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Saxton Reads! & Reviews

We invite the public to post reviews to our catalog by logging into our online catalog. Reviews will then be posted to this blog. Comments can be added to existing posts or may be added as separate reviews on our catalog
MARCH 29, 2009
Three Cups of Tea ~ Greg Mortenson


Have you ever balked at reading a book that comes with enthusiastic recommendations? Three Cups of Tea was that kind of book for me. Everyone was recommending it and it had won lots of awards including Time Magazine's Asia Book Award. It got high marks from, a reviewing source I hold in high regard, and it was the choice of our non-fiction reading group, a group of people who usually pick some great books. So why was I avoiding starting this book. I'm not quite sure but I had this picture of it of being a virtuous story and dripping with sentimentality and my sour mood of the week wasn't buying it. Finally the day came when I could put it off no longer. I had to read the book. As always, in these matters, someone has more sense than me. Three Cups of Tea is worth all the good press it has received and more. It could have been a tedious telling of boring facts, outlining Greg Mortenson's plan to build schools to promote peace in the remote villages of Pakistan. That it was not, I credit to the author David Oliver Relin's skill. From page one I was hooked as he describes Mortenson's attempt and failure to climbK2, the world's second highest mountain, in the Karakoram range of northern Pakistan. I met many interesting people in these pages, con artists, swindlers, philanthropists, village children and the Taliban. I listened to the foresight of village leaders and elders who knew that education would improve the life of their people. I cried as on Haji Ali fought those who would stop construction of his village school. The cost, twelve large rams, rams that are as valuable as a firstborn child, a prize cow or family pet to these people. He shares this with Mortenson "Do you see how beautiful this Koran is? I can't read it. I can't read anything This is the greatest sadness in my life. I'll do anything so the children of my village never have to know this feeling. I'll pay any price so they have the education they deserve." I nodded my head in agreement with the advice given to Mortenson as he drinks cups of scalding butter tea with the chief of the village and aptly gives title to the book. "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything, even die. Doctor Greg, you must make time to share three cups of tea. We may be uneducated, but we are not stupid. We have survived here for a long time."

There is edge of your seat suspense as Mortenson learns the ropes of negotiating in a culture that he is unfamiliar. I tensed the first time he carried large sums of money in his vest pockets for needed building materials with crooks lurking everywhere. I cringed when he was kidnapped and was feared for his life. Death threats and two fatwas add to my unease. Somehow, Mortenson comes out of all this and over time eventually builds that first school and many others, not only in Pakistan, but Afghanistan too.

How fortunate I am to be able to read and how lucky I am that my book group chose Three Cups of Tea. It is an uplifting story and an excellent read. I'll be buying copies for my friends. Hopefully, they will not be as pig-headed a me and will read it soon.



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MARCH 25, 2009
The school of essential ingredients ~ Erica Bauermeister

*****Bas bleu

Lillian owns a restaurant, and one Monday evening a month runs a cooking class. The students who gather in her kitchen come to learn about food, but even more importantly, leave with a deeper understanding of their own lives. Reminiscent of Chocolat and Like Water for Chocolate, The School of Essential Ingredients is an achingly lyrical ode to food. Each turn of the phrase is so painstakingly crafted that you will feel like you are feasting on Bauermeister's words. If you enjoy books that seem to melt away the stresses of your daily life, you'll want to dive into this one. When I turned the last page, I wished for my world to be as warm, comforting, and right as the world Lillian created with her philosophy of cooking and life.

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MARCH 23, 2009
Why Don't Woodpeckers Get Headaches? ~ Mike O'Connor


Why Don't Woodpeckers Get Headaches? by Mike O'Connor is one fun book. If you're a bird lover, it's a must. Since 1983, O'Connor has been the owner of Bird Watcher's General Store on Cape Cod and though I've been there I never realized he wrote. He really knows his birds and has answered thousands of questions about our feathered friends Cape Codder column "Ask the Bird Folks" What makes his answers shine is his unbeatable sense of humor and an all out passion for all things bird. 

I pride myself on my bird savvy but Mike has me beat by a mile. Take for instance my belief, one shared by many, that baby birds that have fallen from a nest should not be touched by human hands in the belief the mother will abandon the baby. O'Connor maintains songbirds aren't in the habit of sniffing their nestling's. As for the one that cardinals mate for life, he dispels this myth, stating they might spend a year with the same partner, but life, this "gives us the impression that they spend years of bliss together until they retire to a cardinal condo in Ft. Lauderdale" (pg. 53).

I've got to give Mike credit as he defends some birds like the Blue Jay, who tend to get a bad, undeserved, he feels, rap. Complaints about them heard are that they are pigs at the feeder, they scare the cute little birds away, and that they eat other bird's eggs. Mike comes to their defense with lots of facts, and a laugh with this line "apparently some other birds have better PR agents".

From feed to feeder, birdhouses, birdbaths, and binoculars, identification, migration, fact and myth, this gem of a book will brighten any back yard birders' day. Read it and cheep!

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MARCH 17, 2009
Laws of Harmony ~ Judith Ryan Hendricks

  So...what's your novel really about?   

Welcome guest author Judith Ryan Hendricks as she tells the story behind The Laws of Harmony.

The Laws of Harmony began with an old clipping from the Taos, NM News. The headline was “Accident Claims Child’s Life at Party.” It was June 21, 1979—the last summer solstice party at New Buffalo Commune in Arroyo Hondo, NM. There were hundreds of people, dancing, eating, drinking, and of course using recreational drugs. 

Just as the sun was going down, about 8:15 p.m., two children who had been playing on the roof of one of the buildings fell together through a glass skylight onto the stone floor below. One was only scratched and bruised, but the other suffered two deep puncture wounds in the chest from shards of glass and died within minutes.

That image haunted me. And it sparked the story of Sunny Cooper, the (fictional) surviving child as she drifts from hippie commune to big city to an island in Puget Sound, always trying to leave the past behind, never quite succeeding. 

Although its inciting incident is the death of a child, The Laws of Harmony is not about death. It’s about living in the aftermath of loss, something we all know about. Whether it’s loss due to death or divorce, loss of a friend, a job, a home…there are losses in all our lives and we all find ways to keep on living. Sunny Cooper finds consolation in the same things that see the rest of us through—food, music, friendship, love and our capacity to find humor in the most unlikely places.

And by humor, I don’t mean jokes. Humor is not about being funny. Real humor is a state of mind, a way of looking at life that prevents you from throwing yourself off the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, no matter how sad you are, or how desperate.  Which is why I can’t write a book without humor anymore than I can write a book without food or music, friendship or love.

To watch a video trailer of The Laws of Harmony, please visit my website, .


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MARCH 14, 2009
The Given Day ~ Dennis Lehane

    The Given Day by Dennis Lehane is one of my favorite recent reads. I put it out on our Saxton Stars cart but never actually reviewed it. I have been telling people about it at the desk.  You might know Lehane best for two of his books that were made into fine movies, Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone.  Given Day has been called a departure for Lehane, a different type of book than the mystery/thriller his fans are used to reading. I can't say that I quite agree. Though it doesn't feature  Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, detectives in many of his other books, you'll still find much of the action taking place in Boston. Not South Boston, the haunt of most of his books, but this time, a bit north, in Little Italy. It's more of a historical thriller and the best I've read in some time. A simple summary is hard to do as the book is over 700 pages. Set in the early days after World War I, the story is told with a backdrop of The Boston Police Strike and the spanish influenza. It's a story of family, love, passion, racism, and political corruption beyond belief.

If you've already read the book and would like to hear a really good discussion about it, tune into

Open Book Club,        a new website with podcasts hosted by Christy Cashman and Debbie DiMasi. Each episode interviews authors and others about recent books. The Given Day (click to link to the podcast). It's an in depth discussion, lasting approx. 50 min.

Other discussions include

Power Play by Joseph Finder
The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III
The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
The Condition by Jennifer Haigh
and the latest, The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

If work or other obligations keep you from attending a book discussion, you might enjoy Open Book Club. And if you belong to a book club, you can register it with Open Book Club at this address:   You can also join in the discussion by posting to a book's forum.

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MARCH 4, 2009
Handle with Care ~ Jodi Picoult


 Handle with Care

Some books are hard to talk about with giving away too much. Jodi Picoult's Handle With Care is one of these. Anyone reading a summary will get a feel for the plot. Charlotte and Sean O'Keefe have two daughters, Amelia and Willow and could be the picture of the average American family. But average they are not as Willow suffers from a rare, disfiguring disease, osteogenesis imperfecta, a disorder which causes bones to break easily.
The story beings with Charlotte as narrator. “Things break all the time. Glass, and dishes, and fingernails. Cars and contracts and potato chips. You can break a record, a horse, a dollar. You can break the ice. There are coffee breaks and lunch breaks and prison breaks. Day breaks, waves break, voices break. Chains can be broken So can silence , and fever.” Picoult is the queen of metaphor and references to break and broken are peppered throught the book. As Willow grows and medical costs rise the O'Keefe's must find a way to foot the bill. If she files a wrongful birth lawsuit against her ob/gyn who did not tell her that her child would be severely disabled, and if they win the lawsuit, the resulting compensation would ensure Willow would get the care she deserves. It also means that Charlotte must say that she would have terminated the pregnancy if she’d known about the disability in advance. To add another element to her dilemma, the ob/gyn is not only her physician but her friend.

Picoult twists this story every which way and that, almost too much for me. She puts the whole family, Charlotte, Sean, Amelia, the family of Piper (ob/gyn), the lawyers, both sides, plaintiff and defendant, the community, the whole lot, under a very powerful microscope and dissects them piece by piece. It can be painful to read.
Jodi Picoult is my adopted author. This means I sponsor her books at my public library. I do this as I have been a fan since I read Plain Truth many years ago. Though in all I learned a great deal from reading Handle With Care, I wouldn't say it is Picoult's best effort. Without spoiling the story for others here are my complaints. First, I believe the use of single narration, each character, telling their story in solo chapters, has been overdone by Picoult. I want something new. There's way too much use of, for a lack of better word, gimmick. I didn't think I'd ever say that but for me, this tactic makes the whole less believable and satisfying. Her characters are well developed, almost too much so. And the plot twists; well, twists too much. Saying this I'll still give it a four out of a five star. I cared about the characters, some made me angry, some made me cry. I learned a great deal. The exploration of relationships is Picoult at her best. In the end I was left with lots to think about. The story will stay with me and I would like to discuss it with friends. So what's my problem? Perhaps my overall pique is is just being plain picky. What more do I want from a book? Perhaps you can tell, I'm compromised in my opinion, on the one hand this, on the other, that; left a bit unbalanced in the end. As I hold Jodi Picoult in high esteem, I want a little less gimmick a bit less analyzing of every angle with the end result being the sum of the fine storyteller Picoult is. Read Handle with Care for yourself and see what you think.

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MARCH 3, 2009
The secret history of the Pink Carnation ~ Lauren Willig

Secret History of the Pink Carnation

This was a fun book to read and had the added advantage of making me want to learn more about the Napoleonic era, a time that's never really intrigued me too much before. I love historical novels because there is always something new to learn while still getting to read a wonderful story. I appreciated the historical notes at the back of the book too, showing what was true and what was invented. Always very helpful, lest we walk away with false notions. And of course, who doesn't love a good spy story? I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series. The only downfall is there are some racy scenes, something I was not expecting. Romance? Yes. Detailed description? No. Oh well, I guess one can't have everything.

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