Friday, May 12, 2017

No Man's Land - Book Review

From the cover :

"Adam Raine is a boy cursed by misfortune. His impoverished childhood in turn-of-the-century London comes to a sudden and tragic end when his mother is killed in a workers' protest march. His father, Daniel, is barely able to cope with the loss. But a job offer in the coal mining town of Scarsdale presents one last chance, so father and son head north. The relocation is hard on Adam: the local boys prove difficult to befriend, and he never quite fits in. Meanwhile tensions between the miners and their employer, Sir John Scarsdale, escalate, and finally explode with terrible consequences.
     In the aftermath, Adam's fate shifts once again, and he finds himself drawn into the opulent Scarsdale family home where he makes an enemy of Sir John's son, Brice, who subjects Adam to a succession of petty cruelties for daring to step above his station. However, Adam finds consolation in the company of Miriam, the local parson's beautiful daughter with whom he falls in love. When they become engaged and Adam wins a scholarship to Oxford, he starts to feel that his life is finally coming together—until the outbreak of war threatens to tear everything apart.
     From the slums of London to the riches of an Edwardian country house; from the hot, dark seams of a Yorkshire coal mine to the exposed terrors of the trenches in France; Adam's journey from boy to man is set against the backdrop of a society violently entering the modern world."

My thoughts :

I read No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien while I was in the middle of packing and cleaning for our move. Because of that it took me a month to read. This isn't an indication of how much I enjoyed it however. I was quite fascinated by the story of Adam Raine and felt compelled to keep reading each night even though I was exhausted.

Loosely based on his grandfather J.R.R. Tolkien's life, Simon weaves Adam's story into the history of the period. I was mesmerized as Simon's compelling words and story brought Adam's life, the history and the settings into sharp, rich detail before my eyes. It was a brutal time and Simon doesn't shy away from placing the reader right in the middle of the savageness and revolting images of trench battle in World War I or the grim realties of the miners' hazardous decent into the darkness of the mines. The novel and the writing are at their best in these moments.

The war changed people and realistically, the characters in No Man's Land are affected by the war. It was intriguing to watch as the love story between Adam and Miriam evolved from their times as youngsters to adults. They had suffered and grown and whose lives have been altered.

No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien is an invaluable look into the history and an engrossing Dickensian story of a young man's life.

No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien is published by Nan A. Talese and released on January 24, 2017.

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

An Unseen Angel - Book Review

An Unseen Angel by Alissa Parker wasn't my type of book. I surprised myself by even agreeing to be on the blog tour. Of course, I knew what had happened at Sandy Hook that horrible day. What mother who sends her children off to school doesn't hold that fear in her heart? The elementary school that my children attended had our own scare last fall. Thankfully, no one was injured and the perpetrator was apprehended after a standoff with police. But I saw the fear in the eyes of my neighbors and I witnessed children who are still anxious and worried. And so I really didn't want to read the book about a tiny, innocent child being murdered in her school.

I picked up An Unseen Angel one night while I was still living at my in-law's home in limbo between moves. I was emotional and lonely and suffering from insomnia. I figured I'd give it a try. Read a few chapters--enough to hopefully put me to sleep. But I was surprised. Alissa Parker's writing is so pure and so honest and so emotional that I read the entire book that night.

This grieving mother introduces the world to her beautiful daughter who was violently taken so soon and then shares her journey along the road of healing. She offers so much faith and hope. I was genuinely moved by her story.

Alissa Parker and her family are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She believes, as I do, that life continues after death and that families can be together forever--that Emilie, though no longer living on earth, is still her daughter and will always be her daughter. Those familial bonds cannot be severed even by such an evil, violent act. In her book, Alissa tells of several precious moments that allowed her to gain an even stronger testimony of this truth

Parker also writes of her efforts to make other children safer in the future and her desire and need to forgive. An Unseen Angel by Alissa Parker is heart breaking and emotional. It is also glorious and strengthening. I highly recommend it.

An Unseen Angel by Alissa Parker is published by Ensign Peak and released on April 4, 2017.

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

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Bridge Across the Ocean - Book Review

From the cover :

"February, 1946. World War Two is over, but the recovery from the most intimate of its horrors has only just begun for Annaliese Lange, a German ballerina desperate to escape her past, and Simone Deveraux, the wronged daughter of a French RĂ©sistance spy.
Now the two women are joining hundreds of other European war brides aboard the renowned RMSQueen Mary to cross the Atlantic and be reunited with their American husbands. Their new lives in the United States brightly beckon until their tightly-held secrets are laid bare in their shared stateroom. When the voyage ends at New York Harbor, only one of them will disembark...
Present day. Facing a crossroads in her own life, Brette Caslake visits the famously haunted Queen Mary at the request of an old friend. What she finds will set her on a course to solve a seventy-year-old tragedy that will draw her into the heartaches and triumphs of the courageous war brides—and will ultimately lead her to reconsider what she has to sacrifice to achieve her own deepest longings."

My thoughts :

I don't think I read the back cover very well because I wasn't quite expecting the mystical and supernatural aspect of A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner. Last year, I read GI Brides by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi that tells the true stories of several European women who married American soldiers and emigrated to American after the war. I started reading A Bridge Across the Ocean expecting a fictionalized version of that. However, I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoy a good ghost story.

Meissner's writing is lovely and engaging and I read the story of Annaliese and Simone very quickly. Though she is simultaneously telling the stories of several women, Meissner balances the stories and makes the transitions clear. The characters are imperfect women who have suffered so much at the hands of a brutal war and vicious people. Their hope for a better, safer, happier future is palpable within the pages and it is easy to root for them to achieve their dreams.

While far from being a spooky ghost story, A Bridge Across the Ocean does employ the other-worldly elements that set it apart from a typical historical fiction novel. It's fun and unconventional and I liked it. 

A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner is published by Berkley and released on March 14, 2017. It is also a She Reads Spring 2017 Selection.

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Time to Read

It's funny how things happen sometimes. In early December I couldn't sleep. I was worried about things that I couldn't fix or change and so I turned to books to keep my mind preoccupied and distracted. I was reading like crazy. I had caught up, read and reviewed all the 2016 books that I had scheduled and so I decided it was time to enjoy my some books on my To Be Read shelves. I read a few so fast and was reading so much that I picked up Lonesome Dove.

Now, Lonesome Dove has been taunting me from my shelf for years! My grandpa only had a handful of movies on VHS--Crocodile Dundee II, Incredible Journey and a recorded from television copy of Lonesome Dove. We watched it nearly every time we visited. He loved it and I loved it. I bought a copy of the book years ago. But now seemed the perfect time to read the epic novel. I was making great time with those cowboys as they herded their cattle north when Rand got the job offer and everything stopped.

Now I was spending my precious reading time searching for and obsessing over houses for sale or rental homes or house plans or decorating ideas or couches or moving vans or storage units online. And then as a became a single parent, sometimes it was just easier to watch television (I really enjoyed the Hatfields & McCoys miniseries) at night when I was completely exhausted and still couldn't sleep. Anyway, it took weeks to read Lonesome Dove but I loved it.

Once we finally moved out of our house I was able to read more. Some of the books I will indeed review in more depth later. Many I loved.

During the month of March, I spent HOURS in the car driving the kids to and from school and then driving to Sanpete County to look at houses and sign papers and all that jazz. When the kids were with me we primarily listened to Hamilton. They have it memorized. I'm not kidding. When I was alone I listened to audio books. The Lake House is TWENTY ONE hours long! That's a lot of time in the car.

Hopefully, now that we're starting to get settled, life will get a little more normal (hahaha, oh my) and I can return to a more normal reading and reviewing schedule. Happy reading!

Life Happens

I haven't really sat down to write on this blog for so many months. To simply catch up on what's been happening lately, I'll share a quick timeline.

Mid-December 2016 : Rand is offered a new job at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah. Ephraim is about two hours from our home in Eagle Mountain so we decided that our family would need to move closer to Ephraim. In the next few weeks we celebrated Christmas and the holidays and tried to get Randy ready to start a new job. He worked from home for over ten years and as all our neighbors know, his primary wardrobe was pajamas. He needed a completely new wardrobe.

January 2017 : Rand starts his new job. Because of yucky winter weather and the length of the drive, Rand rented a car (we only had one) and stayed in motels during the work week and came home each weekend.

We initially hoped to rent a home in the area. He started searching for a rental home adequate for our family and I started packing. Rand wasn't having much luck finding a rental. His brother Dennis helped me get our home ready to sell. By the end of January, the garage was loaded with boxes and the house that I loved was ready to list for sell. Our fabulous real estate agent sold it the first day.

We weren't having any luck finding a rental home and we started to considering buying a home. We found a house that needed some work but was adequate and we made an offer that they accepted. Everything seemed to be going just right. We would sell and buy on the same day and be able to move right into our home. Unfortunately, once we got the inspection back we started to be unsure about the house we had chosen to buy. We couldn't quite explain it but Rand and I both felt like we weren't supposed to buy it so we backed out and started looking again.

February 2017: We found the house hunt frustrating and unfruitful. As the date to be out of our Eagle Mountain home loomed we were getting worried. Eventually, we found a lot in Ephraim and felt good about building a home. It was an idea that we had been thinking about since we first decided to move to Sanpete County. It wouldn't be easy but we felt right about it. My brother Nick is an architect and he started working on plans based on our dreams.

Unable to find a house to rent in Sanpete, I found a house in Payson. It was small but would be just right for a few months while we built a house. It was close to the temple and the schools. It wasn't an ideal commute for Randy but it would be a place to live much closer than we were. Then, the day before we were to move out of our home in Eagle Mountain, the rental in Payson fell through. I hurried to reserve a storage unit for our stuff. Our neighbors and family came to help us move out and into the storage unit. We were officially homeless. While we were moving the last of our things into the storage unit. Rand got a call from a man from Manti, Utah. He was on a mission with his wife and heard of our plight. He had a rental home that he was willing to offer us but it wouldn't be available until April 1st. Relieved that we at least had somewhere to go eventually, the kids and I moved in with Rand's parents in Salt Lake City.

March 2017: I drove the kids from Salt Lake City to Eagle Mountain (an hour) to school for a week and a half. The older kids finished up the term at high school and junior high so they could get credit. Then, I checked them out. For the next few weeks, we spent our days doing field trips and work sheets.

I reserved a house through Airbnb in Moroni, Utah for a week so that I could check the kids into their new schools in Manti when the new term started. We stayed in the Airbnb house for a week.

The following week was Spring Break for the new school district so we returned to Salt Lake. We finally bought a second car.

April 2017: Our family came to help us load up two Uhaul trucks, my parent's horse trailer and my brother's trailer with our stuff from the storage unit to move it to Manti. I hadn't seen the inside of the rental home until we started bringing in the first load. It's an older home but completely satisfactory for our family and we are very grateful to have somewhere to live close to Rand's work and close to the kids' schools. It really couldn't be in a better location. Since then, we've tried to prepare the house and adjust to our new home. Deep sigh. I'm exhausted.

This House I Love

Previously shared on Facebook in January 2017:

We moved in to our house over ten years ago. We only had three small kids. Neal was just starting kindergarten. It was a little house but it was just right for us. We planned to stay about two years. Then, the real estate market collapsed and we stayed because we had to. And then we stayed because we loved it. 
I love that the house is situated right on a turn in the road so I can watch my kids play in two directions. 
I love that it faces just the right direction to catch the sunlight and the snow melts off my yard very first. 

I love that it's a blue house in a tan neighborhood and every little kid wants to play at the "blue house".
I love the view from the back of my house. The sunsets are incredible. 
I love that the great horned owls taught their babies to fly off my roof. I love that at night I can hear the coyotes howl. I love that I can look out my bedroom window and regularly see eagles, pronghorns and jackrabbits.
I love that my kids only have to walk a block and a half to the elementary school and they don't even have to cross a street. It's so close that I don't even feel guilty making them walk home in a blizzard. And I love the elementary school. The principal and teachers and staff care so much about each kid. And the PTA is particularly amazing. 
I love that my neighbor drives my kid to high school every morning. And they always have random things like corn starch and beef bouillon when I run out. 
I love that my dad built shelves and shelves and shelves to hold my ever-growing, really ridiculous book collection. 
I love that Rand and I completed so many home improvement projects even though he hates doing them! I love the laminate flooring in all the bedrooms. It makes cleaning up vomit so much easier. 
I love that Rand got his MBA while we lived in this house and for years supported our family from his "office" in the corner of our bedroom. And that the ravens would "dive bomb" him in the window and fly away laughing. 
I love that we added two more babies to our family while we lived in this house. While they've grown up we've also watched so many adorable neighborhood babies grow into really great kids. 
I love that we grew tomatoes and corn and peppers and beans in our backyard garden. I love that because our house is little, our yard is big!
I love that for the majority of eight years, I hosted book club in this house every first Tuesday of the month and that all the neighborhood women were welcome to come and eat and laugh and visit nearly all night.
I love that I've made the very best friends anyone could ever ask for in this neighborhood. These friends would do anything for me and have bailed me out countless times. And I love them desperately. 

This little house that I love is for sale. **The house sold quickly and easily.

Monday, April 3, 2017

It Happens All the Time - Book Review

I've been absent from this blog for the past three months because Randy has accepted a new job in a different town and we've been in the middle of trying to sell our house, pack, find a place to rent and move. I'll write more about our ridiculous adventures later but I didn't want to miss this chance to tell you about a very important book. (I don't have internet yet so I'm writing this on my phone—yikes!)

It Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany is about a young woman who comes home from college, engaged and ready to start the next chapter of her life. While home Amber spends some time with her best friend from high school. Tyler has been a devoted and good friend for years. He knows all her struggles and triumphs.  He gets her. They have a history together. At the 4th of July party, they've had too much to drink and begin to kiss. Amber tries to stop him, but Tyler rapes her. Devastated and conflicted and broken, Amber must face to realities of being raped by a trusted friend.

There's so much I want to say about this book. It's a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately. Randy had been attending Title IX training and there are cases in the news and even among those we know personally. He and I have had many discussions regarding this topic.  There is a growing problem. As a mother of sons and daughters, I realize that not only must I teach my daughter about rape and trying to avoid it but I absolutely must teach my sons about consent.

One of the things that Hatvany does in her book is show that more often than not rapists are just normal guys. They often don't even think they've done anything wrong. They justify and use a plethora of excuses. This does not excuse them of their criminal and destructive actions. There are consequences that must be paid. But even better would be if men were taught and understood what rape really is. That no means no. We must teach our sons.

Hatvany explains this so much better than I can in her essay here :

Anyway, It Happens All the Time not only discusses an important topic but it is also a very readable novel with characters who are very real. Hatvany is an excellent author who focuses on character and plot while sharing a message.

It Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany is published by Atria Books and released on March 28, 2017. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2016 Reading in Review

Two and a half weeks ago, my husband accepted an new job and it's very exciting and a very wonderful opportunity. So, it's been a whirlwind of crazy activity in my house. The job is at a small college in a very small town almost two hours from where we currently live. It will require a move for our family. So, we've spent the last weeks trying to celebrate Christmas, get our house ready to sell and find somewhere to live (no luck). Rand starts his new job on Monday and I still can barely wrap my brain around it all. Sigh. I'm tired.

I've barely read a single page of any book in the last two weeks. I didn't recap my reading year. I didn't pick my top ten books. The only thing I've been doing with books lately is packing them since our realtor really didn't like that all the shelves are double stacked with books. And I may be going slightly crazy.

Last night I hosted book club in my house for the last time. Some friends and I started a small neighborhood book club over eight years ago. For almost six of those years, I've hosted it in my home. Every first Tuesday of the month, my friends (sometimes gets to be a large group now) gather to discuss books and talk and talk until the wee hours of morning. I've made such wonderful friendships that have been strengthened by our shared love of books. Over the years, many of my book club friends have moved away and I miss them like crazy but it still feels surreal that I'm moving now. As my friends left last night around 3:30 am, I really felt like there should have been some sappy theme song playing like in the finale of a beloved sitcom. I'm going to miss them.

2016 Reading Recap

I read 63 books. 

  • 8 ebooks
  • 2 audio books (I am so close to finishing a third. This was my first year listening to audio books just for me and not for the kids on a road trip. It was a little adjustment but I like it.)
  • 54 books for review 
  • 60 were fiction--mostly historical fiction, contemporary lit and psychological thrillers
  • 49 were written by women
  • I read 78% of the books I received for review (but didn't write reviews for 4 of them)
  • I started but did not finish 6 books (I'm in the middle of Lonesome Dove and The Underground Railroad and fully intend to finish both of them.)
  • I bought 23 books for myself and countless more for my kids. 

Favorites published in 2016 :

Favorites published prior to 2016 :

Everything You Want Me to Be - Book Review

Growing up in a small Minnesota town, Hattie Hoffman is the charming, talented and beloved girl that everyone expects to go far.  Hattie has high expectations for herself and plans to head to New York City as soon as she graduates. All those dreams and aspirations die when Hattie is found stabbed to death in an old barn near the lake on the opening night of the school play.

Every Thing You Want Me To Be by Mindy Mejia is a psychological thriller told through the alternating eyes of  the local sheriff, the young new English teacher at the high school and Hattie herself as the novel recreates Hattie's last year. Leading a secret life, Hattie was much more than the lead actress, the reliable employee and the girlfriend of the star football player.

With taut prose and a quick pace, Every Thing You Want Me To Be kept me guessing and second guessing the suspicious and the guilty until the very last page. It really was everything you want in a psychological thriller as the characters' private desires and personal weaknesses are exposed. I couldn't put it down and it was the perfect distraction to keep my mind off all the recent personal stress.

I wasn't expecting to be impressed. I'm frankly tired of all the books being compared to Gone Girl. I've been disappointed so many times. But honestly, Every Thing You Want Me To Be surprised me by being so much better than I hoped.

Every Thing You Want Me To Be by Mindy Mejia is published by Atria Books and released on January 3, 2017.

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

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Idaho - Book Review

It's so hard to describe the beauty of Idaho by Emily Ruskovich into words. My words just can't compare with the lyric and intensity and heartbreaking of Ruskovich's words.

Ann and Wade live together on the mountain. They are secluded from nearly everyone. Wade is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's so Ann is everything to him as his memories slowly fade. He is losing everything, even the painful and crushing memories of the murder of his youngest daughter by his first wife Jenny and the loss of his older daughter who simply vanished into the woods that horrifying day. Is it now up to Ann to bear the memories of this tragedy?

Idaho is as lovely as it is frightening. Her characters are not larger-than-life or stock characters but authentic people changed and affected my moments and actions, thoughtful and impulsive. Ruskovich is a marvelous writer who weaves the lives of her characters together with her words and leaves the reader emotionally conflicted and changed.

The novel doesn't run in chronological order but arranges snippets from time and characters throughout and yet I was completely immersed in the story. This novel is so many wonderful things and is completely unforgettable. I'm sure to be pressuring people to read it for a long time.

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich is published by Random House and released January 3, 2017.

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

Friday, December 9, 2016

Luminaria at Thanksgiving Point

Last week, Lily and I went on a special date night to Luminaria at Thanksgiving Point Gardens. She was very excited to spend some one-on-one time with me since she was terribly disappointed that Thomas got to go with me to see Fabulous Beasts. She's kind of a middle kid and totally keeps track of what she sees as fair or not. Good thing she's absolutely adorable about it.

Anyway, it was her turn to go. It worked out perfectly because earlier in the afternoon she got orthodontic braces. She's nervous, excited and all around "wired" up.

The Luminaria light display replaces the former light show at Thanksgiving Point where you stayed in your car to drive through the kitschy displays (I can see that in my neighborhood). I successfully avoided that particular show for years. Seeing the long lines of cars from the freeway was a complete deterrent for this holiday bah humbug.

Lily and I arrived for the event one minute before the time on our ticket and we weren't allowed into the building until the time on our ticket. The staff was very friendly and literally anxious for us to see the displays that have obviously taken a lot of time, preparation and passion.

We started in the Poinsettia House where we enjoyed the relative warmth for a bit as we waited for it to get just a little darker. It was a chilly night but thankfully dry, so we bundled up to enjoy the peaceful walk. It had snowed the day before and the layer of white stuff added to the winter beauty. We really lucked out.

I don't know how they will manage the crowds throughout December, but being able to just ramble through the gardens at our own pace and without crowds of people to push us through was delightful.

The use of lights and the natural environments of the garden were so impressive. It was so beautiful. Different areas had various themes with music piped in to match. There were fun areas, peaceful areas and places to contemplate the holiday and the meaning of Christmas. My personal favorite was definitely the Light of the World exhibit that focused on the Savior.

My family has enjoyed the I Am the Light of the World Sculpture exhibit at Ashton Gardens during the spring and summer but it was magically and impressively transformed with lights. It was a wonderful place to feel the peace and talk with Lily about our Savior and His life and ministry.

There are several places throughout the garden to buy treats and warm up with your family and friends. Lily was a little rushed throughout the entire walk. She had this "hurry up" attitude. Whether she was cold or just wasn't as impressed as I was, I'm not sure.

The Luminaria light display was my favorite "pay-to-see" Christmas event that I've ever been to. I'd love to take my entire family. But here's the thing, it's costly. And at this time of year when I'm trying desperately to stick to a budget to buy gifts for my family and help the needy, it's hard to justify the cost to take my big family. 

It would make a fabulous date night and I'm tempted to take Rand back because I desperately want to see it again this season. It really is quite incredible.

Tickets are now on sale for
The display runs through the end of December. Dates and times are limited so it's best to buy tickets in advance.

**Lily and I were guests of Thanksgiving Point and received complimentary tickets. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**