Monday, October 17, 2016

Truly Madly Guilty - Audio Book Review

Six adults and three children gather on a chilly afternoon for an impromptu weekend barbecue. A few months later, these people can't move past what happened at the barbecue and they sincerely wish they hadn't gone at all.

Written in a style that allows perspective from all the major characters, Liane Moriarty's newest novel takes the reader into a study of relationships. Marriages and friendships are not always what they seem. Moriarty builds on the suspense as the story and events of the barbecue are disclosed.

Until now, my experience with audio books has been listening in the car to either biographies or children's books. Truly Madly Guilty is the first novel that I have listened to as an audio book. I turned it on when I was folding laundry or processing photography or driving in the car on my own errands. It took me a couple of months to actually finish the book. I'm sure had I been reading it, I would have finished in a few days. I think taking time actually allowed me to appreciate the cast of characters and the mystery more than if I was reading it.

The narrator, Caroline Lee did an excellent job of distinguishing between the characters. Even though I only listened to short sections at a time, I was able to quickly decipher which character was speaking in each chapter. I loved Lee's voice and started to really look forward to the opportunity to fold laundry.

Though it's not my favorite novel from Moriarty, I really enjoyed Truly Madly Guilty. I appreciated the eccentric cast of characters and the dissection of their relationships with one another. Moriarty excels at the character drama. Though the plot was not as thrilling as other novels, it felt very possible and very life changing. I found Truly Madly Guilty to be believable, thoughtful and thoroughly entertaining.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty was published by Flatiron Books in July 2016.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Fall Reads

Liddy James is a divorce attorney in New York City who is also well known for her divorced parenting books. The woman is classy, powerful and formidable. Liddy's ex-husband's partner Rose is scared and in awe of the woman who "broke her husband's heart". Liddy has it all and she let's nothing stand in her way. Until it does. Rose is on bed-rest with a risky pregnancy. Her teenage son is surly. Her nanny quits. And suddenly, Liddy has to juggle more roles and find her true self, yet again.

The Real Liddy James by Anne-Marie Casey is witty and fun and I enjoy it more than I expected to. I got a kick out of the characters who are flawed and full of inner worries that they desperately try to hide behind their outer shiny, veneer of perfection. It's hard to be a woman and keep up with all the demands and expectation from ourselves and from others. Liddy James does her best to be the woman she has always wanted to be. I enjoyed watching her struggles, her triumphs and her metamorphosis.

The Real Liddy James by Anne-Marie Casey is published by Putnam and released on September 20, 2016.

Clara Lawson is taken from her home by armed men and held in a barren room where is she is questioned repeatedly. As she was being forcibly removed from her husband and daughters, her husband shouted not to tell them anything and Clara is determined to keep her mouth shut. But the longer she is held, Clara begins to think about her past and wonder if anything she knew was the truth.

The Girl Before by Rena Olsen was very compelling and terribly disturbing. It might be one of the most distressing novels I've read in a long while. Though not exactly mysterious, The Girl Before takes the reader inside the mind of a woman who is a victim but not exactly innocent. I couldn't put it down but I read the entire novel with that sick knot in my stomach. It will make you think and make you shudder as Olsen exposes the horrors of human trafficking.

The Girl Before by Rena Olsen is published by Putnam and released on August 9, 2016.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ashes - Book Review

Fans of Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains and Forge have been anxiously and maybe not so patiently waiting for the final installment of The Seeds of America Trilogy. I must confess that I have not read the first two books. I bought them for my children who loved them. With trepidation, I decided to read Ashes without reading the first two. I am almost positive that I would have enjoyed it even more if I was already familiar with Isabel, Curzon and Ruth and their struggles. However, I must say that I loved Ashes and would like to go back and read the earlier novels in the series.

Isabel and Curzon are on a dangerous mission south to find Isabel's younger sister Ruth. Besides, the constant fear of being discovered and sold back into slavery, they find themselves in the midst of the final days of the American Revolution. Unsure of what side to join to maintain their freedom, Isabel and Curzon are faced with heartrending and potentially very dangerous decisions.

Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson is a brilliantly written novel aimed at a middle grade audience. I appreciate that she doesn't talk down to the readers but allows them to see the hypocrisy and danger that faced young African Americans in the early days of our country. I felt that there was a good balance portrayed between the inspired brilliance of the Declaration of the Independence and the fight for freedom as a nation and the duplicity in the personal lives of the Founding Fathers. The writing is beautiful and using vocabulary to push the readers.

The research is good and I loved to be right in the middle of the action as Washington's troops lay siege to Cornwallis at Yorktown. Though just getting to know them, I cared about the characters and their constant plight. They are inspiring in their strength and hopes for a better future. I can't wait to pass Ashes on to my kids to see how they enjoy the final chapter of this lauded trilogy.

Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson is the final book in The Seeds of America Trilogy. It is published by Antheneum and released on October 4, 2016.

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

News of the World - Book Review

Since the Civil War has ended, Army Captain Kidd has earned his dimes by reading the world's newspapers in small towns all over North Texas. He is offered fifty dollars to deliver a recently rescued girl to her relatives in San Antonio. Johanna has been with the Kiowa tribe since raiders killed her family and kidnapped her when she was just six years old. She's completely forgotten the English language and her birth family and wants desperately to return to the Kiowas who have "raised" her.

Captain Kidd has taken on a load of troubles with his ten year old package and runs into danger along the rugged trail to San Antonio. He is determined to keep the girl safe and return her even if it means losing his own life.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles is a slim adventure tale that completely captivated me by the story and her lovely style. There's never an extra word. Every single word counts. And I love that. The setting of North Texas and the characters are so real that I felt like I was riding along on the rickety carriage.

Witty and wise, Captain Kidd is an entrancing character. I understand he plays a major role in one of Jiles's earlier novels and I am now curious to read her other books. News of the World is a fascinating tale that one reads and is absolutely convinced it must be a real story. I loved it.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles is published by William Morrow and will be released on October 4, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of News of the World. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Sheriffs of Savage Wells - Book Review

Cade O'Brien has already made a name for himself as a lawman, so he figures he should be the obvious choice as sheriff in the quiet and quirky town of Savage Wells. But he didn't count on fierce competition from the pretty and feisty Paisley Bell. She's been acting as sheriff for a few month since the former sheriff became distracted. She knows the town, she knows the people and she knows how to sling a gun.

The Sheriffs of Savage Wells is the newest Proper Romance from Sarah M. Eden and Shadow Mountain. Eden has made a name for herself in the world of sweet romances. She excels at building the romantic tension between her characters and delivering fun and quirky plots. The Sheriffs of Savage Wells follows her typical formula.

There are some times in the middle of a crappy, stressful week when the very best thing is to escape into a fun, quick read. Last week, The Sheriffs of Savage Wells perfectly filled this need. The banter between the characters was clever and snarky. Paisley was ahead of her time as a law woman but some of her arguments are still timely. Paisley is a tough yet vulnerable leading character who is trying to juggle all her roles.

As is typical with most Proper Romances, The Sheriffs of Savage Wells is predictable and sometimes silly but overall it's a fun journey.

The Sheriffs of Savage Wells by Sarah M. Eden was published by Shadow Mountain and released on September 27, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Penguin Problems - Book Review

Last Monday was a rough day. It was stressful enough that for the rest of the week, other things took precedence over the normal events and to-do lists. So, I've ignored the stack of books waiting patiently (books are so patient) for me to write reviews about them. But in the midst of the stack was an adorable book that made me giggle. And I really needed to giggle.

Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith was the perfect book this week. It's sarcastic and snarky and all around funny. Man, I wish I just had some penguin problems.

With cute as can be illustrations and clever prose, this little penguin laments his unfortunate and miserable existence. Everything bugs him. Everything is just the worst. He hates the snow. The sun shines too bright in his eyes.

As the book goes on, the little penguin gets a reminder of that even when life gets tough, he still has so much to brighten his day. If he lets it.

Penguin Problems is just what I needed, guys. It gets a 7 thumbs up rating from all the people in my house. And that's pretty serious.

Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith is published by Random House Books for Young Readers and released on September 27, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society - Book Review

Aspiring author, Virginia Loftin and the rest of her artistic family have the connections and family name to enjoy entry into the finest homes but they are living in near poverty. When the boy next door breaks Virginia's heart to marry for money, Virginia's brother encourages her to attend meetings of The Fifth Avenue Artists Society to help improve her craft and heal her heart.

In her grief, Virginia finds that writing comes more easily and she pours her emotions into a novel. John Hopper, the host of the Artists Society and her brother's friend, finds promise in her writing and in her. Before long, the handsome and wealthy man has declared his love for her. But not all is as it seems and Virginia's friends and family might be wrapped up in a deeper deception that could ruin them all.

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Callaway begins as a lovely novel about an artistic family. Filled with heartbreak and issues between class and money, this novel set in the Gilded Age immediately captured my attention. The language is romantic and the characters were fun. Though not a regular reader of love stories, I enjoyed the tension between Virginia and John and her childhood friend Charlie. Virginia could be irritating and repetitive at times but I would have been satisfied with this story.

In the later part of the book, it becomes more about the mystery and criminal behaviors. This seemed a strange shift in the plot line. I wasn't thrilled where it was heading but was intrigued. Reading later that the story was based on real people from the author's genealogy actually made me appreciate the ending more.

I really enjoyed The Fifth Avenue Artists Society. It surprised my initial presumptions about the plot line but was a delightfully refreshing story.

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Callaway is published by Harper and released on May 31, 2016. It's also a SheReads Summer Selection.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Fifth Avenue Artists Society through the SheReads program. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Ballroom - Book Review

I fell in love with Anna Hope's debut novel Wake (read my review *here*) so when I saw that she had a new novel coming out this year, I knew immediately that I wanted to read it. Hope just has the most lovely way of writing.

There is a beautiful ballroom in the center of the asylum in the English countryside. Though the men and women patients are generally kept separated, once a week they have a dance and meet in the ballroom. It is in the ballroom that Ella and John foster their forbidden relationship that blossoms through exchanged letters and tender words.

Though convinced that music can help his patients, Dr. Charles Fuller becomes obsessed with the idea of and ethics behind eugenics. In the middle of the intense heatwave of 1911 and in a world of madness, the line of sanity becomes blurred.

Usually books or movies set in asylums have the undertones of horror and fear. While I occasionally enjoy that genre, I was pleased that The Ballroom by Anna Hope focused more on the hopes and dreams of the patients. Instead of being a fantastical thriller, the undertones of evil and ill intent in The Ballroom are realistic and therefore horrifying that some of these ideas and theories still exist.

I love how Hope gets into the heads of her characters, allowing the readers to experience their disillusionment and their realities. They are unique and dynamic and absolutely fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel even as found parts of it very disturbing. Though The Ballroom is set over a hundred years ago, it offers much to think about as we consider how we treat those with mental illness today.

The Ballroom by Anna Hope is published by Random House and released on September 6, 2016.

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

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Shattered Tree - Book Review

The soldier is brought to the nurse's station after he's found clinging to the shattered tree. He's suffering from exposure, loss of blood and his bare feet are in terrible condition after he's walked so far without boots. Bess Crawford, an English nurse, is surprised that the soldier is French but when he awakens suddenly he shouts in German. Bess is intrigued by this enigma.

Needing to recover from her own injuries, Bess is sent to convalesce in Paris where she sees the soldier again. She's determined to find out more about him. Her digging puts her right in the middle of a potentially dangerous mystery.

Set towards the end of World War I, The Shattered Tree uses the intrigue and fighting between the nations to set up this mystery. Was the soldier from Alsace-Lorraine--the border area that was constantly shifting between German and France? Could he be a spy?

Though The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd is part of the Bess Crawford Mysteries, I have not read any of the earlier mysteries. The Shattered Tree is capable of standing alone. There were a few characters that had clearly been previously introduced in earlier novels and so the relationships between them and Bess were not as clear as they might have been if I had already read the others. Other wise, I was able to enjoy this novel without previously reading the others.

In some ways, Bess Crawford reminded me of a spunky Maisie Dobbs. In Bess's case she is able to use her father's connections to get her to help with her digging and discovering of information though she does not do it any official capacity.

The novel is well written and kept my attention. I read it quickly over two days. As with many mysteries, the coincidences are sometimes hard to swallow. There is a large cast of characters and some surprising twists but it felt like it was all over the place. Overall, The Shattered Tree was enjoyable but I'm not going to be rushing out to get the next Bess Crawford mystery.

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd is published by William Morrow and released on August 30, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Shattered Tree. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Watching Edie - Book Review

When Heather shows up on Edie's doorstep, Edie is not exactly happy to see her high school friend. It's been so many years and she's tried to put all of the dark and painful memories behind her when she moved away. But Edie can feel Heather lurking and watching and waiting.

When Edie sinks into serious postpartum depression after the birth of her baby, she has no one to turn to. But Heather is there. Heather can help her pick up the pieces. Heather will take care of everything.

I was immediately freaked out by the atmosphere of danger and paranoia in Watching Edie by Camilla Way. Way does a fabulous job of building the tension and fear as Heather's obsession with Edie becomes apparent. It's dark and beautiful with surprising twists and turns that kept me constantly on edge.

Watching Edie was the kind of psychological thriller that I really enjoy. I love that I was surprised by the ending but that once I knew it, I could see the truth though the entire plot. It's dark and twisted and raw with human emotion, frailty, and obsession.

There is some foul language and some sexual content.

Watching Edie by Camilla Way is published by New American Library and released on August 2, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of the novel. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Friday, August 26, 2016

With Love From the Inside - Book Review

Grace has been on death row for over 17 years, sentenced for the murder of her baby son William. The new governor has declared a hard line on criminals and the date of her execution has been set. Grace has always maintained her innocence. She didn't murder William. She loved him deeply. Her last wish is to reconnect with her daughter Sophia and let her know just how much Grace has always loved her.

Sophia has tried to put the awful history of her family behind her. After her father died of a heart attack, Sophia left for college and stopped visiting her mother in prison. Now, Sophia is married to a handsome and successful doctor from an upper class family and her story cannot include this tainted history. On the first date, she told him that her parents were dead. But now, her mother's attorney has found her.

With Love From the Inside by Angela Pisel is a tender and emotionally rich novel about the love a mother feels for her child and how that love can sustain someone even in the most horrible of circumstances. This novel looks behind the stereotypes of women in prison and shows Grace as a strong and compassionate woman in spite of a system that is trying to break her. She is nearly powerless and yet she does what she can to maintain her personal goodness. It's so fantastic and different from our typical perceptions, that at times it was hard to believe. After reading the novel, I found myself in an online rabbit hole of reading of the women on death row and their convictions.

The writing in With Love From the Inside is taut and passionate, immediately engaging. The characters were sympathetic and I felt their pain, suffering and the powerful feeling of love that binds them together. For her debut novel, Angela Pisel offers an impressive novel.

With Love From the Inside by Angela Pisel is published by Putnam and released on August 9, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Couple Next Door - Book Review

Every day these last few weeks has been exhausting. Getting kids ready to go back to school; cramming in the last summer activities and fighting the heat has left me so ready for bed. The other night I finished reading a book at exactly 12:15 and thought for sure the second I closed my eyes I'd be out cold. But I tossed and turned for an hour. I tried to read an ebook on my phone under the covers but only a few pages in I knew it wasn't for me. I tossed and turned some more. Finally, at three in the morning, I completely gave up on sleeping. I didn't want to wake Randy so in the dark I grabbed a random book from the shelf in my bedroom and headed downstairs to read. I happened to grab The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena. Within an hour, I was engrossed in the story. I finished the book the next day and was surprised that even without sleep, I managed to read without falling asleep during the day.

The babysitter called to cancel at the last minute. It's just next door, they reason. We will check on her regularly. We'll have the monitor. She'll be fine. Anne and Marco leave their baby sleeping in her crib and go to the dinner party next door. But their worst nightmare is just beginning when they come home to an open front door and an empty crib. Their baby is missing. The police don't seem to be doing enough to help and the parents are the top suspects. Anne is simply in shock. Who would want to take her baby?

The writing in The Couple Next Door is pretty basic. Initially, I was not impressed and thought it a bit juvenile. However, the story is so gripping that I excused the lack of writing skill and quickly became engaged in the twisting tale of intrigue. Lapena takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of intensity that keeps the reader guessing.

The Couple Next Door is fun and thrilling and a quick read. It's a perfect read for the doctor's waiting room or an airplane flight because the writing is simple enough that a few distractions won't leave you too confused. Overall, I rather enjoyed the novel. It was nice to just get lost in it for a day.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena is published by Pamela Dorman Books and released on August 23, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Swear on This Life - Book Review

Emiline is struggling to write and fulfill her dream to be a published author. Her long-time relationship with her college boyfriend is dull. Uninspired and depressed, her roommate hands her the latest literary sensation. As soon as Emiline starts reading the novel by J. Colby she recognizes her own story within the pages.

Emiline has been haunted by her tragic childhood for years but now she's confronted with it in the pages of a best-selling novel. Her childhood best friend has published a book with her story. Devastated, she knows she must see him and face the past she has been trying to forget.

Swear on This Life by Renée Carlino is the story of a young woman reconciling her past and finding peace and hope in forgiveness all while discovering a true love. It's a sweet story. Initially, I had trouble getting into it and stalled about a quarter of the way into the novel. After a few weeks when I wondered if I would completely abandon it, I decided to give it another chance. I read the remainder in a matter of hours.

It's a cute story. I wasn't blown away by the writing or the predictable plot or flat characters. However, for an easy, feel-good read, I found Swear on This Life rather enjoyable.

There is quite a bit of swearing and a few scenes that get a little steamy.

Swear on This Life by Renée Carlino is published by Atria Books and released on August 9, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Decades of Doubt - Book Review

In 1969, 15 year old John McCabe didn't come after the dance. His parents drove around searching for him. The next morning two young boys found John's body, tied up and abandoned in an empty field. The investigation would stretch over forty years before two men were finally charged with his murder.

Decades of Doubt by Eric Wilson and John Turner focuses on the investigation of John McCabe's murder and the defense of those charged with the crime.

It's not often that I read true crime books but Decades of Doubt was immediately intriguing. The details of the horrific crime that shocked a small Massachusetts community and kept the detectives guessing for so many years were equally gripping and appalling. Just like everyone else in the community, I wanted to know who killed John McCabe. The first part of the book is an easy read, comfortable style and it wasn't long before I was completely immersed in the mystery.

The second portion of the book covers the trial of one of the men eventually arrested for the murder. In this portion, the defense attorney (Eric Wilson) inserts his own first person chapters and perspective of the trial. I actually found these sections awkward and disruptive to the flow of the book. I found them completely unnecessary.

It was interesting how the defense poked holes in all the evidence. The book became a study on the justice system. However, by the end, as a reader, I was completely unsatisfied. It felt like a very one- sided defense of the defense and I wasn't convinced.

Overall, the book started out with promise. It was a fascinating mystery with fairly solid writing that kept my interest. The book lost it's way with the loss of objectivity and it's new focus on the defense and the defense attorney's ego.

Decades of Doubt by Eric Wilson and John Turner is published by Waldorf Publishing and releases on August 15, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Reading in July

July was one of those crazy months where we were so busy having fun that I didn't have time to do anything else. Since I didn't have as much time to read, I'm so glad that I was able to enjoy fabulous books with that precious time.

Champion of the World by Chad Dundas follows a cast of rich and fabulously larger-than-life characters through the fascinating world of wrestling during the 1920's. I couldn't get enough of this epic novel that showed the underbelly and mob involvement of the professional sport.

Pepper Van Dean and his wife have been making their living in the traveling circus since his humiliating loss as the former lightweight champion. Each night, he performs the dangerous hangman's drop and then wrestles the locals. Pepper is bored and anxious for an opportunity back into the sport he loves. When he is offered a chance to train the African-American heavyweight wrestler for a chance at the Heavyweight title, Pepper can't resist the lure of the wrestling world.

The plot and characters were thrilling enough to keep me reading late at night when the excitement of our busy days finally settled down. Dundas expertly captured the era in this fascinating historical fiction. It quickly made it to the top of my favorites of 2016 list.

Champion of the World by Chad Dundas is published by Putnam and released on July 12, 2016.

In a completely different shift, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan took my breath away.  In language that is stunning and powerful, Flanagan tells the story of Australian POWs forced to built the railroad through the jungle during World War II. It is a brutal story that details the suffering and torment of individuals at the hands of other men caught up in the horrific war.

Flanagan's characters are not necessarily likable and are bent to their very breaking points. I couldn't stop reading and I can't stop thinking about the stupidity of war. I finished the novel late last night and I can't even fully articulate my thoughts. I'm not sure I'll be able to ever put my reactions into clear and concise thoughts. It's so overwhelming to realize what people went through. Even when their bodies survived, their souls were so damaged. Yet, there was always hope.

I loved Flanagan's writing--it was beautiful and sometimes I had to read a passage over to try to glean the full and rich meaning. It was compelling and thought-provoking and exhausting. The Narrow Road to the Deep North was absolutely unforgettable.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan was published by Vintage and released in April 2015.

**I received complimentary copies of both books. These reviews reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Light of Paris - Book Review

Madeleine goes home to Magnolia to visit her mother simply out of familial obligation. She and her mother have never really gotten along. Now Madeleine's marriage is struggling and she knows she's disappointed her mother once again. During her visit, she discovers her grandmother's journals. Her grandmother was a stoic woman, always perfectly behaved in every situation, so Madeleine is shocked to learn that her grandmother had quite the time in Paris when she was young.

Margie feels completely out of place in the debutante world that she has been raised to embrace. When her only option for marriage is simply one of convenience and a good business deal, she rebels and flees to Europe for a grand tour with her cousin.

In The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown, both Madeleine and Margie need the strength to pursue their goals and dreams and break free from the mold their mothers and society has fashioned for them. Paris may just be the answer.

Both main characters really need a push to take back their own destinies. They have spent their lives as passive women, making decisions that they felt would please others instead of what would make themselves happy. It's the age-old story of mother vs. daughter but Brown gives it a fresh voice and a new life in her lovely new novel.

With a lyrical writing and a sassy tone from women who keep their true voices hidden from the world, I fell for The Light of Paris. Madeleine and Margie are real women--struggling with weight and appearance issues, lack of love and the confines that society has used to define the proper role of women. Essentially, they both have huge self-esteem problems. Yet, they are funny and interesting and saucy and women that I would absolutely want to be friends with.

The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown is an enchanting novel with characters so honest and true the reader can't help but root for them.

The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown is published by Putnam and released on July 12, 2016.

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

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Winner of the Nitro World Games tickets

The winner of the first Nitro World Games 
on Saturday, July 16, 2016
at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City is...


Congratulations! Please contact me by Tuesday, July 12th with your information to claim your prize.

Don't miss this exciting event.
You can buy tickets here :

Monday, July 4, 2016

Nitro World Games are Coming to Salt Lake - Win Tickets!

The inaugural 
is coming to 
Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah 
on Saturday, July 16, 2016. 
The biggest event in the history of action sports, the Nitro World Games is a riveting three-hour experience – airing live in the U.S. on NBC during prime time – that marks a revolutionary transformation of action sports competition. Created by extreme sports icon Travis Pastrana with Nitro Circus CEO and Creative Director Michael Porra, the Nitro World Games will feature the best athletes from across the globe in action sports’ most exciting and popular disciplines, including freestyle motocross (FMX), BMX, skate, inline, scooter and more.

This is exciting event can't be missed and it's coming to you!
I am giving away a pack of Four Tickets to the Nitro World Games to one lucky winner. 
Take your family. Take your friends.  But go see this show.
Let's make this simple. To enter :
1. Leave a comment on this post.
Contest will be open to entries until Friday, July 8th at 11:59 pm MST. The winners will be chosen randomly from the entrants and announced on Saturday, July 9th.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Before the Fall - Book Review

I finished reading Before the Fall by Noah Hawley late last night, huddled under the covers, long after Rand had fallen asleep. I promised him "just one more chapter" but I couldn't put it down until I finally finished the last page.

A chartered jet crashes into the ocean en route between Martha's Vineyard and New York City. The only survivors are an artist and the four year old son of a media mogul. His parents and sister are dead in the crash, as well as another wealthy couple who is being investigated by the SEC

After swimming to shore with the boy, Scott is initially hailed as a hero but investigators aren't so sure. What was this hapless, unknown artist doing on a private jet with these wealthy people? Was it just an accident or was this an attack? As the investigators continue to dig and search for the pieces of plane and the black box, the facts will emerge.

Going back and forth between the post-accident investigation and into the back stories of the passengers, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley keeps the reader immersed in theories and clues to the cause of the crash. I was completely intrigued. I love a good character focused story and it was especially exciting to have a thriller focus primarily on the people and their choices instead of just the action. Besides the main characters, Hawley focuses on human nature and the reactions people have to disasters and sensational new stories.

Before the Fall was completely engaging and though essentially a thriller, I thought it was very smart. Hawley keeps the action going but allows for some introspection and down times when the reader can really get to know the characters.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley is an exciting choice this summer. Tuck it in your beach bag or backpack or like me, just hunker down under the air conditioning and enjoy the suspense.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley was published by Grand Central Publishing in May 2016. It is also a SheReads selection this summer. Read more reviews at  

**I received a complimentary copy through SheReads. No compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Under the Harrow - Book Review

Nora and her sister Rachel have been looking forward to their shared vacation, so Nora is completely shocked to arrive at her sister's home and discover that Rachel has been brutally murdered. Years ago, as a teenager Rachel was also the victim of a violent attack and Nora is convinced the two crimes are connected.

Increasingly obsessed with solving her sister's grisly murder, Nora stays in her sister's village and begins stalking the man who last saw Rachel alive. Nora uncovers additional secrets as she investigates Rachel and her life in the countryside. She's unsure of who she can trust and who would want her sister dead. Is Nora safe in the village? Does someone want to kill her too?

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry is a psychological thriller told by a narrator who the reader isn't sure is honest and as time goes on becomes more depressed, more erratic and more risky. The writing is terribly engaging. Every word is necessary and hauntingly beautiful in this spare but thrilling novel. I found myself reading passages over to make sure I had gleaned every important bit of information. Nora was a fascinating character as she struggles to solve the crime and understand her sister's life. She experiences the varying emotional stages of grief.

I love short chapters. They keep the action moving. In Under the Harrow, I simply couldn't put this book down after "just one more chapter" at night. I read late into the night, absolutely captivated by Nora's search for the truth.

Under the Harrow is engrossing and frightening and keeps the reader perpetually off kilter. It is definitely a book to read this summer!

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry is published by Penguin Books are released on June 14, 2016.

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

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Tumbling Turner Sisters - Book Review

Gert and Winnie are still trying to finish high school when their mother pulls them out of school to join their older and recently widowed sister Nell and their gigantic younger sister Kit on the Vaudeville Circuit. After an injury to his hand, their dad is unable to work at his regularly job stitching boots and their resourceful mother comes up with an act that will pay the bills and put her daughters in the limelight, a place she has longed to be.

The sisters discover on the road, that they rather enjoy the spotlight too and the people that they meet. Vaudeville in 1919 was an unusual band of characters with a wide variety of acts. People flocked to the theaters looking for cheap entertainment that was clean enough for families. Along the journey, Gert and Winnie will find love and danger and a world they didn't know in their hometown of Johnson City, New York.

The Tumbling Turner Sisters by Juliette Fay immediately appealed to me. I love the historical setting and the potential mishmash of unique characters along the circuit. Fay's research is in-depth and I especially loved the facts and the real characters thrown in among the fiction. I actually learned a few things that I found rather fascinating.

The characters were well developed and I appreciated that the sisters were unique enough for me to immediately distinguish between them. The story lines are timely for the historic period and by meeting a wide variety of characters and traveling, the reader is exposed to many of the period's issues.

The writing is tight and the pace is steady. Exciting things are constantly happening but it lacks the sort of passion and momentum that might have kept me reading all night. Overall, it was a satisfying  and entertaining novel. It definitely made me want to take a seat in a Vaudeville theater and enjoy the show.

The Tumbling Turner Sisters by Juliette Fay is published by Gallery Books and released on June 14, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Tumbling Turner Sisters. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Monday, June 13, 2016

Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen - Book Review

Katherine of Aragon is the daughter of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain and is one of the most desired royal matches. King Henry VII is delighted to secure her hand for his son and future king, Arthur.  Katherine is just a girl of sixteen when she leaves her homeland to embark on this journey that will lead to a marriage and a strong alliance between England and Spain. Only tragedy will strike the young prince and soon Katherine will be a young widow stuck in an unfamiliar and occasionally hostile land. Who can she trust? Does anyone have her best interests in mind?

I am fascinated by all things Tudor and I'm a fan of Alison Weir. Over the years, I've read several of her books--both nonfiction and fiction. Once again, Weir does not disappoint with her newest novel Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen. Because I've read other books about Henry VIII and his wives, I was worried that it would be dull but reading the entirety of Katherine's story was eye opening and thoroughly entertaining. So often books focus on the story after the king becomes obsessed with Anne Boleyn and the Great Matter. I liked learning more about Katherine's early marriage to Arthur and then to Henry VIII. Then, the Great Matter from Katherine's painful perspective was very interesting.

The novel is very long but very thorough. There were times that I felt like maybe things could have been edited out but most of the time I was enjoying the novel so much that I didn't mind it being so long. Weir's research is fabulous. All this information and her skilled writing combines for a great read. After spending awhile reading it, I'm missing the book. I'm anxious to read the rest of Weir's planned series of novels focusing on each of Henry the VIII's wives.

Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen by Alison Weir is published by Ballantine Books and released on May 31, 2016.

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

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Gilded Years - Book Review

Anita Hemmings was a gifted, intelligent girl completely worthy of attending Vassar, the premier and elite girls college. It had been her dream since childhood and she had worked hard in school to pass her exams and gain entrance at the school. Only in the 1890's Vassar didn't accept African American students. With her fair skin, Anita's heritage as an African American was not as obvious and so she listed only her English and French heritage on her application.

Passing as white and being voted "the most beautiful", Anita excels at Vassar. With an incredible singing voice and a gift at the ancient languages, her professors and the other students value her friendship and opinion. In her senior year, she is picked to room with Lottie Taylor, the richest and most popular girl at the school. Anita and Lottie quickly become best friends and Lottie introduces her new friend to the splendor and glamour of the richest of New York.

Torn between the world Anita knows when she is white and her family and friends at home in Boston where she is known in the African American community, she struggles to find peace and love and an understanding of who she is and who she wants to be. Her secret is perilous and her ultimate goal of graduating from Vassar is in jeopardy.

In The Gilded Years, Karin Tanabe spins a fictional account of the first African American woman to graduate from Vassar. Tanabe is a wonderful writer who tells this compelling story and details in a very personal way the struggle that African Americans faced in their quest to be recognized as equal.

Though at times lengthy and a bit wordy, I was enraptured with Anita's story. While some details have been fictionalized, Tanabe pays homage to this brave and inspiring woman.

The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe is published by Washington Square Press and releases on June 7, 2016.

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

Friday, May 27, 2016

Kick Kennedy : The Charmed Life and Tragic Death of the Favorite Kennedy Daughter - Book Review

Kick Kennedy was her father's favorite. Vivacious and funny, she had already dazzled her brothers' friends in America, when she moved with her father on his assignment as ambassador in England. Unlike any girl they had met, Kick soon wowed the London set of "The Cousinhood" and found herself quickly included in all their fun and romances.

Enchanting and ambitious, Kick led a life of luxury and wealth but was after influence and power. Following her life from her love affair with England and its men, through the war and finally her tragic death, Kick Kennedy by Barbara Leaming was a quick and enjoyable read.

I haven't read biographies on the Kennedy clan in the past. My sole information has come from People Magazine that I occasionally read in my mother-in-law's bathroom. (Seriously, it's a choice between People and the Ensign and I get the Ensign at home.) Anyway, the biography on Kick sounded intriguing and I wasn't terribly disappointed.

The book doesn't share much about the Kennedy family. It starts telling Kick's story at about the time she is spreading her wings and looking for her own identity (unless she needs her father's help and then she's totally willing to go running to him). More than Kick's personal story, I enjoyed reading about those years leading up to World War II and the influences the politics and war had on the young gentry classes.

Leaming is a good writer. Her prose flows easily and and before I knew it, I'd read a hundred pages. After reading it, I'm not any more interested in the Kennedy's but I found her Kick's story very entertaining.

Kick Kennedy : The Charmed Life and Tragic Death of the Favorite Kennedy Daughter by Barbara Leaming was published by Thomas Dunne Books and released in April 2016.

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

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Railwayman's Wife - Book Review

The Railwayman's Wife
By Ashely Hay

From the cover :

In 1948, in the strange, silent aftermath of war, in a town overlooking the vast, blue ocean, Anikka Lachlan has all she ever wanted—until a random act transforms her into another postwar widow, destined to raise her daughter on her own. Awash in grief, she looks for answers in the pages of her favorite books and tries to learn the most difficult lesson of all: how to go on living.

A local poet, Roy McKinnon, experiences a different type of loss. How could his most powerful work come out of the brutal chaos of war, and why is he now struggling to regain his words and his purpose in peacetime? His childhood friend Dr. Frank Draper also seeks to reclaim his pre-war life but is haunted by his failure to help those who needed him most—the survivors of the Nazi concentration camps.

Then one day, on the mantle of her sitting room, Ani finds a poem. She knows neither where it came from, nor who its author is. But she has her suspicions. An unexpected and poignant love triangle emerges, between Ani, the poem, and the poet—whoever he may be.

My thoughts :

Sometimes I have the hardest time writing a reviews when I really really love a book. I can't think of the write words lovely enough to describe it. Here's the simple list--beautiful, melancholy, haunting--to describe The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay. Focusing on the inner turmoil of the characters who are trying to get back to living post-World War II, the novel is more introspective than plot driven. I found the language lovely and heartbreaking. 

I was touched particularly by Anikka's struggle to heal following the accidental death of her husband. As well meaning people approach her to share her loss and emotion, they tell her stories of her husband and she is shocked to find that she didn't know every little bit of his life. The idea of two people sharing their lives together and yet still maintaining their individuality was thought-provoking.

The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay is a thoughtful novel concentrated on the characters and their process of grieving and healing. It is poignant and rich with emotion and sentiment.

The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay is published by Atria Books and released in April 2016.

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Christ-Centered Home - Book Review

Early in our marriage, Rand and I lived in New Hampshire. We made our home in a humble little townhouse with dated wallpaper and filled with hand-me-down furniture and the beginnings of our book collection. In just the first few months that we lived there, several people--from the TV repairman to the Kirby salesperson to our next-door neighbor--commented on the special spirit in our home. We were surprised and the two of us regularly discussed what it was that people were feeling when they came into our home. We hoped that we had successfully created a mostly Christ-Centered Home and it became our goal for our future home.

Add five children with their own fiery personalities and demands and a busier schedule and sometimes it seems that regular family home evenings, scripture study and prayer are not enough to keep our home constantly centered on Jesus Christ.

In her new book Emily Belle Freeman The Christ-Centered Home, she has divided it into reasonable monthly plans with a lesson focused on the scriptures and the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. She includes ideas for devotionals and discussions to have with your family. With chapters on everything from gratitude to service, Freeman focuses on the principles we know but helps make them approachable and accomplishable.

I like that while using lessons from the life of our Savior, Freeman makes a proactive book that asks the reader to search their own life and turn their focus to creating a home they would feel comfortable inviting Jesus Christ to enter. I especially appreciate that this book involves the entire family in the process. There are even included recipes to keep your family at the table long enough for a meaningful conversation.

The Christ-Centered Home : Inviting Jesus In by Emily Belle Freeman is published by Shadow Mountain and released in April 2016. 

**I received a complimentary copy of The Christ-Centered Home. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Enchanted Islands - Book Review

Frances Conway and her husband Ainslie move to the desert island of the Galapagos during the 1940s. They gave up their relatively comfortable life in San Francisco to live in a ramshackle hut and grow their own sustenance. In Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend tells the story of Frances Conway beginning with her childhood in Duluth, Minnesota as Frances Frankowski at the turn of the century. The novel follows her adventures that eventually lead to her drastic move with her husband to the famous islands. Though Frances and her husband were real people and they did live on the islands, Amend tells a fictionalized version of the events.

Though I expected the novel to spend more time with the Conways on the Galapagos Islands--they didn't actually arrive there until page 154--I actually really enjoyed the early part of Frances's history. Amend crafts a beautiful story of friendship, betrayal and a desire for acceptance and love. The writing flows so smoothly, that I was able to easily get lost within the story and the characters. Frances was a vulnerable character with the odds against her, yet she continuously shows her grit and self-preservation.

Enchanted Islands is an unusual tale of intrigue, love and relationships. Secondary to that, is Frances and Ainslie's time on the island. The islands are fascinating and the idea of living a quiet existence bent mostly toward daily subsistence is at times appealing. By moving to the islands, Frances is denying herself certain comforts and luxuries but found a peace and amount of joy there to fully sustain her. Similarly, Frances's personal relationships mirror the lessons of the islands.

Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend was quickly devoured as I enjoyed reading more about the Frances. As formed by Amend, she was an engaging and inspiring character.

Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend is published by Nan A. Talese and released on May 24, 2016.

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

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Yoga of Max's Discontent - Book Review


Max has a great job in New York City. A job that he has worked hard to get. Crawling his way out of the projects and into an Ivy League School. But following the death of his mother, Max can't get rid of this feeling inside that he is missing the meaning of life. Leaving his job and home, he heads to India to find a guru who will help him find peace and fulfillment.

Max's initial story is captivating and I was immediately intrigued by his struggle to find meaning in his existence and curious about where this path would lead. Bajaj writes well and brings the readers along in Max's journey in The Yoga of Max's Discontent. Max's experiences in India are interesting. I liked reading more about the landscape and the people. Then, Max started doing yoga and starving and then I got bored. I'm not going to discount the spiritual fulfillment some get from yoga and solitude and torturing their bodies in caves in the Himalayas. Go ahead. Knock yourself out. I don't get it. 

There is some foul language and some random and unnecessary sex scenes.

The Yoga of Max's Discontent by Karan Bajaj is published by Riverbed Books and released on May 3, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Yoga of Max's Discontent. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Carving Out Some Reading Time

Over the last few weeks I've been in an interesting reading place. I haven't had much time to read as I've been running to different events in my roles as mom, wife Primary leader, PTA mom, photographer and friend. In the midst of all the crazy, I was lucky enough to take some time for myself and go to BYU Women's Conference with some good friends. It was relaxing and wonderful, inspiring and brilliant but didn't allow me much time to read.

I've been reading Valiant Ambition : George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick. It's absolutely fascinating and as usual Philbrick writes well but I can only read a few chapters before I fall completely asleep and it doesn't lend itself well to being read in quick snippets while I wait in the car to pick up Neal after tennis or in dentist appointments. I tried and I found myself reading the same page over and over after I was repeatedly interrupted. I needed something enjoyable to read that I could squeeze into those short available moments.

I first picked up Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase. Compared with Daphne du Maurier, I was anxious to get my hands on this gothic, psychological thriller. Black Rabbit Hall has been a magical getaway for Amber and her family for years. Their estate is weathered but filled with love. Tragedy strikes when Amber's mother is suddenly killed in an accident. Her father isn't the same and Black Rabbit Hall becomes a place of grief and suffering for the young family struggling.

Years later, Lorna is drawn to Black Rabbit Hall. She has brief glimpses of spending times there with her mother when she was a child. Now that Lorna is engaged, she'd like to have her wedding there. As she explores the dilapidated estate she uncovers it's secrets and mysteries.

With solid writing that captures that strong emotions of both Amber and Lorna, Black Rabbit Hall kept me entertained and entranced. It had that dark, eerie feeling without being scary. Though the setting is important to the novel, the characters and their relationships with each other are central to the developing story. I appreciated that and the exploration of their mourning and grief for the loss of loved ones and how they interacted with those still alive.

Black Rabbit Hall was thrilling and absolutely readable. I didn't want to put it down.

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase was published by Putnam and released in February 2016. 

I read Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner in just two days. Though I've heard of Weiner for years and follow her on Twitter, this is the first time I've read one of her novels. It's a delightfully quick and enjoyable read with realistic characters and a fateful plot full of coincidences and chance meetings.

Rachel is just a little girl, recovering from heart surgery when she meets Andy in the hospital emergency room. He's alone and her comforting story helps him get through his fear of being injured and separated from his mother. Rachel can't forget him.

Throughout the years, though their lives take very different paths, Rachel and Andy find each other and their relationship grows. They are soul mates. Meant to be together.

I especially liked the characters in Who Do You Love. Sometimes I rather disliked them. Weiner allows them to grow and explore and become adults. Occasionally, they make mistakes and rather bad choices. In other words, they are pretty realistic people.

Some may say that the coincidences are unbelievable and unrealistic, but if you buy into the idea of soul mates (even just in the context of this novel and don't we regularly suspend our normal beliefs to enjoy stories) than it would make sense that the world would conspire to regularly put them together.

Who Do You Love is not a style of book that I regularly read. It was enlightening to read it and find it rather enjoyable. While it is essentially a romance and has more sex scenes than I'm really comfortable with, Weiner does more than just write a love story. She explores people--what inspires their choices, good and bad.

Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner is published by Washington Square Press and the paperback edition released on April 5, 2016. It's also one of the Spring Book Club Selections for SheReads.

I'm so glad I've been able to squeeze in some fun and entertaining books to keep me reading while I continue to work through the history from Philbrick. At some point my life will get less busy and I'll have more time to read, right? Not likely.

**I received complimentary copies of both books. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Assistants - Book Review

For six years, Tina Fontana has worked as an executive assistant to Robert Barlow, the wealthy head of a media empire. Though she's fabulous at her job and enjoys the perks, she's frustrated that her career hasn't advanced to where she had once envisioned and her massive student loan debt is still weighing on her soul. When an accounting error delivers a check just big enough to pay off her loans, Tina knows it's wrong but can't resist the lure of being debt free. In a moment of weakness, she cashes the check and pays off her loans. The feeling of relief from being free of her debts is quickly overshadowed by the feeling of guilt. Tina plays by the rules. Until now. And someone else knows what she's done. As other assistants in the company approach Tina about help in paying off their loans, Tina gets sucked into a black hole that seems inescapable.

A witty and fun contemporary Robin Hood story, The Assistants by Camille Perri tackles the idea of wealth distribution. She touches on feelings and sentiments shared by many who struggle financially while being surrounded by those who have an overwhelming amount of wealth. While it's a touchy topic and politically divisive, the novel keeps the subject light and humorous and Tina Fontana is a fabulous character--completely torn by the crushing guilt of breaking the law and the desire to help others.

Perri is a great writer. I enjoyed the nutty cast of characters and the inner struggle that Tina faces. There's never a dull moment and the story is completely believable. The Assistants brings up a lot of interesting topics and I can imagine a lively debate at book club.

The Assistants by Camille Perri is published by Putnam and released on May 3, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Assistants. My opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Everyone Brave is Forgiven - Book Review

I enjoyed Little Bee and Gold by Chris Cleave so I was excited to see a new book from his this spring.  Everyone Brave is Forgiven is his newest book and I was immediately enamored with this World War II novel. How can one possibly write something fresh and new about this time period? I've read many novels centered on World War II and I love several. So many different people suffered through the war and everyone had their own story, so I suppose the opportunities are limitless. Cleave writes a new story in Everyone Brave is Forgiven by focusing on an unlikely heroine and the early days of the war in London and on Malta.

Mary North is a young, wealthy idealist ready for adventure on the eve of World War II. As soon as war is declared, she signs up and is assigned to teach at a local school in London. Though she is initially disappointed by the assignment, she discovers a love for the children and for teaching. When the children are all evacuated from the city, Mary is left with a classroom of children who for one reason or another just don't "fit" in the country.

As Mary navigates through love and danger and friendship, she is often foolish and sometimes self-serving. She's naive and regularly makes destructive choices, yet she's a character that gets under the reader's skin and one sincerely hopes for her survival and success. I enjoyed her quick humor and clever wit as she banters with her best friend and with Tom, the administrator of the schools. It is disheartening to watch the dreams of the young shattered by the brutality of war. Cleave wrote a very poignant and beautiful novel that I found meaningful and emotionally stirring.

I found myself reading large sections of this book each night, unwilling to stop. I was compelled to read more of Mary, her friend Hilda, Tom, and his friend Alistair. I was especially interested in learning more about the Siege of Malta. Previously, I was not familiar with this event in World War II. Cleave writes with dignity and power and shows both the brutality and the compassion of man; the desire to at once cease to exist and simultaneously survive.

I've read some great books this year that I really enjoyed but Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave is definitely at the top of my list.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave is published by Simon and Schuster and released on May 3, 2016.