Friday, January 30, 2015

Foxy's Premium Frozen Yogurt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League - Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

One Step Too Far - Book Review

From the cover :

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

My thoughts : 

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The winner of THE MAGICIAN'S LIE

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Dress Shop of Dreams - Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Belong to Me - Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House Broken - Book Review

From the cover :

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

My thoughts :

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

After the War is Over - Book Review

From the cover :

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

My thoughts :

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Bishop's Wife - Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Rosie Effect - Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Top Ten Books of 2014

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

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

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

Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen
Read my review *here*

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

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

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

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

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

Wake by Anna Hope
Read my review *here*

Gemini by Carol Cassella
Read my review *here*

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Redeemer - Nashville Tribute Band - Review

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Year With Frog and Toad - Salt Lake Acting Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tickets can be purchased online at :

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

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The House We Grew Up In - Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Winter Guest - Book Review

From the cover :

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

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

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

My thoughts :

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 6, 2014

GI Brides - Book Review

My local book club has been meeting consistently each month for six years now. While several of the original members have moved away and others have joined us since, we always look forward to an evening of visiting, eating delicious treats and perhaps even discussing the book. Many of us stay up very late with the last stragglers sometimes leaving my house as late/early as 4 am. Last night we headed to our beds around 2:30 am. This morning I am definitely suffering from what we call our book club hangovers (and we don't even drink).

Our book club was chosen to participate with the Book Club Girls and our first selection from them was GI Brides by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi. The authors traveled the United States interviewing women who had come from Great Britain to the US after marrying a World War II soldier. In their narrative history, the authors share the stories of four women who met, loved and married soldiers during the war.

While I knew that European women had married soldiers, before reading this book I did not realize the number of women or that the US government had changed laws to help accommodate the women's passage across the Atlantic after the war. I was fascinated by the information and the look into the lives of people struggling to survive the horrors of war and finding love. While many in the US suffered loss and shortage during the war, I always appreciate the reminders that those in Europe have a different and much more traumatic war experience as their homes and places of business were subjected to nightly air raids.

GI Brides is an engaging read. I felt compelled to learn more about Sylvia, Lyn, Rae and Margaret and their lives. The blissful love and dreams of a future together when they first met their future husbands were not fully realized when the war ends and they come to the US. A variety of struggles face them. Many of these struggles are the typical trials that any new wife may face after marriage but some were unique because of the change of country and culture. In spite of speaking a common language, phrases had various (sometimes humorous) meanings. Climates were different. Food was different. Expectations were different. They frequently had to live with their in-laws which presented additional trials. Reality was not necessarily as romantic as they imagined when they were dancing at the Club in London.

Overall, I enjoyed GI Brides. I've always been interested in people and the social histories behind the political histories we learn at school. However, I had a few reservations about this book. First, I had some trouble remembering the various characters. I'm usually pretty good at keeping characters straight, but I often had to refer back to tell the difference between Sylvia and Lyn and especially their husbands. Their early stories when they were first meeting their husbands are especially befuddling. Second, Americans in general were not shown in the greatest light. While I have never really complained about an unhappy ending, I could have used at least one happier story interwoven with the more dramatic stories in the book. Surely, some of the 60+ women that were interviewed by the authors had happy, loving relationships with their soldier husbands. Also, I thought it might have been nice to get a little more perspective from the men. Did their experiences in battle effect their lives and choices after the war?

I appreciated the epilogue. By the end I did genuinely care about the women (more so, because they were real) and hoped for the best for their lives. I very much enjoyed learning about this social history. Two women in our book club learned that they had relatives (a great aunt from Denmark and a grandma from Germany) who married soldiers during and shortly after the war and came to America. A third member had an uncle who married a woman from Vietnam during that war. As we discussed the book, I had to wonder about those women who may have come from the Pacific and the unique trials they may have faced with their husbands in the US.

Barrett and Calvi present a very enlightening look at a small but interesting part of the World War II experience. I applaud their efforts to collect and share these stories. It is a compelling and important part of our history.

GI Brides by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi was published by William Morrow in September 2014. Copies of the book were provided to our book club through the Book Club Girl Blog.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Island of a Thousand Mirrors - Book Review

Yasodara, her younger sister Lanka and the neighbor boy Shiva have an idyllic childhood in the beauty of Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, the bliss and innocence of childhood is cut short by the violence of the civil war as the Tamil rebels fight against the Sinhala armies. Yasodara's family flees the horrific atrocities by emigrating to America.

Even as they work to assimilate and become at one with their new home, Yasodara and Lanka cannot fight the lure of their homeland and their memories. Adults now, the civil war in Sri Lanka continues to rage--bloody and vicious. Lanka decides to return to teach art to the children left crippled by exploding landmines and begs Yasodara to follow her. They discover that Shiva too has returned to the island. Though Shiva is Tamil and they are Sinhala, their childhood friendship binds them together.

Based on a recommendation from a trusted friend (Julie from Girls Just Reading), I was anxious to read Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera. I love learning about other parts of the world and gaining some understanding of the historical events and political histories of these lands. Mostly, I love people and gaining a greater insight into different cultures and traditions. Since in my current state of life I'm not able to travel, I regularly turn to books to inspire, teach and open my mind. I, of course, especially love when novels are able to do this and tell a fascinating story.

Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera completely shattered me. Munaweera's prose is so elegantly beautiful and deeply emotional--describing a world so lovely, picturesque and delicious then detailing brutal violence and the horrifying acts of people against one another. In my sheltered world, I knew not of this tragedy before reading Munaweera's thoughtful masterpiece and am grateful for her work opening my eyes. My heart aches for those mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who lost loved ones in the fighting that continued to ravage the land and the people for twenty five years.

Munaweera's novel is part of a great work of contemporary literature including Ratner's In the Shadow of the Banyan, De Robertis's Perla and Mara's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena that tell the heart wrenching stories of war, hatred for another people, and tragedy, while simultaneously telling stories of hope and redemption. Perhaps these novels speak to me so much because they are the stories of our world's recent history--many of these atrocities occurring within my own lifetime. These novels and others weave a tapestry that tells the world's history of war and yet inspire peace and love.

Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera is published by St. Martin's Press and released in September 2014. 

**I received a complimentary copy of Island of a Thousand Mirrors. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Us - Book Review

Douglas is a fairly good looking, reserved, scientist. He doesn't do drugs. He doesn't really get art. Somehow, against all odds, he manages to woo and win the heart of Connie, a beautiful, independent artist. Douglas and Connie marry and have a son. Albie is about to leave for college when Connie delivers the fateful news one night--she thinks their marriage is over.

Douglas is madly in love with Connie and decides to use the "Grand Tour" vacation that they've planned to win her back and save their marriage. As the fracturing family travels about Europe, Douglas repeatedly stumbles and bumbles his way with these free-spirited artists in his sincere efforts to salvage his family.

Us by David Nicholls, the author of the popular One Day that I didn't actually read, is the story of Douglas, Connie and their son Albie. It's the history of their family. Douglas has a unique voice in literature. He's mild mannered. He's kind and careful and wary. He's smart and he works hard. He's loyal. He regularly says the wrong thing to the people he loves. I could relate to Douglas.

Nicholls has a beautiful way of telling a story and I was transported across Europe and through the museums. I could literally see the artwork and the cities and the parks through his words. I felt Douglas's desire to save his family and I cheered for him as he clumsily and humorously tries to convince his wife to stay. I was definitely emotionally invested in Doug's plight.

Nicholls's prose is lovely and the story of Douglas, Connie and Albie is at times tender, funny and heart wrenching. Us is the story of a marriage--the highs and lows, the triumphs and the sorrows. I, for one, applauded Douglas's noble efforts.

Us by David Nicholls is published by Harper on October 28, 2014.

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Zupa's Introduces a New Salad Menu

I'll admit I'm a soup and sandwich type of girl whenever I lunch at Cafe Zupas. I just love that lobster bisque and the wild mushroom bisque (I sound like that bisque guy from Studio C). Bisque! However, not long ago I was invited to try some of the new salads that will be appearing on the menu at Cafe Zupas this month. I'm pretty sure that I've just become a soup and salad type of girl on my future visits to Zupas.

I love that as consumers have begun to demand a healthier and fresher fare, fast and casual dining restaurants have started to answer that call. Zupas' new salads are offering healthy, made in-house salad choices that are pretty impressive considering the relatively low cost. Introducing ingredients such as kale, goat cheese, baby field greens, edamame and quinoa to their salads adds to the flavor and the nutrition. They're upgrading other ingredients including fire-roasted corn and sliced grape tomatoes.

Eight new house-made dressings will be offered, such as my favorite the cherry balsamic vinaigrette. Care and consideration has been made to the visual appeal of the salads and believe me, when you see them you are going to want to eat them.

The nine new salads will be introduced at Cafe Zupas locations around Utah by the end of October and will be in Arizona and Nevada in early November. I need to go back and decide which one I like most. Right now it's definitely a toss up between the Cherry Balsamic with it's delicious Anjou Pears or the Citrus Berry Spinach salad with the amazing Blood Orange Vinaigrette. But you know, I am a sucker for anything chipotle. Wow! This is going to be tough to decide which of the new salads I love the most.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Silent Sister - Book Review

Riley has returned home to clean out her childhood home and settle her father's will following his recent death. Her angry, older brother lives like a hermit in his trailer nearby but isn't much help. Though Riley remembers her parents fondly, her brother doesn't have such good memories. He was old enough to remember when their older sister Lisa killed herself and their family fell into sorrow and depression.

Riley may not remember Lisa but the knowledge that her sister was depressed enough to take her own life has inspired Riley's career as a high school counselor. Now, as Riley sifts through the paperwork and detritus of her parents' lives she discovers clues that perhaps Lisa didn't take her own life. Perhaps Lisa is still alive.

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain is one of the She Reads Book Club fall reads. It's one of those nicely paced mysteries that just begs to be read in one sitting. Riley is a likable character and she was easy to root for as she searched for the truth. I figured out the entirety of the mystery fairly early in the story but I still enjoyed reading the follow-through and the drama. I'm sure my family members have their share of secrets but I can't even imagine being in a family so full of deception. It's no wonder Riley's brother has such a hard time.

Chamberlain has a comfortable style and writes an exciting plot-driven story. While there are some holes and unanswered questions, I enjoyed reading The Silent Sister this week. It was perfect to snuggle up with as I recovered from a head cold.

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain is published by St. Martin's Press on October 7, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Silent Sister from the She Reads Book Club. No compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Monday, October 6, 2014

Winner of the Schwan's Gift Card Give-away

And the winner of the $25 gift card to Schwan's Online Grocery is... 


Congratulations! Please contact me by Friday, October 10th to claim your prize.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Rocking the To Be Read Shelves in September

The month of September was a very good reading month for me. I read 10 books during the month. It helped that I got a horrible cold that has hung on for weeks and made me not want to leave the house.

I'm also pretty excited that I managed to read off my overflowing To Be Read Shelves.

I bought a copy of Sarah Water's The Little Stranger for myself for my Mother's Day gift. (I know my husband and kids love me and I'm never disappointed when I just get my own gift. Honestly, I'd have bought the book anyway but I just excused it as my Mother's Day gift.) Anyway, as far as my To Be Read Shelves (aka the Black Hole for Books) this book has been on my shelf for a relatively short time.

The Little Stranger is suspenseful and atmospheric. Though it takes place after World War II, the crumbling old manor lends the house at Gothic feeling. Dr. Farraday is called out on a house call to administer to the sick maid but become embroiled in the strange and mysterious happenings at Hundreds Hall as he befriends the family trying to maintain their estate.

I love a good ghost story and I enjoyed The Little Stranger. It's frightening and violent yet lacking gruesome descriptions. It's more of a psychological thrilled a long the lines of Jane Eyre or Rebecca. It's nice and spooky for this time of  year.

I figured out that I can read while on the elliptical if I read an ebook on my phone. My phone is the perfect size to fit in my hand comfortably so that I can still exercise. I get so darn bored on the elliptical so being able to read has definitely encouraged me to work out more. I would have read more ebooks if the cold hadn't curtailed my work out plans.

Anyway, I read Labor Day by Joyce Maynard as an ebook. I had heard good things. It was made into a movie and I rather enjoyed Maynard's After Her. Henry and his mother become the hostages of a man escaping from the hospital of the prison. Over the Labor Day weekend, Frank hides out at their home.

A quick and easy read, I was initially taken in by the characters. The plot was interesting and I was intrigued to read of the budding relationship between Frank and Henry's mother. His mother was a unique character, lost in grief and strangely brought to the surface by her kidnapper. I had expected more action and drama.

Ultimately, this is a coming-of-age story and Henry's preoccupation with sex (normal for his age) is often overwhelming and at the same time integral to the way he observes and interprets the relationship between his mother and Frank. The emotions that Henry feels during this period of his life are confusing and contrasting. Maynard excels at creating the conflicted young boy.

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta was the choice of the month for my local book club. Admittedly, it's pretty different from most of the books we read at book club--an interesting change of pace. The Leftovers follows the people who are still left on earth after many people simply disappear in a  Rapture-like experience. 

While I was taken with the writing and was intrigued by the story, overall The Leftovers was dark and cynical. We're going to discuss it next week and I'm curious to see what others thought about it.

Serena by Ron Rash has been on my radar since it was published in 2008 but I didn't get a copy for myself until a few years ago at the Salt Lake City Library Used Book Sale. Ever since then, it is the book I look at longingly whenever I'm in the middle of another book that I'm not loving.

Serena has all the elements that appeal to me. I am a sucker for stories that take place in Appalachia and during the Depression. The characters are strong. It's violent, dark and tragic. (As I'm writing this, I can't explain why these stories appeal, but they do. They really do.)

Serena and her new husband Mr. Pemberton are the owners of a logging operation in North Carolina. They are ruthless and powerful and greedy. Yet, they employ many men who are desperate for a wage. Serena did not disappoint. I was enthralled and disgusted. I've been wanting so much to talk about it with Rand but I don't want to spoil the ending. While he probably won't have a chance to read the book, the movie version is releasing soon. I am very anxious to see it. I love the casting already so I really hope they do the book justice with the movie.

I am still coughing and not in the mood to get out much, so maybe October will be a great reading month too. I'm already planning a spooky stack of books that hopefully I'll get to this month.

What are you planning to read in October?