Mrs. Cook has seen many generations of the Jones family grow up. She has watched over them and become a part of the Jones family herself. These days she walks a little slower. After an unfortunate incident with one of the Tower ravens, Mrs. Cook has taken to staying indoors. Her age of 180 is impressive and catches the attention of the Queen, which sets in motion the whole story. Mrs. Cook is also a tortoise and the story is the The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart.

Set in contemporary London, The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise is an exploration of the London Tower and one maudlin man, Balthazar Jones, whose duties are about to change dramatically. He is a member of the elite Beefeaters. Officially titled the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, the Beefeaters are a tourist attraction that once guarded the Tower of London. The Queen has decided to open a new royal menagerie at the London Tower to display the exotic animals given to her as gifts by leaders of foreign nations. Balthazar’s ability to keep the elderly tortoise Mrs. Cook alive has convinced the Queen that he is the ideal zookeeper.

There are two aspects of this novel that I loved: the conflicting personalities of the Tower’s residents and the delightful personalities of the animals. Balthazar is lovable in his inability to focus on pick pockets and other threats to the Tower. He is constantly distracted by the rain and his own thoughts. Every failure made me want to reach out and hug the poor guy. His Greek wife, Hebe, works at the London Underground Lost Property Office. Hebe is not interested in the rain, she is interested in the mystery behind each item turned in: books, wigs, an urn. Who would leave these things on the tube? She is delighted whenever a lost item is reunited with its worrisome owner. Her co-worker, Valerie, is lonely and consequently, obsessed with the mid-morning snack of elevenses.

The Tower would not be complete with it’s religious figure. The Chaplin is a man of the cloth, but his duties are confusing to the residents of the Tower, who often turn to him for confession. He can only reply, you might want to see the Catholics up the road. The lonely Chaplin yearns for love and a family, but he is also a failure. He finds relief and refuge in writing sermons and novels of all genres.

Then there is the Ravenmaster. He is jealous of the menagerie distracting visitors from the famous ravens he looks after. His awkward relationship with Balthazar resulting from the attack of Mrs. Cook, fuels his desire to see the menagerie a failure.

The animals were unfamiliar, so I spent some time researching creatures like the zorillas. Silly to admit, but I wanted to confirm that the animals mentioned were real and not fictional. Their personalities made me laugh and I think the residents learned a valuable lesson about handling exotic animals.

When I first read the word “Beefeaters,” I had no reference to what this could mean. I hadn’t heard of the Tower of London and I was unfamiliar with its history. Luckily, the author explained all I needed to know. I felt like I was getting a history lesson in British landmarks, specifically the Tower, the ghosts inhabiting it, and the surrounding river. The spirits are mischievous and have their own agendas, much like the ghosts in the Harry Potter series. I was getting an exclusive look into the castle and the London Underground Lost Property Office. Do these stories have some truth to them or not?

This is the second novel I’ve read by Julia Stuart and I absolutely loved it. I did have some difficulty understanding the slang and had to look up phrases like “elevenses,” which aren’t as common here in the states. I thoroughly enjoyed this book almost as much as her previous novel, The Pigeon Pie Mystery. These two novels make the perfect Anglophile starter kit.

Maybe if I cradle myself in this rocking chair, back and forth, and tell myself that I am the first and best Audrina, I will capture her special gifts. My hollow brain will fill with her memories and then my family will love me like they loved her. These thoughts aren’t my own, but of the main character in My Sweet Audrina, written by the master of frightening family sagas: V. C. Andrews.

My V.C. Andrews shelf

My V.C. Andrews shelf

My Sweet Audrina is the latest V.C. Andrews novel to be transformed into film. In January 2014, the Lifetime channel aired a new version of Flowers in the Attic, the first novel in the Dollanganger series, and I couldn’t wait to watch it. I put it on my calendar and set my DVR, even though I watched it while it recorded. Three more movies in the series followed.

When I first learned that these movies were being filmed, I was ecstatic. These were books that I have loved and read over and over for years and finally, they were coming to life on screen. Characters whose voices I’ve only heard in my head would now have a face. V.C. Andrews fans have heard this all before: some company is considering producing a movie or a series based on her novels, but the project is never picked up. There have so many rumors and failed attempts in the past.

I can see why. Her work isn’t your standard horror fiction. Each novel features strong women that find their own way, their own destinies, despite the obstacles. There are family secrets and devastating truths, betrayal, and more often than not — forbidden family relationships (you know, the “I” word).

My Sweet Audrina is one of the more twisted tales, one that never fails to give me nightmares whenever I re-read it. Andrews’ first standalone novel is a concentrated version of her series. Audrina is a little girl that yearns to become like her older sister, the first and best Audrina, the one who mysteriously died in the woods just outside her house, nine years earlier. The “second and worst” Audrina is forced into a rocking chair every night by her grieving father, who wants her to capture the gifts that her dead sister no longer needs. She is isolated in a home where all the clocks are set at different times, there are no current magazines or calendars and when each day seems like a week has gone by. There’s something suspicious going on and Audrina is determined to uncover the secret.

The cast of characters includes: Audrina’s mother, Aunt Ellsbeth and her illegitimate daughter, Vera, and the tenants, a former championship figure skater turned amputee and her hardworking son.

According to The Complete V.C. Andrews, the latest news is that My Sweet Audrina is in the editing stage. Lifetime might air the movie as early as this fall! It’s a good time to be a V.C. Andrews fan.

Meet Johanna Morrigan: 14 and English, with her family dependent on the benefits. Johanna is just trying to find herself. Who is she? Goth? Poet? Everyday teenager growing up in the 1990s? Aware that she is an overweight, loser bookworm from an uncultured, working-class town, Johanna is ready to change all that. How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran is about Johanna’s transition from friend-less virgin to sex goddess and ultimate rock and roll critic.

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Grab yourself a nice hot drink, a blanket, and make yourself cozy because you’re going to want to read this mystery in one sitting.

Bless Her Dead Little Heart by Miranda James is the story of two prominent, elderly sisters in the small town of Athena, Mississippi. The sisters are cat-sitting a Maine Coon, affectionately named Diesel, for their librarian friend, Charlie Harris, when they receive an unexpected visitor. Their afternoon turns to chaos when old acquaintance, Rosabelle Sultan, barges in, hysterical that someone is trying to kill her, and not just anyone, but a member of her own family.

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It’s 7:44 p.m. and people are crowding into the cafe. I try to identify what brings them here and where they are going later by their clothes, shoes, and accessories. Tonight is a night for people watching and for chatting with friends, a night when people actually talk to each other rather than stare into their phones.

Here at the Coffee Klatch, the atmosphere inside is cozy: squishy chairs and a couch, local art on the walls, and the earthy smell of coffee. A group of us meet to relax, sketch, and drink…lattes. This is Sketch Night.

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In his Newbery Medal Acceptance speech for The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman discussed that there wasn’t a difference in what he read, whether books were considered good or bad. To him, there were no bad books or stories, just stories that he liked. I want to agree with Mr. Gaiman, however, there are some books I just can’t get through. It’s not the length of the book that prevents me from finishing the story, but the content.

My bookshelf contains a balance of classic American and British Literature (stories published from the regency period through the early 1960s) and Gothic family sagas, young adult, and an undeniable amount of books with or about cats. Below is a list of books that will not be taking up space on my bookshelves.

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I may have been overambitious setting such a high standard for myself. In my first blog post, Wednesday Weekend,  I discussed my goal to read 50 books by the end of the year. It’s been nearly four months since I challenged myself (on January 7, 2015) and I am progressing steadily, but according to, I am falling behind.

goodreads graph

I was on a steady reading route until I started reading books I didn’t enjoy.

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“There’s a hamburger head shark!”

This shout came from a child in awe and surprise as he watched a hammerhead shark swish its body and swim around the giant tank.

I was on the second floor of the Open Sea Exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Below me, a group of children and adults lined the floors sitting crossed-legged, ready for the feeding. After a disappointing visit to the Slough and not seeing a single ray, I was ready to see some sea animals.  Here at the Open Sea Exhibit stingrays, tuna and sharks were hanging out together.


It was Monday and not all of the animals in the exhibit get fed everyday, so only the turtles and the sardines were dining today. A sea turtle munched on some lettuce and bell peppers at the top of the tank. A school of shiny sardines whirled up from the narrow bottom of the pool to get their share of fish flakes. However, the sardines weren’t the only hungry fish in the tank that day. The Mahi Mahi snapped at the tornado-like school in an attempt to secure a snack. How do all these animals co-exist and not eat the wrong food? The presenter explained that the animals at this exhibit have been “target trained” to recognize a specific visual whenever their food is coming, essentially a “visual dinner bell.”

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It was evening when Joey and I walked along a dock of Moss Landing to get a better view of the seals resting on the shore in the marina. In the distance we heard the distinctive arf-arf of some sea lions, but much closer we heard knocking. Knock-knock-knock came again from under the dock. Something was under there. A family was laying on the dock, stomachs down and squealing. Even their dog knew something exciting was happening by the way he whined and pulled on his leash. Joey and I leaned over the dock to get a closer look at the water and out popped an otter!

I have never been this close to an otter in real life without a glass window between us. It was magnificent and terrifying to see such a creature up close. I watched it swim around in circles and continue to pull shellfish from under the dock and use the dock to crack open its treats. I was surprised that this one otter was approaching the dock with people and a dog standing on it, but it didn’t seem to bother the otter at all. The dog wanted to sniff it. I wanted to touch its fur, but its clawed paws changed my mind. Moss Landing wasn’t on our itinerary and yet it was one of the most astonishing places we visited on this trip. I had started the day anxious to catch some rays and splash waves. It was the perfect ending to my Beach Day.

Otter at Moss Landing

Otter at Moss Landing



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