Friday, December 9, 2016

Luminaria at Thanksgiving Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Ramblers - Book Review

The Ramblers follows three college friends--roommates Clio and Smith and their friend Tate, years after graduation as they are still trying and fumbling to make their way through life in New York City. Clio is an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History. She's grieving the loss of her mother and dating a fascinating older man. Is she ready to commit? Smith is still mourning the demise of her engagement to the man of her dreams and now has to prepare for her younger sister's wedding. Tate stumbles back into their lives after his marriage to his college sweetheart dissolves in infidelity and divorce.

I missed The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley last year so I was thrilled to get a copy of it's paperback release this fall. I heard many good things about it even though the subject didn't seem to be my thing. Initially, I wasn't sure how I felt about these floundering characters but it wasn't long before they wormed their way into my heart with their vulnerability and sensitivity. Rowley gets right to their aching breaking hearts and explores where they have halted in their progression towards adulthood, their dreams and feeling confident with their choices. They each have their own internal demons to face and occasionally, they're even really annoying. I rather enjoyed reading this character-driven novel last week while I nursed a head cold and hid from the world.

The writing is lovely and at times powerful. I like that the novel is divided into parts and each part is from the perspective of a single character rather than just focusing on one or shifting perspective too frequently. It allowed for more introspection into each character. There's quite a bit of swearing from some of the characters and the occasional sexts are distracting from the plot and the emotions going on between the people.

The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley is a novel that insists that you stay up late reading because the characters are so entrancing in their personal crises that I just couldn't put it down. If you missed this novel earlier, be sure to pick up this captivating paperback.

The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley is published by William Morrow and the paperback released in October 2016.

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

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Winter Sky - Book Review

A young man has spent World War II as a resistance fighter with the "Devil's Rebels" in Poland. Now, a brain injury has left him with amnesia and alone in a small mostly destroyed village caught between two enemies--the advancing Russian army and the retreating German army. The Germans are still seeking to punish the rebels who fought so fiercely against their army. The only possession he has is a torn photograph and the hope offered by a young mysterious woman.

I read Chris Stewart's spare novel Winter Sky in a single afternoon. It's a beautiful story of faith and promise even in the ugly conclusion of an ugly war. The young man's journey is fraught with peril and those around him, would-be helpers and traitors, are not unaffected by hate, love and sacrifice that come in his wake. The writing captures the intensity of emotion as the reader roots for the sympathetic young man. There are twists and turns and surprises within this inspiring and poignant story.

I love brevity, but in this particular case, Winter Sky would have been better served with more time to get to know the characters. I didn't have time to care deeply enough about the young man and the others he meets, so that the gripping ending isn't as heartrending as it could have been.

Ultimately, Stewart is successful at telling a dark story of war without getting oppressively desolate. It's meaningful and hopeful and encouraging even in the midst of hate and carnage of war. Winter Sky is a powerful story that I won't soon forget. 

Winter Sky by Christ Stewart was published by Shadow Mountain and released in September 2016.

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Victoria - Book Review

Victoria is just eighteen years old when her uncle king dies and leaves her the throne of England. She's young, naive and sheltered but with the guidance of her Prime Minister Melbourne and her headstrong determination, Queen Victoria will lead on her own. She will stumble and fall but pick herself up to become one of the most revered leaders of her kingdom's history.

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin is a fictionalized account, drawing on research and Victoria's own diaries, to bring the young monarch to life. The strength lies primarily in the characterization. Goodwin allows the reader's to see the insecurity and deeper feelings of the characters. They become real people placed in grand situations. There is intrigue and danger but it is an undercurrent to the main story of Victoria's rise. The novel is very chaste. Anyone looking for a Philippa Gregory telling will be disappointed.

I am overly fascinated by stories of the British crown. I like the books, the movies and the television series. I enjoyed Victoria by Daisy Goodwin. I am looking forward to the series that Goodwin has created for television. It will be a Masterpiece Presentation on PBS starting in January 2017. I will be watching it.

I did have a few issues with the novel. First, it focused mainly on Victoria being young, foolish and occasionally vindictive. We only briefly see glimpses of the strong and capable leader she will become. Second, the novel ends just as the new blossoming relationship between Victoria and Albert begins. This relationship is entirely secondary in the novel and I would have liked to see their future explored more.

I was entertained by the novel and when I was finished was left wanting to know more about Victoria. It ended so abruptly that I wondered if there were plans for additional volumes. Certainly, Queen Victoria did more worth writing about than pine after Prime Minister Melbourne. Victoria by Daisy Goodwin is not perfect but it is enchanting and a new look at the young queen.

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin is published by St. Martin's Press and released on November 22, 2016.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Fractured - Book Review

After writing a best selling novel, Julie Prentice becomes the victim of stalking. Scared to death and wanting to find a peaceful place, Julie and her family move across the country to Cincinnati with the hopes of starting over. Their new house is in an adorable neighborhood filled with families who regularly get together at neighborhood parties and barbecues. But as hard as she tries, Julie is just not fitting in. She seems to get off on the wrong foot with everyone she meets. With the exception of John Dunbar from across the street. They make a connection the first time they meet and quickly become friends. Unfortunately, after several scary incidents, Julie is afraid that her stalker has discovered where she lives or someone in her new neighborhood has started to harass her. Either scenario, has Julie and her family frightened.

Fractured by Catherine McKenzie is compelling. She keeps the tension high and the plot moving along at a pace that I'd read a hundred pages before I even realizing it.  McKenzie accurately portrays the variety of personalities in a close-knit neighborhood and how if the self-proclaimed leader chooses not to accept you it can be nearly impossible to change the others' minds and ultimately "fit in". There are consequences and reactions even from the smallest choices and the slightest misunderstandings. McKenzie writes a fascinating psychological thriller.

The tension was building and I was anxious to finish Fractured last night. Unfortunately, the ending didn't quite match the level of intensity. It felt forced. McKenzie takes the reader on this incredible and thrilling ride with interesting characters, tension and swirling mystery that falls flat. The picture of the knocked over lawn chair is completely appropriate--the forecasters are predicting a huge destructive storm but we just get a little wind.

I really enjoyed reading Fractured and I hate to dismiss it because I was ultimately disappointed with the ending. McKenzie definitely kept my attention the entire time. The characters were very believable and fully developed. Every situation, every interaction felt uncomfortably real. There are twists and surprises and I suspected nearly every character which is of course what we're looking for in a psychological thriller.

Fractured by Catherine McKenzie is published by Lake Union Publishing and released in October 2016.

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Slow Waltz of Turtles - Book Review

I wasn't aware that The Slow Waltz of Turtles by Katherine Pancol is essentially a sequel to her earlier and popular novel The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles. I didn't read the first novel and while it probably would have been helpful especially in the early chapters, The Slow Waltz of Turtles can stand on it's own. Josephine and her daughters are trying to settle into their new lives after all the drama that I can only assume happens in the first novel. Josephine uses her new wealth from the success of her book to buy an apartment in Paris. Her daughter Hortense is in school in London. Josephine has strong feelings for the exact right person for her and yet she cannot pursue the forbidden relationship. Her sister Iris keeps Josephine entangled in her messy life. Then, people around Josephine are brutally stabbed to death. Josephine must keep it all together while the police start looking into her connection to the deceased.

The Slow Waltz of Turtles by Katherine Pancol is filled with a cast of quirky, fun characters. I honestly wish I had read The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles first because while the plot line can stand alone, I think that much of that early characterization and events would have helped me appreciate their reactions and relationships. Even so, I adored Josephine. She just keeps trudging forward even with all the absolute chaos swirling around her, though she herself creates so little of it and shies away from drama.

There's a lot happening in this novel. So much, that it leaves my head spinning a bit. While the ending is certainly satisfactory, much is left unresolved which I suppose will allow Pancol to possibly revisit her characters in another novel. Which I will read because her style is amusing. Her characters are unforgettable and the mystery was perfectly plotted to build the surprise and suspense without being overly scary. The Slow Waltz of Turtles will make a delightful, cozy read this winter as soon as you read The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles first.

The Slow Waltz of Turtles by Katherine Pancol was published in the US by Penguin and released on November 1, 2016.

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Shores of Tripoli - Book Review

Following the Revolutionary War and in the independence of the United States, the Tripoli is one of the first to recognize the new sovereign nation. They recognize the the bribes paid by the British to protect their ships from the pirates no longer cover the merchant ships from the US. The Barbary Pirates are pillaging the US merchant ships and the newly built-up navy is sent to put an end to it.

Bliven Putnam is a very young man when he enlists and first sees action against the pirates, but his boldness, loyalty and his sharp intelligence impress his commanders and he soon finds himself rising in the ranks. The Shores of Tripoli by James L. Haley brings life to the exciting story of Lieutenant Putnam and his adventures at sea.

The novel covers an absolutely fascinating time period and I enjoyed learning more about the history. Liven Putnam turns out to be a great character to follow. He's young and sees the war as an adventure but is also wise enough to be fearful for his own life. He offers fresh, not yet jaded eyes. He's curious about the North African enemy but also wary. He employs cunning stratagem to win the battles and is frustrated by the backroom politics. Over the years, Putnam matures and earns more commissions and responsibilities.

The writing in The Shores of Tripoli is solid and Haley excels at bringing the at-sea battles to life. There are times during the political discussions and wrangling between officers and ambassadors that it gets a little long winded. Overall, it was thrilling to read about a US Navy war hero on the sea and through the desert. I will definitely pick up the next books in this exciting series.

The Shores of Tripoli : Lieutenant Putnam and the Barbary Pirates by James L. Haley is published by Putnam and released on November 1, 2016.

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

Monday, October 17, 2016

Truly Madly Guilty - Audio Book Review

Six adults and three children gather on a chilly afternoon for an impromptu weekend barbecue. A few months later, these people can't move past what happened at the barbecue and they sincerely wish they hadn't gone at all.

Written in a style that allows perspective from all the major characters, Liane Moriarty's newest novel takes the reader into a study of relationships. Marriages and friendships are not always what they seem. Moriarty builds on the suspense as the story and events of the barbecue are disclosed.

Until now, my experience with audio books has been listening in the car to either biographies or children's books. Truly Madly Guilty is the first novel that I have listened to as an audio book. I turned it on when I was folding laundry or processing photography or driving in the car on my own errands. It took me a couple of months to actually finish the book. I'm sure had I been reading it, I would have finished in a few days. I think taking time actually allowed me to appreciate the cast of characters and the mystery more than if I was reading it.

The narrator, Caroline Lee did an excellent job of distinguishing between the characters. Even though I only listened to short sections at a time, I was able to quickly decipher which character was speaking in each chapter. I loved Lee's voice and started to really look forward to the opportunity to fold laundry.

Though it's not my favorite novel from Moriarty, I really enjoyed Truly Madly Guilty. I appreciated the eccentric cast of characters and the dissection of their relationships with one another. Moriarty excels at the character drama. Though the plot was not as thrilling as other novels, it felt very possible and very life changing. I found Truly Madly Guilty to be believable, thoughtful and thoroughly entertaining.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty was published by Flatiron Books in July 2016.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Fall Reads

Liddy James is a divorce attorney in New York City who is also well known for her divorced parenting books. The woman is classy, powerful and formidable. Liddy's ex-husband's partner Rose is scared and in awe of the woman who "broke her husband's heart". Liddy has it all and she let's nothing stand in her way. Until it does. Rose is on bed-rest with a risky pregnancy. Her teenage son is surly. Her nanny quits. And suddenly, Liddy has to juggle more roles and find her true self, yet again.

The Real Liddy James by Anne-Marie Casey is witty and fun and I enjoy it more than I expected to. I got a kick out of the characters who are flawed and full of inner worries that they desperately try to hide behind their outer shiny, veneer of perfection. It's hard to be a woman and keep up with all the demands and expectation from ourselves and from others. Liddy James does her best to be the woman she has always wanted to be. I enjoyed watching her struggles, her triumphs and her metamorphosis.

The Real Liddy James by Anne-Marie Casey is published by Putnam and released on September 20, 2016.

Clara Lawson is taken from her home by armed men and held in a barren room where is she is questioned repeatedly. As she was being forcibly removed from her husband and daughters, her husband shouted not to tell them anything and Clara is determined to keep her mouth shut. But the longer she is held, Clara begins to think about her past and wonder if anything she knew was the truth.

The Girl Before by Rena Olsen was very compelling and terribly disturbing. It might be one of the most distressing novels I've read in a long while. Though not exactly mysterious, The Girl Before takes the reader inside the mind of a woman who is a victim but not exactly innocent. I couldn't put it down but I read the entire novel with that sick knot in my stomach. It will make you think and make you shudder as Olsen exposes the horrors of human trafficking.

The Girl Before by Rena Olsen is published by Putnam and released on August 9, 2016.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ashes - Book Review

Fans of Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains and Forge have been anxiously and maybe not so patiently waiting for the final installment of The Seeds of America Trilogy. I must confess that I have not read the first two books. I bought them for my children who loved them. With trepidation, I decided to read Ashes without reading the first two. I am almost positive that I would have enjoyed it even more if I was already familiar with Isabel, Curzon and Ruth and their struggles. However, I must say that I loved Ashes and would like to go back and read the earlier novels in the series.

Isabel and Curzon are on a dangerous mission south to find Isabel's younger sister Ruth. Besides, the constant fear of being discovered and sold back into slavery, they find themselves in the midst of the final days of the American Revolution. Unsure of what side to join to maintain their freedom, Isabel and Curzon are faced with heartrending and potentially very dangerous decisions.

Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson is a brilliantly written novel aimed at a middle grade audience. I appreciate that she doesn't talk down to the readers but allows them to see the hypocrisy and danger that faced young African Americans in the early days of our country. I felt that there was a good balance portrayed between the inspired brilliance of the Declaration of the Independence and the fight for freedom as a nation and the duplicity in the personal lives of the Founding Fathers. The writing is beautiful and using vocabulary to push the readers.

The research is good and I loved to be right in the middle of the action as Washington's troops lay siege to Cornwallis at Yorktown. Though just getting to know them, I cared about the characters and their constant plight. They are inspiring in their strength and hopes for a better future. I can't wait to pass Ashes on to my kids to see how they enjoy the final chapter of this lauded trilogy.

Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson is the final book in The Seeds of America Trilogy. It is published by Antheneum and released on October 4, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

News of the World - Book Review

Since the Civil War has ended, Army Captain Kidd has earned his dimes by reading the world's newspapers in small towns all over North Texas. He is offered fifty dollars to deliver a recently rescued girl to her relatives in San Antonio. Johanna has been with the Kiowa tribe since raiders killed her family and kidnapped her when she was just six years old. She's completely forgotten the English language and her birth family and wants desperately to return to the Kiowas who have "raised" her.

Captain Kidd has taken on a load of troubles with his ten year old package and runs into danger along the rugged trail to San Antonio. He is determined to keep the girl safe and return her even if it means losing his own life.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles is a slim adventure tale that completely captivated me by the story and her lovely style. There's never an extra word. Every single word counts. And I love that. The setting of North Texas and the characters are so real that I felt like I was riding along on the rickety carriage.

Witty and wise, Captain Kidd is an entrancing character. I understand he plays a major role in one of Jiles's earlier novels and I am now curious to read her other books. News of the World is a fascinating tale that one reads and is absolutely convinced it must be a real story. I loved it.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles is published by William Morrow and will be released on October 4, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of News of the World. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Sheriffs of Savage Wells - Book Review

Cade O'Brien has already made a name for himself as a lawman, so he figures he should be the obvious choice as sheriff in the quiet and quirky town of Savage Wells. But he didn't count on fierce competition from the pretty and feisty Paisley Bell. She's been acting as sheriff for a few month since the former sheriff became distracted. She knows the town, she knows the people and she knows how to sling a gun.

The Sheriffs of Savage Wells is the newest Proper Romance from Sarah M. Eden and Shadow Mountain. Eden has made a name for herself in the world of sweet romances. She excels at building the romantic tension between her characters and delivering fun and quirky plots. The Sheriffs of Savage Wells follows her typical formula.

There are some times in the middle of a crappy, stressful week when the very best thing is to escape into a fun, quick read. Last week, The Sheriffs of Savage Wells perfectly filled this need. The banter between the characters was clever and snarky. Paisley was ahead of her time as a law woman but some of her arguments are still timely. Paisley is a tough yet vulnerable leading character who is trying to juggle all her roles.

As is typical with most Proper Romances, The Sheriffs of Savage Wells is predictable and sometimes silly but overall it's a fun journey.

The Sheriffs of Savage Wells by Sarah M. Eden was published by Shadow Mountain and released on September 27, 2016.

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Penguin Problems - Book Review

Last Monday was a rough day. It was stressful enough that for the rest of the week, other things took precedence over the normal events and to-do lists. So, I've ignored the stack of books waiting patiently (books are so patient) for me to write reviews about them. But in the midst of the stack was an adorable book that made me giggle. And I really needed to giggle.

Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith was the perfect book this week. It's sarcastic and snarky and all around funny. Man, I wish I just had some penguin problems.

With cute as can be illustrations and clever prose, this little penguin laments his unfortunate and miserable existence. Everything bugs him. Everything is just the worst. He hates the snow. The sun shines too bright in his eyes.

As the book goes on, the little penguin gets a reminder of that even when life gets tough, he still has so much to brighten his day. If he lets it.

Penguin Problems is just what I needed, guys. It gets a 7 thumbs up rating from all the people in my house. And that's pretty serious.

Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith is published by Random House Books for Young Readers and released on September 27, 2016.

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society - Book Review

Aspiring author, Virginia Loftin and the rest of her artistic family have the connections and family name to enjoy entry into the finest homes but they are living in near poverty. When the boy next door breaks Virginia's heart to marry for money, Virginia's brother encourages her to attend meetings of The Fifth Avenue Artists Society to help improve her craft and heal her heart.

In her grief, Virginia finds that writing comes more easily and she pours her emotions into a novel. John Hopper, the host of the Artists Society and her brother's friend, finds promise in her writing and in her. Before long, the handsome and wealthy man has declared his love for her. But not all is as it seems and Virginia's friends and family might be wrapped up in a deeper deception that could ruin them all.

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Callaway begins as a lovely novel about an artistic family. Filled with heartbreak and issues between class and money, this novel set in the Gilded Age immediately captured my attention. The language is romantic and the characters were fun. Though not a regular reader of love stories, I enjoyed the tension between Virginia and John and her childhood friend Charlie. Virginia could be irritating and repetitive at times but I would have been satisfied with this story.

In the later part of the book, it becomes more about the mystery and criminal behaviors. This seemed a strange shift in the plot line. I wasn't thrilled where it was heading but was intrigued. Reading later that the story was based on real people from the author's genealogy actually made me appreciate the ending more.

I really enjoyed The Fifth Avenue Artists Society. It surprised my initial presumptions about the plot line but was a delightfully refreshing story.

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Callaway is published by Harper and released on May 31, 2016. It's also a SheReads Summer Selection.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Fifth Avenue Artists Society through the SheReads program. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Ballroom - Book Review

I fell in love with Anna Hope's debut novel Wake (read my review *here*) so when I saw that she had a new novel coming out this year, I knew immediately that I wanted to read it. Hope just has the most lovely way of writing.

There is a beautiful ballroom in the center of the asylum in the English countryside. Though the men and women patients are generally kept separated, once a week they have a dance and meet in the ballroom. It is in the ballroom that Ella and John foster their forbidden relationship that blossoms through exchanged letters and tender words.

Though convinced that music can help his patients, Dr. Charles Fuller becomes obsessed with the idea of and ethics behind eugenics. In the middle of the intense heatwave of 1911 and in a world of madness, the line of sanity becomes blurred.

Usually books or movies set in asylums have the undertones of horror and fear. While I occasionally enjoy that genre, I was pleased that The Ballroom by Anna Hope focused more on the hopes and dreams of the patients. Instead of being a fantastical thriller, the undertones of evil and ill intent in The Ballroom are realistic and therefore horrifying that some of these ideas and theories still exist.

I love how Hope gets into the heads of her characters, allowing the readers to experience their disillusionment and their realities. They are unique and dynamic and absolutely fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel even as found parts of it very disturbing. Though The Ballroom is set over a hundred years ago, it offers much to think about as we consider how we treat those with mental illness today.

The Ballroom by Anna Hope is published by Random House and released on September 6, 2016.

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

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Shattered Tree - Book Review

The soldier is brought to the nurse's station after he's found clinging to the shattered tree. He's suffering from exposure, loss of blood and his bare feet are in terrible condition after he's walked so far without boots. Bess Crawford, an English nurse, is surprised that the soldier is French but when he awakens suddenly he shouts in German. Bess is intrigued by this enigma.

Needing to recover from her own injuries, Bess is sent to convalesce in Paris where she sees the soldier again. She's determined to find out more about him. Her digging puts her right in the middle of a potentially dangerous mystery.

Set towards the end of World War I, The Shattered Tree uses the intrigue and fighting between the nations to set up this mystery. Was the soldier from Alsace-Lorraine--the border area that was constantly shifting between German and France? Could he be a spy?

Though The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd is part of the Bess Crawford Mysteries, I have not read any of the earlier mysteries. The Shattered Tree is capable of standing alone. There were a few characters that had clearly been previously introduced in earlier novels and so the relationships between them and Bess were not as clear as they might have been if I had already read the others. Other wise, I was able to enjoy this novel without previously reading the others.

In some ways, Bess Crawford reminded me of a spunky Maisie Dobbs. In Bess's case she is able to use her father's connections to get her to help with her digging and discovering of information though she does not do it any official capacity.

The novel is well written and kept my attention. I read it quickly over two days. As with many mysteries, the coincidences are sometimes hard to swallow. There is a large cast of characters and some surprising twists but it felt like it was all over the place. Overall, The Shattered Tree was enjoyable but I'm not going to be rushing out to get the next Bess Crawford mystery.

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd is published by William Morrow and released on August 30, 2016.

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

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Watching Edie - Book Review

When Heather shows up on Edie's doorstep, Edie is not exactly happy to see her high school friend. It's been so many years and she's tried to put all of the dark and painful memories behind her when she moved away. But Edie can feel Heather lurking and watching and waiting.

When Edie sinks into serious postpartum depression after the birth of her baby, she has no one to turn to. But Heather is there. Heather can help her pick up the pieces. Heather will take care of everything.

I was immediately freaked out by the atmosphere of danger and paranoia in Watching Edie by Camilla Way. Way does a fabulous job of building the tension and fear as Heather's obsession with Edie becomes apparent. It's dark and beautiful with surprising twists and turns that kept me constantly on edge.

Watching Edie was the kind of psychological thriller that I really enjoy. I love that I was surprised by the ending but that once I knew it, I could see the truth though the entire plot. It's dark and twisted and raw with human emotion, frailty, and obsession.

There is some foul language and some sexual content.

Watching Edie by Camilla Way is published by New American Library and released on August 2, 2016.

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

Friday, August 26, 2016

With Love From the Inside - Book Review

Grace has been on death row for over 17 years, sentenced for the murder of her baby son William. The new governor has declared a hard line on criminals and the date of her execution has been set. Grace has always maintained her innocence. She didn't murder William. She loved him deeply. Her last wish is to reconnect with her daughter Sophia and let her know just how much Grace has always loved her.

Sophia has tried to put the awful history of her family behind her. After her father died of a heart attack, Sophia left for college and stopped visiting her mother in prison. Now, Sophia is married to a handsome and successful doctor from an upper class family and her story cannot include this tainted history. On the first date, she told him that her parents were dead. But now, her mother's attorney has found her.

With Love From the Inside by Angela Pisel is a tender and emotionally rich novel about the love a mother feels for her child and how that love can sustain someone even in the most horrible of circumstances. This novel looks behind the stereotypes of women in prison and shows Grace as a strong and compassionate woman in spite of a system that is trying to break her. She is nearly powerless and yet she does what she can to maintain her personal goodness. It's so fantastic and different from our typical perceptions, that at times it was hard to believe. After reading the novel, I found myself in an online rabbit hole of reading of the women on death row and their convictions.

The writing in With Love From the Inside is taut and passionate, immediately engaging. The characters were sympathetic and I felt their pain, suffering and the powerful feeling of love that binds them together. For her debut novel, Angela Pisel offers an impressive novel.

With Love From the Inside by Angela Pisel is published by Putnam and released on August 9, 2016.

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Couple Next Door - Book Review

Every day these last few weeks has been exhausting. Getting kids ready to go back to school; cramming in the last summer activities and fighting the heat has left me so ready for bed. The other night I finished reading a book at exactly 12:15 and thought for sure the second I closed my eyes I'd be out cold. But I tossed and turned for an hour. I tried to read an ebook on my phone under the covers but only a few pages in I knew it wasn't for me. I tossed and turned some more. Finally, at three in the morning, I completely gave up on sleeping. I didn't want to wake Randy so in the dark I grabbed a random book from the shelf in my bedroom and headed downstairs to read. I happened to grab The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena. Within an hour, I was engrossed in the story. I finished the book the next day and was surprised that even without sleep, I managed to read without falling asleep during the day.

The babysitter called to cancel at the last minute. It's just next door, they reason. We will check on her regularly. We'll have the monitor. She'll be fine. Anne and Marco leave their baby sleeping in her crib and go to the dinner party next door. But their worst nightmare is just beginning when they come home to an open front door and an empty crib. Their baby is missing. The police don't seem to be doing enough to help and the parents are the top suspects. Anne is simply in shock. Who would want to take her baby?

The writing in The Couple Next Door is pretty basic. Initially, I was not impressed and thought it a bit juvenile. However, the story is so gripping that I excused the lack of writing skill and quickly became engaged in the twisting tale of intrigue. Lapena takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of intensity that keeps the reader guessing.

The Couple Next Door is fun and thrilling and a quick read. It's a perfect read for the doctor's waiting room or an airplane flight because the writing is simple enough that a few distractions won't leave you too confused. Overall, I rather enjoyed the novel. It was nice to just get lost in it for a day.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena is published by Pamela Dorman Books and released on August 23, 2016.

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

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Swear on This Life - Book Review

Emiline is struggling to write and fulfill her dream to be a published author. Her long-time relationship with her college boyfriend is dull. Uninspired and depressed, her roommate hands her the latest literary sensation. As soon as Emiline starts reading the novel by J. Colby she recognizes her own story within the pages.

Emiline has been haunted by her tragic childhood for years but now she's confronted with it in the pages of a best-selling novel. Her childhood best friend has published a book with her story. Devastated, she knows she must see him and face the past she has been trying to forget.

Swear on This Life by Renée Carlino is the story of a young woman reconciling her past and finding peace and hope in forgiveness all while discovering a true love. It's a sweet story. Initially, I had trouble getting into it and stalled about a quarter of the way into the novel. After a few weeks when I wondered if I would completely abandon it, I decided to give it another chance. I read the remainder in a matter of hours.

It's a cute story. I wasn't blown away by the writing or the predictable plot or flat characters. However, for an easy, feel-good read, I found Swear on This Life rather enjoyable.

There is quite a bit of swearing and a few scenes that get a little steamy.

Swear on This Life by Renée Carlino is published by Atria Books and released on August 9, 2016.

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

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Decades of Doubt - Book Review

In 1969, 15 year old John McCabe didn't come after the dance. His parents drove around searching for him. The next morning two young boys found John's body, tied up and abandoned in an empty field. The investigation would stretch over forty years before two men were finally charged with his murder.

Decades of Doubt by Eric Wilson and John Turner focuses on the investigation of John McCabe's murder and the defense of those charged with the crime.

It's not often that I read true crime books but Decades of Doubt was immediately intriguing. The details of the horrific crime that shocked a small Massachusetts community and kept the detectives guessing for so many years were equally gripping and appalling. Just like everyone else in the community, I wanted to know who killed John McCabe. The first part of the book is an easy read, comfortable style and it wasn't long before I was completely immersed in the mystery.

The second portion of the book covers the trial of one of the men eventually arrested for the murder. In this portion, the defense attorney (Eric Wilson) inserts his own first person chapters and perspective of the trial. I actually found these sections awkward and disruptive to the flow of the book. I found them completely unnecessary.

It was interesting how the defense poked holes in all the evidence. The book became a study on the justice system. However, by the end, as a reader, I was completely unsatisfied. It felt like a very one- sided defense of the defense and I wasn't convinced.

Overall, the book started out with promise. It was a fascinating mystery with fairly solid writing that kept my interest. The book lost it's way with the loss of objectivity and it's new focus on the defense and the defense attorney's ego.

Decades of Doubt by Eric Wilson and John Turner is published by Waldorf Publishing and releases on August 15, 2016.

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

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Reading in July

July was one of those crazy months where we were so busy having fun that I didn't have time to do anything else. Since I didn't have as much time to read, I'm so glad that I was able to enjoy fabulous books with that precious time.

Champion of the World by Chad Dundas follows a cast of rich and fabulously larger-than-life characters through the fascinating world of wrestling during the 1920's. I couldn't get enough of this epic novel that showed the underbelly and mob involvement of the professional sport.

Pepper Van Dean and his wife have been making their living in the traveling circus since his humiliating loss as the former lightweight champion. Each night, he performs the dangerous hangman's drop and then wrestles the locals. Pepper is bored and anxious for an opportunity back into the sport he loves. When he is offered a chance to train the African-American heavyweight wrestler for a chance at the Heavyweight title, Pepper can't resist the lure of the wrestling world.

The plot and characters were thrilling enough to keep me reading late at night when the excitement of our busy days finally settled down. Dundas expertly captured the era in this fascinating historical fiction. It quickly made it to the top of my favorites of 2016 list.

Champion of the World by Chad Dundas is published by Putnam and released on July 12, 2016.

In a completely different shift, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan took my breath away.  In language that is stunning and powerful, Flanagan tells the story of Australian POWs forced to built the railroad through the jungle during World War II. It is a brutal story that details the suffering and torment of individuals at the hands of other men caught up in the horrific war.

Flanagan's characters are not necessarily likable and are bent to their very breaking points. I couldn't stop reading and I can't stop thinking about the stupidity of war. I finished the novel late last night and I can't even fully articulate my thoughts. I'm not sure I'll be able to ever put my reactions into clear and concise thoughts. It's so overwhelming to realize what people went through. Even when their bodies survived, their souls were so damaged. Yet, there was always hope.

I loved Flanagan's writing--it was beautiful and sometimes I had to read a passage over to try to glean the full and rich meaning. It was compelling and thought-provoking and exhausting. The Narrow Road to the Deep North was absolutely unforgettable.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan was published by Vintage and released in April 2015.

**I received complimentary copies of both books. These reviews reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Light of Paris - Book Review

Madeleine goes home to Magnolia to visit her mother simply out of familial obligation. She and her mother have never really gotten along. Now Madeleine's marriage is struggling and she knows she's disappointed her mother once again. During her visit, she discovers her grandmother's journals. Her grandmother was a stoic woman, always perfectly behaved in every situation, so Madeleine is shocked to learn that her grandmother had quite the time in Paris when she was young.

Margie feels completely out of place in the debutante world that she has been raised to embrace. When her only option for marriage is simply one of convenience and a good business deal, she rebels and flees to Europe for a grand tour with her cousin.

In The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown, both Madeleine and Margie need the strength to pursue their goals and dreams and break free from the mold their mothers and society has fashioned for them. Paris may just be the answer.

Both main characters really need a push to take back their own destinies. They have spent their lives as passive women, making decisions that they felt would please others instead of what would make themselves happy. It's the age-old story of mother vs. daughter but Brown gives it a fresh voice and a new life in her lovely new novel.

With a lyrical writing and a sassy tone from women who keep their true voices hidden from the world, I fell for The Light of Paris. Madeleine and Margie are real women--struggling with weight and appearance issues, lack of love and the confines that society has used to define the proper role of women. Essentially, they both have huge self-esteem problems. Yet, they are funny and interesting and saucy and women that I would absolutely want to be friends with.

The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown is an enchanting novel with characters so honest and true the reader can't help but root for them.

The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown is published by Putnam and released on July 12, 2016.

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

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Winner of the Nitro World Games tickets

The winner of the first Nitro World Games 
on Saturday, July 16, 2016
at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City is...


Congratulations! Please contact me by Tuesday, July 12th with your information to claim your prize.

Don't miss this exciting event.
You can buy tickets here :

Monday, July 4, 2016

Nitro World Games are Coming to Salt Lake - Win Tickets!

The inaugural 
is coming to 
Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah 
on Saturday, July 16, 2016. 
The biggest event in the history of action sports, the Nitro World Games is a riveting three-hour experience – airing live in the U.S. on NBC during prime time – that marks a revolutionary transformation of action sports competition. Created by extreme sports icon Travis Pastrana with Nitro Circus CEO and Creative Director Michael Porra, the Nitro World Games will feature the best athletes from across the globe in action sports’ most exciting and popular disciplines, including freestyle motocross (FMX), BMX, skate, inline, scooter and more.

This is exciting event can't be missed and it's coming to you!
I am giving away a pack of Four Tickets to the Nitro World Games to one lucky winner. 
Take your family. Take your friends.  But go see this show.
Let's make this simple. To enter :
1. Leave a comment on this post.
Contest will be open to entries until Friday, July 8th at 11:59 pm MST. The winners will be chosen randomly from the entrants and announced on Saturday, July 9th.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Before the Fall - Book Review

I finished reading Before the Fall by Noah Hawley late last night, huddled under the covers, long after Rand had fallen asleep. I promised him "just one more chapter" but I couldn't put it down until I finally finished the last page.

A chartered jet crashes into the ocean en route between Martha's Vineyard and New York City. The only survivors are an artist and the four year old son of a media mogul. His parents and sister are dead in the crash, as well as another wealthy couple who is being investigated by the SEC

After swimming to shore with the boy, Scott is initially hailed as a hero but investigators aren't so sure. What was this hapless, unknown artist doing on a private jet with these wealthy people? Was it just an accident or was this an attack? As the investigators continue to dig and search for the pieces of plane and the black box, the facts will emerge.

Going back and forth between the post-accident investigation and into the back stories of the passengers, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley keeps the reader immersed in theories and clues to the cause of the crash. I was completely intrigued. I love a good character focused story and it was especially exciting to have a thriller focus primarily on the people and their choices instead of just the action. Besides the main characters, Hawley focuses on human nature and the reactions people have to disasters and sensational new stories.

Before the Fall was completely engaging and though essentially a thriller, I thought it was very smart. Hawley keeps the action going but allows for some introspection and down times when the reader can really get to know the characters.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley is an exciting choice this summer. Tuck it in your beach bag or backpack or like me, just hunker down under the air conditioning and enjoy the suspense.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley was published by Grand Central Publishing in May 2016. It is also a SheReads selection this summer. Read more reviews at  

**I received a complimentary copy through SheReads. No compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Under the Harrow - Book Review

Nora and her sister Rachel have been looking forward to their shared vacation, so Nora is completely shocked to arrive at her sister's home and discover that Rachel has been brutally murdered. Years ago, as a teenager Rachel was also the victim of a violent attack and Nora is convinced the two crimes are connected.

Increasingly obsessed with solving her sister's grisly murder, Nora stays in her sister's village and begins stalking the man who last saw Rachel alive. Nora uncovers additional secrets as she investigates Rachel and her life in the countryside. She's unsure of who she can trust and who would want her sister dead. Is Nora safe in the village? Does someone want to kill her too?

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry is a psychological thriller told by a narrator who the reader isn't sure is honest and as time goes on becomes more depressed, more erratic and more risky. The writing is terribly engaging. Every word is necessary and hauntingly beautiful in this spare but thrilling novel. I found myself reading passages over to make sure I had gleaned every important bit of information. Nora was a fascinating character as she struggles to solve the crime and understand her sister's life. She experiences the varying emotional stages of grief.

I love short chapters. They keep the action moving. In Under the Harrow, I simply couldn't put this book down after "just one more chapter" at night. I read late into the night, absolutely captivated by Nora's search for the truth.

Under the Harrow is engrossing and frightening and keeps the reader perpetually off kilter. It is definitely a book to read this summer!

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry is published by Penguin Books are released on June 14, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Tumbling Turner Sisters - Book Review

Gert and Winnie are still trying to finish high school when their mother pulls them out of school to join their older and recently widowed sister Nell and their gigantic younger sister Kit on the Vaudeville Circuit. After an injury to his hand, their dad is unable to work at his regularly job stitching boots and their resourceful mother comes up with an act that will pay the bills and put her daughters in the limelight, a place she has longed to be.

The sisters discover on the road, that they rather enjoy the spotlight too and the people that they meet. Vaudeville in 1919 was an unusual band of characters with a wide variety of acts. People flocked to the theaters looking for cheap entertainment that was clean enough for families. Along the journey, Gert and Winnie will find love and danger and a world they didn't know in their hometown of Johnson City, New York.

The Tumbling Turner Sisters by Juliette Fay immediately appealed to me. I love the historical setting and the potential mishmash of unique characters along the circuit. Fay's research is in-depth and I especially loved the facts and the real characters thrown in among the fiction. I actually learned a few things that I found rather fascinating.

The characters were well developed and I appreciated that the sisters were unique enough for me to immediately distinguish between them. The story lines are timely for the historic period and by meeting a wide variety of characters and traveling, the reader is exposed to many of the period's issues.

The writing is tight and the pace is steady. Exciting things are constantly happening but it lacks the sort of passion and momentum that might have kept me reading all night. Overall, it was a satisfying  and entertaining novel. It definitely made me want to take a seat in a Vaudeville theater and enjoy the show.

The Tumbling Turner Sisters by Juliette Fay is published by Gallery Books and released on June 14, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Tumbling Turner Sisters. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Monday, June 13, 2016

Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen - Book Review

Katherine of Aragon is the daughter of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain and is one of the most desired royal matches. King Henry VII is delighted to secure her hand for his son and future king, Arthur.  Katherine is just a girl of sixteen when she leaves her homeland to embark on this journey that will lead to a marriage and a strong alliance between England and Spain. Only tragedy will strike the young prince and soon Katherine will be a young widow stuck in an unfamiliar and occasionally hostile land. Who can she trust? Does anyone have her best interests in mind?

I am fascinated by all things Tudor and I'm a fan of Alison Weir. Over the years, I've read several of her books--both nonfiction and fiction. Once again, Weir does not disappoint with her newest novel Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen. Because I've read other books about Henry VIII and his wives, I was worried that it would be dull but reading the entirety of Katherine's story was eye opening and thoroughly entertaining. So often books focus on the story after the king becomes obsessed with Anne Boleyn and the Great Matter. I liked learning more about Katherine's early marriage to Arthur and then to Henry VIII. Then, the Great Matter from Katherine's painful perspective was very interesting.

The novel is very long but very thorough. There were times that I felt like maybe things could have been edited out but most of the time I was enjoying the novel so much that I didn't mind it being so long. Weir's research is fabulous. All this information and her skilled writing combines for a great read. After spending awhile reading it, I'm missing the book. I'm anxious to read the rest of Weir's planned series of novels focusing on each of Henry the VIII's wives.

Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen by Alison Weir is published by Ballantine Books and released on May 31, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of Katherine of Aragon. All opinions are my own. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Gilded Years - Book Review

Anita Hemmings was a gifted, intelligent girl completely worthy of attending Vassar, the premier and elite girls college. It had been her dream since childhood and she had worked hard in school to pass her exams and gain entrance at the school. Only in the 1890's Vassar didn't accept African American students. With her fair skin, Anita's heritage as an African American was not as obvious and so she listed only her English and French heritage on her application.

Passing as white and being voted "the most beautiful", Anita excels at Vassar. With an incredible singing voice and a gift at the ancient languages, her professors and the other students value her friendship and opinion. In her senior year, she is picked to room with Lottie Taylor, the richest and most popular girl at the school. Anita and Lottie quickly become best friends and Lottie introduces her new friend to the splendor and glamour of the richest of New York.

Torn between the world Anita knows when she is white and her family and friends at home in Boston where she is known in the African American community, she struggles to find peace and love and an understanding of who she is and who she wants to be. Her secret is perilous and her ultimate goal of graduating from Vassar is in jeopardy.

In The Gilded Years, Karin Tanabe spins a fictional account of the first African American woman to graduate from Vassar. Tanabe is a wonderful writer who tells this compelling story and details in a very personal way the struggle that African Americans faced in their quest to be recognized as equal.

Though at times lengthy and a bit wordy, I was enraptured with Anita's story. While some details have been fictionalized, Tanabe pays homage to this brave and inspiring woman.

The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe is published by Washington Square Press and releases on June 7, 2016.

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