Book Reviews

I'm a book lover - I have been since I was 4 years old and avidly listening to my dad read the Little House books to me before bed. My bookcases are overflowing with titles I've read and loved, books I've collected, and all the books I have yet to crack open.

This page is for my reviews on books (and the occasional movie) that I've read and loved and sometimes hated. I cover a pretty broad spectrum from historical fiction to essays, travelogues and memoirs to YA tear-jerkers and middle grade high fantasy. Some of it is fluff, some of it is really profound. All of it is honest. At least, the review part is. 

Happy reading.... 

Book Review: To the Field of Stars

Recommended Reading Level: Adult. There's nothing really specifically inappropriate for younger readers, I just sincerely think they wouldn't be interested. There's a lot of heavy religious themes that might go over the heads of younger readers, as well.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. I'm deducting that one star because I really was annoyed at the first couple of chapters and I wasn't at all inspired to keep picking up this book through certain parts the way a 5 star would. It's still one of my top recommendations of the books I've read so far this year, though. 

Who Should Read It: Catholic people, people who plan on walking the Camino in the future who are also Catholics, people who like Catholic priests, people who want a religious, reflective perspective on the Camino, people who are open to religious experiences, people who are comfortable reading about conversations with mountain goats and snails and stone saints.

Book Review: Camino de Santiago - Practical Preparation and Guide


Recommended Reading Level: Teen+ but mostly Adult. It's all about packing and walking almost 800km and exchange rates and blisters and I wouldn't give this to somebody under 18 just because unless they were getting ready to walk the Camino for their 18th birthday/high school graduation, they'd be bored to tears.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars. I have to deduct because the typos and formatting issue of the type running right into the crease were annoying. Also, while I did enjoy reading it, it didn't completely captivate me like a 5 star read would. Because it's a guidebook. Can't be helped, sorry.

Who Should Read It: People who plan on walking the Camino anytime in the future, people who plan on backpacking through Europe anytime in the near future, people who like practical guidebooks, people who like books about preparing for a very long walk, people who are considering walking the Camino for the first time.

Book Review: Off the Road

Recommended Reading Level: Adult. Not in an R-rated sense but in the sense that this guy uses a lot of big words that challenged my post-college brain a bit. Also there is talk of sex and drug use and flippant remarks that adolescents may not be able to put into context.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars - I'd like to be able to give this 3 whole stars, but the author's attitude really prohibits it. I didn't find this book difficult to read, but it certainly does not have a place on my "favorite books this year" shelf. It was a good glimpse of what the daily grind on the Camino is like but I don't think I'll be recommending it to people who aren't actively planning to go on pilgrimage. Even then I'll recommend it with heavy caveats.

Who Should Read It: People who actively plan to make pilgrimage to Santiago and are unsure of their religious beliefs. People who like writers from Harper's Magazine and GQ. People who are interested in historical Spanish architecture. People who like travelogues with no particular theme. People who don't look for revelations in their everyday life.

Book Review - Hemingway's Girl

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. This book wasn't bad, but it wasn't brilliant. I'm tempted to give it 4 just for the color and the way the setting and the period absolutely come to life, but the void between the ending and the epilogue was such that I can't give it that last half a star.

Recommended Reading Level: 16+ for some super brief sensuality, sexual references, alcohol abuse and violence. I gave it to my almost-16 year old sister to read because she doesn't read too much into things and probably missed most of the sexual references but is mature enough to discuss the things she was concerned about. I'm still waiting to hear what my mom thought about it.  **UPDATE: My mom enjoyed it! She liked the story and the characters and thought the relationships were all well-written.*

Who Should Read It: people who loved Katniss and want to read historical fiction featuring a really strong, female, young adult character; people who live in (or want to visit) Key West; people who really like Hemingway; people who like fishing; people who like books set during the Great Depression; people who love the ocean; people who like colorful stories about growing and carrying on after a difficult loss; people who like a tiny bit of mystery and drama in their historical fiction. I realize I don't really fit into many of these categories but I did really enjoy this book.

Book Review - Tell the Wolves I'm Home

Recommended Reading Level: 14+ for some mature content including underage drinking and drug use

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars - Not much gets 5 stars around here and because this is a debut novel with some nitpicky n00b things and an unsatisfying conclusion I have to mark it down a bit. Otherwise, the writing is very eloquent, the voice is real and at times raw and generally so lovely, and it has great character development and great little side stories that tie into the larger narrative arc.

Who Should Read It: Everyone. People who've recently lost someone they love, people who like art, people who are 14, people who are 14 and like the Middle Ages, people who are mad at their siblings, people who are not prejudiced, people who have special memories with special people, people who like books set in New York City, people who like South Pacific, and people who desire to imagine people more complexly.

February Reading - The Life of Pi

Image from Indie*Reader. It's got a great article on this book.

Recommended Reading Level: 14+ (Only because some of the religious themes might be difficult to grasp for younger readers.)

3.5 out of 5 Stars - The beginning was brilliant and most of the imagery is fantastic. It loses points because after a while the ocean was boring and the author's voice is incredibly annoying. The narration by Pi is perfect and wonderful, but when the author starts talking or doing his little side narrations, I wanted to smack him. He comes off as pompous, arrogant, pedantic, and irritating. Like Draco Malfoy in the first 3 HP books - just a snotty toerag. But his narration as Pi... It saves him.

Who I Recommend it To: People who like stories about faith, people who like stories about human beings surviving nature's brutality, people who like a bit of magical realism, people who like fantasy adventure stories, people who like stories about India or even Canada, people who like stories about animals, people who have stronger stomachs than me and can handle reading about a tiger almost drowning without crying thinking about their silly house cat because I'm pitiful like that.

Overall, read it. The rich imagery alone is worth it, and I dare you not to get caught up in Pi's mind, in his history. Let him light a match in your dark head.

Tuesday Reviews: "The Ranger's Apprentice"

Tuesday Review: The Ranger's Apprentice, by John Flanagan

Short, slight, 12-yr old Will, an orphan with no clues as to his true identity, dreams of entering Battleschool and becoming a knight of the realm. Those dreams are dashed, however, when he is instead apprenticed to to the mysterious Ranger Corps. The Rangers are a secretive group that protects the kingdom from danger - but only ever in the shadows. As Will progresses through his training, he is tested in ways he never could have imagined - ways which bring out his true strength and character.

I love this entire series, from Will's first adventure in The Ruins of Gorlan to his most recent in The Emperor of Nihon-Ja. Each character has depth and complexity, and the individual stories are intense without exceeding the maturity level of the intended reader. This is my go-to series for kids getting into their first fantasy series around age 10, because it's so approachable and Will is such an easy character to relate to. This is an engaging fantasy series middle-schoolers can grow with as they enjoy watching Will grow from a shy young boy into a strong, self-assured Ranger in his own right. I love this series.

For more information, visit John Flanagan at his website:

Also, coming October 4, 2011, his newest (and final?) book about the Rangers, Ranger's Apprentice: The Lost Stories, in hardcover.

Happy Reading!!! ~Willow

"All the secrets of the world are contained in books. Read at your own risk."
--Lemony Snicket

On Midnight in Paris
Starring Owen Wilson and featuring Kathy Bates & Rachel McAdams, this film is – in this author’s mind – the epitome of what a film should be. The acting was not superior, the writing was not sublime 100% of the time, the cinematography was not impeccable, and the story could have been better.


It was thought-provoking and terribly romantic. Dear Reader, please understand that when I use the term “romantic”, I do not necessarily mean it in the sense of rose petals, doves, champagne, chocolate and pretty words. I mean (particularly in this instance) Romantic with a capital R. I speak of a state of mind, a kind of artistic sensibility that throws caution and logic to the wind. Romantics dream of personified ideals, of dreamy realities where men are noble, ladies are idyllic and beautiful, and the good guys always win – through whatever struggle or misfortune – oh, and love, love reigns supreme.

The main character was a Hollywood screenwriter struggling to become a novelist. He and his fiancĂ© were in Paris with her parents, and met some of her college friends – one of whom was a completely pedantic asshole. He spent a good five minutes decrying the very Romantic idealism I just proclaimed. What a prick. Anyway, while the protagonist’s fiancĂ© runs around Paris and the French countryside with this pair (worshipping every word the asshole spat, of course), he insists on seeing Paris on his own terms. He takes walks at midnight and believes that “Paris is most beautiful when it is raining.” I agree, but only because I’ve been there, done that. I strongly recommend it. On one of these midnight strolls, he is picked up by an old-fashioned car and unwittingly carried into a glittering party populated by famous writers and artists he admires. Did I mention that all of these characters are members of the “Lost Generation” who lived in Paris during the Roaring ‘20s, which he refers to as “the Golden Age”? Yep.

For those who sneer at sci-fi/time travel pieces, stop. I, too, find them distasteful. This wasn’t so much sci-fi as it was Romantic/magical realism. The time travel just…happened. There was no machinery, no flashing lights or science at all. He simply got into a car with funny-dressed people, and walked into their world. It wasn’t science, it was magic. Anyway I was thinking through the whole thing that this movie was what I dream about. You think about what the great writers said, and the way they said it and the cadence of their voices and you realize that no one talks like that anymore.

People always comment on the way I speak – because I speak the way I write and vice versa – and tell me that people don’t really talk like that anymore. My answer is always the same: if souls could speak, they would be more fluent than the gibberish that trips over our tongues today. The great writers of the past were so… eloquent in their expression. It’s a trait that I fear our society has lost (to great detriment of our self-expression as a civilization) over the years, to speedier forms of communication. Back then, we had newspapers, speech halls, books, essays, poetry, letters and spoken language that was all so beautiful. Today we have texting, e-mail, Twitter, social networking and so much media that our own voices are drowning and dying out. Eventually, we will all communicate with nothing but a series of beeps and tones. What a sad world to live in.

So despite the potentially problematic issue of time travel (which I would encourage the viewer to simply accept as part of the fantasy world that is fiction), the endearing, loveable and legendary characters brought forth by the so-called “gimmick” of time travel – from Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, even Pablo Picasso and Edgar Degas – are rich and vibrant and undeniably resonant. Their talk of ideals, of literature and art and love was so passionate… It resonated with the protagonist and with myself. As a writer, I take all words to heart for they are words and words possess a magic all their own. Hearing a character embody Ernest Hemingway and speak with such force and fervor made going to the movies the best moment of my time in Salem thus far.

To conclude: Yes, the acting is not terrific, but it is still quite convincing; No, the cinematography is not perfect, but it captures the mood of Paris both then and know and even offers a taste of magical realism, completing the film; No, the writing is not impeccable, but it does its job. So to the film snobs I say don’t waste your time.

But to the Romantics, the dreamers, the silly-hearts… Buy some popcorn and get swept away.

Directed by Woody Allen
Limited release May, 2010