aren’t too interested in reading a book that points out their faults, even if there are some great ideas they could use.

When I asked my married son to read the book and tell me what he thought he responded, “I’m not really interested in reading a self-help book – most guys aren’t.”

I tried my husband next. He just raised his eyebrows and turned to the next page of his Clive Cussler novel.

So how do you overcome this first obstacle? You buy the book, and read parts of it aloud. This can be done in the car when he is trapped, or just before bed. Some passages are sure-fire conversations starters.

Chapter one begins, “Let’s start with a blunt message that speaks directly to your interests. What you need and what your wife needs. How the two differ and how they can be achieved through the same action on your part. This book will give you the game plan for mastering that surprisingly elusive, permanent win-win solution for both you and your wife: great sex and a great life together.”

All women know that a man who helps cook dinner, wash dishes, and put children to bed has a better chance of igniting that romantic spark, than the guy who comes home from work and turns on the TV. This little book may help you communicate some of these facts to your clueless spouse.

I appreciated Mills including martial research information, actual stories from her clients and personal experiences. The Fair Marriage Contract comes with permission to photocopy and may be helpful to those who like it to be in writing, not just a verbal agreement. If you are a list maker, you will also want to copy the householder chore list at the end of the book 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Review of The Mounds Anomaly

THE MOUNDS ANOMALY      by Phyllis Gunderson

 BookLook review by Debbie Balzotti

I love anomalies don’t you? To save you having to look up anomaly let me just help you out with a definition as it applies to archaeology. It’s when someone finds something like an ancient cave that seems to contain Egyptian style artifacts in North America.

The main character in “The Mounds Anomaly” novel is an eccentric, sarcastic, middle-aged archaeology professor named Mathilda (Matt) Howard. She’s exactly like Indiana Jones – except for a few major differences. He’s good-looking and dashing and well, she’s not. They both share a devotion to ancient ruins and artifacts but while Indy travels to exotic international locations, Matt goes to farms, sheds and gullies in the USA. Dr. Jones never gets injured and saves the lives of his cohorts. Dr. Howard breaks her arm falling off a thirty-foot cliff in Illinois, and her ragged incision on a snake bite victim to do a suck and spit almost kills a girl.

Provo author Phyllis Gunderson has written 26 chapters of a fictional story with 26 author’s notes at the end. It’s a great way to separate fact and fiction without slowing down the plot, unless you are like me and become more intrigued by the facts and references.

In the fictional story, Matt Howard discovers that the Smithsonian Institute suppressed and even destroyed evidence from mounds found in North America. The conspiracy apparently continues despite thousands of artifacts collected from the mounds. Huh.

I confess that I spent some time on the internet after I finished the book to check the facts. I came across this reference to a famous Smithsonian annual report: Cyrus Thomas, the Bureau's appointed head of the Division of Mound Exploration, eventually published his conclusions on the origins of the mounds in the Bureau's Annual Report of 1894. It is considered to be the last word in the controversy over the Mound builders' identities. After Thomas' publication, scholars generally accepted that varying cultures of prehistoric indigenous peoples, Native Americans, were the Mound builders.”

Were the mound builders Native Americans or an earlier culture which had arrived on boats from the east as Gunderson suggests in her novel? I’m more curious now about ancient American history which I suspect is exactly what the author intended.

Monday, May 20, 2013


by Alan Bradley

     Most of us were introduced to the precocious Flavia in "Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" in 2009. If I was giving a teen girl a book I'd give her this instead of a book with a shallow, whiny, love-sick (sick being the important word) teen heroine. It is written for adults, with nothing inappropriate for any age reader, and is a fun read-a-loud if you can do an English accent.
     Flavia's adventures include five books, and since I never read a series out of order I had to read this 3rd one, in order to read the 4th one, "I am Half-sick of Shadows" now sitting on the bedside table. And then I can finally pick up the 5th one, "Speaking from Among the Bones" from the library. It's exhausting keeping up with myself.
     Motherless Flavia De Luce is the 11-year-old girl we never could have been but somehow we wish we were - for a little while. I love that she calls her bicycle Gladys. Her chemistry experiments and her amateur sleuthing make her a little more interesting than most 11-year-olds. She roams freely in a decaying manor house with a distracted father and 2 older sisters. Her address isn't a number on a street so you know it's grand. Buckshaw includes acres of woodland and boggy streams near a small village which makes it perfect setting for a 1950s British murder mystery.
     The same characters appear in this story. Dogger the gardener who suffers mental lapses due to war wounds, and  Mrs. Mullet who isn't the best cook but a reliable gossip are always able to assist our young sleuth.  Several new characters are just as eccentric and my favorites from the list are the old gypsy and her granddaughter. Gypsies make every story better, since they seem to have a strange and mystical culture.
       I adore this character. She's smart, funny, sassy and still finding out about herself. It's "wickedly funny" so sit by the grate with a cuppa and enjoy trying to keep up with the puzzling twists and turns in the third Flavia adventure.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Fractured Soul/Fractured Light by Rachel McClellan

Fractured Soul/Fractured Light by Rachel McClellan
Here’s a two-for-one review with no plot spoilers. These novels were quick reads and I had fun “buddy reading” with my niece Rachael Dredge. She is the target audience for these YA books since she is still an actual young adult and I’m more of a middle-aged young adult.
Rachael said, “The book ‘Fractured Light' is a clean, easy to read romantic novel with a twist. Fans of 'Twilight' and 'I am Number Four' will enjoy the book. Despite being predictable and hard to get into, it really picks up halfway in and gets you curious about where the series will head as a whole, introducing a mysterious magic system and a quest for self-knowledge. The main character herself, Llona, is nothing very eye-catching (another moody outcast), at least not until the end where she is put to the test.”
I responded with my view which was that the second book is better than the first book. You don’t need to read the first book to understand the second book, and McClellan doesn’t waste pages with too much back-story. There are fewer distracting descriptive phrases in ‘Fractured Light’ which lets the reader enjoy the story without halting the flow.
We get a little more information about Llona and the Auras. One of the questions we all want answered is revealed: “Why can’t I change my hair? It’s always the same. I can’t cut it or color it.” she asks the school nurse.
“It’s the Light in our DNA. It affects some of us physically, changing certain parts of our makeup.” She held up her left hand, revealing a sixth finger. I think Llona was happy to have beautiful white hair as her “Thing about us we would like to change” even before the lecture about having something we don’t like about our appearance.
As the exciting conclusion (I hoped) approached, I found myself willing to read longer in the final stretch. I also appreciated the G rating. Teenagers don’t always use offensive language or sleep with their very young boyfriend – and these characters don’t. It’s safe to give these books to a daughter, granddaughter or even a grandmother.
I will admit I had to find out how to pronounce Llona. It’s "eye-loh-nah" in the US and "ee-law-nuh” in Europe.  After mispronouncing heroines named Hermoine and Esme, I wanted to be able to carry on a conversation with YA readers without completely embarrassing myself.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Author Carla Kelly

Prairie Lite is not a romance novel. Carla Kelly is an award winning historical romance writer but her true talent emerges with this compilation of her best newspaper columns. As a former columnist myself, I appreciate her ability to use the few words allowed by newspapers to enlighten and entertain.

Do you ever long for the feel of a hot dusty breeze in the summer or a face paralyzing wind in the winter? Me neither, but I do have some great Midwest prairie memories and Carla Kelly has captured them in print with humor and affection.

Kelly lived in North Dakota and wrote, “North Dakotans must be the most optimistic people in America. I think it’s contagious. Who else would go outside when it was clear and nine below and say, “What a beautiful day!” Anyone from a warmer state (pick any 47 or so) overhearing that Northern Plains euphoria would probably start backing away slowly, speaking in soothing tones and avoiding eye contact.”

Her July 16, 2007 column titled, “Got Zucchini?” made me realize that we all suffer from a crazy mandate to eat everything that our garden produces – even a summer squash that multiplies while we sleep. We can’t just throw it away!

Kelly wrote, “For all I know, the Scenic Byway is lined with roving, feral zucchini, tossed out of car windows by desperate gardeners numb with the idea of thinking up one more way to disguise zucchini so folks will eat it.”

This is one of those books you give to friends, or select for your book club. Each column discusses a different topic ranging from vacation memories in the back of a station wagon to a favorite Christmas story about the candy bomber Gail Halvorsen.  Kelly shares those things we have in common as well as highlighting those odd, quirky things unique to every climate zone. I enjoyed a little lite reading from one of my favorite authors.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Review: Caleb’s Crossing
by Geraldine Brooks

I love historical fiction and I really enjoyed Caleb’s Crossing. I know I’m not alone since lots of women bought this book and we read it in our book club. But statistically romance novels were the most popular genre for women in 2004 with 55% of all books sold falling into this category.

Thank goodness we women have moved past 2004 and have expanded our reading appetites to include fantasies with fangs. I’ll bet that really messed up the stats.

I apparently belong in the minority group who still prefer historical fiction for my reading entertainment. I like to visit a time period before I was born so I can say, “Thank goodness I wasn’t born before central air and heating and outlet malls because I never would have survived.”

Caleb’s Crossing is set in 1660 before any of the comforts of home were invented. On the island now known as Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, we begin reading the story of Bethia  Mayfield and Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk. Bethia is the young daughter of a Calvinist minister and Caleb is an adolescent member of the Wampanoag tribe on the island.

Caleb’s character is based on the true story of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. The author admits that very little is known about Caleb or his life, but she uses missionary journals from the time to tell his story and shape the dialogue between the two cultures on the island.

Bethia is a fictional character who believes firmly in her religion but not always her “place” in the community. She craves education despite being denied the opportunity. She admires her mother and tries earnestly to go about her hearthside chores with a cheerful heart and silent lips. She doesn’t always succeed. At one point in the story, Bethia stands before the congregation to confess an improper oath uttered only in the presence of her brother. She accepts her vindictive punishment stoically but we are horrified by the injustice and cruelty.

This novel is another example of Brooks’ brilliant use of language to transport us to another time and place. She illuminates all the dark corners of the time filled with ignorance and prejudice but she also shines a spotlight on the strength, courage and love.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

BookLook back in business

Time to get back to posting book reviews. Sadly, after my BookLook newspaper column died and was buried with the Springville Herald, I have been busy writing for the Daily Herald but not writing book reviews. So, back by popular request, book reviews are back now shorter but not sweeter.