Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Two of Us - Book Review

Rand and I met; went on our first date; met each other's families and got engaged to be married within two weeks, so I was anxious to read the story of Fisher and Ivy. After just 18 frenzied days of romance, they know there is something different about this particular relationship. Like the cover of the books says: "Falling in love is the easy part. What matters most it what happens next..." The Two of Us by Andy Jones is the story of what happens next to Fisher and Ivy.

The Two of Us is a darling read with lovable characters. I got a ebook copy and though I don't prefer to read on a device, it is the perfect kind of book for reading under the covers, during the Super Bowl or on the dark, car ride home (I wasn't driving). It's cute and funny and at times rather poignant.

Fisher, as narrator, is an honest and open character who shares his deepest concerns and worries about his new relationship. The Two of Us begins where most love stories end. How will these two different people make this relationship work in the face of trials and roadblocks? I admired Fisher's determination to make it work and his sincere love for Ivy that kept him focused on his ultimate goal. He's witty and occasionally self-deprecating and endearingly loyal in his occasionally fumbling attempts to create a family.

Just so you know, there is a fair amount of swearing. There are no actual sex scenes but the topic comes up regularly. Occasionally, I wanted to be like Fisher's dad and give him a scolding.

The Two of Us by Andy Jones is well written. It made me chuckle. It almost made me cry. It's sweet and tender. I wanted to read it all in one big gulp.

The Two of Us by Andy Jones is published by Washington Square Press and released on February 9, 2016.

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

Monday, February 8, 2016

In Another Life - Book Review

After the tragic death of her husband and problems in her career as a historian, Lia Carrer goes home to Languedoc in the South of France to heal. However, it isn't long before Lia's best friend is trying to set her up with the lonely and kind widower from a nearby vineyard and a local photographer is persuading her to help him with a book about Languedoc.

In the meantime, Lia's real passion is finding supporting evidence for her theory that in 1208 the Archdeacon Castelnau was assassinated as an excuse to start the crusade against the heretical Cathers. As Lia's researches the events from hundreds of years ago, she begins to discover that the three men in her life: the widower, the photographer and the priest all have their own secrets and know much more than they're telling.

Among other ideas that the Catholic church did not condone, the Cathers believed in reincarnation. Playing on this element of their faith, Julie Christine Johnson spins a tail of murder, intrigue and romance in In Another Life. Reminding me of last year's The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack, the idea that someone can live another life is a fun idea to explore in fiction. Johnson does it relatively well in her debut novel.

It took several chapters for me to fall into an easy reading grove. I had to go back and reread several sections because the back and forth between present and past was initially confusing. However, it begins to make more sense and I was finally able to keep characters straight and plot lines from tangling. Honestly, the entire book is a tangled web of past lives and loves.

As with any fantasy novel, one must suspend reality. I don't read in this genre very often and I prefer believable explanations even for the unbelievable. Make me want to believe. In Another Life had trouble pulling it all together in the end. I was completely entertained and caught up in the story but there were some holes in her reincarnation explanations.

I was definitely most interested in the historical aspect of the Cathers and the intrigue that may have led to their demise. Presenting a fascinating theory, Johnson only skims the surface of that history and left me wanting more.

In Another Life is fun and ambitious and I liked it much more than I expected in the first few chapters. It is mystical and intriguing and captivating.

In Another Life by Julie Christine Johnson is published by Sourcebooks Landmark and released on February 2, 2016.

Buy :

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**I received a complimentary copy of In Another Life. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Thursday, February 4, 2016

No Ordinary Life - Book Review

Faye's husband has been gone for months. The kids are holding out hope that he'll come back but Faye knows better. Running out of money, Faye moves her three kids to live with her mom in Los Angeles.

Adorably cute and witty, four year old Molly is filmed dancing at a mall and immediately becomes a YouTube sensation. Launched into fame, Molly's career is set to take off. Faye feels the nagging thought that it's not the right direction for her family, but how can she resist the money and the excitement surrounding her daughter's potential stardom.

Caught up in the world of Hollywood and backstage drama, Faye's family and life is spiraling out of control. Who knew that when she signed that lucrative deal, she'd have the reins of her family's future taken out of her hands. Can she get them back and save her family?

It took a few chapters to get into No Ordinary Life by Suzanne Redfearn but once the story is going, it moves along at a breakneck pace and takes the reader along for a wild and fun ride. Who hasn't dreamed of fame and stardom at some point in life? Or at least admired and become intrigued by a celebrity? Redfearn takes the reader behind the scenes of Hollywood and shows the allure and excitement as well as the dangers and drama of being a child star. Is it fair to take away a child's childhood?

But more than just an expose, No Ordinary Life tells an engrossing tale of a family caught in an undertow. Just like I sometimes can't look away when the grisly and messy details of a celebrity's life become tabloid fodder, I couldn't put down Redfearn's newest novel. The adult characters were completely believable people who often made horrible decisions that disgusted and appalled me but I couldn't help cheering for them or at least watching their destruction.

No Ordinary Life is a thrilling novel that examines the price of fame and who can and should actually handle it.

No Ordinary Life by Suzanne Redfearn is published by Grand Central and released on February 2, 2016. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Platinum Doll - Book Review

Jean Harlow, the famous actress from the early days of talking pictures, was born Harlean Carpenter in the dull Midwest. As a girl she accompanied her mother to Hollywood on her mother's failed attempt at stardom. Now, seventeen years old and beautiful, Harlean has run off with her rich and handsome young husband. Madly in love, together they're enjoying the glamorous life of Hollywood, California.

Encouraged by friends and pushed by a dare, Harlean takes a chance at an acting career. With her sparkling personality and stunning blond hair, the actress Jean impresses the right people and catapults her right into acclaim and stardom.

But fame and success will come at a price.

Platinum Doll by Anne Girard introduces a cast of characters that graced the silver screen in the early, glamorous days of Hollywood. I spent so much time Googling the actors and actresses that I didn't immediately recognize and even watched old clips of Jean Harlow on YouTube. (Her earliest roll with Laurel and Hardy is a fun one to watch). I was actually surprised that the novel inspired so much interest in a subject that I've rarely cared about before. Jean Harlow really was a fascinating woman who gained so much success so quickly.

I liked that the novel focuses on her early life with her husband and her experiences starting out in Hollywood. Jean is manipulated and used by so many people around her. Her flamboyant and controlling mother is quite the character and adds a lot of drama to the story. Her experiences in early Hollywood were interesting and it was fun to peek behind the scenes of the classic movies.

However, as intrigued as I was with the story of Jean, I found myself skimming through chapter after chapter. The story moves slowly and gets bogged down in scenes and long conversations that don't successfully advance the plot or the emotion. Even in the dramatic scenes between Jean and her husband, the intensity of passion is lacking. Huge sections could have been cut right out.

Though there are issues with the writing, I did overall enjoy learning more about Jean Harlow in Platinum Doll by Anne Girard.

Platinum Doll by Anne Girard is published by MIRA and released on January 26, 2016.

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**I received a complimentary copy of Platinum Doll. All opinions are my own. I was not compensated for this review.**

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Swans of Fifth Avenue - Book Review

From the cover :

Of all the glamorous stars of New York high society, none blazes brighter than Babe Paley. Her flawless face regularly graces the pages of Vogue, and she is celebrated and adored for her ineffable style and exquisite taste, especially among her friends—the alluring socialite Swans Slim Keith, C. Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness, and Pamela Churchill. By all appearances, Babe has it all: money, beauty, glamour, jewels, influential friends, a prestigious husband, and gorgeous homes. But beneath this elegantly composed exterior dwells a passionate woman—a woman desperately longing for true love and connection.

Enter Truman Capote. This diminutive golden-haired genius with a larger-than-life personality explodes onto the scene, setting Babe and her circle of Swans aflutter. Through Babe, Truman gains an unlikely entrĂ©e into the enviable lives of Manhattan’s elite, along with unparalleled access to the scandal and gossip of Babe’s powerful circle. Sure of the loyalty of the man she calls “True Heart,” Babe never imagines the destruction Truman will leave in his wake. But once a storyteller, always a storyteller—even when the stories aren’t his to tell.

Truman’s fame is at its peak when such notable celebrities as Frank and Mia Sinatra, Lauren Bacall, and Rose Kennedy converge on his glittering Black and White Ball. But all too soon, he’ll ignite a literary scandal whose repercussions echo through the years. The Swans of Fifth Avenue will seduce and startle readers as it opens the door onto one of America’s most sumptuous eras.

My thoughts :

Melanie Benjamin excels at bringing lesser known stories from history back to life (I loved The Aviator's Wife). Imagining the unusual relationships between Truman Capote, devious and charming, and his beautiful alluring "Swans", Benjamin plunges her readers right into the shallow glamorous world of New York high society in The Swans of Fifth Avenue. Everyone is out for themselves in this world and they tell themselves and each other lies to cover their own insecurities and infidelities. Yet, Baby Paley feels like she has finally made a true and lasting connection with Capote. They love each other in a truly honorable and complete way and will always be faithful to each other. Of course.

I was completely captivated and entranced by Benjamin's treatment of these people, their story and scandal. It's not a world I've ever paid much attention to and yet I was immediately intrigued. I interrupted my reading regularly to google the characters on my phone so that I could see their pictures and their gorgeous clothes and the stunning lifestyles in Benjamin's novel. I found and read about Truman's Black and White Ball in Vanity Fair online. It was fun to see the pictures and it added to my enjoyment of the story. However, Benjamin recreated the scenes and the clothes and the people so well that I didn't really need the pictures. When the pictures are added, they so perfectly fit the scenes already described by Benjamin that I felt surely she had been there. At the very least, her research is impeccable. 

These flamboyant people led lives of excess and grandeur and were loathsome, yet I couldn't look away. And in the midst of all the distasteful scandals, Benjamin paints the picture of Baby Paley, always classy, vulnerable and sympathetic. I cared about her--really cared, even while pitying her in her fortune. Benjamin doesn't just tell the story and the scandal and the fallout. She writes about people and she inspires the reader to respond with powerful emotions whether disgust or empathy.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue is a book to devour and to talk about. Intrigued by Truman Capote, I ordered a copy of In Cold Blood. I shared all the sordid details with my husband. It would make a great novel for book clubs because at it's heart it is a book about relationships with people and how we hurt and abuse those we love for our own personal gain. It's a human story with a human heart.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin is published by Delacorte Press and released on January 26, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Swans of Fifth Avenue. No compensation was received. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Noah's Wife - Book Review

In this allegorical tale, Noah's wife accompanies him on his mission to replace the former minister in a small town up in the hills. It has been raining unceasingly for years and the once thriving tourist community is suffering. Only the stalwarts townsfolk remain and they have abandoned their church and faith as the rain continues to dampen their spirits and their livelihoods.

Full of fascinating characters, Noah's Wife by Lindsay Starck tells of the courage, stubbornness and despair of some people as they lose control of their lives and let go of their faith. I was enamored by her beautiful writing and the wit and wisdom in which she details their personal struggles and their desire to hold on to hope. Sometimes when we have lost our faith, all we have left is hope.

Written in a style that combines allegory with contemporary subjects, I was drawn in by her use of language and her story-telling skills. Noah's Wife compares in it's fable-like qualities with other favorites such as The Snow Child, No One is Here Except All of Us and Evergreen. I love these stories and I fell in love with Noah's Wife as well.

I am excited to see more from this new and wonderful talent.

Noah's Wife by Lindsay Starck is published by Putnam and released on January 26, 2016.

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Stack of Books

Based on the lack of book reviews on my blog lately, one might suspect that I haven't been reading much. Though I've suffered a few unpleasant reading slumps, I've actually read several books in the past month. Here are my mini-reviews on the books that have graced my night stand since Thanksgiving.

Books for Review : 2
Books from shelf : 2
Ebooks (previously purchased) : 2
Books purchased : 1

The God of Small Things
by Arundhati Roy

I bought The God of Small Things at the library book sale back in October and everyone told me that it was very good. I've enjoyed several book sets in India and so I was anxious to get a chance to read it. I was nearly finished reading it when I realized that I might already have a copy of this book. When I got home, I checked, and sure enough there was a copy on my shelf that a friend had given me years ago. While I checking I found a second copy of another book I bought at the library that day. My book hoarding collecting has reached the scary level, folks.

The beautiful language and intense emotions combined with the exotic setting kept me completely enraptured. It's a disturbing novel but valuable. I would highly recommend it. 


The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs
by Matthew Dicks

The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs is one of the SheReads Book Club Fall Selections. I've enjoyed all the others this fall and fully expected to enjoy this one too. Caroline is a quiet wife and mother who suddenly speaks out when she just can't handle the essentially bullying behavior of the PTA President. This surprising surge of courage spurs Caroline on a quest to confront the bully from her school years.

It's a cute idea that is certainly timely but the novel often felt preachy. While the story and ending are fine, it's also predictable and a little too neat. Honestly, I was bored and while I expected to connect with Caroline, I found her character to be annoying.


The Sense of an Ending
by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending has been sitting on my shelf for at least a year. Attempting to reach my GoodReads goal (not going to happen) I wanted to add some quality but shorter novels to my reading list. As expected, I read the novel in an afternoon.  With lovely and engaging writing, I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and story of Tony Webster and his memories of his friends and girl friends from school.

The novel is downcast and dreary but meanders through Tony's memories of his young adulthood and his relationships with a sense of nostalgia and regret. The ending surprised me and I may have to read it again to see what I missed on the first quick reading. Well written and honest, I loved this introspection and meaningful novel.


What She Knew
by Gilly Macmillan

Rachel and her son Ben were on their usual Sunday walk in the woods near the park. She lets him run ahead to the swing but when she gets there Ben is missing.

Alternating between Rachel's point of view and the reminiscing of Jim, the lead detective, What She Knew starts out as an intense and emotion search for a missing boy. Right away, Rachel becomes a suspect in the media as viewers doubt her sincerity. She must prove her innocence while also recovering her missing son.

The novel got off to a great start but got bogged down in the middle--a very long middle. I nearly lost interest. The novel finally gains speed again toward the end and has a satisfying conclusion that almost felt too fast.


Alice I Have Been
by Melanie Benjamin

I've enjoyed other books by Melanie Benjamin and during a bout of insomnia read Alice I Have Been on my phone, in my bed, under the covers.

A researched historical novel about the life of the real Alice that inspired Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) to write the beloved novel Alice in Wonderland. Filled with the innocence and wonder of childhood, misunderstandings, scandal, love, loss and growing up, Alice Liddell lived an interesting life.

I didn't love the style of writing with this particular story. So much of it is just telling the story. Finally, as Alice starts to grow up and find love, things actually "happen". It was worth reading but I wasn't overwhelmed by it.


King Leopold's Ghost
by Adam Hochschild

My college friend picked King Leopold's Ghost as our book club read and I was excited. It's been a long while since I've read a history or a biography and I do enjoy both. Focusing on a time period that I am not overly familiar with, I liked learning more about the colonization of Africa. A horrible period of greed and corruption, King Leopold ruled the Congo with violence and butchery. It's an enlightening book on the wicked ends people will go to gain power and wealth. It was also interesting to see those who couldn't abide by the evil and actually stood up for it. I enjoyed the connecting between this book at the novel The Heart of Darkness.

While detailing the horrific atrocities committed in Leopold's Congo, Hochschild is quick to point out  that this is only a small amount of atrocities committed by colonizing countries throughout the world.  It was a valuable read. It was very dark and depressing and I read two lighter novels at the same time for balance.


The Last Anniversary
by Laine Moriarty

I loved Big Little Lies and enjoyed The Husband's Secret so when I couldn't sleep and was selecting an ebook to read in bed, The Last Anniversary jumped out at me. Sophie is surprised to inherit a house from her ex-boyfriend's aunt on Scribbly Gum Island. She's loved the island since she was a little girl and has always been fascinated by the unsolved Munro Baby Mystery. As Sophie moves onto the island, feelings are stirred up among the few residents and the truth will be discovered.

Written in the same easy and comfortable style as Moriarty's other novels, I read it quickly. It's cute and clever and witty. I enjoyed it though not as much as her other novels.


Peter Pan at Utah Children's Theatre - Review

Last Saturday, my family enjoyed the wonderful and fun production of Peter Pan at Utah Children's Theatre. Once again, we were thoroughly entertained and delighted by the classic story and the fun characters. The actors were so charming and/or wicked that we couldn't get enough.

I especially enjoyed Hook and Smee. Another very young member of the audience was so entranced by Hook that he warned him that Peter Pan was sneaking up on him. I loved how engaged the children in the audience were with the story.

I loved the children actors. Peter Pan and Wendy were both delightful and the lost boys were really darling. My kids enjoy recognizing some of their favorite actors from past shows. It makes me happy to see how much they are learning to love theatre and a higher order of entertainment.

The production was magical and endearing and fun, just like I expect Peter Pan to be. My kids loved it and even Thomas who is the world's toughest ten-year-old critic, enjoyed the show.

It's so cold outside, take your family inside for some quality entertainment. Don't miss Peter Pan at Utah Children's Theatre this season.

**We received complimentary tickets to Peter Pan. These are my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Monday, December 28, 2015

OurFamilyChef - Review

We all know how important it is to sit down with your family in the evening for family dinner. We've read the studies and heard the advice for years. And we believe it. We want it. We really do.

But it's hard. For a myriad of reasons, sometimes getting dinner to the table and getting the family around it at the end of the day is just really, really hard.

But we want that Chicken Marsala with mashed potatoes and green beans and we want to eat it too.

Let OurFamilyChef saves your family dinner. Three times a week, OurFamilyChef will deliver the prepared ingredients and directions for perfectly delicious meals that take a minimal time to cook and serve your family. For the week before Christmas, my family tried this service and here's how it went.

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday we received a bag of food. Each bag contained the ingredients for the meal already measured out and prepped. The chicken was already tenderized. The vegetables were fresh. You know when you watch those cooking shows on television and the foods are already measured out and chopped and ready in the little bowls and all the celebrity chef has to do is throw it in the pan? My dream. That dream is absolutely possible with OurFamilyChef. The meals took about 30 minutes to prepare and cook. The directions were so easy that I had my kids help and Rand made the dinner one evening when I was especially busy.

My kids enjoyed each meal. I despise broccoli but I tried the broccoli soup and I loved it. The Mongolian Beef was one of the best versions I've ever had of one of my favorite Asian dishes. I don't like working with raw chicken, but since it was already prepped and I just had to stick it in the pan, it wasn't bad and the results were delicious. I was impressed by the variety of the meals during the week.

Because the meals are proportioned for your individual family, there is less food waste and we rarely threw anything away or had leftovers. The meals are also balanced meals and it was nice to know my kids were getting healthy meals.

While I enjoy cooking, I often struggle with coming up with meal plans every week and I despise grocery shopping. Since, the meals were nearly restaurant quality for a fraction of the price, having OurFamilyChef deliver food to cook at home is actually more economical than going out to eat. Having OurFamilyChef introduce new ideas into our family dinner was so refreshing and spiced up our family dinners. The kids were excited to come to the table and try the new food.

Chicken Bellagio

Broccoli Cheese Bread Bowls & Wedge Salad

kid sized portion of Mongolian Beef
kid sized portion of Chicken Marsala with Creamy Mashed Potatoes

As a family, we loved the meals from OurFamilyChef. As the mom, I was thrilled to have some of the pressure of preparing dinner taken off my shoulders. Wednesday is our craziest night. The kids start running to their activities at six so we have less time to eat. Because we were able to make the OurFamilyChef dinner so quick we were still able to sit down as a family to eat before we had to run out the door. I was much less stressed and therefore a much happier mother. We actually enjoyed sitting down to dinner together, which is probably what the experts had in mind.

OurFamilyChef's website has recently been updated with a FAQ sheet that can answer all your questions. They currently deliver to all of Utah County and South Salt Lake County.

Follow OurFamilyChef :

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**I received a week's worth of meals from OurFamilyChef. These are my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Winner of CanvasPop Give-away

The winner of the CanvasPop Give-away is...

Yvie Field

Please contact me before January 1, 2016 to claim your prize.
If I haven't heard from you by then, a new winner will be chosen.

Thanks for entering.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

CanvasPop Give-away!!!

I don't even want to admit to how long it's been since we took a true "hang-it-on-the-wall" family picture. Let's just say that at the time we took our last picture, two of my kids weren't in school yet. This fall I was determined to take a family picture. My sister took a picture of us while we were together in Star Valley but my kids were wearing hoodies and it just didn't satisfy me.

I stressed about what we'd wear and where we would go and who would take the picture. And then the weather got cold or it was windy. So we procrastinated some more.

Last week we finally had a day that was fairly mild temperatures so as soon as the kids got home from school, I announced that we were taking family pictures. I pulled clothes out of their closets and combed their hair. I grabbed my camera and the tripod and we headed out into the "boonies" that is our view from our bedroom window.

I read the camera manual on how to operate the timer function on the drive. We set up the camera and the shot and I ran to squeeze in between the kids. We took seven shots and we were completely satisfied with one.

As soon as I got home, I sent a file for our favorite shot to CanvasPop to print. I've been admiring the canvas printed family pictures and I was anxious to finally get a canvas print of our family. At the same time I added the picture to a pre-designed greeting card from Costco and ordered them.

I picked up my cards from Costco last week and I was disappointed. The colors of the picture seemed dull and a little blurry. I was really worried about my print from CanvasPop.

The canvas arrived yesterday and I couldn't have been more pleased. The colors are vibrant and the picture is crisp. It's really just very, very beautiful--so pretty that it made me want to cry. 

We still need to figure out just where to hang it on the wall and whether or not to hang it by itself or in a gallery wall of photos. But that will come.  In the meantime, Rand stuck it on the wall so we can admire it. I really do adore it.

CanvasPop offers a quality product and turns your pictures into art. Whether you took the picture with an expensive DSLR or your iPhone, CanvasPop can do wonders. They have a "Love it for Life" guarantee. No matter what. With wonderful service and high quality, CanvasPop can turn your picture into a priceless heirloom. They have a wide variety of sizes and options. I'm already scheming and dreaming up a gallery wall.

For the next two months, you can save 35% off your order at CanvasPop with the code : UTAHMOM35 -- This might just be the perfect Christmas gift for just about anyone on your list. 

And right now CanvasPop is giving away a 16x20 inch canvas to one lucky reader. 

To enter leave a comment on this post. The contest will be open to entries until Tuesday, December 22nd 11:59pm MST. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Wednesday, December 23rd. Contest is open to US residents only.

**I received a complimentary 16x20 canvas from CanvasPop. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own. I really, really do love it!**

Sweets & Treats with Six Sisters's Stuff - Book Review

I'm right in the middle of Christmas shopping. I know! I know! I totally procrastinated this year. But I'm willing to bet that I am not the only one. I happen to have an awesome gift idea for your favorite foodie. Sweets & Treats with Six Sisters' Stuff is an absolutely gorgeous cook book.

I've been a fan of the Six Sisters' Stuff blog for years. Their recipes have never failed me. So, when I saw their newest cookbook I was instantly a fan. With stunning photography for every recipe (I pretty much never make a recipe unless I see a picture of it first) and easy to follow instructions, I was able to recreate the delicious treats.

My kids came home from school the day the cookbook arrived and immediately started looking through it. They were practically drooling. Each of the kids marked their favorite recipes and even now there are little bookmarks scattered throughout it.

The cookbook includes recipes for all seasons and is divided into sections to make finding the perfect dessert easy as pie. I love that they even included a section with recipes for kids to make too. Most of the recipes involve typical ingredients that aren't hard to find or overly expensive. You probably already have most of it in your pantry already. I love that because so often when the desire to bake hits me it is not accompanied by a desire to also run to the grocery store.

Honestly, just looking at this cookbook makes me smile. Add this beautiful cookbook to your shopping list this Christmas season and get one for yourself too.

Sweets & Treats with Six Sisters' Stuff is published by Shadow Mountain and released in September 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of Sweets & Treats. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Salt Lake Acting Company - Art Dog - Ticket Give-away

Tonight is the opening night of ART DOG at the Salt Lake Acting Company. Last year my family was thrilled to attend their production of FROG AND TOAD. We loved the show and the Company did a wonderful job of making the kids feel welcome and entertained. You can read more about that show *here*. 
SLAC welcomes its youngest audiences to ART DOG adapted for the stage by John Olive, composed by Susan Ennis, and based on the book by Thacher Hurd. By day, Arthur Dog is a mild-mannered museum guard; by night, he is Art Dog – a mysterious artist who makes the city his canvas. However, when Leonardo Dog Vinci's Mona Woofa goes missing from the Dogopolis Museum of Art, Art Dog is a prime suspect.
ART DOG plays through the month of December and I have four tickets to the show on December 11th available for a give-away. To enter leave a comment on this post. The contest will be open through Monday, December 7, 2015 at 11:59pm MST. The winner will be announced on Tuesday, December 8th.

Also save $3 off your tickets when you use the code UTAHMOMSLIFE
Find out more and see the schedule at the Salt Lake Acting Company.
                                                               Website             Facebook             

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Penguin Lessons - Book Review

Tom Michell was a young Englishman teaching at a boys school in Argentina. While on a quick vacation in Uruguay, Tom discovers a live penguin in the midst of the hundreds of oil-covered deceased penguins washed up on the beach. Unable to walk away from the struggling penguin, Tom rescues him.

In the delightful The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell, he recounts his story with the lovable penguin and life at the boarding school. Named Juan Salvador, the penguin becomes a sort of mascot for the boys at the school. The story is endearing and thoughtful.

I read the first few chapters of Tom's initial encounter with the penguin and his attempts to clean and rescue him from the deadly oil, aloud to my family while on a road trip. The kids were completely enamored by hearing about the adventures of Tom and the penguin. Though I read the rest of the book by myself in an evening, I think my kids would enjoy the rest of the book. It's a fun book for the entire family.

Every now and then, it's just nice to read a nice story. The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell is a story to share with your kids and your parents and your grandparents. It's funny and tender and hopeful. I kind of want a pet penguin now. The heartwarming story combined with the whimsical cover, makes The Penguin Lessons a great stocking stuffer this season too.

The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell is published by Ballantine Books and released in October 2015.

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

All of Us and Everything - Book Review

Esme, Liv and Ru never knew their father. Their mother told them that he was a spy, but the girls didn't really believe her. After their eccentric childhood, the dramas and choices led them in different directions.  Now fate has brought the sisters back to their childhood home and the fury of Hurricane Sandy has unearthed the secrets that their mother has been keeping from them their entire lives. In All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher, the sisters and their mother will discover whether or not it is too late to try to salvage their familial relationships.

I had a hard time getting into All of Us and Everything. There were a lot of different characters and the novel switches point of view rather abruptly so I initially struggled to make sense of the characters. However, once I got to know the characters and could tell them apart, the story took over and I quickly got swept up in the craziness and antics of the Rockwell family. I read the last two thirds of the novel in an evening that definitely pushed into my sleeping time.

However, the characters still felt two dimensional and lacked chemistry in their interactions with each other. Their relationships remain superficial and the conclusion is rather abrupt. It ended up being a quick read for me and at moments it was fun but overall I was underwhelmed. All of Us and Everything is definitely a forgettable novel for  me.

All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher is published by Bantam on November 24, 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of All of Us and Everything. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Curious Beginning - Book Review

Veronica Speedwell isn't flustered by much. She's traveled the world as a lepidopterist and seen things much more dangerous than butterflies. After returning home from her aunt's funeral to discover a large man rifling through her aunt's cottage, she's not about to shy away from the attack. With the help of a strange Baron who suddenly arrives, Veronica is able to avoid being kidnapped. Choosing instead to trust the Baron, he transports her to London and promises to explain everything. But he insists that Veronica is in danger. He asks her to stay with his friend Stoker who can keep her safe until he can explain.

Veronica is with Stoker, when they learn of the Baron's murder. The police are sure Stoker is the culprit. Though Veronica knows Stoker didn't commit murder, she's not sure of anything or anyone else. But she's always up for an adventure.

A Curious Beginning, the newest book from Deanna Raybourn, is absolutely delightful fun. Full of action and intrigue, the pace is steady and fast. Set in London in 1887, the setting is as fascinating as the characters and the mystery. It's easy to get completely lost in the dangerous world and fall in love with the characters. Veronica is a spunky young woman who is delightful and refreshing. I'm not sure she completely fits in with her time period--she's pretty modern--but I liked her anyway. Stoker is a crabby and rough leading man with a mysterious past of his own and the chemistry between the two is palpable and passionate.

I rarely reach for this genre of novel but after I do, I always wonder why I don't more often. I'm pretty sure that I'm going to have to read the next Veronica Speedwell Mysteries. A Curious Beginning is the first novel from Deanna Raybourn that I've read, but it definitely won't be my last.

A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn is published by New American Library and released in September 2015. It's also a Fall Book Club Suggestion from She Reads.

**I received a complimentary copy of A Curious Beginning. All opinions are my own. No other compensation was received.**

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Carrying Albert Home - Book Review

Every now and then a book comes along that is the perfect combination of quirky and sweet and fun and entertaining and you just fall in love. It's been awhile since I've found a book like this that I can embrace and recommend to everyone. Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam made me laugh and sigh and want to talk about it constantly. At least a dozen times I turned to Randy and said "You have to hear about this. Wait. Never mind. I'm going to make you read this book." I knew I wanted to read this book as soon as I saw the fanciful cover and the subtitle: "The Somewhat True Story of a Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator".

Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam is the story of Homer's parents and their trip to Florida to return the alligator Elsie received as a wedding present from an ex-boyfriend, actor Buddy Ebsen, for whom she still harbors a flame. Elsie's beloved alligator adores her but is getting too big to live in their West Virginia home and her husband Homer (the author's father) insists on returning him to Florida. On their journey, Elsie and Homer will come to understand each other and themselves as they have the adventure of a lifetime.

Hickam's writing completely captures the winsome magic and the history of the period as he tells the stories of his parents' adventures that include marching with union strikers and surviving the horrific hurricane that hit the Florida Keys in 1935 (also the topic of Zora Neale Hurston's beautiful novel Their Eyes Were Watching God). Anyone who is related to a storyteller (I am blessed to have known two--my grandfather and father) recognizes that a true storyteller combines truth with exaggerated flair to fully recreate the perceived reality. Homer Hickam and his parents have this remarkable gift.

Carrying Albert Home is a delightful novel. It is at once the story of Hickam's parents and the story of Depression era America--a tale that is so large it defies reality and yet you want every single word to be true. Imaginative and fresh, Hickam's novel completely stole my heart.

Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam is published by William Morrow and released in October 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of Carrying Albert Home. No compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Winners of Along the Infinite Sea Give-away

Congratulations to

Kimberly V



You have each won a copy of Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams. Please contact me by Friday, November 13th with your information to claim your prize.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Read the Book First - Books to Movies

While the entire world is excited for the new Star Wars movie and the new James Bond movie, I am anxious to see some of my favorite books portrayed on the big screen this fall. (OK, who am I kidding? I am likely to wait to see most of them until they come out on DVD. But a girl can dream, right?) Book lovers already know that the book is almost always better than the movie. It's just the way it is. Even so, I do love to see how directors and producers interpret the novels and books I really, really enjoyed.

Here are a few of the book to movie adaptations I'm looking forward to. 

I read The Martian by Andy Weir a few months ago during a bout of insomnia. It's not at all a genre I regularly read and was initially unimpressed but within 50 pages I was hooked. I ended up being completely captivated by the story. I talked about it constantly with my family and found myself stressed and worried about Mark even when I was busy doing other things. Definitely give this fun book a chance.

I read and absolutely loved In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick during my "whale book" phase several years ago. I bought and read it right after reading Moby Dick and Ahab's Wife. I liked In the Heart of the Sea the best of the three and have pressured lots of people to read it. I sent it home with a friend just the other day. The movie looks fun and has a great cast so I have high hopes.

It's been years since Randy bought Brooklyn by Colm Toibin during a business trip and returned home with it unread. I fell in love immediately with this beautiful novel. I wrote all about it **here**. I hope the movie does this lovely novel and the wonderful characters justice. The trailer looks promising.

We got a copy of the children's picture book The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein years ago when my older children were still small. The pictures and story of Phillipe Pettit leapt from the pages and fascinated us. I included it **Here** in a post about true stories told in picture books. This story is just so amazing. Randy and I watched the documentary years ago and are looking forward to the movie. Obviously the movie The Walk isn't based directly off this book for children but I threw it in here for fun anyway.

There are other movies based on books out this fall too. I'm still on the fence about whether or not I want to see Room. I enjoyed the book but the disturbing topic might be to graphic for  me to see visually. I'll be sure to see the final installment of Mockingjay.

As we know the movie versions of our favorite books often disappoint (i.e., Serena and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan) but I'm keeping my fingers crossed for these adaptations. 

What movies are you looking forward to this season? Do you always read the books before you see the movie?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Along the Infinite Sea - Book Review & Give-away

Pepper Schuyler is hoping that by selling the 1936 Mercedes Roadster she discovered in her sister's garage and fixed up, she will have enough money to start her new life on her own. Because she's in trouble. She's pregnant with her boss's baby, hiding out and he is definitely sending his goons to find her.

Annabelle Dommerich is not only willing to pay the $300,000 price tag for the Mercedes, she intends to rescue the beautiful and troubled Pepper from herself. Feeling vulnerable, Pepper allows herself to be rescued and she intrigued by Annabelle and the story of the car. For Annabelle already had an exciting history with this very car.

Annabelle's story is set in Europe during the years leading up to World War II. She gets caught up in the glamour and romance of Paris She's madly in love with a Jewish man; married to a Nazi and playing a dangerous game. Annabelle is a conflicted character, young, naive and sweet. She's passionate and hasty in her decisions and easily swayed by others. Her story is as much about her growth as a character as her risky escape from the consequences of war.

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams is essentially the third novel in a series that focuses on the Schuyler sisters, starting with The Secret Life of Violet Grant and then Tiny Little Thing. I wasn't aware of this until I was a good way through reading Along the Infinite Sea. I read The Secret Life of Violet Grant some time ago but I didn't read Tiny Little Thing. I suppose reading it could have helped with Pepper's backstory but I didn't think it was imperative to read the others to enjoy Along the Infinite Sea.

Most of the time with split narrative books, I find one of the stories more fascinating than the other. While Annabelle's story definitely took center stage in this book, I really liked Pepper and wanted a little more from her drama and fledgling romance. Some of the "romantic" dialogue between the characters early in the novel was awkward and made me giggle.

Beatriz Williams writes captivating and lively stories with alluring characters who do and say things I would never say. They are fun to read about in their escapades and romances and entanglements. As usual, Along the Infinite Sea is a fast paced story that kept me reading. It is really pleasantly entertaining and comfortable--cuddle up with a warm blanket on a cool evening; be swept away and enjoy.

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams is published by Putnam and released on November 3, 2015.

You can win one of two copies of Along the Infinite Sea.

To enter leave a comment on this post. The contest will be open to entries until Friday, November 6, 2015 at 11:59 pm MST. The two winners will be chosen randomly and announced on Saturday, November 7, 2015. Open to US entries only.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Safe Splash Swim School

It's finally starting to feel like fall outside and I know what you're thinking--You're thinking of sweaters and hot cocoa and colorful leaves and pumpkins. Generally, October is not the time of year that you're thinking about swimming. But this is the best time of the year to enroll your kids in swimming lessons. They can learn now and next summer, they'll already be little fishies.

The older kids had swimming lessons several years ago but somehow in our hectic schedules we missed getting lessons for Lilly and Molly. So when we were offered a chance for the girls to receive lessons from Safe Splash Swim School, I was thrilled. They were thrilled. Possibly more than thrilled. Lilly, especially, has always loved the water but hadn't responded well to my halfhearted attempts to teach her. (Based on my genetics and childhood, I am not a very good swimmer.)

The staff at Safe Splash Swim School were extremely welcoming and friendly. The girls were put in small classes of 3-4 students that matched their abilities and levels. Even though the girls both tend to be shy they immediately felt comfortable with their teachers. The classes were small so they got plenty of personalized instruction from the teachers and time to practice their new skills. The lessons were fairly short, though the girls could have stayed in the water all day.

During their four half hour sessions, the girls learned to float on their backs, jump into the pool and roll to their backs and climb out of the pool. They learned to be comfortable putting their faces in the water. At Safe Splash Swim School they are focused on first teaching the children how to rescue themselves. Lilly was able to advance and start working on swimming skills. I was primarily concerned with helping the girls feel more comfortable in the water and with the ability to float and exit the pool safely. They have a ways to go but they are definitely doing well.

Safe Splash Swim School focuses first on water safety. Then they move on to swimming skills and finally, they have programs for competitive swimming. They teach children as young as six months old and up to 14 years old. They even have classes for scouts in the evenings to help them pass off the swimming requirements before scout camp. Safe Splash also has a program to help kids with special needs learn to swim.

We were very happy with our lessons at Safe Splash Swim School. The girls are already anxious to go back and learn more. I would definitely recommend them.

Arielle started coaching for SafeSplash's original school in Lone Tree Colorado in 2007 after graduating in high school. She returned there to coach for 4 years. In 2008, Christine, Arielle's mom, joined SafeSplash at the front desk to spend more time with her daughter. In spring 2013, Arielle opened up the first SafeSplash Utah location in Sugarhouse with her husband Cliff. Chris and Christine, Arielle's parents, were also owners of SafeSplash Utah and helped with billing, registration, and other tasks from Colorado. They opened the Sandy location fall 2013 and Taylorsville in Spring 2015. Chris and Christine moved to Utah fall 2014 and now Arielle and Christine run day to day operations together while Cliff and Chris help with marketing events and financials. Together, they run the family business and are grateful for the opportunity to work together and be close to one another. They also sponsor the National Drowning Prevention Alliance of Utah, a 501(C) Non-profit here in Utah. They go to schools, parent groups, daycares, and community fairs to talk about water safety and help educate kids and parents on how to have a fun, safe time around water. As part of the NDPA, they partnered with Autism Speaks to offer scholarships to autistic students in the area. For the past year, every quarter they are able to give 15 new students a scholarship for swim lessons with our school. 

Connect with Safe Splash Swim School Utah :
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**I received complimentary lessons. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.*