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 Helpless, her loving husband has withdrawn from her.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.**