Wednesday, February 25, 2015

To My Friends - Book Review

Whenever Elder Jeffrey R. Holland speaks I sit up straighter and listen more carefully. He might just be my favorite speaker during LDS General Conference. I love that he brings the scriptures to life for me and reminds me of the love of our Savior Jesus Christ. I like that he pulls no punches. He means what he says and he says what he means. His words speak to my heart.

To My Friends : Messages of Counsel and Comfort is a collection of talks given by Jeffrey R. Holland over the last several years. Rand and I read them together and enjoyed being reminded of his words and his spirit as he lifts and encourages us to follow Jesus Christ.

Many of the talks we have heard before but some of them are new to us--either given at BYU and BYU-I Devotionals as well as a talk given to a national meeting of Christian evangelical leaders. It is true that these talks are available to listen to or read for free online but it is nice to have all of his important messages included in one beautiful book. Holland's testimony and spirit is strong in this collection.

To My Friends : Messages of Counsel and Comfort by Jeffrey R. Holland is published by Deseret Book in December 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of To My Friends. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Good Girl - Review and Give-away

Eve was completely surprised by the phone call. The caller, her daughter's friend, had exhausted all other possibilities looking for Mia and in desperation hoped that Mia might just be with her mother. Mia has disappeared. Immediately a search is organized for the daughter of a well-known Chicago judge and his socialite wife.

Told from the perspectives of Eve, Mia's mother; Gabe, the detective assigned to the case and Colin, the man who kidnapped Mia, The Good Girl by Mary Kubica is a page-turning mystery with plenty of twists and turns.

I've been in a bit of a reading slump--my nightstand overflowing with half finished books. I knew the She Reads Twitter chat with Mary was coming up and so I pulled The Good Girl from my shelves hoping that it would keep my easily distracted mind interested to the conclusion. It was exactly what I needed to break the bad pattern.

I especially enjoyed seeing the mystery unfold from the perspective of the perpetrator. This is a rare treat and being in his confused and dangerous mind was fascinating. The structure of the novel being told by three narrators with some sections before and after enhanced the mystery and the character development. The style was different but even as a debut author, Kubica makes it work.

The mystery kept me guessing but provided enough clues so the shocking ending was still plausible. With interesting characters; a fast-paced plot and an intriguing mystery, Kubica delivers a satisfying thriller without the gore.

**There is a character who swears.**

The Good Girl is published by MIRA and released in July 2014. The paperback printing of The Good Girl by Mary Kubica is out now and to celebrate I have a hardcover copy of The Good Girl to give away to one lucky reader.

To enter leave a comment on this post. The give-away will be open to entries until Friday, February 27th at 11:59 pm MST. The winner will be chosen randomly from the comments and be announced on Saturday, February 28th. US only.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Good Girl through She Reads. The give away copy was provided by the publishers. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

My Sunshine Away - Book Review

The peace and security, of the people living in the beautiful Pine Creek neighborhood of Baton Rouge, are shattered when golden track-star Lindy Simpson, just fifteen years old, is raped not far from her own home. Before this moment, the neighbors have been a close group of friends. The kids have grown up playing together in the woods behind their homes. The adults have held barbecues and helped each other with their yard work. Following the violent act, everything has changed. Several neighbors are suspect. People are distrustful and guarded. But the biggest change is in Lindy, who withdraws, changes and loses that early sparkle of innocence and naivete.

The narrator of My Sunshine Away is a fourteen year old boy who has long had a secret crush on Lindy. And he's a suspect of the crime.

Using magical language, My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh transports the reader back to the nostalgic days of the narrator's youth. Since the narrator (I honestly can't find a mention of his name) and I are the same age, as he tells of his experiences as a fifth grader watching the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster I was mesmerized by our shared history. Full of the recent historical events that shaped the narrator and most Americans, he includes these events and the reactions and feelings to thoroughly bring his characters to life.

My Sunshine Away is a coming of age novel. Just as the tragic and horrifying events of Lindy's rape shape her youth and the lives of her family, the narrator is also deeply affected by the crime and the shattering of an ideal. His own childhood is changed by this moment. It's powerful and moving and a good reminder that and individual's choices and actions affect so many others for good or bad.

The novel is also a mystery, as doubt and suspicion is cast on several neighbors. The reader can not fully be sure that the narrator is not guilty of the crime though he frequently professes his innocence. Well plotted with just enough evidence to keep the reader guessing, My Sunshine Away is a compelling read.

At times heart wrenching and painful, the novel is also filled with heroics and hope. I hope to encourage other friends to read My Sunshine Away because I'm anxious to discuss the elements and themes of the novel that impressed me. It would be a fabulous book club read.

There is some bad language in the novel.

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh is published by Putnam and released on February 10, 2015. 

**I received a complimentary copy of My Sunshine Away. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Winner of The Secret of Midwives Give-away

Happy Valentines Day!

The winner of an ARC copy of The Secret of Midwives 
by Sally Hepworth is...

Ashley Walker

Congratulations! Please contact me with your information within a week to claim your prize.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Crazy Love You - Book Review

Ian, a graphic novelist, has fallen in love with Megan and wants to marry her. She's beautiful, sweet and fulfills his dreams of a settling down and having a family. But Ian's past and especially his childhood friendship with Priss is getting in the way of his relationship with Megan.

Priss has been his closest friend since tragedy shook his childhood. Bullied in school, Ian was regularly defended by Priss whose violent vengeance unnerved him but inspired the popular graphic novels Ian would later write. Priss has always been his defender. His protector. And he's been grateful, but now that he's becoming closer with Megan, they seem to become the target of Priss's violence and sinister retribution.

Crazy Love You by Lisa Unger kept me on the edge for the entire book. Priss was a frightening character--dangerous and unpredictable. At the same time, Ian is a completely unreliable narrator and I couldn't quite shake the feeling that he was lying throughout the book. Combined, these elements created a rushing, thrilling read that I couldn't put down and was nervous to read at night.

With dark twists and surprises, the plot was riveting and bewildering; suspenseful and chilling. I love a great psychological thriller and Crazy Love You definitely delivered.

Crazy Love You by Lisa Unger is published by Touchstone and released on February 10, 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of Crazy Love You. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Marriage Game : A Novel of Queen Elizabeth I - Book Review

While reading The Marriage Game : A Novel of Queen Elizabeth I by Alison Weir, I joked that it was so suspenseful--I just couldn't wait to know who Queen Elizabeth I would marry. Of course, everyone knows that Queen Elizabeth was the famous Virgin Queen who died unmarried and without a child heir. However, I thought that she had publicly and adamantly declared that she would never marry very early in her reign. The Marriage Game by Weir details the history of the intrigue Elizabeth played with amorous and political suitors from around Europe. She kept them guessing and courting for years.

Focusing primarily on the relationship between Elizabeth and her childhood friend Robert Dudley, Weir tells the romantic and turbulent story of their courtship, friendship and working alliance. Elizabeth kept Dudley close to her for years--promoting, trusting and teasing him. Rumors of their affair were rampant within the court and Weir uses her experience as a historian and her knowledge of the Tudors to paint a very plausible account of their story.

Previously, I have only read some of Weir's history--The Six Wives of Henry the VIII--which I really enjoyed. I was definitely curious to read her fiction. Truthfully, her style still felt a bit aloof for fiction and it still felt more like a history with dialogue. Once I got used to her style, I really enjoyed learning more about Queen Elizabeth. I've been fascinated with this period of history for many years so I know the basics and political accomplishments of the queen. It was enjoyable and enlightening to read more of Elizabeth's personal relationships and the way she used her marriageability to manipulate world leaders and hold off conflicts with the European countries.

The Marriage Game : A Novel of Queen Elizabeth I by Alison Weir is published by Ballantine Books on February 10, 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Marriage Game. No compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Secrets of Midwives - Book Review & Give-away

The midwives who delivered my five babies captured my heart. Their kindness and wisdom blessed my life and the lives of my babies as the midwives shared the precious moments of birth with us. Well educated and in tune with a woman's body, one midwife I now consider a friend, also diagnosed my thyroid issue. I've written more about my experiences with childbirth, certified nurse midwives and hypnobirthing *here*.

So given my history, it was not a surprise that I really enjoyed The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth. Three women. Grandmother, mother and daughter have all become midwives. While their personal beliefs and philosophies about hospitals, doctors, birthing centers and home deliveries differ, they all share they goal of delivering healthy babies from healthy mothers.

Floss and Grace are surprised to discover that Neva is 30 weeks pregnant and that she has hidden this pregnancy from them for so long. Tuned in to the signs of pregnancy, they are shocked that they have completely missed the clues from their granddaughter and daughter. Not only has Neva kept the pregnancy from them, she is remaining mum about who the father is--insisting only that the baby has no father.

Grace is obsessed with finding out who the father of her grandchild is and Floss realizes that keeping her own secret may be hurting those she loves.

The Secrets of Midwives was a captivating read. I read the majority in one evening once I became intrigued by their characters' lives and experiences delivering babies. The women in the story are each different though they've chosen a common profession. They are at times unlikable and abrasive; occasionally soft and vulnerable. They do fall into their specific type-cast roles: the country midwife on her bicycle, the hippy midwife with her oils and massage and the certified nurse midwife delivering in hospitals near emergency medical care. Yet, each woman has an individual personality and becomes a well developed character as the plot moves forward.

There's hardly a time when a gathering of my friends doesn't end up in sharing of birth stories. These emotional moments shape us as women. They're part of our larger story. The delivery scenes in The Secrets of Midwives are dramatic, powerful and beautiful. The novel is heavy on birthing philosophy but ultimately the story wins out and the relationships between Floss, Grace and Neva become more important than the propaganda.

I thoroughly relished the novel. It's well written and perfectly plotted to be a quick, delightful read that pulled at my heartstrings.

The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth is published by St. Martin's Press on February 10, 2015.

I have an extra ARC copy of The Secrets of Midwives to give away to one lucky reader.

To enter leave a copy of this post. The contest will be open to entries until Friday, February 13th at 11:59pm MST. One winner will be chosen randomly from the comments and announced on Saturday, February 14th. Open to US only.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Secrets of Midwives. No additional compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Tutor - Book Review

From the cover :

A bold and captivating novel about love, passion, and ambition that imagines the muse of William Shakespeare and the tumultuous year they spend together.  

The year is 1590, and Queen Elizabeth’s Spanish Armada victory has done nothing to quell her brutal persecution of the English Catholics. Katharine de L’Isle is living at Lufanwal Hall, the manor of her uncle, Sir Edward. Taught by her cherished uncle to read when a child, Katharine is now a thirty-one-year-old widow. She has resigned herself to a life of reading and keeping company with her cousins and their children. But all that changes when the family’s priest, who had been performing Catholic services in secret, is found murdered. Faced with threats of imprisonment and death, Sir Edward is forced to flee the country, leaving Katharine adrift in a household rife with turmoil.

At this time of unrest, a new schoolmaster arrives from Stratford, a man named William Shakespeare. Coarse, quick-witted, and brazenly flirtatious, Shakespeare swiftly disrupts what fragile peace there is left at Lufanwal. Katharine is at first appalled by the boldness of this new tutor, but when she learns he is a poet, and one of talent, things between them begin to shift, and soon Katharine finds herself drawn into Shakespeare’s verse, and his life, in ways that will change her forever.

Inventive and absorbing, The Tutor is a masterful work of historical fiction, casting Shakespeare in a light we’ve never seen. 

My thoughts :

Just as Katherine is beguiled by the dashing poet, I was charmed and enthralled by Andrea Chapin's novel The Tutor. Katherine is a delightful character. She's smart but not flawless. She's human and susceptible to seduction and the emotions of the heart. It is delightful to see her opposite Shakespeare and imagine that a passionate and equally brilliant woman must have influenced his early poetry.

Filled with dangerous and riveting subplots--a family struggles to stay safe in an atmosphere of political and religious unrest while it appears to implode with intrigues from within--the novel moves at a thrilling pace. The supporting cast is developed enough that even with a large number of characters, they are relatively easy to keep straight.

While the novel is passionate and filled with poetry to stir the soul, I appreciate that it is free from erotic sex scenes. Chapin allows the romantic and sexual tension to build with the shared poetry between Katherine and Will. The portrayal of Will Shakespeare is remarkable. The cunning, brilliant and flamboyant man comes to life within Chapin's pages. He keeps Katherine and the reader on their toes and constantly guessing at his true intentions. 

The Tutor by Andrea Chapin is a mesmerizing and luscious novel filled with romance and mystery. I could barely put it down at night to sleep. 

The Tutor by Andrea Chapin is published by Riverhead Books and releases on February 5, 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Tutor. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Friday, January 30, 2015

Foxy's Premium Frozen Yogurt

I get a lot of packages delivered to my house but it is pretty rare to get one that warns me to use gloves because dry ice burns and to put the contents immediately into the freezer. 

I was so excited that I completely ignored the advice and while I didn't touch the dry ice, I did get burned from the cold containers of frozen yogurt inside. I hardly cared. I couldn't wait to dig right into those beautiful containers of frozen deliciousness.

I have a thing for frozen treats--ice cream, sorbet, and frozen yogurt are my downfall. I can't resist. So it's pretty exciting that Foxy's Premium Frozen Yogurt is as guilt-free as it is delicious. With six delectable flavors packaged in individual containers (or enough for two) that are just so cute and witty, it wasn't hard to find a flavor that I especially loved.

After a little taste-testing party friends and my kids, each had their own favorite flavors. Amberly loves the Sassy Pash (so appropriate), a blend of vanilla bean and strawberry hunks. I fell for head over heels in love with the combination of tingly and rich flavors in Fancy Pash, dark chocolate and tangerine zest. Though the Naughty Pash, honeycomb and caramel chunks was a close second place.

Once I let the kids loose, the frozen yogurt was devoured in seconds. Made with fresh ingredients and with significantly less calories and fat content than most frozen yogurt and ice cream treats, I didn't have to feel so worried that my kids practically licked the containers clean.

In Utah, Foxy's Premium Frozen Yogurt in all the amazing flavors can now be purchased at Harmon's Groceries. 

**I received complimentary frozen yogurt in exchange for my review. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League - Book Review

I fell in love with The Healing by Jonathan Odell a few years ago. You can read my review *here*. I enjoyed it so much that I almost immediately ordered a copy of Odell's first book The View From Delphi and then I didn't get around to reading it. Fortunately, I was able to read the new rendering of his previous novel, Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League.

Miss Hazel and her husband Floyd arrive in Delphi, Mississippi newly married and determined to make their fortune. At least Floyd is determined. Until Floyd brings home a new Lincoln for his wife, Hazel feels like she's just along for the ride. Finding a bit freedom and peace, Hazel dresses up; packs her two young boys in the back seat and becomes famous for driving through town and all over the delta.

Hazel has trouble fitting in with the well bred ladies in town who see her as tacky nouveau riche and suffers from depression. After the death of her son, she drowns her sorrows in alcohol and soon finds herself nearly a prisoner in her own home when Floyd hires Vida to be her maid and make sure she takes her medicine. Vida, a young black woman, has also lost a son and harbors a deep vendetta against the crooked sheriff. The two women form an unlikely alliance as they stir things up in the already the troubled racial climate of Delphi.

Odell's characters come to life within the pages of his novel. Hazel and Vida are troubled, complex women who experience dynamic growth and react in believable ways to the sorrows and devastation in their lives. Every person feels real and not simply type cast supporting characters. They are richly developed and all their lives blend together to create the drama, tension and history familiar to those from a small town.

The pages of Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League are filled with beautiful images and hauntingly lyrical words. Odell is a master of writing and of  understanding human temperament and desires. He excels at telling inspiring stories that captivate the reader with a myriad of powerful emotions.

Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League is a beautiful and important novel. If it's possible, I may have loved it even more than I loved The Healing.

Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell is published by Maiden Lane Press and released in January 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

One Step Too Far - Book Review

From the cover :

The #1 international bestseller reminiscent of After I’m Gone, Sister, Before I Go to Sleep, and The Silent Wife—an intricately plotted, thoroughly addictive thriller that introduces a major new voice in suspense fiction—a mesmerizing and powerful novel that will keep you guessing to the very end.
No one has ever guessed Emily’s secret.
Will you?
A happy marriage. A beautiful family. A lovely home. So what makes Emily Coleman get up one morning and walk right out of her life—to start again as someone new?
Now, Emily has become Cat, working at a hip advertising agency in London and living on the edge with her inseparable new friend, Angel. Cat’s buried any trace of her old self so well, no one knows how to find her. But she can't bury the past—or her own memories.
And soon, she’ll have to face the truth of what she's done—a shocking revelation that may push her one step too far. . . .

My thoughts : 

I was immediately intrigued by Emily's story in One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis. What could she have done to make her walk away from the husband and child that she clearly loved? Even though the beginning felt bogged down in pointless dribble--the reader really doesn't need pages of text describing shopping at IKEA--I pressed on, determined to understand Emily's motivations. Eventually I was quite taken with Emily's transformation into the edgy Cat and finally got back into a reading groove that I've been missing lately. 

The writing style is pretty simple but Tina Seskis builds emotion and suspense with alternating chapters between the past and Emily's new present as Cat. The suspense multiplies and just as all Emily's secrets are about to be revealed, I put the book down to savor the tension. However, the next morning I was completely deflated by the ending. In light of the conclusion, so many of the alternating chapters regarding supporting characters were entertaining yet unnecessary and didn't support the plot at all. 

While I found the revelations anti-climatic and the writing sophomoric, I was constantly compelled to discover Emily's secrets and I enjoyed reading the novel.

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis is published by William Morrow and released on January 27, 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of One Step Too Far. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The winner of THE MAGICIAN'S LIE

Good morning. My house seemed colder than usual this morning when we woke up. When I checked the thermostat the temperature was 51 degrees and someone had switched off the furnace. No one here is owning up to turning it off and our only guess is that Neal flipped the switch before leaving for his scout camp. Perhaps he figured that we should all be as cold as he would be. Thankfully, the furnace is working and the house is heating up nicely.

Until it gets warmer though, I'm staying wrapped up in my robe and under the covers with a great book.

One lucky winner has just won a copy of a fabulous and exciting book to cuddle up with this winter. And the winner of an ARC copy of The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister is...

Blogger budandlissa said...
Sounds like a fantastic read! I hope I get the chance!

Congratulations! You have one week to contact me with your information so that you can receive your prize. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Dress Shop of Dreams - Book Review

If I saw this book on the shelf at the store, I would pass it right by. Based on the whimsical cover, I would have decided that this book definitely wasn't for me and moved along. Just not my cup of cocoa. However, since The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag is a She Reads selection this winter and I almost always like their choices, I decided to give it a chance. I had just finished The Magician's Lie and was in the mood for a little more magic.

Scientist Cora Sparks has carefully guarded and controlled her emotions since the traumatic death of her parents in a house fire. Her grandmother Etta is concerned that Cora is missing out on the love of her life by refusing to look beyond her research and see Walt, the handsome bookseller who has loved her since his childhood. Fortunately, Etta is armed with magic and with a few careful stitches in the beautiful dresses she creates and sells, she can help her customers and granddaughter see their potential.

It took me three days to read the first 70 pages. I was having a lot of trouble getting into the story and was distracted by every little thing. This is pretty unusual for me and I was just about to toss it aside when something (magically?) clicked. I devoured the last two thirds of the book in an evening.

The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag has a lot of characters with a lot of angst and love-sickness and drama going on in their lives. While Cora starts to feel again and open her heart to Walt, she also begins investigating her parents' deaths. Walt, believing that Cora will never return his love, tries desperately to fall in love with Milly, a young widow who is enraptured by Walt's voice and his love letters. Etta, too, is haunted by the love she gave up years ago.

A love letter to romantic classics, The Dress Shop of Dreams is filled with magic and enchantment and love.

It's a fairy tale of sorts, where all the characters' stories are woven together and wrap up with happy endings. It's fanciful, airy, and frankly, reminds me more of a perfect summer evening than a book for winter. But really The Dress Shop of Dreams would be enjoyable any time of year.

The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag is published by Ballantine and released in December 2014. It is one of the winter selections from She Reads.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Dress Shop of Dreams from She Reads. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Magician's Lie - Book Review & Give-away

Virgil Holt, a young police officer in a small Iowa town, is completely mesmerized by the woman magician using an ax to hack through the coffin-box holding a man and drenching the stage with blood. It's impossible for Holt to look away from the Amazing Arden. Only hours later, Holt arrives on the scene to see evidence that the magician's husband has been murdered and his body shoved in the same box she had used earlier for her trick. Arden is the number one suspect.

It is only by chance that Holt is able to capture Arden and he holds her prisoner in the small jail until he can turn her over to the other authorities. Arden has only the night to tell her story and convince Holt that she is innocent of the murder of her husband.

With magic and illusion, The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister captured my attention from the first page. 

Arden is a fascinating character who is adept at survival and self-promotion. Her story is compelling and filled with danger, intrigue, passion and love. Carefully plotted, Arden's story is beguiling and like Holt, the reader is never sure what to believe and what not to believe.

Because I was fully in love with the world created in The Magician's Lie, I was sad to see it end. With that love, I would have liked better development of some of the supporting characters. Because of the narrative style, Arden is telling her story to Holt. I would have loved to be more immersed in her world and the people she associated with on the circuit.

Macallister is at her best writing about the gruesome fire that destroyed the Iroquois Theater in Chicago. Arming herself with history, Macallister uses this as a critical point in Arden's story while bringing the reader right into the horrifying disaster. Placing historical figures at moments in Arden's life, including the relationship between Arden and the very real female magician Adelaide Herrmann also gives the story strength and credibility. The historical time period works perfectly for Adren's tale.

I was entranced by The Magician's Lie. It is beautiful, thrilling, dangerous and compelling. Talented and gifted, the Amazing Arden has a magic that is equally enthralling and horrible. It was hard to put it down and I wanted almost immediately to read it again.

The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister is one of the SheReads selections this winter. It is published by Source Books Landmark in January 2015. 

**I received a complimentary copy of The Magician's Lie. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Not sure how it happened, but I actually received two copies of The Magician's Lie. I'm giving the second ARC copy of the novel away to one lucky winner.

Please leave a comment on this blog post. The contest will be opened to entries until Friday, January 23rd at 11:59 MST. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Saturday, January 24th. Open in US only.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Belong to Me - Book Review

Cornelia Brown has just moved to the suburbs and been instantly snubbed by her neighbor Piper. Piper is the Queen Bee of the neighborhood. She's judgmental, sharp and apparently has it all together. Immediately at odds, Cornelia has found a nemesis before she's made a friend. But after a chance encounter with Lake at the grocery store, Cornelia is sure she's found the perfect friend. She and Lake have a lot in common and hit it off but she's not fully comfortable when it becomes clear that Lake isn't being fully honest with her.

Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos is a novel about interactions and relationships. Full of flawed characters who make mistakes and keep secrets and serve a friend and comfort each other. The characters are so real that they could be people in your own neighborhood.

I was drawn to the author's style. Cornelia's tangential and self-aware voice is refreshing. She's witty and doesn't take herself too seriously. Just when you think she's impervious, she becomes entirely human and collapsible. I greatly admired her character and wished I could have been more like her when I had my own meeting with a woman I hoped would be a friend and definitely wasn't.

The story is told from the perspective of Cornelia, her nemesis Piper and Lake's thirteen year old son Dev. I instantly liked Cornelia (I am familiar with her from de los Santos's novel Love Walked In). Piper is a character that I had to grow to love but I was constantly amused by her. Piper becomes a fully fleshed-out human being. She feels real to me--imperfect, judgmental and at the same time selfless and loving.

Overall, I adored this novel. I felt empathy for the characters. There is a revelation in the novel that initially worried me that the entire book would be ruined but it came together and after rereading some earlier sections, I appreciated how the situation was handled.

There is a lot of swearing in the novel which definitely turned off several members of the book club.

Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos was published by William Morrow in 2008. Copies of the book were provided to our book club through the Book Club Girl Blog.

House Broken - Book Review

From the cover :

In this compelling and poignant debut novel, a woman skilled at caring for animals must learn to mend the broken relationships in her family.…
For veterinarian Geneva Novak, animals can be easier to understand than people. They’re also easier to forgive. But when her mother, Helen, is injured in a vodka-fueled accident, it’s up to Geneva to give her the care she needs.
Since her teens, Geneva has kept her self-destructive mother at arm’s length. Now, with two slippery teenagers of her own at home, the last thing she wants is to add Helen to the mix. But Geneva’s husband convinces her that letting Helen live with them could be her golden chance to repair their relationship.
Geneva isn’t expecting her mother to change anytime soon, but she may finally get answers to the questions she’s been asking for so long. As the truth about her family unfolds, however, Geneva may find secrets too painful to bear and too terrible to forgive.

My thoughts :

House Broken by Sonja Yoerg is so simply and gorgeously written that it was an absolute pleasure to cuddle up and enjoy on a cold and rainy (in January!) day. With characters who are flawed and in some cases just struggling to get through each day, the story is wrapped up in their attempts to mend broken family relationships. 

While House Broken deals with family secrets, it is less a mystery and more a tale of redemption, forgiveness and love. The story is told though three characters, Geneva, her mother Helen and her daughter Ella. Each character knows her own truth. Seeing the story through the perspective of all three characters allows for empathy and understanding. 

House Broken by Sonja Yoerg is lovely, heartbreaking and joyful. Family relationships are not reconciled in an instant, yet with a bit of understanding and a change of heart, healing can begin. Sharing this truth, House Broken is powerful and compelling.

House Broken by Sonja Yoerg is published by NAL Trade and released on January 6, 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of House Broken. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

After the War is Over - Book Review

From the cover :

The International bestselling author of Somewhere in France returns with her sweeping second novel—a tale of class, love, and freedom—in which a young woman must find her place in a world forever changed.
After four years as a military nurse, Charlotte Brown is ready to leave behind the devastation of the Great War. The daughter of a vicar, she has always been determined to dedicate her life to helping others. Moving to busy Liverpool, she throws herself into her work with those most in need, only tearing herself away for the lively dinners she enjoys with the women at her boarding house.
Just as Charlotte begins to settle into her new circumstances, two messages arrive that will change her life. One, from a radical young newspaper editor, offers her a chance to speak out for those who cannot. The other pulls her back to her past, and to a man she has tried, and failed, to forget.
Edward Neville-Ashford, her former employer and the brother of Charlotte’s dearest friend, is now the new Earl of Cumberland—and a shadow of the man he once was. Yet under his battle wounds and haunted eyes Charlotte sees glimpses of the charming boy who long ago claimed her foolish heart. She wants to help him, but dare she risk her future for a man who can never be hers?
As Britain seethes with unrest and post-war euphoria flattens into bitter disappointment, Charlotte must confront long-held insecurities to find her true voice . . . and the courage to decide if the life she has created is the one she truly wants.

My thoughts :

I did not read Robson's first novel Somewhere in France. While After the War is Over could be seen as a sequel to the first novel, it can stand alone as it focuses more on different characters and gives plenty of the back story. Robson's style reminded me quite a bit of Jacqueline Winspear's early Maisie Dobbs novels, just lacking the mystery. 

After the War is Over starts out strong and I read the first 100 pages in an evening. I enjoyed the atmosphere and the history of the period following World War I. But then the novel starts to get bogged down with back story and slow down significantly. Charlotte Brown is just too perfect and a little dull. Her relationships with Lord Ashford and the newspaper editor show promise and I kept reading hoping for a glimmer of chemistry. The ending wraps up so conveniently and nicely that all the previous drama and conflict suddenly seem overblown.

After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson does a good job of showing the pain and suffering and struggle to recover in Great Britain following World War I. I'm always moved by the stories of people from this era and my heart always breaks knowing that these people will eventually face another horrendous war. The nice character and feel-good ending leave After the War is Over feeling like a good comfort read, though it might just put you to sleep.

After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson is published by William Morrow and releases on January 6, 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of After the War is Over. No additional compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Bishop's Wife - Book Review

Linda Wallheim is a homemaker; a mother of five mostly grown sons; and the wife of the Bishop of an LDS ward. When a neighbor and member of the ward, Carrie Helm, suddenly leaves her husband and young daughter, Linda suspects foul play. Under the guise of the caring neighbor, Linda begins snooping around hoping to find the truth about her missing neighbor. At the same time, Tobias, another neighbor and ward member, is dying. Linda serves his grieving wife but there is something suspicious about the dying man. Now seeing herself as an amateur sleuth, Linda hopes to find evidence about just what happened to Tobias's first wife.

Set in Draper, Utah ("Mormon Country"), The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison intends to shed light on the church, it's customs and uniqueness while introducing a busybody character with an insatiable desire for digging up other people's skeletons.

I've waited for a few days after reading The Bishop's Wife to try to write a careful review of my thoughts. A review is only that--how I felt personally about the book. Reading about my own religion, even in a work of fiction, adds a complicated element. In the case of The Bishop's Wife, it's like looking at your religion through a microscope lens that is also distorted by the opinions of the author. While Harrison is a member of the church, it is clear that she and I have very different opinions and beliefs regarding a number of church doctrines.

I actually appreciated Linda as a main character (not sure I'd want her as a neighbor). A bishop's wife is not privy to all the information that her husband knows; so much is shared with the bishop in confidentiality. Yet, because of the close proximity in which she lives with the bishop, she is often aware of pieces of information. As a bishop's wife it would be hard not to try to put the clues together and fill in the gaps. Harrison's bishop's wife takes that a gigantic leap further and becomes an amateur detective--going through her neighbors' basements and sheds looking for clues. Seeing the mysteries unfold from this rather incompetent detective, allows the reader to enjoy the plot twists as Linda often gets it wrong. I really liked this aspect of the novel.

The mystery involving Carrie Helm was intriguing. There are several possible suspects and readers will probably recognize the similarity to the disappearance of Susan Cox Powell. The secrets being kept by Tobias about the death of his first wife are a bit far fetched--at the very least, the ultimate explanation is peppered with holes. The dramatic conclusion is hard to swallow and Harrison takes some liberties with reality.

The novel is definitely anti-misogynistic but strays awfully close to being anti-man. Most of the men are downright awful. The bishop is portrayed as a pretty decent guy. He appreciates his wife's opinions and frequently acts on her advice. He only slightly attempts to reign in his wife's nosiness, mostly when concerned for her safety. Yet, after a horrible discovery involving her neighbors, Linda has the following reaction: "Kurt tried to hold me, but I batted him away. This was his fault somehow. He was a man, a surrogate for Jared and Alex Helm, for Tobias Torstensen. I wanted to scratch his eyes out, and kick him in the balls again and again" (pg 209-210). Would she have a similar reaction if she had just read in the paper of a mother drowning her children in a bathtub? Would Linda have blamed all women for the atrocity?

I have no issue with some members of the church being portrayed as villains. We see the big cases in the news and we don't know what truly goes on behind the closed doors of our neighbors. Members are human and imperfect and sometimes really bad. However, most members of the church--the vast majority, I dare say--are trying really hard to live good lives; do not abuse their wives and daughters and genuinely love their neighbors.

The mystery surrounding the disappearance of Carrie Helm was intriguing and if it hadn't been so interrupted by the obvious agenda and a desire to include all the curiosities of the religion, The Bishop's Wife would have been rather entertaining.

The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrision is published by SOHO Crime and released on December 30, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Bishop's Wife. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Rosie Effect - Book Review

I adored The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. It even made my top books of 2013 list. Don Tillman is a refreshing, unique and likable character and I enjoyed the mishaps, humor and chemistry as he fell in love with Rosie. I was excited to hear that Simsion had written a sequel and looked forward to reading more about Don and Rosie.

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion rejoins Don and Rosie after they have been married for 10 months and moved their lives to New York City. Don has been trying to adjust to a shared life with another human being. Even though it takes effort, his love for Rosie outweighs the cons of giving up the Standardized Meal System and scheduling every last detail. Then, Rosie surprises him with the announcement that they are expecting a baby and Don's life must drastically shift again.

The Rosie Effect is tender and sweet and Don is still Don. The novel is filled with humorous calamities due to Don's social awkwardness. There is a scene early in the novel where the irony is so thick, I just had to read it aloud. I thoroughly enjoyed reading of Don and his desires to do right. He's a character worth rooting for because he never intentionally does harm.

What I missed through much of this novel was the interactions with Rosie. The chemistry between Don and Rosie in The Rosie Project was unmistakable and she brought out the best in him. Rosie's focus in this novel has shifted and though I fully understood her concerns, I was sad by how little effort she seemed to take in resolving the crises.

However, just as in the first novel, Don Tillman is a fabulous character. He keeps a plot moving simply by being himself. The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion is another fun ride with Don.

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion is published by Simon & Schuster and releases on December 30, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Rosie Effect. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.

My Top Ten Books of 2014

I had the privilege of reading a lot of great books this year. 
The following list includes the books that I just couldn't stop talking about or thinking about 
or in some cases, dreaming about.
They moved me or entertained. Made me laugh or thrilled. Taught me something or fascinated.

 We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
'Read my review *here*

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Read my review *here*

Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen
Read my review *here*

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar
Read my review *here*

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
Read my review *here*

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
Read my review *here*

The Wife, The Maid and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
Read my review *here*

Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera
Read my review *here*

Wake by Anna Hope
Read my review *here*

Gemini by Carol Cassella
Read my review *here*

The following are books that I read and loved this year but did not come out in 2014.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Serena by Ron Rash
Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Redeemer - Nashville Tribute Band - Review

We've reached the point in December where we begin the frantic Christmas shopping to hurry and fulfill all the requests on our gift lists. But as we're rushing about, that doesn't mean our gifts need to be any less meaningful. For the country music lover on your list, consider the  newest album from the Nashville Tribute Band--Redeemer : A Nashville Tribute to Jesus Christ.

Fans of the Nashville Tribute Band (and you already know I am one) will recognize their familiar sound and their familiar spirit as they bare testimony of Jesus Christ through their signature sound. Many of the songs are written from the perspective of men and women from the bible. The song "Pilate's Wife" performed by Katherine Nelson is particularly moving as is the song "Tears on His Feet" with Cardin Lopez (I'm obviously drawn to the songs by women). NTB collaborates with a number of other well known artists. I especially enjoy "When the Son of Man Comes" featuring David Archuleta.

With thoughtful and moving lyrics and the unique country sound, Redeemer will surely be loved by fans, new and old. NTB has an incredible spirit and their testimonies can be felt through their music. Redeemer is a beautiful tribute to our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ.

**I received a complimentary copy of Redeemer. No additional compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Year With Frog and Toad - Salt Lake Acting Company

Last weekend I announced to my family that we we would be going to see A Year with Frog and Toad by the Salt Lake Acting Company. My kids were not excited to go. Rand was not excited to go. Even though they whined and moaned, I gave them no option. They piled in the car and we headed to Salt Lake. I adore the Frog and Toad children's books by Arnold Lobel but the text is subtle and low key and I had no idea how it would translate on the stage. 

As soon as we arrived, I was impressed. The neighborhood is charming and the theater is inviting. Every seat is a good seat. We found our seats and settled in. The crew was friendly and knew that their audience was full of children.

Immediately, I was taken by the enthusiasm of the actors and the charming lyrics of the songs. I sat between Thomas and Lilly. They were completely engaged by the colors and fun songs and dancing (the kids have been singing snippets of the songs ever since). The show only lasts an hour and the audience was entranced for the entirety.

The cast is passionate and energetic. They were absolutely entertaining. We laughed at the brilliant, ironic and perfectly appropriate humor and fell in love with the delightful and beloved characters brought to life. Pretty sure we smiled solidly for an hour.

At thirteen years old, Neal is definitely at his most sarcastic phase and he even admitted that he was surprised how much he enjoyed the show. After the show we went to visit Rand's parents and the kids couldn't wait to tell them all the details about the show. Thomas even said it was pretty good, and if you know Thomas that is HUGE!

When the kids got home, they pulled out the familiar books and their Frog stuffed animal complete with his little brown coat. We've been recalling the humor and last night we couldn't go long before someone sang out "Toad looks funny in a bathing suit".

A Year with Frog and Toad would be a great addition to your family plans this Christmas season. I cannot sing its praises enough. And if you tell them that you heard about the play from me, you can get $3 off ticket. Take your favorite little people and go see the show. You won't regret it.

Tickets can be purchased online at :

**I received complimentary tickets to A Year with Frog and Toad. No additional compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The House We Grew Up In - Book Review

November ended up not being my best month for reading. I didn't read nearly as many books as usual and I wasn't blown away by any of them. As the Thanksgiving holiday approached and we prepared to join my siblings at my parents' house, I was finally able to pick up The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell. Perfect timing--a novel about a dysfunctional family would surely make my own wonderful family seem even greater.

Lorelei has worked hard to provide a cozy and happy childhood for her four children. With two daughters who inherit their mother's beauty, glowing twin boys, and a kind husband, Lorelei seems to be succeeding at her goal. Unfortunately, a tragedy shatters their family one Easter. Lorelei struggles desperately to hang on to her children and everything else as the children grow up and put as much space between themselves and home.

The House We Grew Up In shows the hoarder from an interesting perspective. As her children sift through the colossal amount of detritus and things that their mother has "collected" and literally filled the house with, the reader sees glimpses into the mind of the hoarder and the motivations and feelings behind what is ultimately a mental illness. It is hard not to sympathize with Lorelei even as the consequences of her illness are difficult to fathom. Jewell successfully puts a human face on the problem.

The other members of the family react to the tragedy and to the ensuing issues with Lorelei in various ways. Each character is very individual and I appreciated the distinctions between the siblings. Fully formed, they are at times despicable, careless and selfish. The actions, reactions, choices and consequences of each character effects the other members of their family. As hard as they pull apart, there is still a pull that binds them together.

With rich writing and strong characters, Jewell creates a novel that is compelling and heartbreaking. It's an interesting study of another broken family--the guilt, pain, mourning and sorrow that follows tragedy and the hope for reconciliation and forgiveness.

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell is a She Reads book choice this fall. Many other reviewers have shared their feelings about the novel. Be sure to check them out. The novel was published by Atria Books in August 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The House We Grew Up In through**

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Winter Guest - Book Review

From the cover :

A stirring novel of first love in a time of war and the unbearable choices that could tear sisters apart, from the celebrated author of The Kommandant's Girl

Life is a constant struggle for the eighteen-year-old Nowak twins as they raise their three younger siblings in rural Poland under the shadow of the Nazi occupation. The constant threat of arrest has made everyone in their village a spy, and turned neighbor against neighbor. Though rugged, independent Helena and pretty, gentle Ruth couldn't be more different, they are staunch allies in protecting their family from the threats the war brings closer to their doorstep with each passing day. 

Then Helena discovers an American paratrooper stranded outside their small mountain village, wounded, but alive. Risking the safety of herself and her family, she hides Sam—a Jew—but Helena's concern for the American grows into something much deeper. Defying the perils that render a future together all but impossible, Sam and Helena make plans for the family to flee. But Helena is forced to contend with the jealousy her choices have sparked in Ruth, culminating in a singular act of betrayal that endangers them all—and setting in motion a chain of events that will reverberate across continents and decades.

My thoughts :

The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff sounded like just the novel to fit my current reading mood--a historical fiction combined with a love story and a family saga. It starts with promise. Helena is a likable character who has such hope even in her dire circumstances. Though she's no romantic, Helena can't help but fall in love with the wounded American. Thus becomes the moral dilemma as she must choose between attempting to escape the growing hostilities as the German forces move in or remaining with the family that she has been charged with caring for. 

There is an awful lot happening in this novel. Helena and Ruth are embattled in a constant cold war of sibling tension. Helena uncovers deep and dangerous family secrets. She's falling in love with a man she must protect and keep hidden. She's toying with the idea of joining the underground resistance. All while observing the horrifying atrocities committed by the Germans against the Jewish people. 

Unfortunately, even with so many ideas and themes crammed into the tale, the story moves along at a slow and meandering pace before concluding with a sudden rushing yet weak ending. The epilogue, in an attempt to fill in the unanswered questions left by the rushed ending, seemed ridiculously unbelievable and unemotional. Though I can't exactly put my finger on it, something throughout the novel just felt "off". 

Overall, I was left wanting more build up to the passionate love affair; more equilibrium to the pacing of the plot; and more careful characterization of the supporting cast.

The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff was published by Harlequin MIRA in August 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Winter Guest. No additional compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**