Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Stack of Books

Based on the lack of book reviews on my blog lately, one might suspect that I haven't been reading much. Though I've suffered a few unpleasant reading slumps, I've actually read several books in the past month. Here are my mini-reviews on the books that have graced my night stand since Thanksgiving.

Books for Review : 2
Books from shelf : 2
Ebooks (previously purchased) : 2
Books purchased : 1

The God of Small Things
by Arundhati Roy

I bought The God of Small Things at the library book sale back in October and everyone told me that it was very good. I've enjoyed several book sets in India and so I was anxious to get a chance to read it. I was nearly finished reading it when I realized that I might already have a copy of this book. When I got home, I checked, and sure enough there was a copy on my shelf that a friend had given me years ago. While I checking I found a second copy of another book I bought at the library that day. My book hoarding collecting has reached the scary level, folks.

The beautiful language and intense emotions combined with the exotic setting kept me completely enraptured. It's a disturbing novel but valuable. I would highly recommend it. 


The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs
by Matthew Dicks

The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs is one of the SheReads Book Club Fall Selections. I've enjoyed all the others this fall and fully expected to enjoy this one too. Caroline is a quiet wife and mother who suddenly speaks out when she just can't handle the essentially bullying behavior of the PTA President. This surprising surge of courage spurs Caroline on a quest to confront the bully from her school years.

It's a cute idea that is certainly timely but the novel often felt preachy. While the story and ending are fine, it's also predictable and a little too neat. Honestly, I was bored and while I expected to connect with Caroline, I found her character to be annoying.


The Sense of an Ending
by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending has been sitting on my shelf for at least a year. Attempting to reach my GoodReads goal (not going to happen) I wanted to add some quality but shorter novels to my reading list. As expected, I read the novel in an afternoon.  With lovely and engaging writing, I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and story of Tony Webster and his memories of his friends and girl friends from school.

The novel is downcast and dreary but meanders through Tony's memories of his young adulthood and his relationships with a sense of nostalgia and regret. The ending surprised me and I may have to read it again to see what I missed on the first quick reading. Well written and honest, I loved this introspection and meaningful novel.


What She Knew
by Gilly Macmillan

Rachel and her son Ben were on their usual Sunday walk in the woods near the park. She lets him run ahead to the swing but when she gets there Ben is missing.

Alternating between Rachel's point of view and the reminiscing of Jim, the lead detective, What She Knew starts out as an intense and emotion search for a missing boy. Right away, Rachel becomes a suspect in the media as viewers doubt her sincerity. She must prove her innocence while also recovering her missing son.

The novel got off to a great start but got bogged down in the middle--a very long middle. I nearly lost interest. The novel finally gains speed again toward the end and has a satisfying conclusion that almost felt too fast.


Alice I Have Been
by Melanie Benjamin

I've enjoyed other books by Melanie Benjamin and during a bout of insomnia read Alice I Have Been on my phone, in my bed, under the covers.

A researched historical novel about the life of the real Alice that inspired Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) to write the beloved novel Alice in Wonderland. Filled with the innocence and wonder of childhood, misunderstandings, scandal, love, loss and growing up, Alice Liddell lived an interesting life.

I didn't love the style of writing with this particular story. So much of it is just telling the story. Finally, as Alice starts to grow up and find love, things actually "happen". It was worth reading but I wasn't overwhelmed by it.


King Leopold's Ghost
by Adam Hochschild

My college friend picked King Leopold's Ghost as our book club read and I was excited. It's been a long while since I've read a history or a biography and I do enjoy both. Focusing on a time period that I am not overly familiar with, I liked learning more about the colonization of Africa. A horrible period of greed and corruption, King Leopold ruled the Congo with violence and butchery. It's an enlightening book on the wicked ends people will go to gain power and wealth. It was also interesting to see those who couldn't abide by the evil and actually stood up for it. I enjoyed the connecting between this book at the novel The Heart of Darkness.

While detailing the horrific atrocities committed in Leopold's Congo, Hochschild is quick to point out  that this is only a small amount of atrocities committed by colonizing countries throughout the world.  It was a valuable read. It was very dark and depressing and I read two lighter novels at the same time for balance.


The Last Anniversary
by Laine Moriarty

I loved Big Little Lies and enjoyed The Husband's Secret so when I couldn't sleep and was selecting an ebook to read in bed, The Last Anniversary jumped out at me. Sophie is surprised to inherit a house from her ex-boyfriend's aunt on Scribbly Gum Island. She's loved the island since she was a little girl and has always been fascinated by the unsolved Munro Baby Mystery. As Sophie moves onto the island, feelings are stirred up among the few residents and the truth will be discovered.

Written in the same easy and comfortable style as Moriarty's other novels, I read it quickly. It's cute and clever and witty. I enjoyed it though not as much as her other novels.


Peter Pan at Utah Children's Theatre - Review

Last Saturday, my family enjoyed the wonderful and fun production of Peter Pan at Utah Children's Theatre. Once again, we were thoroughly entertained and delighted by the classic story and the fun characters. The actors were so charming and/or wicked that we couldn't get enough.

I especially enjoyed Hook and Smee. Another very young member of the audience was so entranced by Hook that he warned him that Peter Pan was sneaking up on him. I loved how engaged the children in the audience were with the story.

I loved the children actors. Peter Pan and Wendy were both delightful and the lost boys were really darling. My kids enjoy recognizing some of their favorite actors from past shows. It makes me happy to see how much they are learning to love theatre and a higher order of entertainment.

The production was magical and endearing and fun, just like I expect Peter Pan to be. My kids loved it and even Thomas who is the world's toughest ten-year-old critic, enjoyed the show.

It's so cold outside, take your family inside for some quality entertainment. Don't miss Peter Pan at Utah Children's Theatre this season.

**We received complimentary tickets to Peter Pan. These are my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Monday, December 28, 2015

OurFamilyChef - Review

We all know how important it is to sit down with your family in the evening for family dinner. We've read the studies and heard the advice for years. And we believe it. We want it. We really do.

But it's hard. For a myriad of reasons, sometimes getting dinner to the table and getting the family around it at the end of the day is just really, really hard.

But we want that Chicken Marsala with mashed potatoes and green beans and we want to eat it too.

Let OurFamilyChef saves your family dinner. Three times a week, OurFamilyChef will deliver the prepared ingredients and directions for perfectly delicious meals that take a minimal time to cook and serve your family. For the week before Christmas, my family tried this service and here's how it went.

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday we received a bag of food. Each bag contained the ingredients for the meal already measured out and prepped. The chicken was already tenderized. The vegetables were fresh. You know when you watch those cooking shows on television and the foods are already measured out and chopped and ready in the little bowls and all the celebrity chef has to do is throw it in the pan? My dream. That dream is absolutely possible with OurFamilyChef. The meals took about 30 minutes to prepare and cook. The directions were so easy that I had my kids help and Rand made the dinner one evening when I was especially busy.

My kids enjoyed each meal. I despise broccoli but I tried the broccoli soup and I loved it. The Mongolian Beef was one of the best versions I've ever had of one of my favorite Asian dishes. I don't like working with raw chicken, but since it was already prepped and I just had to stick it in the pan, it wasn't bad and the results were delicious. I was impressed by the variety of the meals during the week.

Because the meals are proportioned for your individual family, there is less food waste and we rarely threw anything away or had leftovers. The meals are also balanced meals and it was nice to know my kids were getting healthy meals.

While I enjoy cooking, I often struggle with coming up with meal plans every week and I despise grocery shopping. Since, the meals were nearly restaurant quality for a fraction of the price, having OurFamilyChef deliver food to cook at home is actually more economical than going out to eat. Having OurFamilyChef introduce new ideas into our family dinner was so refreshing and spiced up our family dinners. The kids were excited to come to the table and try the new food.

Chicken Bellagio

Broccoli Cheese Bread Bowls & Wedge Salad

kid sized portion of Mongolian Beef
kid sized portion of Chicken Marsala with Creamy Mashed Potatoes

As a family, we loved the meals from OurFamilyChef. As the mom, I was thrilled to have some of the pressure of preparing dinner taken off my shoulders. Wednesday is our craziest night. The kids start running to their activities at six so we have less time to eat. Because we were able to make the OurFamilyChef dinner so quick we were still able to sit down as a family to eat before we had to run out the door. I was much less stressed and therefore a much happier mother. We actually enjoyed sitting down to dinner together, which is probably what the experts had in mind.

OurFamilyChef's website has recently been updated with a FAQ sheet that can answer all your questions. They currently deliver to all of Utah County and South Salt Lake County.

Follow OurFamilyChef :

Twitter               Facebook             Instagram

**I received a week's worth of meals from OurFamilyChef. These are my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Winner of CanvasPop Give-away

The winner of the CanvasPop Give-away is...

Yvie Field

Please contact me before January 1, 2016 to claim your prize.
If I haven't heard from you by then, a new winner will be chosen.

Thanks for entering.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

CanvasPop Give-away!!!

I don't even want to admit to how long it's been since we took a true "hang-it-on-the-wall" family picture. Let's just say that at the time we took our last picture, two of my kids weren't in school yet. This fall I was determined to take a family picture. My sister took a picture of us while we were together in Star Valley but my kids were wearing hoodies and it just didn't satisfy me.

I stressed about what we'd wear and where we would go and who would take the picture. And then the weather got cold or it was windy. So we procrastinated some more.

Last week we finally had a day that was fairly mild temperatures so as soon as the kids got home from school, I announced that we were taking family pictures. I pulled clothes out of their closets and combed their hair. I grabbed my camera and the tripod and we headed out into the "boonies" that is our view from our bedroom window.

I read the camera manual on how to operate the timer function on the drive. We set up the camera and the shot and I ran to squeeze in between the kids. We took seven shots and we were completely satisfied with one.

As soon as I got home, I sent a file for our favorite shot to CanvasPop to print. I've been admiring the canvas printed family pictures and I was anxious to finally get a canvas print of our family. At the same time I added the picture to a pre-designed greeting card from Costco and ordered them.

I picked up my cards from Costco last week and I was disappointed. The colors of the picture seemed dull and a little blurry. I was really worried about my print from CanvasPop.

The canvas arrived yesterday and I couldn't have been more pleased. The colors are vibrant and the picture is crisp. It's really just very, very beautiful--so pretty that it made me want to cry. 

We still need to figure out just where to hang it on the wall and whether or not to hang it by itself or in a gallery wall of photos. But that will come.  In the meantime, Rand stuck it on the wall so we can admire it. I really do adore it.

CanvasPop offers a quality product and turns your pictures into art. Whether you took the picture with an expensive DSLR or your iPhone, CanvasPop can do wonders. They have a "Love it for Life" guarantee. No matter what. With wonderful service and high quality, CanvasPop can turn your picture into a priceless heirloom. They have a wide variety of sizes and options. I'm already scheming and dreaming up a gallery wall.

For the next two months, you can save 35% off your order at CanvasPop with the code : UTAHMOM35 -- This might just be the perfect Christmas gift for just about anyone on your list. 

And right now CanvasPop is giving away a 16x20 inch canvas to one lucky reader. 

To enter leave a comment on this post. The contest will be open to entries until Tuesday, December 22nd 11:59pm MST. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Wednesday, December 23rd. Contest is open to US residents only.

**I received a complimentary 16x20 canvas from CanvasPop. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own. I really, really do love it!**

Sweets & Treats with Six Sisters's Stuff - Book Review

I'm right in the middle of Christmas shopping. I know! I know! I totally procrastinated this year. But I'm willing to bet that I am not the only one. I happen to have an awesome gift idea for your favorite foodie. Sweets & Treats with Six Sisters' Stuff is an absolutely gorgeous cook book.

I've been a fan of the Six Sisters' Stuff blog for years. Their recipes have never failed me. So, when I saw their newest cookbook I was instantly a fan. With stunning photography for every recipe (I pretty much never make a recipe unless I see a picture of it first) and easy to follow instructions, I was able to recreate the delicious treats.

My kids came home from school the day the cookbook arrived and immediately started looking through it. They were practically drooling. Each of the kids marked their favorite recipes and even now there are little bookmarks scattered throughout it.

The cookbook includes recipes for all seasons and is divided into sections to make finding the perfect dessert easy as pie. I love that they even included a section with recipes for kids to make too. Most of the recipes involve typical ingredients that aren't hard to find or overly expensive. You probably already have most of it in your pantry already. I love that because so often when the desire to bake hits me it is not accompanied by a desire to also run to the grocery store.

Honestly, just looking at this cookbook makes me smile. Add this beautiful cookbook to your shopping list this Christmas season and get one for yourself too.

Sweets & Treats with Six Sisters' Stuff is published by Shadow Mountain and released in September 2015.

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

Friday, December 4, 2015

Salt Lake Acting Company - Art Dog - Ticket Give-away

Tonight is the opening night of ART DOG at the Salt Lake Acting Company. Last year my family was thrilled to attend their production of FROG AND TOAD. We loved the show and the Company did a wonderful job of making the kids feel welcome and entertained. You can read more about that show *here*. 
SLAC welcomes its youngest audiences to ART DOG adapted for the stage by John Olive, composed by Susan Ennis, and based on the book by Thacher Hurd. By day, Arthur Dog is a mild-mannered museum guard; by night, he is Art Dog – a mysterious artist who makes the city his canvas. However, when Leonardo Dog Vinci's Mona Woofa goes missing from the Dogopolis Museum of Art, Art Dog is a prime suspect.
ART DOG plays through the month of December and I have four tickets to the show on December 11th available for a give-away. To enter leave a comment on this post. The contest will be open through Monday, December 7, 2015 at 11:59pm MST. The winner will be announced on Tuesday, December 8th.

Also save $3 off your tickets when you use the code UTAHMOMSLIFE
Find out more and see the schedule at the Salt Lake Acting Company.
                                                               Website             Facebook             

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Penguin Lessons - Book Review

Tom Michell was a young Englishman teaching at a boys school in Argentina. While on a quick vacation in Uruguay, Tom discovers a live penguin in the midst of the hundreds of oil-covered deceased penguins washed up on the beach. Unable to walk away from the struggling penguin, Tom rescues him.

In the delightful The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell, he recounts his story with the lovable penguin and life at the boarding school. Named Juan Salvador, the penguin becomes a sort of mascot for the boys at the school. The story is endearing and thoughtful.

I read the first few chapters of Tom's initial encounter with the penguin and his attempts to clean and rescue him from the deadly oil, aloud to my family while on a road trip. The kids were completely enamored by hearing about the adventures of Tom and the penguin. Though I read the rest of the book by myself in an evening, I think my kids would enjoy the rest of the book. It's a fun book for the entire family.

Every now and then, it's just nice to read a nice story. The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell is a story to share with your kids and your parents and your grandparents. It's funny and tender and hopeful. I kind of want a pet penguin now. The heartwarming story combined with the whimsical cover, makes The Penguin Lessons a great stocking stuffer this season too.

The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell is published by Ballantine Books and released in October 2015.

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

All of Us and Everything - Book Review

Esme, Liv and Ru never knew their father. Their mother told them that he was a spy, but the girls didn't really believe her. After their eccentric childhood, the dramas and choices led them in different directions.  Now fate has brought the sisters back to their childhood home and the fury of Hurricane Sandy has unearthed the secrets that their mother has been keeping from them their entire lives. In All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher, the sisters and their mother will discover whether or not it is too late to try to salvage their familial relationships.

I had a hard time getting into All of Us and Everything. There were a lot of different characters and the novel switches point of view rather abruptly so I initially struggled to make sense of the characters. However, once I got to know the characters and could tell them apart, the story took over and I quickly got swept up in the craziness and antics of the Rockwell family. I read the last two thirds of the novel in an evening that definitely pushed into my sleeping time.

However, the characters still felt two dimensional and lacked chemistry in their interactions with each other. Their relationships remain superficial and the conclusion is rather abrupt. It ended up being a quick read for me and at moments it was fun but overall I was underwhelmed. All of Us and Everything is definitely a forgettable novel for  me.

All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher is published by Bantam on November 24, 2015.

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Curious Beginning - Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Carrying Albert Home - Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Winners of Along the Infinite Sea Give-away

Congratulations to

Kimberly V



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

Friday, November 6, 2015

Read the Book First - Books to Movies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Along the Infinite Sea - Book Review & Give-away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Safe Splash Swim School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Safe Splash Swim School Utah :
Instagram        Facebook        Twitter

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

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Admissions - Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Hours Count - Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Last September - Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Gordmans - 100th Year Celebration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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