Review of Thyme of Death by Susan Wittig Albert (1992) (China Bayles Series)

Bottom line: Okay

Rating: Recommended if: you’re looking for a light mystery, or have a connection to the Texas Hill Country


China Bayles has it all – a prestigious Houston law practice, money, power – but it’s not enough. She’s smart, she’s tough, she’s confident, and she knows she wants something more out of life than the fast track offers. Something like the Thyme and Seasons herb shop in Pecan Springs, Texas. Realizing that her career is turning her into somebody she doesn’t like, China does what many people only dream of doing: She relocates to a small town to begin a new and, she hopes, a gentler, more fulfilling life.

But even in Pecan Springs, evil can occur among ordinary people living everyday lives. China soon learns that while she can move from the city, she can’t escape the world of moral choice. When China’s good friend, Jo Gilbert, apparently commits suicide, China is more than puzzled. Jo had been suffering from a terminal disease, but wasn’t the type to take her own life. And, to a lawyer like China, some revealing letters that Jo leaves behind shout blackmail and murder, not suicide.

But why would anybody want to kill a woman who will die soon anyway? And what about the scent of perfume in Jo’s house? When another mysterious death occurs, China is sure she’s dealing with homicide. Helped by her best friend, New-Ager Ruby Wilcox, and with support from lover Mike McQuaid, a former-cop-turned-professor, China follows a trail of greed and fear to discover some unsettling answers. Thyme of Death marks the memorable debut of one of the most original and appealing new female sleuths to come along in years. Readers will identify with China Bayles as she makes the kind of tough decisions that confront us all.


I was excited to read this, as it seemed like a neat setup – I love the Texas Hill Country, and the former-lawyer-turned-herb-shop-owner premise seemed intriguing. However, I had to really push myself through the first fifty or so pages before I started to get into it. I found the writing to be clunky and distracting. The characters were ok, and the plot was good, but the not-so-subtle themes and meticulous character descriptions kept pulling me out of the story. Surely there is a happy medium between not being told anything about what a character looks like and having to know, down to the shoes, exactly what every single person is wearing, even random once-off characters we’re never going to see again.

I did start enjoying it more once we got into the investigation parts of the story, and if I happened across the next in the series while at the library I’ll probably pick it up, but I won’t be rushing out to grab it. I felt mildly curious about the lead’s past, but I didn’t feel connected enough to her to need to know more about her. It is worth a read if you’re headed to the Texas Hill Country and are looking for a light, throw away read for an afternoon.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Family Fridays – The Best Souvenirs for Children

Well, duh – I’m going to say “books”. I absolutely love getting travel and regional books to commemorate trips taken, a part of your heritage, or just as a snapshot of your hometown. One of the great joys of travel is wandering around in new bookstores and coming out with a treasure (or two!). On our last trip, my son and I travelled to Las Cruces, New Mexico to meet up with family and enjoy some wonderful Mexican food (an area in which Colorado is sadly lacking). We ate at La Posta (a family tradition), then ambled around the historic plaza while trying to digest the last bits of sopapilla (dairy free! this is my version of heaven).

The Mesilla Book Center on the plaza had a great selection of regional children’s books, and the hard part was deciding what to leave behind, not what to take home. I finally settled on the fun “Guess Who’s in the Desert” by Charline Profiri and Susan Swan – the combination of illustrations, facts and desert animals made it a winner for us. We can enjoy it now, and it will grow with my son as he gets older.

Wherever you go, there will be a place to find regional children’s books, and I highly recommend them as a souvenir. Beautiful, practical, and a great way to remember a place, you can’t go wrong with these.

What are your favorite regional books for kids?

Tools of the Trade: The Bookmark

Ah, the bookmark. This can be anything: a humble scrap of paper, bank notes (I once found a $20 bill in the Lord of the Rings), airplane ticket stubs, toilet paper (don’t lie, if you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably done that), or on rare occasions your iPad mini (oops). What makes the bookmark a tool of the trade? Well, obviously you can use it to mark your place in a book when you stop midway through. But on a deeper level it signifies a reading philosophy.

Some readers often have 5-6 books going at one time. Some readers will chip away at one book, chapter by chapter, a little before bed each night. I can’t do either of those things. My brain isn’t capable of switching between different storylines and plots (though I can occasionally handle a non-fiction and fiction book at the same time) and after seven years of marriage my husband just rolls his eyes when I say I’m going to read “for just a little bit” before bed, as this inevitably turns into me finishing the book at three in the morning – and I don’t even have to like it. I get sucked into the story and just can’t stop, unless the book is truly horrible, and even then I generally need to know how it ends.

I have always, always been a sit down and read a whole book kind of girl. Now that I have a young son, and my husband is working a more traditional schedule (i.e. he’s not gone for whole-book lengths of time after our baby goes to sleep), I just don’t have the time to do that anymore. It’s either read a little at a time, or not at all. So I’m trying to train myself to be a bookmark user. If I can’t make myself stop in the middle of a book, I’m either looking at very short nights or not reading. Neither of those options appeal to me. At all.

So today I’m raising up the bookmark as not only a tool of the trade, but as a representation of the brave new world of reading in small doses.

Do you use bookmarks? How many books are you generally reading at once? What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever used as a bookmark?

Family Fridays – TV Shows for One Year Olds That Won’t Make You Insane (YMMV)

As mentioned earlier in the week, my son and I both had a pretty bad cold a few weeks ago, and so we did something we normally don’t do: we camped out in a comfy chair together, snuggled, went through mountains of tissues, and watched several tv shows back to back. Here are my top three picks for shows at his current age:

Sesame Street: I don’t remember watching Sesame Street growing up, so I’ve been blown away at how good it is. They’ve got great educational stuff, music, art, morals, etc. and they still manage to entertain the very young crowd. My son giggles out loud when he sees his favorites: Cookie Monster, Bert, Ernie, Grover, Elmo (man, I hate Elmo) and Oscar the Grouch. I was raving about what a great show it was to a friend and she mentioned something about the “political messages”. I haven’t seen any subversive political messages, though I only watch the show on Netflix, which has a very limited selection, so I might be missing something from later seasons.

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: This is a spin off from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood (which I’ve also never seen), and the focus is on learning social skills – sharing, what to do when you get mad, etc. It is a very good show, though of the three listed here, I find I have the lowest tolerance for this one, mostly due to the repetition. Each thirty minute segment is split into two parts, each teaching the same lesson, but with different characters. Each segment has a song that gets sung quite often (“If you have to go potty, STOP! and go right away!”) and WILL get stuck in your head. The first season is on Netflix.

Postman Pat Special Delivery Service: This is the updated version of a show I remember from my childhood, Postman Pat. It is a charming little show set in a small, rural town in England (using stop motion animation – or at least a look alike) that features the adventures of the postman trying to deliver a parcel that somehow always goes wrong. It’s probably the least educational of the three here, but it’s very pleasant. This one isn’t on Netflix, but you can watch it free on Amazon Prime if you’re a member. My mother bought me the first season, and we’re enjoying working our way through it. It doesn’t hold my one year old’s attention as much as the other two (it’s a little old for him), but we can usually get through at least one 15 minute segment, and generally a 30 minute show.

I’ve tried other shows, but these are the three I keep coming back to. What shows do you watch with your kids?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Happy March!

For the two of you out there who follow my blog, you may have noticed I haven’t posted in a while. My son and I both had a pretty bad cold, then we had family visiting, and the day after they left, we left on a trip of our own for a few days. So it was a crazy couple of weeks. I think the worst thing about having a cold is the amount of awfulness you feel vs. the amount of wimpiness you feel for suffering as much as you do. “Oh, it’s just a cold.” NO! It feels like you’re probably not going to die, but you’re not at all sure that that’s a good thing. Anyways, I’m mostly over it, though the whining continues. Side note: when we lived in Aberdeen, I learned about a great word the Scots have for complaining: whinging. I love it.

Another random update: I’ve changed my 2014 reading challenge on GoodReads from 214 books to 100. I had planned on including board books and baby/toddler books in the number, but in terms of practicality, it was just too diificult to keep track of and enter the books I was reading. I’ll read anywhere between 5-20 of those books a day to my toddler, and it was just too much work to keep track of what I’d entered or what I hadn’t entered. So, 100 books instead of 214, but “real books” only. According to GR, I’m 3 books ahead of schedule as of the end of February. Yay!

How are your 2014 reading goals coming along?

Review of Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (1990) (Jurassic Park Series)

Bottom line: A classic, both in paper and on the screen, that is worth the hype.

Rating: Recommended


An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now humankind’s most thrilling fantasies have come true. Creatures extinct for eons roam Jurassic Park with their awesome presence and profound mystery, and all the world can visit them—for a price.

Until something goes wrong. . . .


I had not read Jurassic Park, nor seen the movie, until a few weeks ago. I’d read maybe one or two other of Michael Crichton’s work, so I was looking forward to getting into this classic – and not just so I could then watch the movie, which I’d been hearing about for years.

Jurassic Park did not disappoint. It’s certainly a Crichton: full of action, a sense of impending doom, slightly flat characters, and very engrossing. As the proud holder of a math degree, I especially enjoyed his portrayal of the jerk-mathematician-academic-rockstar. I thought it started out a little slow in the beginning, building up to the “hey, look, we made dinosaurs!” part, but the beginning pieces did help add to the tension and mystery surrounding the park.

The movie was a fairly stressful for me. I realized about halfway into it that it’s really a horror movie: things jumping out at you from the darkness to rip you apart. Knowing who was going to die and approximately when just made it more tense for me as I waited for the bad things to happen. I don’t think I could watch it again.

I will say that I was completely astonished by how well the twenty year old special effects have held up. Because they used a mixture of puppets/animatronics and CGI (according to my movie consultant/husband), it doesn’t feel as dated as say, the Lord of the Rings movies which are about ten years old and rely much more heavily on CGI, which were perhaps not quite up to the challenge.

The kids in the movie were much more realistic and less annoying than they were in the book, although I thought the lone female academic was wimpier in the movie version. I also enjoyed the book’s more detailed exposition of both the science being discussed and the steps that led to the massive failures of the park. In the movie it was easier to keep track of the different characters – at least for me, since I had a hard time keeping Crichton’s more supporting characters straight in the book.

In all, I’m glad I finally got around to watching such an iconic movie, even though (as usual) the book was better. It was a fun and engaging read, but I don’t feel drawn to the world enough to explore other books in the series.

Get it (Book): Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Get it (Movie): Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.


Happy Valentine’s Day!

I’m not a huge celebrator of Valentine’s Day, but I do love those little conversation hearts, the ones that taste like pepto bismol and have cutesey sayings on them. I can easily eat a package of them by myself – by which I mean, I do eat a package of them by myself, at least twice a year because my husband detests them (he also doesn’t like brownies). The other good thing about Valentine’s Day is that it’s a wonderful excuse to read a sappy romance.

Here are my current favorite romances. Warning: there’s no bodice ripping in any of these, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll be disappointed.

  1. Gaudy Night (1935) by Dorothy Sayers (Barnes and Noble, Amazon) – I know, I know! I’m forever going on about it. But I can’t help it if the greatest love story ever written comes packaged in a well written mystery full of great characters and wonderful ambience.
  2. Persuasion (1817) by Jane Austen (Barnes and Noble, Amazon) – While I love Pride and Prejudice as much as the next girl, I think Persuasion slightly edges it out as my favorite Austen. This movie adaptation (Barnes and Noble, Amazon) is excellent.
  3. Edenbrooke (2012) by Julianne Donaldson (Barnes and Noble, Amazon) – I first read this a year or so ago, and I immediately fell in love with it. It’s just fun.
  4. Sorcery and Cecelia (1988) by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer (Barnes and Noble, Amazon) – see my review here.
  5. Black Sheep (1966) (Barnes and Noble, Amazon) and Frederica (1965) (Barnes and Noble, Umm…Amazon apparently only carries the Russian edition?) by Georgette Heyer – I couldn’t decide, so I went with both. I went through a Heyer phase when I was pregnant and couldn’t handle reading anything even remotely stressful. Some of them I hated, and some of them I really enjoyed. These are two that are pretty much guaranteed to put a smile on my face.

Ok, so I just realized that all of these are either written or were set a very long time ago. I’m not sure what that says about me, but there you have it.

As a bonus, because it is Friday and I need to sneak in a “Family Friday” bit somewhere, I’ll present you with my favorite love book for children: Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram. (Barnes and Noble, Amazon). One of the many things I love about this book is that it features a dad as the loving parent. Moms often take center stage (not that I’m complaining) in these types of books, so it’s great to see a dad trying to explain just how much he loves his child. Sweet without being smarmy, it is a great way to show a kid (or adult!) how much you love them.

What are your favorite romances? What is your favorite love book for kids? How can someone not like brownies?!?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.


Review of Sorcery and Cecelia

Sorcery and Cecelia or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot (1988) (Cecelia and Kate #1) by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

Bottom line: Delightful

Rating: Strongly Recommended


In 1817 in England, two young cousins, Cecilia living in the country and Kate in London, write letters to keep each other informed of their exploits, which take a sinister turn when they find themselves confronted by evil wizards.


I try not to use the word “delightful” too much (or any other word that I don’t use in real life), but with this book, I just can’t escape it. It simply is delightful: think Jane Austen with magic, mysteries, and mayhem. The entire book is told in the form of letters written between the two cousins, and the adventures they find themselves in are a fun way to explore the characters.

One of the things I loved the most about this book, apart from the introduction of magic and wizards into a traditional Regency setting, is that it is all about relationships: the girls’ relationship with each other, their siblings, their families, the men in their lives, and how all of those people interact. The plot keeps things moving along, and the humor is a very nice touch. I love Kate, who is clumsy and generally unlucky, despite being an intelligent and capable person. She’s just the sort of person who would manage to accidentally stumble into a not-quite-real garden in the middle of a ceremony and embarrass everyone.

If you like the occasional (clean) Regency romance, but sometimes find them a bit, well, boring, this is definitely a book to check out. I read it with a smile on my face, and was delighted (if I’m going to use it, I may as well over use it) to find that it was the first in a series. 

Confess: do you read Regency romances?

Get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.


Family Fridays – Lost In The Woods

Book: Lost in the Woods (2004) by Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick

Category/Age: Picture Book (Older)


The authors of New York Times’ best-seller, Stranger in the Woods, bring you this beautiful springtime fantasy about trust, patience and waiting for your time. Woodland creatures are concerned for a newborn fawn they believe to be lost.


One thing I’ve never understood about human brains is the connections they’re able to make between the symbolic and the concrete. It’s really mind boggling, especially in very young children.

Take the following:







What is it? Well, obviously it’s an elephant. A rather well done elephant, if I do say so myself. But it’s not really an elephant, it’s a collection of lines on a screen in a vaguely elephant-like shape. How is it that people can immediately recognize, “oh, elephant!”? It doesn’t have the same actual shape, texture, depth, color, etc. as a real elephant. It kind of boggles my mind.

Here on the other hand, is an actual elephant:

Real Elephants






Well, again, it’s not really an elephant, but at least it’s the photograph of a real elephant, so we’re much closer to the real thing. I’ve always been curious to see if a child brought up on cartoon pictures of animals would be able to recognize the real animals from their simple, stylized drawings, if they had never before seen the real, live counterparts. If you think about it, much of what makes up the visual part of the animals: color, texture, movement, etc. is just not captured in most children’s books. To say nothing of the smell.

But anyways, the point of all this rambling (I do have a point!) is that this book, Lost In The Woods, is a different style children’s book in that it’s photographs of animals instead of illustrations. It makes a wonderful addition to any young child’s library, and has a great cast of woodland animals. The pictures are absolutely lovely; you’ll find yourself wanting to reach out and touch the baby animals.

It also makes the point that newborn deer are abandoned by their mothers for the first few weeks of life to keep them safe from predators, so if you come across one in the wilds, leave it alone! Apparently they are born without a scent, so the mother only comes back to feed, then leaves again until the fawn is strong enough to keep up with the doe. I didn’t know that. You learn something new everyday.

Amazon, Barnes & Noble

P.S. They also have another one in the series, Stranger in the Woods, that shows forest animals reacting to a snowman. That one is definitely going on my wish list for next Christmas!

P.P.S. Who DOESN’T need an adorable stuffed fawn?!?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Toolkit of the Trade: When You Don’t Feel Like Reading

Occasionally I’ll find myself in a reading slump. I’m not interesting in picking anything up, and when I do, I just don’t enjoy it. I doubt I’m the only one who goes through phases of not wanting to read anything, so I thought I’d devote a “tools of the trade” post to some of the strategies I use to rediscover my love of reading. Multiple strategies: therefore toolkit, rather than tool.

1. Tried and True: reread old favorites. For me, this is usually Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night. No matter how bland or just plain awful the last ten books I’ve read, whenever I pick this book up I am struck again by the beauty of her writing and the depth of her characters. Gaudy Night reminds me of why I love to read, and how rewarding it can be to get your teeth into a really great book. Read the book that made you fall in love with reading, or the book you loved most as a child. Pick up your favorite author and settle in for a long visit with an old friend.

2. And Now For Something Completely Different: try something new. This can backfire if you end up picking something completely random and hate it. So try something new, but check out reviews or get a personal recommendation from someone you trust. Switch genres, try non-fiction, check out children’s/YA lit, finally get to that book your spouse or best friend has been trying to get you to read for years but it just “wasn’t your style”.

3. Know Thyself: grab a book on a subject you’re already passionate about. This is sort of a compromise between the first two strategies. Read about some of your other hobbies, or get a beginner’s book to something you’ve always wanted to try. In my case, this is usually travel related. I love travel memoirs, accounts of historical journeys, and straight-up guide books. I can almost guarantee you that whatever you love, there will be a ton of books about it: cooking, gardening, knitting, travel, sailing, hiking, politics, etc.

4. Watch It! (Or, The Book Was Better.) Watching a movie adaptation of a book I’ve loved will almost always get me fired up about rereading the book or series. It doesn’t even matter if the adaptation is good or not. “Ugh, that was horrible! I’m going to read the book right now to erase it from my mind!” or “Wow, that was so great! I can’t wait to reread the book!”

5. Just Do(n’t) It: embrace it. If you don’t feel like reading…don’t. Nobody’s going to make you. Everything in life has ups and downs, and I’ve found that reading is no different. Take some time to just relax, catch up on house projects, pursue other hobbies (like sleeping, for those of you with small children), phone a friend, whatever you do feel like doing. Eventually, you’ll start to be interested in reading again, and pretty soon you won’t be able to tear yourself away from the book in order to do such unimportant things as eating or sleeping.

So, those are some of the strategies I take when I’m going through a reading slump. What do you do when you don’t feel like reading?