Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ruin Falls - Book Review

Liz's husband Paul has planned a family vacation to visit his parents. It's been years since they've seen them and even longer since they've taken a vacation together. During the long road trip, Liz just can't shake the unsettled feeling but she chalks it up to paranoia. However, the next morning she wakes up in her hotel room to find that her two children have disappeared. Liz is shocked, surprised and devastated. Liz will fight for her children. Through twists and turns and dangerous encounters, Liz searches for her missing children with determination and perseverance.

A missing child is a mother's worst nightmare. Liz isn't sure who to trust and who, if anyone, supports her in finding her children. In Ruin Falls, the newest mystery from Jenny Milchman, Liz's fears and heartache speak to every  mother. The novel is well paced and keeps the reader turning the pages. I was intrigued enough to finish the story even though the plot has holes and ended up seeming a bit far fetched.

While Liz was obviously under serious duress, her interactions with people seemed strange. She wasn't communicating well with anyone, even her best friend and the love interest was forced and so sudden that I couldn't fully wrap my head around it.

Overall, I raced through the quick-paced story so I could rest assured that Liz recovered her children. It ended up not being much of a mystery as I was able to figure out much of the plot early on. There are a few minor twists but nothing very shocking and sort of left me flat.

Ruin Falls by Jenny Milchman was published by Ballantine Books on April 22, 2014. 

**I received a complimentary copy of Ruin Falls in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No other compensation was received.**

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gemini - Book Review

One night while Dr. Charlotte Reese is working in the intensive care unit, a Jane Doe is transferred to her unit. The victim of an apparent hit-and-run, Jane is unconscious and unidentified. As Charlotte works to get her patient medically stable, she can't help but feel a deeper connection with the woman. Charlotte is plagued by the ethical questions surrounding this deeply ill woman. Who will make the decisions of whether or not Jane lives or dies? Surely someone cares about this woman.

As Charlotte struggles for more time before confronting these questions, her life becomes more entangled with Jane's when Charlotte's boyfriend Eric identifies Jane from an unusual scar on her arm. Together, Charlotte and Eric find themselves on a mission to answer the questions and find solutions for Jane and for their own conflicted relationship.

"A stranger’s life hangs in the balance. What if you had the power to decide if she lives or dies?"

I was drawn into Gemini by Carol Cassella from the first page. Her style and ability to describe situations, settings and characters so they become animate compelled me from page to page in this carefully plotted medical mystery. The medical details are intelligent, well-researched (Cassella is an anesthesiologist) and yet are clear enough for an untrained reader to understand and grasp. Cassella includes small particulars about her characters or shows them participating in moments of life that add to the reality of the situation without becoming mundane or tedious. The characters come alive within her words. Dr. Charlotte Reese, in particular, is a highly capable, brilliant physician who is also very vulnerable in her personal relationships. Her hopes and dreams for the future are in conflict with the love in her heart for another. As a reader it is easy to relate to and sympathize with Charlotte's appealing character.

The story is well paced and engaging. There are glimmers of truth and then unseen plot twists and a fascinating ending. It's a unique story yet wholly believable. There are no real villains though there are people who make bad decisions. There are consequences. There is regret, heartache, forgiveness and healing--all real human themes in a decidedly enjoyable novel.

Gemini by Carol Cassella was published by Simon & Schuster in March 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of Gemini in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Salt Lake City Cemetery - Out and About in Utah

Last week was Spring Break and we decided to stay home and spend our time off doing some of the local fun things. Some of our friends had the same idea. They were sharing about one of their field trips to the Salt Lake Cemetery and we were reminded just how much we enjoyed visiting the cemetery too.

It sounds strange. I know. 
To spend a day in a cemetery with a bunch of kids.

Years ago my grandmother gave me a map of Salt Lake City Cemetery. On the map it shared the locations of the grave sites of prominent leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the time, I was serving in a Primary Presidency and in charge of planning Primary activities. We decided to hold our Primary Activity at the cemetery and it was a big hit.

We hadn't been back with our kids in years so Utah Dad and I decided that we would spend our day together finding the grave sites, sharing memories with the kids and spending quality time together.

I was able to find a printable map of the prominent leaders grave sites at Salt Lake City Cemetery at this link :

The map includes all but four of the deceased Latter-day prophets (the others are buried elsewhere), many of the apostles, their wives and other notables such as Porter Rockwell and W.W. Phelps. I especially love to explore in the "pioneer" area.

We were all excited to find Elder Neal A. Maxwell's grave site since Utah Dad regularly (as in every day) quotes his perfect nuggets of wisdom. 

Utah Dad brought along his copy of the 2013 Church Almanac so that he could share little tidbits about the lives of the prophets. We even lucked upon the grave site of Truman Madsen who was our stake president when we got married and interviewed us before our wedding. He shared advice and insights that I will never forget.

We spent several memorable hours traipsing about the cemetery discovering the grave sites and stones for those who have been influential and revered leaders in our church.

It is part of our heritage and we honor them. We believe that because of Jesus Christ, we can all live again, therefore spending time in a cemetery reminds us that death is only temporary and we will all meet again.

Afterward, we went to nearby Memory Grove for a picnic. We couldn't have asked for a more perfect day. It was absolutely stunning and we appreciated the gorgeous "signs of spring" that the kids love to point out. So, you know we couldn't resist taking some more pictures.

The Other Story - Book Review

I really liked Tatiana de Rosnay's first novel Sarah's Key. My book club read it several years ago and I loved the story. It was filled with powerful images and I found it interesting to learn about how the French rounded up Jews during World War II to aid the German Nazis. I found the connections between the Holocaust and the murder of children combined with the present day story line involving the thoughtful decision of whether or not to have an abortion haunting and meaningful. I also enjoyed the movie. While I haven't read some of Tatiana de Rosnay's other novels, I was looking forward to reading The Other Story, her newest.

The plot appealed to me. Nicolas Duhamel a young author finds immediate and amazing success with his debut novel. The novel, titled The Envelope, was loosely based on his own family secret. It appealed to a worldwide crowd and sold millions of copies. He has thousands of adoring fans who follow his every post and tweet. His publisher gave him a huge advance for the his next work. But there is no next work. Nicolas is seized by severe writer's block while he becomes obsessed with his own fame. He takes his girlfriend on vacation to a remote island hoping for inspiration and escape.

While the writing is solid and drew me in, I found myself constantly wanting more. Nicolas is a terribly unlikable character. He is so vain and into himself that it was difficult at times to read about his preening and whining self. He is so selfish that he would rather hide in the restroom with his Blackberry reading sexts (the details of which may make some readers blush) than spend time with his beautiful girlfriend.

The "family secret" that is dangled as a carrot occasionally throughout the novel is delivered so slowly that when I finally got to it, I barely cared.

But here's the thing. While in the middle I described the novel as "horrible" to a friend. It was nothing like Sarah's Key and nothing like what I was expecting. However, The Other Story kept me enraptured and constantly wanting more throughout. In reality, I could hardly put it down and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since I finished. Nicolas is an unpleasant character so wrapped up in his own desires that he fails to see those taking advantage of him or what might even become his next story. While he has a brief moment of clarity and selflessness at the end, the reader sees the danger of being catapulted to the top. Of being an idol. An icon. Adored. Nicolas stopped caring about those who were close to him and spent his life Googling himself.

When the story is seen less as one of the discovery of family secrets and more as the study of the conceited celebrity, the reader realizes it's power and thoughtfulness. And once again Tatiana de Rosnay delivers a novel that consumes my thoughts, my prejudices and my time.

The Other Story by Tatiana de Rosnay is published by St. Martin's Press on April 15, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Other Story in exchange for my review. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Monday, April 14, 2014

Road to Reckoning - Book Review

From the coverOne does not travel the path to vengeance alone

Twelve-year-old Thomas Walker has never left New York City. His father, a traveling salesman hoping to earn money by selling Samuel Colt’s recent invention, the “Improved Revolving Gun,” takes young Thomas with him on the road. But even the world’s first true revolver cannot save them from danger, and what starts as an adventure soon turns into a nightmare.

Thomas soon finds himself alone, and must rely on his own wits, courage, and determination, as well as a wooden replica of the Colt revolver, to protect himself. Luckily, an encounter with a surly ex-ranger, Henry Stands, leads to an improbable partnership, and the two set out in perilous pursuit of vengeance. That is, if they can escape the thieves who lurk around each trail, river, and road—and who have already stolen so much from Thomas.
In the spirit of The Sisters Brothers and True Grit, this spare, elegant, and emotionally resonant story conveys, through a boy’s eyes, a beautiful father-son story, as well as the fascinating history of how the birth of the revolver changed the course of violence in America. Road to Reckoning offers a window into the history of the American West and the heart of a boy yearning for love.

My thoughts :

Road to Reckoning by Robert Lautner is a fine novel. Thomas is a young and likable main character. He is thoughtful and plucky and has a desire to live in spite of being very much alone and very frightened. It's easy to root for him as he journeys home and away from the dangers that met him on the trail.

I especially appreciated Lautner's use of language. It's beautiful while also being sparse and brief. He can describe the rocky hillside, or Thomas's fear, or the very men that strike terror in the young boy's heart so that the reader can see and feel and imagine but with just the right amount of words. Brevity is a remarkable gift and Lautner possesses it.

The story is well paced and full of danger and suspense. I was compelled to continue turning the pages and see Thomas through his adventure to the safety of home.

The problem is that at times the novel doesn't feel truly authentic. Perhaps I was thrown off by the cover's announcement that the novel is "a window into this history of the American West..." In one sense, this is accurate. The Colt Revolver definitely had a major influence on the American West. However, this novel takes place primarily in New York and Pennsylvania. Even in 1837 this area wasn't considered the American West. It wasn't even the frontier at this period of time.

If you can get past that and the occasional anti-gun preaching, Road to Reckoning by Robert Lautner is a quick and exciting adventure of survival.

Road to Reckoning by Robert Lautner was published by Touchstone in February 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of Road to Reckoning in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No other compensation was received.**

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry - Book Review

A book for book lovers.

Halfway through the novel, I turned to my husband with a sigh. "I want to own a bookstore in New England." And he knew exactly what I meant. Because in our early marriage while we were living in New Hampshire we often explored the possibilities of someday owning a bookstore. We had fallen in love with a bookstore in Center Harbor, NH near the lakes where we loved to explore on our then child-free Saturdays. We spent money we didn't have on thick hardback books that caught our attention and imagination and still grace our shelves. We visited with the friendly owner who shared beloved books and we even learned of her political leanings (it was in the middle of the 2000 NH Primaries, after all). Then our first baby was born; we moved back to Utah to be near family and found sensible employment. Yet, the dream has never really left.

A.J. Fikry and his wife Nicole had a similar dream. Alice Island where she grew up didn't have a bookstore, so they abandon their frustrating dissertations to build their own bookstore on the island where they can fully appreciate their love of literature.

The dream has turned into a nightmare for A.J. Fikry. His wife was killed in a tragic car accident and he is left alone to run the bookstore--alone. Sales are down and his only possession of value, a collection of Edgar Allen Poe's poetry is stolen. His cranky personality nearly scares off everyone except the cop that responds to the burglary and his sister-in-law. Then, a mysterious delivery left in his store with just a brief note gives him the will to live and to love again.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is an emotional and cathartic journey of love for literature. A.J. Fikry is an unforgettable character. He's lovable and witty even when he's being surly and sarcastic. It is enjoyable to watch his transformation as he falls in love. His life is also populated with a cast of eccentric and amusing characters who become so familiar, it's hard to believe I haven't actually attended a book club meeting with the other moms at Island Books.

A.J. Fikry may be the book seller by profession, but author Gabrielle Zevin knows how to sell a book. Her words become love letters to various works of literature, inspiring her readers to get lost in their words once again. However, story remains key to this novel. The story of A.J. Fikry is unforgettable. For the first time in a long time, I could not put this book down. I read the majority of the novel in a single day and only saved the ending for the morning because I knew I couldn't handle the emotions that would engulf me at it's conclusion.

With The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry Gabrielle Zevin has sung the ultimate love song to beloved books while weaving her own poignant story with her own unforgettable characters.

Surely, I'll see you at Island Books this summer.

Disclosure : there are a number of f-words scattered throughout the novel and an odd misplaced mention of Mormons on the last page.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is published by Algonquin Books in April 2014. It is the She Reads book choice for April. You can read reviews from the other members of She Reads *here*.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Thursday, April 3, 2014

No Book But the World - Book Review

A young boy is found dead in the woods near his home and Fred Robbins has been arrested for the crime. When his sister Ava learns of Fred's arrest, she quickly plans a trip to the small town where he is being held. In shock, she wonders how Fred even got from Cape Cod, where he was supposed to be working for and living with an old family friend, to this small town in the north where he is being accused of murder. Fred has always been "different" but his free-thinking parents allowed him a blissful childhood, exploring in the woods near the now-closed alternative school where the family lived.

As Ava reminisces about their past and seeks to help Fred, a window is opened into their seemingly idealized childhood and the early clues that may help in Fred's defense but ultimately help Ava understand her role as sister and improve her own relationships with her husband and family.

While my siblings and I did attend school, as I read No Book But the World by Leah Hager Cohen I couldn't help remembering our childhood days running somewhat-wild on our farm and the stretching "woods" across the street. In the overgrown willows and cottonwoods that grew along the canal, we built tree houses and huts and swung on the "Tarzan swing", returning home only when we heard the ringing of the cow bell that hung by the back door of our house.

In her novel Cohen's beautiful words capture the freedom and joy of childhood while reminding  us that as adults we reflect our  upbringings for good and bad. Our childhoods are an essential part of our story. Cohen examines how our familial ties effect our lives and how much responsibility we have for our siblings and their choices.

The characters and setting are so believable, the novel read like a memoir. Surely, Batter Hollow and the defunct school campus really exists. Ava is unlike most protagonists with her quiet, unassuming ways. Even though she would have shrunk from the attempt, I wanted to give her a hug. While it is at it's heart, a tragedy, the novel had moments of beauty and hope.

I thoroughly enjoyed No Book But the World. Cohen, at once, weaves a tender and haunting story while making the reader think about relationships and responsibilities.

No Book But the World by Leah Hager Cohen is published by Riverhead Books and released on April 3, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of No Book But the World in exchange for my honest review. My opinions are my own. No additional compensation was received.**

Monday, March 31, 2014

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening - Book Review

Carol Wall had finally gotten tired of her overgrown yard. Having never cared for it beyond mowing the grass, she wasn't about to sink her own hands into the soil or start pruning back the bushes. Admiring her neighbor's yard, she approaches Mister Owita, her neighbor's gardener about working for her to fix up her own yard. Thus begins a meaningful relationship between Carol and Mr. Owita.

Mr. Owita is from Kenya and different from all of Carol's other friends. Yet she is drawn to his quiet nature and his wisdom. Over the years, Carol's yard becomes a showplace and Carol learns more than just how to prune and care for the plants in her yard. Mr. Owita and his family become cherished friends of the Walls as the two families overcome the ordeals and trials of life.

I don't often reach for memoirs and yet several of them have inspired me over the years. Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall was one I very much enjoyed. Wall's engaging style and honesty, made this memoir a quick and memorable read. The relationship between Carol Wall and Mister Owita creates a bridge between so many differences yet shows that we are all so much more alike. Carol often blunders during their relationship, making assumptions, yet Mister Owita forgives and reassures her and their friendship continues. They serve each other and offer help when the other is in need. Mister Owita's careful and wise words are lesson to us all on how to treat one another.

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall is graceful and hopeful. It imagines the possibilities if we each treated each other with the respect and dignity deserved by all humanity.

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall was published by Amy Einhorn Books in March 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No additional compensation was received.**


The first ever Ladies Home Tour will be held at Daybreak’s Lake Village.  Visitors will have the opportunity to explore seven lakefront homes in Salt Lake County’s largest master planned community.  The Ladies Home Tour will feature guided tours inside this new collection of homes that take maximum advantage of mountain and lake views along Utah’s growing west bench.  In addition to experiencing the new homes, local eateries, The Sweet Tooth Fairy and the Waffle Love Truck will be providing complimentary refreshments (supplies are limited) and live music will play throughout the evening.  As Daybreak celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, the new Lake Village brings fresh architectural elements and waterfront living to a new level.  The tour is free to the public.

Free activities for kids at Daybreak Academy are also available.   For reservations, guests may call 801.446.9022 or email  Spaces for childcare activities are limited and by reservation only.  Additional details here

A new “beach cruiser” Townie bike, gourmet food basket from Daybreak’s newest SoDa Row tenant, Granato’s Deli, and gift cards to other SoDa Row retailers will be awarded to selected guests.

An Instagram contest will determine the winners of these fun giveaways.  No purchase required.

Saturday, April 5, 2014
The Lake Village at Daybreak
10491 S. Lake Avenue
South Jordan, UT 84095
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, Daybreak is Salt Lake County’s original, large-scale, master planned community.  About one out of every six new homes sold in the Salt Lake Valley is in Daybreak.  Over the past several years, more people have moved to Daybreak in South Jordan than to any other new-home community in Utah.  With businesses, parks, restaurants, schools and energy-efficient homes, set against the backdrop of the Oquirrh mountains and lakes all around, Daybreak and the new Lake Village are redefining community in Utah.  Learn more at

During the Ladies Home Tour, there will be many photo opportunities, including the exterior and interiors of the seven (7) showcase homes, live music, treats from local eateries, and people discovering the gorgeous environs of this new area of custom, lake front homes. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Hungry Family Slow Cooker - Cookbook Review

I could live on cottage cheese and tomatoes. Throw in some chocolate, and I'm good. But for some strange reason my family doesn't think that cuts it. So every night I have to come up with something to feed the family. I don't mind cooking but I hate thinking up menus. And nothing makes me happier than when I remember to throw something in the slow cooker in the morning so that when that crazy busy dinner hour arrives, I've already got something ready to eat.

I was excited to try out The Hungry Family Slow Cooker Cookbook by Christina Dymock. Since I'm not really a foodie, I was relieved to see that the recipes were pretty simple and that I could use plenty of ingredients already in my pantry.

The design of the book is very nice. The type is large enough for me to read while I'm in the middle of preparing food and there are lots of pictures included. I'm visual so I really like to see a picture of what I'm preparing. The book is divided into sections such as beef and poultry for ease and even includes an entire section on chili. I'm anxious to try one of the desserts.

We decided to try a few of the recipes for things that we knew we already liked. First, we tried the French Onion Soup recipe. The preparation was simple and it tasted as good as any I've ordered at my favorite restaurants.

Last weekend we tried "Granny's Potatoes". They were much like cheesy potatoes or more commonly known in Utah as "Funeral Potatoes". They cooked up deliciously in the slow cooker.

Today, I've already loaded the slow cooker with chicken and rice to try a recipe for Cajun Chicken and Shrimp Rice. I have high hopes for dinner tonight.

The Hungry Family Slow Cooker Cookbook includes basic instructions for using the slow cooker to brown ground beef or baking potatoes. But it also has some unique and interesting recipes to mix it up. I'm excited to try the Lemon Pepper Butternut Squash and the Crab Stew.

The Hungry Family Slow Cooker Cookbook by Christina Dymock is published by Cedar Fort in March 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Hungry Family Slow Cooker Cookbook in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Friday, March 21, 2014

Still Life With Bread Crumbs - Book Review

People fascinate me. I could people watch for hours. Catching an expression on a face or an interesting interaction between two strangers, I can't help but reflect on their stories. Why are they clearly so sad? Why did he react so strongly to that simple comment? What possessed her to get that stanza of music tattoo around her upper arm?

Still Life with Bread Crumbs, the newest novel from Anna Quindlen is Rebecca Winter's story. Rebecca is aging and her bank account is quickly shrinking. Trying to save money, she sublets her apartment in Manhattan to rent a cottage in upstate New York. Soon she is regularly eating scones at the village tea shop and sharing gossip with the locals. She takes a job with the state photographing birds for a much needed $200 and finds herself working in close proximity with the handsome, burly roofer that removed the raccoon from the attic of her cottage.

But Rebecca Winters is a famous photographer, known in the art circles for her iconic photographs of her kitchen counter following a hastily prepared dinner party. With a fancy circle of friends/acquaintances and a high end apartment, Rebecca is being stretched in her new role. Traipsing about the woods, she reinvents herself again and finds comfort in her new life.

Still Life with Bread Crumbs is primarily a character study. With the easy and often witty language that fully immerses the reader in the life of the character, I found myself completely entranced by Rebecca and her life. Seeing the world through Rebecca's eyes was enlightening. She has a wry sense of humor and a thoughtful stillness that made me want to sit beside her at Tea for Two and chat. As she fully accepts and is willing to make healthy and good life changes, I found her story inspiring and hopeful. It is at times terribly emotional and moving. It was the kind of story that I love most and didn't want to end. It's at once a touching love story and a coming-of-age story.

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen is a masterpiece. I was previously unfamiliar with her work but will be acquiring her other novels as soon as possible. She is an artist.

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindles was published by Random House in January 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of Still Life With Bread Crumbs in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No other compensation was received.**

Monday, March 17, 2014

Lost Lake - Book Review

Wow! I've disappeared from the blog for awhile. But what better time to return then with a review of Sarah Addison Allen's novel Lost Lake? It's beautiful green cover is perfect on this St. Patrick's Day. Lost Lake is also the She Reads book of the month.

A year after the sudden death of her husband, Kate and her eight-year old daughter Devin begin cleaning out the attic in preparation for their move to her mother-in-law's home. They find an old postcard for Lost Lake where Kate's aunt owns a camp and where Kate spent the best summer of her life. Waking up and realizing that her mother-in-law's plans are not best for her family, Kate and Devin head south to visit Lost Lake.

Aunt Eby is making plans to sell Lost Lake. After all these years, the death of her husband George, and the dwindling business at Lost Lake, Eby is arranging to sell the land to a developer and spend her final years traveling in Europe.

But Lost Lake means so much to so many people. Kate and Devin arrive just in time to help the locals and the faithful visitors try to save Lost Lake.

Beginning with a young newly wed couple honeymooning in Paris and a mysterious suicide jumper, the prologue immediately captured my attention. There were all the necessary elements for drama: young love, romantic setting, a mysterious personage and a nutty family in pursuit. As the novel moved into present day and different characters I was initially disappointed. I preferred to stay in Paris with young Eby and George and the mysterious girl. It took a little while for me to embrace the story of Kate and Devin.

However, with Allen's pure writing and ability to stir emotion, I soon fell in love with the story and magic of Lost Lake. Kate and Eby were characters worth rooting for as they attempt to create their own futures and are cheered on by a delightful cast of supporting characters. There is love, mystery, redemption and hope.

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen is comfort food. It's the lovely story with the happy ending to share with your best friend when she's feeling down. It's a hug in a book. Inspiring nostalgic memories of those places and people from our childhoods that changed our lives and the desire to go back and hold on to those moments for dear life, Lost Lake is magical.

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen is published by St. Martin's Press in January 2014. Don't forget to check out other reviews from She Reads members.

I just found out that there is a companion story to Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen called Waking Kate. The Kindle version is free. I'm anxious to read it.

**I received a complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No other compensation was received**

Saturday, March 1, 2014

MercoBox Give-away Winner

The winner of the MercoBox from MercoLocal is...


Congratulations! Please send your contact information to me as soon as possible so you claim your prize.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Wake - Book Review

From the cover :

Wake: 1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep. 2) Ritual for the dead. 3) Consequence or aftermath.

London, 1920. The city prepares to observe the two-year anniversary of Armistice Day with the burial of the unknown soldier. Many are still haunted by the war: Hettie, a dance instructress, lives at home with her mother and her brother, who is mute after his return from combat. One night Hettie meets a wealthy, educated man and finds herself smitten with him. But there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach. . . . Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange, through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, she looks for solace in her adored brother, who has not been the same since he returned from the front. . . . Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door, seemingly with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out-of-work veterans. But when he utters the name of her son, Ada is jolted to the core.

The lives of these three women are braided together, their stories gathering tremendous power as the ties that bind them become clear, and the body of the unknown soldier moves closer and closer to its final resting place.

My thoughts :

Wake by Anna Hope is a quiet book. Unassuming. Unpretentious. Unforgettable.

I was surprised by how much I loved his book. Anna Hope's writing is lovely and evokes such powerful emotions from the characters whose lives of quiet desperation in the wake of World War I pricked my soul. Each individual deals with the terrors, loss and pain of the war in their own way yet by the end they each see a chance for healing and a brighter future.

Anna Hope allows the reader to feel. To see the futility of war. Her characters are neither flashy nor particularly brave. They are regular people who have lost loved ones or the dream of love. They care for men who returned damaged or not at all. But as the nation comes together to grieve and celebrate on the anniversary of the Armistice, there will be glimmers of hope and the chance for healing.

The ending is abrupt. Stopping suddenly in the middle of a scene. In the middle of a sentence. I had been warned previously so I wasn't shocked. Perhaps because it wasn't shocking to me, I actually appreciated the chance to imagine the futures of the characters. Their possibilities for love. For healing and hope. Yet my heart ached to know that many of them would live long enough to face the destruction and terror of another World War.

Wake by Anna Hope was a pleasant surprise for me. A novel that touched my heart and left me breathless with it's subtle beauty and message of peace.

Wake by Anna Hope was published by Random House in February 2014.

** I received a complimentary copy of Wake in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No additional compensation was received.**

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Winter People - Book Review

Less than twenty pages into The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon my skin prickled with goosebumps and I was intrigued by the creepiness of the characters and setting in this story of secrets, ghosts and murder.

1908 : In a little village in Vermont, Sara lives with her husband Martin and her beloved daughter Gertie in her ancestral home. She warns Martin not to spend time in the lower pastures near the woods and a rock formation known to locals as the Devil's Hand and adamantly insists that he rebury the old, bone ring he discovered in the fields. Their lives unravel quickly when Gertie goes missing and then is discovered dead at the bottom of a nearby well.

Present day : Ruthie comes home after curfew expecting to get a lecture from her mother. Instead, it becomes apparent that her mother is missing. Caring for her six year old sister, Ruthie sets out to find her mother, discovering Sara's diary in a secret crevice of the old farm house. Old rumors and legends surrounding Gertie's death and Sara's murder haunt Ruthie as she searches for her mother.

Every now and then I enjoy an especially spooky ghost story. The Winter People expertly delivered this with what I like to call "awesome creepy". It seems an odd way to describe a ghost story but there was a certain amount of truth and enough plausibility to the masterfully orchestrated plot that as I read the novel each night I had to actually remind myself that it wasn't real. Between the Vermont old farm house setting and the touch of madness in the characters, it came alive and added that extra legitimacy to the story.

I loved this novel from the very beginning but the twists and turns and eventual ending did not disappoint. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon is the perfect novel to give you the shivers this winter.

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon was published by Doubleday in February 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Winter People in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No additional compensation was received.**

Monday, February 24, 2014

MercoBox Review and Give-away

I love finding, buying and using products from local businesses so I was excited to receive a MercoBox from MercoLocal. The cute box (which Amberly turned into her Valentine box with a few heart stamps and stickers) was filled with fun and yummy products from businesses right here in Utah. What's not to love?!

Among other things, the box included delicious hand dipped chocolates (that I didn't want to share) from Hatch Family Chocolates and Crio Bru roasted cocoa beans that I fell in love with at Decadence Cafe. Since we have a house of four girls with long hair, I am super excited to try the Drain Wig.

The box also included soaps, fragrances and cosmetics from Utah businesses. I had no idea there were such interesting offerings from local companies.

Check out MercoLocal to find out more about the local Utah businesses they are trying to support and to order your next MercoBox.

MercoLocal sent along another 
MercoBox filled with the February offerings
to give away to one reader of Utah Mom's Life Blog.

To enter leave a comment on this post. Get two additional entries for sharing this give-away post on Facebook and/or Twitter. Leave additional comments. Each person can have up to three entries. The contest will be open to entries until Friday, February 28th at 11:59 pm MST. The winner will be chosen randomly from the entries and announced on Saturday, March 1st.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

While Beauty Slept - Book Review

Who doesn't enjoy a good retelling of an old and cherished fairy tale? Disney may be the most successful at bring the stories to life for children and there are several authors who have reinvented the stories for young adults but even adults enjoy a fairy tale now and then.

While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell is the artful retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty story. Elise overhears her great-granddaughter telling the tale of the beautiful princess asleep in the tower and she recalls her own role in the adventure. Elise, the queen's handmaiden, shares her story--the true story. The story of her service in the castle and her friendship with the queen and the cherished baby daughter.

I appreciated the twists and turns within this retelling as well as the attempts to stay true to the beloved classic. While involving less "magic", the story is filled with secrets, evil plotting and bewitching characters. Being told from the perspective of the servant was a unique divergence that lent the story a human side and I enjoyed watching Elise come of age.

Elise is only 14 years old at the beginning of her story and for the first one hundred pages, I felt like I was reading a young adult novel, not that that's bad, per se. While Elise grows up the novel grows up too. Fortunately, it grows up without being full of erotica.

Early on in the story there was some awkward foreshadowing. While it compelled the reader forward in the story it also felt amateur and was actually misleading. I was surprised by the conclusion since I thought it was heading in a different direction.

Some of the characters weren't overly developed and for me that affected the emotions at the surprising yet ultimately satisfying ending. Without giving anything away, as a reader I would have liked to have known and felt closer to some of the other characters. Considering it's length I feel like that should have been accomplished.

For adult lovers of fairy tales, While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell will hit the spot.  Overall, the novel is an entertaining tale of romance, royal intrigue, and adventure.

While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell is published by Amy Einhorn/Putnam and was released on February 20, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of While Beauty Slept in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No additional compensation was received.**

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Wife, The Maid, and the Mistress - Book Review

In 1930, New York Supreme Court Justice Joseph Crater left a theater and disappeared.

In The Wife, The Maid and the Mistress, Ariel Lawhorn creates a possible answer to the mystery by telling the story through the eyes of Crater's wife, lover and maid. In the dark world of corrupt politics, flashy showgirls, and dirty mobsters the novel is a thrilling and wild tale of crime and passion.

I could not put this book down. Once I started reading it, I stopped only to sleep (because, you know, sleep). Fortunately for my kids who don't especially enjoy corn dogs, I finished the novel in less than 24 hours.  As soon as I stepped on this roller coaster ride, I had no desire to get off.

Once again, the setting becomes key in this thriller. Within the novel's pages, the reader is immediately conveyed to the world of speakeasies, theaters of dancing girls and mobsters who have politicians and lawmen in their pockets. Though flashy and outrageous, I pictured the novel as a glamorous black and white film. If only they could resurrect the fashionable actresses of the Hollywood's Golden Age to play the roles.

Lawhorn keeps a frantic and intense pace throughout the novel, keeping the reader slightly off edge and startled. For the type of story, her style works perfectly. Full of twists and an unexpected shock at the end, as soon as I turned the final page I wanted to go back to the beginning and start again.

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhorn is published by Doubleday and hit the shelves on January 28, 2014. It is the SheReads book of the month. You can read what other reviewers thought of it *here*.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Swan Gondola - Book Review

We all know the phrase, "Don't judge a book by it's cover". It's a good phrase. It's probably even true. However, I must admit it. I totally judge a book by it's cover. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. As soon as I first saw the cover for The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert, I knew that I wanted to read this book. It drew me in. If I'd seen it in a book store, I guarantee I would have picked it up. I might have even bought it without reading the back. But I did read the back and then, I knew I needed to read this book.

"On the eve of the 1898 Omaha World's Fair..."

That's all it took and I was hooked.

Ferret Skerritt is a ventriloquist hoping to make some money at the fair with his trusty and beloved doll Oscar when he falls madly in love with Cecily, the beautiful and bewitching actress in the Chamber of Horrors. She wins Ferret's heart and undying devotion as he tries desperately to win hers.

Ferret is an unusual but charming and sympathetic protagonist and Cecily is a beguiling and intriguing woman. Their love story is divine and is enhanced by the fabulous setting. The Fair sets the stage with it's smoke and mirrors, tricks and illusions, villains and heroes to create a mystical world where anything can happen. Paying homage to The Wizard of Oz, Schaffert brilliantly weaves in details that bring the story to life, simultaneously glorifying the magic and pulling back the curtain.

Filled with magic, mystery, romance, love and tragic loss, The Swan Gondola captured my heart.

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert is published by Riverhead Books and released on February 6, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Swan Gondola in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. No addition compensation was received.**

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Austenland is Available on DVD today!

Oh, hey! 
Guess what movie is out on DVD/Blue Ray today!?

My friends and I went to see it in the theater and we giggled through the entire movie. So cute. So funny. The characters are endearing and delightful. I was a fan of the book by Shannon Hales and I really thought the movie did justice to her quirky and fun sense of humor.

If the movie didn't premier in a theater near you, now is your chance to watch the movie at home. I can't wait to watch it with Utah Dad. I think he'll appreciate the whimsy and wit in this thoroughly fun movie.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Winner of the Girl on the Golden Coin Give-away

This has been the CRAZIEST mostly good day. I am finally sitting down for a minute and have a chance to post the winner of a copy of Girl on the Golden Coin by Marci Jefferson.

The winner is . . .


Congratulations! Please contact me right away with your information so that you can receive a copy this fabulous book.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Girl on the Golden Coin - Book Review and Give-away

From the cover :

"In 1660, the Restoration of Stuart Monarchy in England returns Frances Stuart and her family to favor. Frances discards threadbare gowns and goes to gilded Fontainebleau Palace, where she soon catches the Sun King’s eye. But Frances is no ordinary court beauty—she has Stuart secrets to keep and her family to protect. King Louis XIV turns vengeful when she rejects his offer to become his Official Mistress. He sends her to England with orders to seduce King Charles II and help him form an alliance with England. The Queen Mother likewise orders Frances to become her son's mistress, in the interest of luring him away from the Protestant mistress he currently keeps.

Armed in pearls and silk, Frances maneuvers the political turbulence of Whitehall Palace, but still can’t afford to stir a scandal, determined to keep her family from shame. Her tactic to inspire King Charles to greatness captivates him and the two embark on a tenuous relationship. Frances survives the Great Fire, the Great Plague, and the debauchery of the Restoration Court, yet loses her heart to the very king she must control. A startling discovery will leave her with no other choice but to break his heart, while the fate of England hangs in the balance.

In the tradition of Philippa Gregory, debut author Marci Jefferson brings to life a captivating woman whose beauty, compassion, and intellect impacted a king and a nation, in Girl on the Golden Coin."

My thoughts :

I really enjoy learning more about the European royal families. Girl on the Golden Coin by Marci Jefferson completely fulfilled my interest. While I have spent more time reading about King Henry VIII and the Elizabethan era, I found the study of the Restoration of the Stuart Monarchy equally fascinating. Frances Stuart is an especially intriguing character as she moves through the courts of the King of France and King of England with finesse and cunning. 

Marci Jefferson is an excellent new talent. She expertly captures the period while bringing Frances Stuart back to life and introducing us to a king and period not as fully explored. Frances captured my heart and I found myself fully hoping for her personal happiness. I was genuinely sad when I turned the final pages for I had become completely enraptured by the story and the lovely writing from Jefferson.

Content Warning : There were a few steamy scenes that might make you blush, though I was able to skip over them without losing too much of the general story. 

I am excited to be able to give away a copy of 
Girl on the Golden Coin by Marci Jefferson.

To enter : leave a comment on this post. The contest will be opened to entries until Friday, February 7th at 11:59 pm MST. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Saturday, February 8th. Open to US residents only.

**I received a complimentary copy of Girl on the Golden Coin in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**

Friday, January 31, 2014

Interview with Author Marci Jefferson

Marci Jefferson's debut novel Girl on the Golden Coin, a fascinating look at the life of Frances Stuart and the court of English king Charless II hits the shelves on February 11th and will delight all lovers of historical fiction. I was excited to be able to read an early copy of the novel and have a chance to interview the talented Marci Jefferson.

Thank you for your willingness to be interviewed today. I'm excited to celebrate the release of Girl on the Golden Coin a novel about Frances Stuart with you.

Thanks so much for having me and for helping to get the word out there about GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN!

What was it that you learned about the Stuarts that first inspired you to write Girl on the Golden Coin?

I first learned about the Royal Stuarts during a stay in London. Someone happened to point out the Banqueting House where Charles I was beheaded. I was stunned – I thought kings always ordered the beheadings! I felt compelled to study everything about the Royal Stuarts that my professors neglected to teach me in Nursing School. Frances Stuart initially stood out as a woman who embraced her personal liberty in defiance of kings.

A few years later I read THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL and became obsessed with the desire to do for the Stuarts what Philippa Gregory had done for the Tudors. I picked up my independent studies again and soon realized Frances Stuart’s independent streak matched the collective spirit of the Restoration age. Since she also happened to be the model for Britannia, I knew there was no better subject for a novel of Restoration England.

I read in your bio that you developed a love for history while you lived in Yorktown, VA. One of my favorite vacations with my husband in the early years of our marriage was to Colonial Williamsburg. I'd love to take my children. In your opinion, what is the one place in the area that a tourist must not miss?

I adore Colonial Williamsburg. I used to go there all the time since it was so close to Yorktown. They have
interactive programs to get kids excited about history, so it is fun for the whole family. Just don’t take your 
kids straight there from Disney World (trust me – I made this mistake). My favorite spot in Williamsburg is the Governor’s Palace. Designed in the early 1700’s, this site exhibits perfect examples of furniture and art that characters in my novel would recognize.

Are you currently working on another project and can you divulge the subject?

Of course! Right now I’m writing a novel about Marie Mancini who, based on the alignment of the stars at her birth, was destined to disgrace her family an a most spectacular fashion, but ended up shaping the world’s most powerful monarch – Louis XIV.

Were there any other historical figures that you came across in your research that might inspire a future novel? 

Marie Mancini was one of them, and I come across someone new to research all the time! 

5. As a busy mother with small children when do you find time to write? Do you have a special writing place? How long did it take to write Girl on the Golden Coin?

In the beginning, the novel was strictly a nap-time endeavor. But now my kids are in school, and I only work as a nurse part-time. I’d like to say my days-off provide enough time to get it all done, but somehow I’m always up writing late into the night! I worked through the different aspects (historical research, learning how to write, editing, getting an agent, submitting to publishers) of completing GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN over about six years.

6. What was the topic of the first story that you ever wrote?

My first piece of fiction was a short story involving archaeologists hunting and falling in love with vampires amid the ruins of ancient Egypt. I wrote it when I was in eighth grade. It was terrible, which may be why I ripped it into tiny shreds and never told anyone about it until recently.

7. Do you also find time to read? If so, do you read mostly in the historical fiction genre or a variety? Also, what are some of your favorite books?

Much of my reading time is taken up by the non-fiction required by my work. So I have to carve out time to read historical fiction. I believe an author must continue to read the type of books she wants to write. 

8. Do you have a favorite treat that you just cannot live without or a favorite way to relax?

White tea and 70% dark chocolate. 

9. Is there anything else that you want readers to know or take away from their reading of Girl on a Golden Coin?

I hope they find much to love about Stuart England, that they will recognize its important contribution to modern democracy, and that they remember Frances Stuart as the embodiment of her age.

Marci Jefferson
February 2014 from Thomas Dunne Books / St. Martin's Press