Tuesday, June 28, 2011

First-home Buying How-to

Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home
by Ilona M. Bray, J.D., Alayna Schroeder, J.D., and Marcia Stewart

*NOTE: This review refers to the book I received through LibraryThing Early Reviewers. As per the rules, I receive a free book in return for a review, and whether it's positive or negative has no affect on my receiving books in the future.*

I was really excited to see this offered as a LibraryThing Early Reviewer option since I have begun to consider the possibility of buying a house, but have felt at a complete loss of where to start. Then, after I won it and received the book, I put off starting it feeling a little intimidated and afraid that it might be boring and difficult.

Nothing could be further from the truth. While some parts certainly interested me more than others, the writing was accessible and the explanations clear. Two of the authors are lawyers, and they do a good job of explaining general law in layman's terms, even while stressing differences by state. Of course, since the subject matter is so broad, no one chapter can cover every option or every situation; furthermore, since laws are different from state to state, there are going to be individual differences. But this book lays excellent general groundwork for the ins and outs of home buying. The authors primarily focus on the purchase of a single-family home, though from time to time special situations like a new home from a developer or a co-op is considered. Each chapter introduces one aspect of purchasing a house, such as creating your wishlist, how to assemble your "team" (real estate agent, attorney, mortgage broker, etc.) and what each of them do, and how to finance your purchase. What could become dry facts and figures is broken up by real life stories, tips, worksheets (there are a few short examples in the text, with directions to look at the complete one on the CD-ROM included), and more. I especially enjoyed the "Best Thing We Ever Did" features in which something that could have been abstract, like getting a home inspection, translated into something practical by showing how someone truly benefited from it.

As a result of reading, I'm feeling more comfortable understanding such things as what a mortgage broker does, and what I might need to do to see if I'm in a position to buy now or later. I will be able to ask more intelligent questions and not feel completely lost. Though the earlier chapters have much more relevance to my current situation, I'm sure that I will refer to the book as I come closer to truly be in a position to buy.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mrs. Ames

by E.F. Benson
New York: Bloomsbury, 2010 (originally printed in 1912).

In the small English town of Riseborough, Mrs. Ames holds sway over the fashions and practices of the populace. What has her neighbors abuzz this time? She's invited a husband or a wife to a dinner party, separate from their partner. But things go greatly awry when both her husband and her son begin to have an interest in one of the singly-invited women, Mrs. Evans.

This is the sort of gentle read that those who appreciate the characters and interactions of a story like Cranford may enjoy. There's not a lot of plot action outside of the day to day life of middle aged married people, which sounds boring, but really isn't. The delivery of the thoughts of the Althams, the Ames', and more of the characters, amused me and made me laugh aloud at times; their interactions were gossipy and politely insulting and true.

E.F. Benson is perhaps better known for his Mapp and Lucia series. I enjoyed the humor of Mrs. Ames enough to make me want to read his other books as well.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Kat, Incorrigible

by Stephanie Burgis
New York : Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010.

(first published in Britain under the title A Most Improper Magick)

Kat Stephenson is the daughter of a vicar and a witch, a fact that has left the family poor and just on the edge of good society, despite her Stepmama's wishes to the contrary. Her oldest sister, Elissa, is promised to be married to Sir Neville, a rich older man whose first wife died under mysterious circumstances. But Kat is determined to help Elissa out of this marriage, whether her sisters Elissa and Angeline want her help or not.

This story introduces a series that promises to be fun and inventive children's fantasy, set in or around the Victorian era in England. Kat is a fun and witty heroine to follow, if a bit precocious for a twelve-year-old: "I tried to raise just one eyebrow, like Angeline. They both came up together, so I had to settle for looking surprised instead of sardonic" (98). Unfortunately, the tale suffers just a bit from too much set up, with only tantalizing glimpses of what may be further explored in sequels. I'll be impatiently waiting to see if that is true.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tower of London

by Christopher Hibbert
New York, Newsweek [1971].

This is a history of the Tower of London, which was built under the direction of William the Conqueror and has a long and bloody history.

Though appearing deceptively short, this oversize and double-columned book is also a long and bloody history. I had a hard time following events, partially because the author wasn't quite sure if he was writing a chronological or topical history, and partially because I do not know my English history particularly well and couldn't for the life of me follow the succession of kings in the middle ages and beyond. At times dry and at other times gruesome, I had a hard time really being interesting in reading this book. On reflection, however, it's served its purpose because I did learn enough to feel that I will better understand what I'm seeing when I visit the Tower for myself.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What Happened to Goodbye

by Sarah Dessen
New York : Viking Childrens Books, 2011.

Mclean, named for her dad's favorite college basketball coach, has been reinventing herself ever since her parents divorce. Every time they move with her father's job, she's changed names and put on a persona - Lisbet, Eliza, Beth. Meanwhile, her mother is constantly calling, wanting Mclean to come for a visit. But Mclean can't go back to her old life. This is just one more move, one more restaurant for her father to rescue, one more town, one more school. Before long, she'll be moving on, and she can't afford to get invested in anything or anyone...can she?

Longtime Sarah Dessen readers will not be disappointed with her latest offering. Mclean is a likable character, even if I sometimes felt myself relating more to her mother than her. I caught myself wondering if her mother could really be that bad, before it occurred to me that Mclean is also our narrator, and surely to a teenage girl a mother could feel that overprotective and demanding, even if she really wasn't. The use of flashbacks, particular events only hours prior to the narrative present, broke up the narrative flow for me, though I enjoyed Mclean's story and experiences.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Last Little Blue Envelope

by Maureen Johnson
New York : HarperTeen, 2011.

*Possible slight spoilers* - but nothing past page 50, honest.

At the end of 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Ginny's bag - along with her letters from Aunt Peg and the final, unopened envelope - is stolen. Despite this setback, her trip to Europe was life-changing. In fact, it would be the subject of her college essay, if she could ever figure out what to write. Then, she received an email from Oliver, a young man who claims he found has that last little blue envelope. According to Oliver, Aunt Peg left another piece of art, and he will give Ginny her letter back if she gives him a finder's fee from the proceeds of the sale.

I really enjoyed the first book about Ginny and her travels. At first, I wasn't sure if I would like the sequel as much, mainly because of the changing nature of Ginny's relationships once she finds out that Keith (her co-traveler in the last book and "sort of" but never official boyfriend) has a girlfriend, Ellis. All four of them - Ginny, Oliver, Keith and Ellis - are now on this trip, a dynamic that could have made for excruciating reading. But Johnson never makes it as melodramatic oh-woe-is-me that she could have. She realistically portrays Ginny's hurt feelings without making her maudlin or annoying. Once they leave on their trip, guided by Oliver and the last letter, I read nearly in one sitting. If you loved the first book, this is a good follow-up, but I think The Last Little Blue Envelope could stand decently on its own as well.