Friday, January 30, 2015

Foxy's Premium Frozen Yogurt

I get a lot of packages delivered to my house but it is pretty rare to get one that warns me to use gloves because dry ice burns and to put the contents immediately into the freezer. 

I was so excited that I completely ignored the advice and while I didn't touch the dry ice, I did get burned from the cold containers of frozen yogurt inside. I hardly cared. I couldn't wait to dig right into those beautiful containers of frozen deliciousness.

I have a thing for frozen treats--ice cream, sorbet, and frozen yogurt are my downfall. I can't resist. So it's pretty exciting that Foxy's Premium Frozen Yogurt is as guilt-free as it is delicious. With six delectable flavors packaged in individual containers (or enough for two) that are just so cute and witty, it wasn't hard to find a flavor that I especially loved.

After a little taste-testing party friends and my kids, each had their own favorite flavors. Amberly loves the Sassy Pash (so appropriate), a blend of vanilla bean and strawberry hunks. I fell for head over heels in love with the combination of tingly and rich flavors in Fancy Pash, dark chocolate and tangerine zest. Though the Naughty Pash, honeycomb and caramel chunks was a close second place.

Once I let the kids loose, the frozen yogurt was devoured in seconds. Made with fresh ingredients and with significantly less calories and fat content than most frozen yogurt and ice cream treats, I didn't have to feel so worried that my kids practically licked the containers clean.

In Utah, Foxy's Premium Frozen Yogurt in all the amazing flavors can now be purchased at Harmon's Groceries. 

**I received complimentary frozen yogurt in exchange for my review. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League - Book Review

I fell in love with The Healing by Jonathan Odell a few years ago. You can read my review *here*. I enjoyed it so much that I almost immediately ordered a copy of Odell's first book The View From Delphi and then I didn't get around to reading it. Fortunately, I was able to read the new rendering of his previous novel, Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League.

Miss Hazel and her husband Floyd arrive in Delphi, Mississippi newly married and determined to make their fortune. At least Floyd is determined. Until Floyd brings home a new Lincoln for his wife, Hazel feels like she's just along for the ride. Finding a bit freedom and peace, Hazel dresses up; packs her two young boys in the back seat and becomes famous for driving through town and all over the delta.

Hazel has trouble fitting in with the well bred ladies in town who see her as tacky nouveau riche and suffers from depression. After the death of her son, she drowns her sorrows in alcohol and soon finds herself nearly a prisoner in her own home when Floyd hires Vida to be her maid and make sure she takes her medicine. Vida, a young black woman, has also lost a son and harbors a deep vendetta against the crooked sheriff. The two women form an unlikely alliance as they stir things up in the already the troubled racial climate of Delphi.

Odell's characters come to life within the pages of his novel. Hazel and Vida are troubled, complex women who experience dynamic growth and react in believable ways to the sorrows and devastation in their lives. Every person feels real and not simply type cast supporting characters. They are richly developed and all their lives blend together to create the drama, tension and history familiar to those from a small town.

The pages of Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League are filled with beautiful images and hauntingly lyrical words. Odell is a master of writing and of  understanding human temperament and desires. He excels at telling inspiring stories that captivate the reader with a myriad of powerful emotions.

Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League is a beautiful and important novel. If it's possible, I may have loved it even more than I loved The Healing.

Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell is published by Maiden Lane Press and released in January 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

One Step Too Far - Book Review

From the cover :

The #1 international bestseller reminiscent of After I’m Gone, Sister, Before I Go to Sleep, and The Silent Wife—an intricately plotted, thoroughly addictive thriller that introduces a major new voice in suspense fiction—a mesmerizing and powerful novel that will keep you guessing to the very end.
No one has ever guessed Emily’s secret.
Will you?
A happy marriage. A beautiful family. A lovely home. So what makes Emily Coleman get up one morning and walk right out of her life—to start again as someone new?
Now, Emily has become Cat, working at a hip advertising agency in London and living on the edge with her inseparable new friend, Angel. Cat’s buried any trace of her old self so well, no one knows how to find her. But she can't bury the past—or her own memories.
And soon, she’ll have to face the truth of what she's done—a shocking revelation that may push her one step too far. . . .

My thoughts : 

I was immediately intrigued by Emily's story in One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis. What could she have done to make her walk away from the husband and child that she clearly loved? Even though the beginning felt bogged down in pointless dribble--the reader really doesn't need pages of text describing shopping at IKEA--I pressed on, determined to understand Emily's motivations. Eventually I was quite taken with Emily's transformation into the edgy Cat and finally got back into a reading groove that I've been missing lately. 

The writing style is pretty simple but Tina Seskis builds emotion and suspense with alternating chapters between the past and Emily's new present as Cat. The suspense multiplies and just as all Emily's secrets are about to be revealed, I put the book down to savor the tension. However, the next morning I was completely deflated by the ending. In light of the conclusion, so many of the alternating chapters regarding supporting characters were entertaining yet unnecessary and didn't support the plot at all. 

While I found the revelations anti-climatic and the writing sophomoric, I was constantly compelled to discover Emily's secrets and I enjoyed reading the novel.

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis is published by William Morrow and released on January 27, 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of One Step Too Far. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The winner of THE MAGICIAN'S LIE

Good morning. My house seemed colder than usual this morning when we woke up. When I checked the thermostat the temperature was 51 degrees and someone had switched off the furnace. No one here is owning up to turning it off and our only guess is that Neal flipped the switch before leaving for his scout camp. Perhaps he figured that we should all be as cold as he would be. Thankfully, the furnace is working and the house is heating up nicely.

Until it gets warmer though, I'm staying wrapped up in my robe and under the covers with a great book.

One lucky winner has just won a copy of a fabulous and exciting book to cuddle up with this winter. And the winner of an ARC copy of The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister is...

Blogger budandlissa said...
Sounds like a fantastic read! I hope I get the chance!

Congratulations! You have one week to contact me with your information so that you can receive your prize. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Dress Shop of Dreams - Book Review

If I saw this book on the shelf at the store, I would pass it right by. Based on the whimsical cover, I would have decided that this book definitely wasn't for me and moved along. Just not my cup of cocoa. However, since The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag is a She Reads selection this winter and I almost always like their choices, I decided to give it a chance. I had just finished The Magician's Lie and was in the mood for a little more magic.

Scientist Cora Sparks has carefully guarded and controlled her emotions since the traumatic death of her parents in a house fire. Her grandmother Etta is concerned that Cora is missing out on the love of her life by refusing to look beyond her research and see Walt, the handsome bookseller who has loved her since his childhood. Fortunately, Etta is armed with magic and with a few careful stitches in the beautiful dresses she creates and sells, she can help her customers and granddaughter see their potential.

It took me three days to read the first 70 pages. I was having a lot of trouble getting into the story and was distracted by every little thing. This is pretty unusual for me and I was just about to toss it aside when something (magically?) clicked. I devoured the last two thirds of the book in an evening.

The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag has a lot of characters with a lot of angst and love-sickness and drama going on in their lives. While Cora starts to feel again and open her heart to Walt, she also begins investigating her parents' deaths. Walt, believing that Cora will never return his love, tries desperately to fall in love with Milly, a young widow who is enraptured by Walt's voice and his love letters. Etta, too, is haunted by the love she gave up years ago.

A love letter to romantic classics, The Dress Shop of Dreams is filled with magic and enchantment and love.

It's a fairy tale of sorts, where all the characters' stories are woven together and wrap up with happy endings. It's fanciful, airy, and frankly, reminds me more of a perfect summer evening than a book for winter. But really The Dress Shop of Dreams would be enjoyable any time of year.

The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag is published by Ballantine and released in December 2014. It is one of the winter selections from She Reads.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Dress Shop of Dreams from She Reads. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Magician's Lie - Book Review & Give-away

Virgil Holt, a young police officer in a small Iowa town, is completely mesmerized by the woman magician using an ax to hack through the coffin-box holding a man and drenching the stage with blood. It's impossible for Holt to look away from the Amazing Arden. Only hours later, Holt arrives on the scene to see evidence that the magician's husband has been murdered and his body shoved in the same box she had used earlier for her trick. Arden is the number one suspect.

It is only by chance that Holt is able to capture Arden and he holds her prisoner in the small jail until he can turn her over to the other authorities. Arden has only the night to tell her story and convince Holt that she is innocent of the murder of her husband.

With magic and illusion, The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister captured my attention from the first page. 

Arden is a fascinating character who is adept at survival and self-promotion. Her story is compelling and filled with danger, intrigue, passion and love. Carefully plotted, Arden's story is beguiling and like Holt, the reader is never sure what to believe and what not to believe.

Because I was fully in love with the world created in The Magician's Lie, I was sad to see it end. With that love, I would have liked better development of some of the supporting characters. Because of the narrative style, Arden is telling her story to Holt. I would have loved to be more immersed in her world and the people she associated with on the circuit.

Macallister is at her best writing about the gruesome fire that destroyed the Iroquois Theater in Chicago. Arming herself with history, Macallister uses this as a critical point in Arden's story while bringing the reader right into the horrifying disaster. Placing historical figures at moments in Arden's life, including the relationship between Arden and the very real female magician Adelaide Herrmann also gives the story strength and credibility. The historical time period works perfectly for Adren's tale.

I was entranced by The Magician's Lie. It is beautiful, thrilling, dangerous and compelling. Talented and gifted, the Amazing Arden has a magic that is equally enthralling and horrible. It was hard to put it down and I wanted almost immediately to read it again.

The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister is one of the SheReads selections this winter. It is published by Source Books Landmark in January 2015. 

**I received a complimentary copy of The Magician's Lie. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Not sure how it happened, but I actually received two copies of The Magician's Lie. I'm giving the second ARC copy of the novel away to one lucky winner.

Please leave a comment on this blog post. The contest will be opened to entries until Friday, January 23rd at 11:59 MST. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Saturday, January 24th. Open in US only.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Belong to Me - Book Review

Cornelia Brown has just moved to the suburbs and been instantly snubbed by her neighbor Piper. Piper is the Queen Bee of the neighborhood. She's judgmental, sharp and apparently has it all together. Immediately at odds, Cornelia has found a nemesis before she's made a friend. But after a chance encounter with Lake at the grocery store, Cornelia is sure she's found the perfect friend. She and Lake have a lot in common and hit it off but she's not fully comfortable when it becomes clear that Lake isn't being fully honest with her.

Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos is a novel about interactions and relationships. Full of flawed characters who make mistakes and keep secrets and serve a friend and comfort each other. The characters are so real that they could be people in your own neighborhood.

I was drawn to the author's style. Cornelia's tangential and self-aware voice is refreshing. She's witty and doesn't take herself too seriously. Just when you think she's impervious, she becomes entirely human and collapsible. I greatly admired her character and wished I could have been more like her when I had my own meeting with a woman I hoped would be a friend and definitely wasn't.

The story is told from the perspective of Cornelia, her nemesis Piper and Lake's thirteen year old son Dev. I instantly liked Cornelia (I am familiar with her from de los Santos's novel Love Walked In). Piper is a character that I had to grow to love but I was constantly amused by her. Piper becomes a fully fleshed-out human being. She feels real to me--imperfect, judgmental and at the same time selfless and loving.

Overall, I adored this novel. I felt empathy for the characters. There is a revelation in the novel that initially worried me that the entire book would be ruined but it came together and after rereading some earlier sections, I appreciated how the situation was handled.

There is a lot of swearing in the novel which definitely turned off several members of the book club.

Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos was published by William Morrow in 2008. Copies of the book were provided to our book club through the Book Club Girl Blog.

House Broken - Book Review

From the cover :

In this compelling and poignant debut novel, a woman skilled at caring for animals must learn to mend the broken relationships in her family.…
For veterinarian Geneva Novak, animals can be easier to understand than people. They’re also easier to forgive. But when her mother, Helen, is injured in a vodka-fueled accident, it’s up to Geneva to give her the care she needs.
Since her teens, Geneva has kept her self-destructive mother at arm’s length. Now, with two slippery teenagers of her own at home, the last thing she wants is to add Helen to the mix. But Geneva’s husband convinces her that letting Helen live with them could be her golden chance to repair their relationship.
Geneva isn’t expecting her mother to change anytime soon, but she may finally get answers to the questions she’s been asking for so long. As the truth about her family unfolds, however, Geneva may find secrets too painful to bear and too terrible to forgive.

My thoughts :

House Broken by Sonja Yoerg is so simply and gorgeously written that it was an absolute pleasure to cuddle up and enjoy on a cold and rainy (in January!) day. With characters who are flawed and in some cases just struggling to get through each day, the story is wrapped up in their attempts to mend broken family relationships. 

While House Broken deals with family secrets, it is less a mystery and more a tale of redemption, forgiveness and love. The story is told though three characters, Geneva, her mother Helen and her daughter Ella. Each character knows her own truth. Seeing the story through the perspective of all three characters allows for empathy and understanding. 

House Broken by Sonja Yoerg is lovely, heartbreaking and joyful. Family relationships are not reconciled in an instant, yet with a bit of understanding and a change of heart, healing can begin. Sharing this truth, House Broken is powerful and compelling.

House Broken by Sonja Yoerg is published by NAL Trade and released on January 6, 2015.

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

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

After the War is Over - Book Review

From the cover :

The International bestselling author of Somewhere in France returns with her sweeping second novel—a tale of class, love, and freedom—in which a young woman must find her place in a world forever changed.
After four years as a military nurse, Charlotte Brown is ready to leave behind the devastation of the Great War. The daughter of a vicar, she has always been determined to dedicate her life to helping others. Moving to busy Liverpool, she throws herself into her work with those most in need, only tearing herself away for the lively dinners she enjoys with the women at her boarding house.
Just as Charlotte begins to settle into her new circumstances, two messages arrive that will change her life. One, from a radical young newspaper editor, offers her a chance to speak out for those who cannot. The other pulls her back to her past, and to a man she has tried, and failed, to forget.
Edward Neville-Ashford, her former employer and the brother of Charlotte’s dearest friend, is now the new Earl of Cumberland—and a shadow of the man he once was. Yet under his battle wounds and haunted eyes Charlotte sees glimpses of the charming boy who long ago claimed her foolish heart. She wants to help him, but dare she risk her future for a man who can never be hers?
As Britain seethes with unrest and post-war euphoria flattens into bitter disappointment, Charlotte must confront long-held insecurities to find her true voice . . . and the courage to decide if the life she has created is the one she truly wants.

My thoughts :

I did not read Robson's first novel Somewhere in France. While After the War is Over could be seen as a sequel to the first novel, it can stand alone as it focuses more on different characters and gives plenty of the back story. Robson's style reminded me quite a bit of Jacqueline Winspear's early Maisie Dobbs novels, just lacking the mystery. 

After the War is Over starts out strong and I read the first 100 pages in an evening. I enjoyed the atmosphere and the history of the period following World War I. But then the novel starts to get bogged down with back story and slow down significantly. Charlotte Brown is just too perfect and a little dull. Her relationships with Lord Ashford and the newspaper editor show promise and I kept reading hoping for a glimmer of chemistry. The ending wraps up so conveniently and nicely that all the previous drama and conflict suddenly seem overblown.

After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson does a good job of showing the pain and suffering and struggle to recover in Great Britain following World War I. I'm always moved by the stories of people from this era and my heart always breaks knowing that these people will eventually face another horrendous war. The nice character and feel-good ending leave After the War is Over feeling like a good comfort read, though it might just put you to sleep.

After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson is published by William Morrow and releases on January 6, 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of After the War is Over. No additional compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Bishop's Wife - Book Review

Linda Wallheim is a homemaker; a mother of five mostly grown sons; and the wife of the Bishop of an LDS ward. When a neighbor and member of the ward, Carrie Helm, suddenly leaves her husband and young daughter, Linda suspects foul play. Under the guise of the caring neighbor, Linda begins snooping around hoping to find the truth about her missing neighbor. At the same time, Tobias, another neighbor and ward member, is dying. Linda serves his grieving wife but there is something suspicious about the dying man. Now seeing herself as an amateur sleuth, Linda hopes to find evidence about just what happened to Tobias's first wife.

Set in Draper, Utah ("Mormon Country"), The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison intends to shed light on the church, it's customs and uniqueness while introducing a busybody character with an insatiable desire for digging up other people's skeletons.

I've waited for a few days after reading The Bishop's Wife to try to write a careful review of my thoughts. A review is only that--how I felt personally about the book. Reading about my own religion, even in a work of fiction, adds a complicated element. In the case of The Bishop's Wife, it's like looking at your religion through a microscope lens that is also distorted by the opinions of the author. While Harrison is a member of the church, it is clear that she and I have very different opinions and beliefs regarding a number of church doctrines.

I actually appreciated Linda as a main character (not sure I'd want her as a neighbor). A bishop's wife is not privy to all the information that her husband knows; so much is shared with the bishop in confidentiality. Yet, because of the close proximity in which she lives with the bishop, she is often aware of pieces of information. As a bishop's wife it would be hard not to try to put the clues together and fill in the gaps. Harrison's bishop's wife takes that a gigantic leap further and becomes an amateur detective--going through her neighbors' basements and sheds looking for clues. Seeing the mysteries unfold from this rather incompetent detective, allows the reader to enjoy the plot twists as Linda often gets it wrong. I really liked this aspect of the novel.

The mystery involving Carrie Helm was intriguing. There are several possible suspects and readers will probably recognize the similarity to the disappearance of Susan Cox Powell. The secrets being kept by Tobias about the death of his first wife are a bit far fetched--at the very least, the ultimate explanation is peppered with holes. The dramatic conclusion is hard to swallow and Harrison takes some liberties with reality.

The novel is definitely anti-misogynistic but strays awfully close to being anti-man. Most of the men are downright awful. The bishop is portrayed as a pretty decent guy. He appreciates his wife's opinions and frequently acts on her advice. He only slightly attempts to reign in his wife's nosiness, mostly when concerned for her safety. Yet, after a horrible discovery involving her neighbors, Linda has the following reaction: "Kurt tried to hold me, but I batted him away. This was his fault somehow. He was a man, a surrogate for Jared and Alex Helm, for Tobias Torstensen. I wanted to scratch his eyes out, and kick him in the balls again and again" (pg 209-210). Would she have a similar reaction if she had just read in the paper of a mother drowning her children in a bathtub? Would Linda have blamed all women for the atrocity?

I have no issue with some members of the church being portrayed as villains. We see the big cases in the news and we don't know what truly goes on behind the closed doors of our neighbors. Members are human and imperfect and sometimes really bad. However, most members of the church--the vast majority, I dare say--are trying really hard to live good lives; do not abuse their wives and daughters and genuinely love their neighbors.

The mystery surrounding the disappearance of Carrie Helm was intriguing and if it hadn't been so interrupted by the obvious agenda and a desire to include all the curiosities of the religion, The Bishop's Wife would have been rather entertaining.

The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrision is published by SOHO Crime and released on December 30, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Bishop's Wife. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**