Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Curious Beginning - Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Carrying Albert Home - Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Winners of Along the Infinite Sea Give-away

Congratulations to

Kimberly V



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

Friday, November 6, 2015

Read the Book First - Books to Movies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Along the Infinite Sea - Book Review & Give-away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Safe Splash Swim School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Safe Splash Swim School Utah :
Instagram        Facebook        Twitter

**I received complimentary lessons. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.*

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Admissions - Book Review

The Hawthorne family is living an idyllic though hectic life in an affluent subdivision near San Francisco. Their oldest daughter Angela is in her senior year of high school and focused on her early application to Harvard. She's always been focused on attending her father's alma mater. Though she's maintained the position of Valedictorian, her sometime friend Henrietta is nipping at her heels. Between school and her extra curricular activities, Angela's plate is full. Her parents are feeling just as harried. Her mom, Nora, is juggling her career in real estate with raising her three daughters and chauffeuring them to their activities. Gabe is always busy at work and there is a new intern that seems to have her sights on him. If they can just get Angela accepted to Harvard, then and only then, they might be able to take a break and breathe.

The Admissions by Meg Mitchell Moore was a She Read Book Club pick for fall. It wasn't necessarily a book I would choose but I usually like the She Read choices so I was willing to give it a shot. As a mom with teenagers worrying about college admissions, I initially found The Admissions to be a stressful read. I could relate to so much of the pressure and stress that the Hawthorne family was feeling. However, as the story began to unfold and the family members started making their sometimes unwise decisions, I became immersed in their story and could disengage my own emotions from the turmoil of their lives (thank goodness).

I ended up loving The Admissions. It might even make my top favorites list for the year. The characters were engaging and real and normal enough that you don't usually find them in literature. They regularly made unfortunately choices but I loved how Moore showed their justifications. It didn't make their choices any more wrong but it did make the novel so much more human. They weren't bad people. They just did dumb things and eventually there were consequences to their actions.

The Admissions by Meg Mitchell Moore is a perfect contemporary piece of literature that lays bare how many families in middle class America feel about raising children and getting them into the best colleges so that they are more likely to have that golden life with the best opportunities. With a snarky wit and a keen eye for observing human nature, Moore delivers a powerful, though entertaining, novel on family life and the drive for success.

The Admissions by Meg Mitchell Moore is published by Doubleday in August 2015.

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Hours Count - Book Review

I was mesmerized by Jillian Cantor's writing in her novel Margot, a reimagining of history if Anne Frank's sister Margot had survived the Holocaust. Cantor's writing is beautiful and so captivating and compelling that I wished very sincerely it was true and that Margot was indeed living a secret life in the United States.

In The Hours Count, Cantor imagines an alternate history for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who were executed for espionage in 1953. Told through the perspective of Ethel's friend and neighbor Millie, the novel brings to life the era of fear and terror as people lived with the constant threat of war with Russia. Millie is young and naive and worried about her young son who still hasn't spoken a word. Her husband, Ed, a Russian Jew has only been in the United States for a few years. His thick accent makes him suspect in their neighborhood and Millie worries that he won't be able to keep his job. But then Ed begins working with Julius and Millie, desperate for friendship, tries to encourage their relationship with the Rosenbergs.

For years the guilt of the Rosenbergs has been questioned. New information has been released recently that seems to exonerate Ethel but there are still so many questions. In her novel, Cantor doesn't attempt to explain history the way it definitely was but only offers a fictional account of how it might have been. She creates fictional characters who interact with the Rosenbergs to showcase their personalities. The setting of the 1950's in the midst of the Cold War and the McCarthy search for communists is fascinating as the Russian Jews try to navigate their world of suspicion and fear.

Once again, Cantor writes with style that compels the reader to sympathize with the characters while not being able to put the book down. Millie is a fascinating character who is pushed out of her comfort zone as a wife and mother and must act to defend her friends and save her children. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I found myself searching and reading articles on the Rosenbergs so that I had a better understanding of the accusations and trials. It is a very interesting and sad period of our history and Cantor uses this to her advantage in this thrilling novel.

The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor is published by Riverhead Books and releases on October 20, 2015.

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

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Last September - Book Review

Brett develops an almost obsessive love for Charlie since she first met him. Though she is finally married to him and the mother of his adorable baby, their marriage is not as "happily ever after" as she had hoped. Already stressed with a tenuous marriage and trust issues, Charlie's mentally unstable brother Eli is planning to move in with them.

Now, Charlie has been brutally murdered and it though Eli is obviously the suspect, Brett feels responsible for the death of her husband.

The Last September by Nina de Gramont is an engaging and compelling murder mystery and psychological thriller. Brett takes the reader back in time to the first time she met Charlie and details their relationship with a depth and honesty that makes The Last September less a whodunnit and more a introspective on relationships and love. I was immediately taken in by Brett's unique voice. She seemed to bare her entire soul and yet held back enough to make me doubt her sincerity. I felt her pain and confusion.

Suspenseful and thrilling, The Last September is more importantly a beautiful, introspective study of dealing with family members and loved ones who are suffering from mental illness. Brett's relationships with others become central as she tells her own coming of age story and her search for true love. The Cape Cod setting perfectly contributed to the overall feeling of storminess and unrest.

I found The Last September engaging and absorbing. It was nice to just get lost in this novel and meet these tormented and fascinating, yet believable characters.

The Last September is one of the She Reads Fall Book Club Selections. I am pleased to add my own praise for this wonderful, rich novel.

The Last September by Nina de Gramont is published by Algonquin in September 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Last September through She Reads Book Club. No compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Gordmans - 100th Year Celebration

This fall Gordmans is celebrating their 100th birthday, so it's a little weird that last week was my first time shopping there. In my defense, the stores are relatively new to my area. But since they advertise 60% off department store prices, I was definitely intrigued.

We just recently got the kids all decked out for back to school, so when I entered Gordmans last week I was shopping for me. Just for me! I rarely shop for myself. It's just so much easier to buy clothes for the kids, but with the seasons changing soon (I hope!) I really wanted to get some new sweaters. There's nothing better than pulling on a warm sweater and cuddling up with a cup of hot cocoa and a book while it's chilly outside. I LOVE fall!!!

I hadn't been in Gordmans long before I found several sweaters that I fell in love with. And a blouse and even a pair of pants. Oh, and that necklace too. Really, I felt like I made out like a bandit! The prices were absolutely reasonable and unlike other discount clothing stores, there were multiples sizes of every item and they were organized and arranged nicely. 

Other than the amazing prices, 
I felt like I was shopping in a department store.

After I picked out clothing for myself, I took a tour of the rest of the store. 

With clothes for kids and a full junior and mens section, I could definitely outfit my entire family at Gordmans.

I was impressed by the home decor section. There were lots of cool pieces to add style and definition to your home. If I actually decorated for Halloween, I would head back to Gordmans immediately. I'm sure I will be checking out their Christmas decor soon.

The kitchen section of Gordmans was filled with fun and colorful items that would be perfect as gifts for the next bridal shower I attend. Oh! There were some of the softest throws ever! They would be perfect for snuggling this winter. I will definitely be shopping for gifts at Gordmans this Christmas season.

As they celebrate their 100th year with bricks and mortar stores, you can now shop from home on www.gordmans.com -- Seriously! 
You can still save up to 60% off department store prices but from your own home and in your pajamas. And you all know that's my favorite way to shop.

**I received a gift card from Gordmans. However, these are my honest opinions**

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Uninvited -- Book Review

Ivy Rowan is still recovering from influenza when her father and brother, revenging her other brother's death in the Great War, murder the young German immigrant that owns the furniture store in town. Upset by her family and reeling from the effects of the flu, Ivy leaves home and finds a world remarkably changed.

Set in 1918, the small midwest town of Buchanan is reeling from the Great War and the Great Influenza Epidemic. Weighed down by the association of guilt, Ivy forms a friendship with the murdered German's brother and finds a new and exciting world of jazz music. But Ivy also has the burden or gift of seeing ghosts. Deceased loved ones come to warn her of impending death and as the epidemic takes more lives, Ivy is overwhelmed by her uninvited visitors.

I love a good ghost story and since The Uninvited by Cat Winters had a spooky cover (I totally judge books by their covers) and plenty of amazing reviews, I was anxious to read it this fall. Unfortunately, I did not connect with this novel at all.

Ivy was an odd character--once a recluse, she was suddenly so outgoing that her change did not feel believable. She behaved so irrationally and impulsively that I had a difficult time reconciling her with the character she once was. There were times where I thought the novel would show promise but overall, I found it dull. The ghost sightings were actually rare and though there was the otherworldly atmosphere it wasn't really spooky in the way I was hoping. There is a surprise twist at ending that makes the rest of the book make more sense but by then I was already so bored by the story that I didn't really care.

I recognize, however, that I am in the minority. Most readers were enraptured by The Uninvited.

The Uninvited by Cat Winters was published by William Morrow in August 2015.

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

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Winner of After You Giveaway

The winner of a copy of After You by Jojo Moyes is...

Debbie Cranberryfries

Congratulations! I hope you enjoy the novel. Please contact me by October 11, 2015 with your information. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

After You - Book Review & Give-away

I wasn't sure I wanted to read After You, the follow-up novel to Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.  As you know, I loved Me Before You, but it also ripped out my heart and stomped on it and made me feel all kinds of powerful and sometimes uncomfortable emotions. I wasn't sure I was ready to read about poor, sweet Louise going through any more trauma. However, I wasn't about to pass up an opportunity to read a novel by one of my favorite authors. Please excuse my review, it will definitely be more emotionally fueled since I seem to be so much more emotionally invested in this fictional character's life.

After You picks up on Louise's life eighteen months after the death of Will. She's living in an apartment in London and working in a bar. She's estranged from her family, lonely and unhappy. It was the exact situation I was worried she'd be in. Because how does one recover from the turmoil and pain and loss of Will's death? A series of events will force Louise to reconcile with her family, introduce her to a handsome paramedic and brings someone from Will's life back into hers.

Moyes tells Louise's process of mourning and grief in her typical and wonderful style that explores these painful emotions in her characters. She takes them to the very brink of destruction before allowing them to crawl out of the despair. The reader aches for Louise and feels her pain. It's completely believable. Fortunately human nature is generally pretty resilient and so is Louise. Almost simultaneously, Moyes can make her reader laugh at the hilarity of life--the misunderstandings and the ridiculous and the good. It's one thing for an author to be able to make her readers cry and it's another thing altogether to be able to make them laugh. This is where Moyes continues to excel as she delivers beloved novels to her readers.

In After You, Louise learns to love again. More importantly, she gains the strength to trust herself and be brave. It's all the things Will wanted for her but she couldn't attain until she was ready to let go and be herself.

In the end, it was nice to check up on Louise. Perhaps it was even cathartic and healthy for the readers who fell in love with her in Me Before You, to have a chance to meet her again and see that she can be strong and live her life with flair and passion and her own quirky, fun personality.

After You by Jojo Moyes is published by Pamela Dorman Books and released on September 29, 2015.

I received a complimentary copy of After You and the publishers are offering a second copy as a give-away. 

To enter, please leave a comment on this post. The contest will be open to entries until Friday, October 2, 2015 at 11:59 pm MST.  The winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Saturday, October 3, 2015. Open to US residents only.

* * * * *

Check out Jojo Moyes's Facebook page to see Sophie Kinsella interview Jojo about After You.

And once you've read After You, you will want to discuss the book with your friends.  You'll love this After You Online Book Club Kit filled with recipes and fun ways to enhance your book club experience.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Dust That Falls From Dreams - Book Review

From the cover :

In the brief golden years of the Edwardian era the McCosh sisters—Christabel, Ottilie, Rosie and Sophie—grow up in an idyllic household in the countryside south of London. On one side, their neighbors are the proper Pendennis family, recently arrived from Baltimore, whose close-in-age boys—Sidney, Albert and Ashbridge—shake their father’s hand at breakfast and address him as “sir.” On the other side is the Pitt family: a “resolutely French” mother, a former navy captain father, and two brothers, Archie and Daniel, who are clearly “going to grow up into a pair of daredevils and adventurers.” In childhood this band is inseparable, but the days of careless camaraderie are brought to an abrupt halt by the outbreak of The Great War, in which everyone will play a part.
All three Pendennis brothers fight in the hellish trenches at the front; Daniel Pitt becomes an ace fighter pilot with his daredevil tendencies intact; Rosie and Ottilie McCosh volunteer in the hospitals, where women serve with as much passion and nearly as much hardship as the men at the front; Christabel McCosh becomes one of the squad of photographers sending “snaps” of their loved ones at home to the soldiers; and Sophie McCosh drives for the RAF in France. In the aftermath of the war, as “the universal joy and relief were beginning to be tempered by . . . an atmosphere of uncertainty,” everyone must contend with the modern world that is slowly emerging from the ashes of the old.

My thoughts :

I absolutely loved The Dust That Falls From Dreams by Louis de Bernieres.  Writing with style, grace and a deep understanding of people, de Bernieres stole my heart. In the epic story, I fell in love with the characters. Their eccentricities were not simply characterizations but personalities of people who seemed so real, certainly they inhabited The Grampians. 

I love a good family drama and de Bernieres combines the McCosh's family history with world history as they experience World War I and its aftermath from several different perspectives. Taking the reader into the trenches of France and the hospitals and the home front, de Berieres spares no unpleasant details to show the horrors of war while writing in stunningly beautiful language.

The war left no one unchanged and de Bernieres explores the effects of family life and love and relationships with God and man as the McCosh family and their friends struggle to move on with their lives following the war. But the reader wants only the best for these marvelously flawed and human characters inhabiting the pages. It's a powerful story evoking a myriad of emotions and making one ponder life and war and love.

There are times where the novel drags on a bit but thankfully, it picks up steams toward the ending. And while de Bernieres and reality doesn't have its "happily ever after" endings there is a wonderful feeling of hope for the future.

The Dust That Fall From Dreams by Louis de Bernieres is published by Pantheon and released in August 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Dust That Falls From Dreams. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Monday, September 14, 2015

Girl Waits With Gun - Book Review

It was a chance encounter. An accident. When Henry Kaufman's car plowed into their buggy, the Kopp sisters didn't realize how it would change their lives. Hoping for a quick payment from Kaufman, the trouble escalates and Constance, Norma and Fleurette fear for their lives. The Sherrif issues them handguns to protect themselves and Constance takes on the responsibility of ridding their lives of this menace.

Bringing this true story to life with class and humor, Amy Stewart creates a fun and entertaining novel with a protagonist that is unique and unforgettable. Constance is the very best part of Girl Waits With Gun. She's tall and intimidating. Constance is inspiring as she's simply not afraid of standing up for herself and what she knows to be right. After going to the authorities, Constance is aware that she must take the responsibility of keeping her sisters safe. No matter her strength, she's also a vulnerable woman and sensitive. She loves her family and has a conflicted past. Her sisters, Norma and Fleurette also come alive as their doubts, fears and passions burst from the page.

Stewart keeps the pace steady as the Kopp sisters are consistently threatened by Kaufman and his gang. She weaves in Constance's back story and history expertly so that it doesn't detract from the main story. The ending was a bit too drawn out but otherwise I was constantly engaged.

Girl Waits With Gun is free of cursing and sex. It is excellently researched and is a fascinating trip back in time. Amy Stewart succeeds at memorializing the Kopp sisters with dignity in this fabulous novel.

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on September 1, 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of Girl Waits With Gun. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Courtesan - Book Review

The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry is a retelling of the Chinese legend of Sai Jinhua. After a tragic period of time as a prostitute, Jinhua becomes the concubine of a scholar. Jinhua joins her husband on his travels to Europe and dazzles the Austrian Empress and others. Jinhua returns to China and becomes famous as the Emissary's Courtesan in Peking. She survives the brutality of the wars during the end of the nineteenth century as she searches for the Great Love.

Much has been written about Jinhua in the past and Curry adds to the tale with her humanized version of this enigmatic Chinese woman. Curry's writing style is beautiful and haunting. Her descriptions of China were mesmerizing and fascinating in their beauty and violence. She writes about horrifying and violent moments that leave the reader breathless and anxious but without being obscene or gratuitous.

Curry's beautiful writing and Jinhua's tortured and hopeful life combined to create a very readable novel. Curry seeks to make Jinhua a believable and real person instead of feeding the rumors and legend. Though the novel drags in parts, I was caught up in Jinhua's world. I ached for the tortured little girl with her bound feet as she's forced into prostitution--hoped for the adult Jinhua as she got another view of the world and searched for true love.

The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry is a sweeping novel that doesn't immortalize the sympathetic Sai Jinhua yet captures her beauty and fortitude and makes her entirely authentic.

The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry is published by Dutton and released on September 8, 2015. 

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

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Mrs. Sinclair's Suitcase

Roberta's grandmother has gone to live in an assisted living facility and Roberta inherits an old suitcase full of books. Since Roberta works in a used book store she immediately starts going through the books and discovers an old letter from her grandfather to her grandmother. But the letter doesn't fit the family history story that Roberta has always been told.

In this split narrative novel, Roberta's grandmother Dorothy Sinclair lives in the countryside of England during the beginning years of World War II. She meets a Polish pilot who is training nearby and events conspire to change Dorothy's lonely and unhappy life forever.

I read three World War II era books in a row. Unfortunately for Mrs. Sinclair's Suitcase by Louise Walters, it followed immediately on the heels of a All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr which I loved with all my heart. I feel bad for books that have to follow absolute masterpieces. They get judged against the previous book instead of just being held up on their own merits. So, I'm going to try to critique Mrs. Sinclair's Suitcase fairly.

Here's what it had going for it :

1. Interesting characters that are not perfect and sometimes not even likable. Occasionally, the characters make despicable choices but there are consequences.
2. A solid plot that while dependent on the war era for its plot is not fully about the war.
3. Fresh writing that is simple but mostly keeps a nice steady pace.

I wasn't blown away by Mrs. Sinclair's Suitcase but I was curious enough about the ending to keep reading. It's an easy read, really--short, succinct and the pages kept turning. As is often the case with split narratives, one story is stronger than the other. Other than the familial relationship there's not much to tie the storylines together. Occasionally, the reader gets lost in Roberta's lonely ramblings. I didn't mind the particulars of the ending, it's fairly predictable, but it seemed to come together all at once without much fanfare. Overall, the novel just felt lackluster and forgettable.

**There is some swearing and a brief scene of sexual violence.**

Mrs. Sinclair's Suitcase by Louise Walters is published by Putnam and released on August 4, 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of Mrs. Sinclair's Suitcase. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Nightingale - Book Review

Every single one of my friends on Goodreads rated The Nightingale 5 stars. So I bought it. How could I resist that much book love. Right? I packed it with me on vacation. I started reading it on the tail end of my road trip as we drove through the rather boring part of south eastern Oregon (every state has a boring part, right?).

Vianne and her younger sister Isabelle have had a tumultuous relationship since their mother died and their distraught, alcoholic father essentially abandoned them to live with the housekeeper. As the war heats up, Vianne's husband leaves for the front and Isabelle, kicked out of another boarding school, returns to live with her sister.

Isabelle is passionate and rebellious and her untamed spirit is especially dangerous in Nazi occupied France. Vianne is trying to keep her daughter safe. Their relationship is further tested with a Nazi officer billets in Vianne' home. Through this harrowing time, the sisters will each be tested and will do what they can to fight against the Nazis and try to survive and save those they love.

The plot was fine. The characters were fine. As I put the book aside after reading 236 pages, I wanted to tell it "It's not you. It's me." Possibly, it's my short attention span lately. Perhaps, it's that I've already read too many similar stories--stories, like Suite Francaise and The Secret Key, that captured the passion, fear and emotion better. It could be that my expectations had been too built up by all the early reviews from trusted book friends. All that combined and I honestly wasn't sure if I would pick it back up again. Still, I hate leaving things undone so weeks later, after not finishing two more books and then finally finding one I could see through to the end, I decided to give The Nightingale another chance.

I'm glad I did. Because the ending improved. The characters became richer and the emotion stronger and I finally began to care. There's a lot packed into this novel. It's ambitious. There are plenty of things to discuss and I would recommend it to book club groups--especially since it's relatively clean.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is published by St. Martin's Press and released on February 3, 2015

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Back to School Relaxation for Mom



The kids went back to school last week and as usual I had mixed emotions. We had such a fun summer and I enjoyed hanging out with them (mostly) and all of the exciting activities and vacations we crammed into those short weeks. On the other hand, living with frat house hours was exhausting. It was definitely time to get back to a routine.

So, trying to look on the bright side, I sent all my kids off to school last week and now I have my days to myself (you know, I can do laundry and watch my shows without interruption & after I clean the kitchen it can stay clean for 5-6 hours). It seemed like the perfect time to pamper myself. I got on the phone and scheduled an appointment for a massage at Massage Envy.

You can tell I needed a break. Getting five kids ready for school is no easy feat. All the supplies! All the clothes and shoes! Hello Kitty backpacks aren't cool in third grade. Dealing with the emotional teens and their new schools. Open Houses! PTA! You know the drill. I'm pooped (and now I sound like my grandma).

But I started to feel more relaxed as soon as I walked into Massage Envy. I got a fabulous massage that focused right on the places in my back, shoulders and neck where I store up all the tension. I could close my eyes and forget about all the stressful things at home and just enjoy the moment. Just enjoy the opportunity to be spoiled and pampered. I felt so much better immediately.

The kids are back to school and it's just the perfect time to take a moment for yourself. Do something you love. Take a break. Visit a friend. Go out for lunch or get your nails done. Go to a matinee movie. Spend time at the temple. Or give Massage Envy a call and schedule your appointment for a massage and some relaxation time. You deserve it.

#ReliefStartsHere  #MassageEnvyUtah  #MEUtah

**I received a complimentary membership to Massage Envy. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

The Truth According to Us - Book Review

I read The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows while on vacation in July. I really wanted to tell everyone about it but a couple of things happened. First, it became August and my life became crazy, busy trying to get the kids ready to go back to school. Second, my computer started giving me fits. Every time I started working on a project, the computer would turn off. Just like that. Power down. So, I pretty much stepped away from the computer and blogged very little. Fortunately, my birthday came and I got a new computer. It's a shiny iMac and I'm seriously in love. I'm still in those early stages of romance where I haven't figured everything out but I'm learning. I think we're going to have a beautiful relationship.

Now, the kids have gone back to school; I'm armed with this fabulous computer and I'm ready to share about all the books again. Starting with The Truth According to Us.

Annie Barrows was part of the team that brought us the adorable The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society a few years back. Oh, I loved that book. So obviously, I was anxious to read The Truth According to Us. I took it with me on our family road trip to the Oregon coast. Settled into the back seat of the 15-passenger van and let it take me right through the boring drive across Nevada.

It's the hot summer of 1938 and twelve-year-old Willa is curious about all the people she's always known. Now old enough to catch snippets of adult conversation, she starts to wonder about what her father Felix really does when he travels out of town on business. She wonders if her aunt Jottie has ever been in love and she's especially suspect of Miss Layla Beck who has just arrived in Macedonia, West Virginia to write the history of the city for the WPA. Layla is boarding in Jottie's house and sparks are already flying between the beautiful stranger and Felix.

As Layla researches the history of the town, she also seeks to discover the secrets and how Felix's family has fallen from its once prominent place. Layla and Willa's separate hunts for the truth come together to change the outcomes for everyone involved.

This novel is like sitting on a rocking chair with a cold drink on a hot, sticky summer evening. The fireflies are about and the neighbors and family gather around. And someone starts to share a memory. Someone interrupts. That's not the way they remembered it. Possibly they argue for a bit. Probably it's already too hot to let the disagreement get too heated. They settle back into their individual rockers and agree to disagree.

The Truth According to Us is filled with fabulous characters so real, you're sure you saw them sitting on the porch last time you drove through town. The action never peaks or builds like a thriller but the plot slowly meanders throughout the summer as Willa lets you get another taste of that golden and confusing time between childhood and adulthood. Barrow captures the essence of Macedonia and the town becomes a character in its own right--holding tight to its citizens' secrets and never really allowing anyone to forget.

I loved this book. With all my heart.

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows is published by The Dial Press and released in June 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Truth According to Us. No compensation was received. All opinion are my own.**

Monday, August 24, 2015

The 3rd Woman - Book Review

From the cover :

The United States and China have struck a shocking bargain: In return for forgiving trillions in debt, the People’s Republic of China—now the world’s dominant global superpower—has established a permanent military presence on US soil. Years of decline have left America economically vulnerable, and evidence of China’s cultural and political dominance is everywhere.
Journalist Madison Webb is obsessed with exposing the lies and corruption that have corroded her once great society. When her sister is savagely murdered, the police insist it’s an isolated crime. But Madison suspects the cops are hiding something. Digging for answers, she discovers her sister’s death may be one of many . . . and part of a dangerous conspiracy. Even though her life is on the line, Madison refuses to give up on the story. And sooner or later, she will have to confront the consequences of exposing the powerful forces intent on hiding the truth.

My thoughts :

The book has some issues. It's definitely not perfect, but it was the first book that I've read from start to finish during the month of August and seemed to help  me get past a horrible reading slump. So, I sort of love it.

It's exciting. The futuristic world where the United States is kowtowing to China, gives the thriller different perspective and motive and changes up things just enough to leave the reader breathlessly off balance. The novel starts right off by introducing the strong, bold and fearless Maddy. She's vulnerable but definitely won't give up on finding the killer of her sister, even when everyone is working against her.

The novel was long and lost some momentum in the middle. Not every loose end and question was wrapped up neatly at the end of the story. In fact, the ending was not at all expected. That's fine, of course. I just really wanted to know. And that's the key that kept me reading this entire novel and not tossing it on the pile of unfinished novels that has grown so tall this summer--I just really wanted to know the ending. Jonathan Freedland creates tension and mystery and keeps his reader constantly guessing and stumbling. With solid writing, interesting characters and dialogue that rings true, The 3rd Woman is a thriller to pick up this fall.

**There is some swearing throughout the novel and occasional sex scenes.**

The 3rd Woman by Jonathan Freedland is published by Harper and released August 4, 2015.

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About Jonathan Freedland31437

Jonathan Freedland is an award-winning journalist, a number one bestselling author, and a broadcaster. He is the Guardian's executive editor for Opinion and also writes a weekly column. He is a regular contributor to the New York Times and the New York Review of Books, and presents BBC Radio 4's contemporary history series The Long View. In 2014 he won the Orwell special prize for journalism.
Find out more about Jonathan at his website, and connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

**I received a complimentary copy of The 3rd Woman from TLC Book Tours. No compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Saturday, August 22, 2015

FREETOWN DVD Giveaway Winners

Good morning! I'm excited to announce the winners of the 2 DVDs of FREETOWN. Chosen randomly, the winners are...

Emi Pearce


Joseph Wallace

Please contact me by email by Tuesday, August 25th with your information. If I haven't heard from you by then, new winners will be chosen.

While we're chatting about great inspirational movies, I'm looking forward to going to see Once I Was A Beehive tonight. It looks pretty funny. I'll report back next week with thoughts after I've seen it.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Freetown DVD Giveaway

You know I'm not much of a movie watcher. So when I do spend time watching a movie I really want it to be a good one. I was lucky enough to score a DVD copy of Freetown and Rand and I watched it with my parents a few weeks ago. (Gosh, its always extra nervous to watch a movie with your parents, no matter how old you are.)

"Caught in the middle of a brutal civil war, six Liberian missionaries in Monrovia flee the widespread violence in their native country. Their destination: Freetown, Sierra Leone. With the help of local church member Phillip Abubakar (Henry Adofo), the missionaries make the difficult journey, only to have their troubles compounded by a rebel fighter bent on killing one of their own. Based on incredible true events, FREETOWN is a thrilling and inspiring story of faith, hope and survival."

I enjoyed the movie's portrayal of this powerful story. It was a little slower than I expected but thankfully didn't have too much violence even though it was a very violent time in Liberia's history. I thought the movie handled the subject tastefully and yet still conveyed the terror and suffering of so many people. I appreciated the occasional humor. This movie is primarily about the faith of the LDS missionaries. I will have my older kids sit down and watch this with me but I feel like the themes and images are too much for my younger kids right now.

Freetown is another uplifting story about faithful LDS missionaries to add to the collection of others. 

I have two DVDs of Freetown to give away.

To enter leave a comment on this post. The contest will be open to entries until Friday, August 21st at 11:59pm MST. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Saturday, August 22nd.

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

As You Like It - Utah Children's Theatre

We spent last Saturday afternoon at the Shakespeare Festival at Utah Children's Theatre. The girls especially enjoyed getting their faces painted, watching the puppet show and the other activities. The boys joined us but were less enthusiastic. The cast and staff were friendly, fun and welcoming. They were almost always in character which made the kids chuckle.

Rosalind, the daughter of Duke Senior, is raised at the court of Duke Frederick, with her cousin Celia. She falls in love with a young man named Orlando, but before she can even think twice about it, she is banished by Duke Frederick, who threatens if she comes near the court again. Celia, being Rosalind's best friend, goes with Rosalind and Touchstone, the court's fool, to the forest of Arden. Upon their arrival in the forest, they happen upon Orlando and his manservant, who are fleeing the wrath of Orlando's eldest brother. What follows is an elaborate scheme devised by the cross-dressing Rosalind to find out if Orlando really loves her, and to further capture his heart, through the witty and mischievous fa├žade of Ganymede.

We were most excited to see the show As You Like It. Since Neal read a few Shakespeare plays last year in English, he was curious how they would perform a play that children would understand. As You Like It is a romantic comedy. The action is fast and silly. Performed by an enthusiastic young cast, we all found it entirely entertaining. Even the boys. Thomas (9 years old) caught on to what was happening and found it quite amusing. He actually explained it to us afterward just in case we missed the plot. I'm not sure how much Lilly and Molly understood of the plot but they thought it was funny. We are excited to go back to see Hamlet soon.

As You Like It plays on Fridays and Saturdays though mid September. It's a great way to introduce your kids (5+) to the works of the great Bard.

For ticket information :

Utah Children's Theatre : http://uctheatre.org

**We received complimentary tickets to As You Like It. All opinions are my own. No other compensation received.**