Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Book Review: "The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove" by Susan Gregg Gilmore

Nobody in Nashville has a bigger name to live up to than Bezellia Grove. As a Grove, she belongs to one of city’s most prominent families and is expected to embrace her position in high society. That means speaking fluent French, dancing at cotillions with boys from other important families, and mastering the art of the perfect smile.

Also looming large is her given name Bezellia, which has been passed down for generations to the first daughter born to the eldest Grove. The others in the long line of Bezellias shortened the ancestral name to Bee, Zee or Zell. But Bezellia refuses all nicknames and dreams that one day she, too, will be remembered for her original namesake’s courage and passion.

Though she leads a life of privilege, being a Grove is far from easy. Her mother hides her drinking but her alcoholism is hardly a secret. Her father, who spends long hours at work, is distant and inaccessible. For as long as she can remember, she’s been raised by Maizelle, the nanny, and Nathaniel, the handyman. To Bezellia, Maizelle and Nathaniel are cherished family members. To her parents, they will never be more than servants.

Relationships are complicated in 1960s Nashville, where society remains neatly ordered by class, status and skin color. Black servants aren’t supposed to eat at the same table as their white employers. Black boys aren’t supposed to make conversation with white girls. And they certainly aren’t supposed to fall in love. When Bezellia has a clandestine affair with Nathaniel’s son, Samuel, their romance is met with anger and fear from both families. In a time and place where rebelling against the rules carries a steep price, Bezellia Grove must decide which of her names will be the one that defines her.

This book was an amazing read. When I finished reading, I wanted to step back and just think for a long time. It's wonderfully written. The story is set during the 1950s & 60s in the South. I've always felt that the South and its culture is totally different from the rest of the US in its own unique way. It's almost like being in a different country from the traditions that must be followed, the food that is eaten and the way people act. This book gives a definite feel and flavor to the way people lived during that time period.

This book could almost be classified as a YA read due to the fact that the title character, who narrates the story, is pretty much a teenager throughout the entire book. There were so many times throughout the book where I just ached for Bezellia. Her relationship with her entire family is pretty much either non-existent or just dysfunctional. Instead she turns to her African-American servants who treat her better than her parents do. Their relationship transcends racial boundaries as Bezellia doesn't notice their color or their social status but is constantly reminded by her mother who deems it necessary to put them in their place. Bezelia's life just reached out to me from the beginning of the book. And oh did I feel for her throughout the entire story. There were so many episodes where I just wanted to yell out in frustration for her or cry with her. This is not to say that Bezellia was perfect. She was a flawed character as well. I think though that the first person narration helped the reader to empathize with her more.

During the first half of the book, I hated Bezellia's mother. Seriously, there were times when I wanted to jump into the book and start yelling back at her. I wanted to take the children away to safety and then scold their father for not defending them. Honestly, that woman got on my nerves! However, it soon comes to light that she has an addiction problem and is probably bi-polar. Then near the end of the book, her true story is finally revealed which adds an entirely new dimension to her character. Even though it didn't excuse her past behavior, suddenly I was able to look at her with a new perspective and begin to understand her. It's a shame that none of this was able to come out in the open earlier but due to the way Southern culture was at the time period, it was just something that was never spoken about.

In addition to the wonderful story, there is a good bit of historical writing in the book as well. Racial and social relations are brought up heavily throughout the book. There were times when it still felt like it was the Antebellum south with the plantations still being run with the way the whites and blacks acted towards each other. Personally, I'm really glad I didn't grow up during this time period because I don't think I could be someone that could stand back and let all that happen or even do my best to prevent it and nothing happened.

The only little qualm I had with the book is that I felt the book ends very abruptly. I don't want to spoil what happens but when I finished, I honestly felt like I was missing a chapter. I can see how everything ties up and how the way it was written adds to the effect of the story. Still, I just felt it came on rather suddenly and there were still things I wish had been wrapped up or explained. Other than this, I really found myself enjoying this book. I will admit this would have been a book I normally would have not picked up so I'm so glad that I was able to have the chance to read it. I could easily see this book being turned into a movie. The Southern ambiance is wonderful and really brings a lot of culture to the story. If you are in the mood for an excellent story, this book will definitely deliver it to you. HIGHLY recommended.

The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove by Susan Gregg Gilmore is published by Shaye Areheart Books (2010)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

Monday, August 30, 2010

Book Winners

Congrats to the winners of She's Gone Country!






Winners, your info is being sent directly to the publisher. Thanks again for entering!

Book Review: "The Life You've Imagined" by Kristina Riggle

Are you living the life you imagined? Is there anything you'd have done differently if you could? Those are the questions asked in Kristina Riggle's unforgettable new novel.

In high school, Cami and Anna were as close as they could be...now, years later, both have returned to their hometown to face the people they had once left behind.

Anna must confront her mother, still distraught over the abandonment of her husband, and come to terms with choices she had made years before. While Cami returns home to stay with her alcoholic father, she must face a secret that she thought was long-since buried.

This is a novel that digs deep and touches the heart of the issues so many women face-the quest for perfection, the hope of love, the value of family and importance of always striving for your dream.

I'm pretty sure that for most of us, there are certain things in our life we wish we could go back and change. I'm sure that there are times when we wish our lives had turned out a different way. I can bet that many of us, when we were younger, did not see us living the way we are now. This book explores those thoughts as two friends return to their hometown, reunite with an old classmate and see how their lives could have been and how they are now.

Ever since I've had to deal with experiences in my own life with an alcoholic/addict, I find myself now feeling empathy for characters who experience the same thing. Therefore reading about Cami's struggles with her alcoholic father was heartbreaking and painful to read. It's so sad to see how the addiction takes control over a person's life and turns them into a monster who wants to do nothing but inflict pain. Ironically, Cami herself suffers from a gambling addiction but I didn't feel as if there was much to that part of her story. Still, I felt drawn to reading her sections the most because I could relate to her, and my heart broke for her.

Anna and her mother both share their stories. Anna is reconnecting with her high school boyfriend who also happens to still be married. Meanwhile her mother has been corresponding secretly with her former husband, who walked on her and Anna years ago. The two are hiding the secrets from each other as they both live the life they thought they should have lived all these years.
I was actually a bit surprised to read about Amy's story in this book. She's not mentioned at all on the back cover description so I was rather taken aback when she suddenly appeared in the story. Still I found her sections to be quite interesting as she's a former "fat girl" adjusting to her new life. She's about to get married but is still suffering from low self confidence and is worried about her relationship with her fiance.

All four of the women each bring a unique view to the title of the book. None of them have been living the lives that they dreamed they would be living. Some things turn out for the better, some for the worst but they have to accept it for what it is. It's a great thinking device for the reader too. How many of us are living the live we imagined? Sure, we can regret the way things could have been or we can stop living in our imagination and live our lives as they happen. Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. It's a wonderful book for discussion and I can easily see this book being used in a book club. The book provides an insightful yet entertaining read. I am looking forward to reading Riggle's previous book as well as any that she has in the future.

The Life You've Imagined by Kristina Riggle is published by Avon A (2010)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

Friday, August 27, 2010

Book Review: "Surrender the Heart" by MaryLu Tyndall

For the sake of her ailing mother, Marianne Denton becomes engaged to Noah Brennin---a merchantman she despises. But as the War of 1812 escalates, Jonah's ship is captured by the British, and the ill-matched couple learns vital information that could aid America's cause. As they battle to save their country, will they also find love?

I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed reading this book. I was expecting a full out historical ROMANCE but instead I got a HISTORICAL romance. Believe me this makes a difference. Oh there's plenty of romance throughout the story but with so much focus on the historical aspects of the time period, I found myself wanting to board the ship and ride out the adventure with Marianne and Noah.

The story takes place around the War of 1812 so Britain and the young American country are still at arms with each other. The descriptions about life aboard a sailing vessel during the time period were very detailed and I could almost feel myself rocking along on deck. When the British officers board the ship, the story gets very intense and I was half expecting someone to do something very improper to Marianne. I found it very interesting that they took her aboard as just a steward. I really liked all the talk about the history between the two countries and how the British were still showing a lot of animosity towards the US.

I thought I would get annoyed with Noah and his attitude but I never did. This is because his side of the story is shown almost immediately. Normally this is kept from the reader until the very end, but by showing his point of view, I was able to understand him a lot better. Marianne is not a spoiled rich girl by any means but she quickly has to adapt to life on a ship which she is not used to. The relationship between the two starts off negative due to both of them hiding things from each other but as the story grows it begins to mature.

Since this is an inspirational historical romance, there is talk about faith throughout the book. It's not too bad, although I did feel it to be a bit heavy near the end. If you're fan of movies such as Master and Commander or Horatio Hornblower, you're going to love this book. Lots of adventures on the high seas, high speed chases and more men on deck than you could possibly imagine. I really love the research Tyndall put into writing this book and I'll be looking forward to reading more books in the series.

Surrender the Heart by MaryLu Tyndall is published by Barbour (2010)

This review copy was provided for a blog tour with the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book Review: "Simply From Scratch" by Alicia Bessette

Rose-Ellen ("Zell") Carmichael Roy wears her late husband Nick's camouflage apron even when she's not in the kitchen. That's her widow style.

It's been over a year since Nick died tragically during a post-Katrina relief mission in New Orleans. Long enough, according to the grief pamphlets, to have begun to move on with her life. But Zell is still unable to enter her attic, which is full of Nick memories. She hasn't even turned on her oven because cooking was Nick's chore. That is, until she decides to enter the first annual Desserts that Warm the Soul baking contest, hoping to donate the grand prize to Katrina survivors in Nick's memory.

Meanwhile, Zell's nine-year-old neighbor, Ingrid Knox, is learning to cope with the loneliness of growing up without a mother. With an imagination as big as her heart, Ingrid treasures her doting father but begins to plot how she will meet the woman who abandoned her so many years ago. When an embarrassing baking mishap brings Zell and Ingrid together, they form an unlikely friendship that will alter both of their lives forever. Together, and with the help of a lively and loveable cast of friends and family, Zell and Ingrid embark on winning the Desserts that Warm the Soul contest - and learn that through the many sorrows and joys of life, with a little bit of flour and a pinch of love, anything is possible.

Do you ever get the feeling that you know you're going to like a book even before you crack open the cover? As soon as I received this book, I had a feeling I was going to enjoy it. I really like the cover of the book and just from the title, the story sounded intriguing. This all was confirmed as I started reading and soon found myself engrossed in this touching story.

I loved all the characters in this book. While it took me a while to warm up to Zell, eventually I understood her character and really liked her. Even though he was deceased by the time the book opens, Nick lived in the book through Zell's memories as well as through the emails he sent her while he was in New Orleans. It was obvious that he truly loved Zell, through all her faults and her insecurities. Reading his emails and knowing the grief she felt when she found out what happened seriously made me want to cry at times. Ingrid and Garrett were wonderful to read about. I was worried at first they would come off as cardboard characters - single dad with cute kid who helps out grieving widow, but they had so much character in them. Ingrid had wonderful chemistry with Zell and really helped her to heal. And then there's EJ who was with Nick when he died and who Zell has been avoiding since. His story also deals with a possible relationship with a girl from New Orleans and I enjoyed reading his story.

I could totally relate to Zell's memory smacks. Of course mine aren't like hers at all, but I could understand what she goes through when a memory suddenly takes control of her and pulls her into it. I also loved her devotion to her dog. Animal lovers will laugh and cry about her relationship with Ahab. There's also a lot of awareness about the recovery process from Hurricane Katrina. Even though five years have passed, it's good to bring it back into attention as there are still people who are suffering from the aftermath.

I really enjoyed this book. It is an absolutely lovely read. The cover makes it look like it's a light read but it's so much more. It's a touching story about grief, love and friendship. I'm also looking forward to making Scrumpy Delight, the concoction that Zell and Ingrid create in the book. The recipe is included in the back of the book and it sounded quite delicious and easy to make. This is a wonderful debut novel from Bessette and I look forward to reading more from her in the future. HIGHLY recommended.

Simply From Scratch by Alicia Bessette is published by Dutton (2010)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Book Review: "Masquerade" by Nancy Moser

Eighteen eighty-six, New York City: Charlotte Gleason, a rich heiress from England, escapes a family crisis by traveling to America in order to marry the even wealthier Conrad Tremaine. She soon decides that an arranged marriage is not for her and persuades her maid, Dora, to take her place. What begins as the whim of a spoiled rich girl wanting adventure becomes a test of survival amid poverty beyond Charlotte's blackest nightmares. As for Dora, she lives a fairy tale complete with gowns, jewels, and lavish mansions--yet is tormented by guilt and the presence of another love that will not die. Will their masquerade be discovered? Will one of them have second thoughts? There is no guarantee the switch will work. It's a risk. It's the chance of a lifetime.

This book combines several things of what I love about historical fiction: Historical fiction taking place in 1800s England and historical fiction taking place in 1800s New York City. Plus add in talk about fashion of the day and social issues and you can't get any better than that. Honestly, this is the stuff I studied in college and I always love reading more about it especially in historical fiction. There's so much that happened in that time period that almost every story has a unique and different perspective.

Lottie and Dora comes over the US from England. Lottie is a well bred young woman who is on her way to NYC for an arranged marriage to help save her family's name. Dora is her lady's maid and companion who is going with her for moral support. Due to her fear of being trapped in a life she doesn't want, Lottie decides that she and Dora will switch places, allowing Dora to be able to live the high life where she will become an independent woman in America. However things don't go as planned for Lottie and her intentions soon go awry and finds herself in less than desirable situations. I thought it was very interesting to see the look at immigrant life and workhouses from her point of view as all she had been used to was a pampered life. Meanwhile, Dora is having a different time with her masquerade having to remember her new station in life. The family becomes suspicious of her and tensions start to rise.

It made me a bit sad over who Dora chooses in the end because Conrad was just plain nice. A little weak in the beginning but throughout the book he begins to show initiative and stands up for himself. In fact the entire Tremaine family is surprise at the end as every one of them becomes very likable and they all get shafted in the end. I could see this ending coming but I was hoping that things would end up differently but alas it was not meant to be.

There were two minor qualms I had with the book. One is that when Dora switches into Lottie's place, the story begins to refer to her as Charlotte. While I understand that she was in disguise as Lottie, it was greatly confusing since Lottie remains Lottie throughout the story. The reader knows that she is Dora, just because everyone else knows her as Charlotte doesn't mean the reader has to refer to her in that way. I mean it's not as if we can go into the story and accidentally let it be known who she really is. The other was that I didn't feel that Lottie had changed at all by the end of the story. She's still quite spoiled even though she's had to live in the slums of New York and seen how immigrants truly lived. I didn't like the way she treated Dora throughout the book and even at the end, she still sees herself to be superior over her. While her story is interesting, I just didn't feel it be very good character development.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. The historical aspect of the book is fabulous. History fans will enjoy the "Fact or Fiction" section at the end where Moser shows what really happened during that time period with notes from her research. Also there is a section on the fashion talked about through the book with illustrations of the dresses worn during the time period. I must say, even though I would love to go back into history to wear some of these dresses, the thought of having to wear a corset and bustle are not appealing at all. This is great historical read and a good look into the social classes of the time period. It's interesting that even though the US had not gone towards the monarch route, there is still a distinct social class difference between the wealthy and the lower class. A fun read and great learning experience as well. Another winner from Moser.

Masquerade by Nancy Moser is published by Bethany House (2010)

This ARC was provided for a blog tour with the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Book Review: "Dangerous Neighbors" by Beth Kephart

It is 1876, the year of the Centennial in Philadelphia. Katherine has lost her twin sister Anna in a tragic skating accident. One wickedly hot September day, Katherine sets out for the exhibition grounds to cut short the haunted life she no longer wants to live.

First off, I'd like to say that I absolutely LOVE the cover of this book. The color is just absolutely beautiful. I love finding bird eggs on the ground or in a nest because of the wonderful colors that they are and it's lovely to see it replicated on the cover of this book. The cover gives way to the story inside which is just as beautiful and fragile as the egg portrays.

Katherine and Anna are twins and best friends. They have always been there for each other from the beginning. Then Anna begins to grow apart from Katherine who is not quite ready to let her sister go. The story starts with Anna's tragic accident already happening and the reader must work their way backwards to find out what actually happen. It's a very moving story as you read about Katherine's feeling throughout the book and how much her sister meant to her because as twins, they always have and will be a part of each other.

I really loved the historical aspect of the novel. I have always found world's fairs to be wonderful places to set stories especially after I studied more about them in my graduate classes. Kephart makes the Philadelphia's fair come to live and I could picture myself there, hearing the crowds and seeing all the spectacles. It must have been a grand time to live in an age where technology was so new and exciting.

The only small qualm I had with the book is that I felt it ended rather abruptly. The book is rather short, at less than 200 pages. By the time I got to the end I felt that I was now finally beginning to understand Katherine, and then the book ends. I would have liked more with her and also to find out more about Bennett and William. Both of the boys seemed like they had more to their stories but we barely get a glimpse of them before the book is finished. However even with the shortness of the book, Kephart still packs a mighty heavy punch with this book. It is deeply engrossing and very emotional. There needs to be more YA like this and I really do like YA historical fiction. Here's to another beautiful read from Beth Kephart and I'm looking forward to more from her.

Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart is published by Egmont USA (2010)

This ARC was provided by the publisher at BEA 2010

Monday, August 23, 2010

Book Review: "She's Gone Country" by Jane Porter and Book Giveaway

Shey Darcy, a 39-year-old former top model for Vogue and Sports Illustrated led a charmed life in New York City with a handsome photographer husband until the day he announced he'd fallen in love with someone else. Left to pick up the pieces of her once happy world, Shey decides to move back home to Texas with her three teenage sons. Life on the family ranch, however, brings with it a whole new host of dramas starting with differences of opinion with her staunch Southern Baptist mother, her rugged but overprotective brothers, and daily battles with her three sons who are also struggling to find themselves. Add to the mix Shey's ex-crush, Dane Kelly, a national bullriding champ and she's got her hands full. It doesn't take long before Shey realizes that in order to reinvent herself, she must let go of an uncertain future and a broken past, to find happiness--and maybe love--in the present.

I'm a really big fan of Jane Porter's chick lit books. She writes in a style that is fun to read but also brings up serious topics that make you think. I've really enjoyed her past books. Even though they are bit lengthier than your normal chick lit read, I've been able to devour them in one sitting. This book gives the reader the story of Shey, friend to Marta and Tia from previous books. Shey is living in Texas after leaving her husband and is starting a new life back in her hometown with her three boys.

I felt immensely sorry for Shey and how her marriage turned out. It's one thing to find out that your husband has left you and then it's a completely different thing when you find out he left you for another man. This must have been a huge blow to her, not just for their marriage but also because as a model, Shey is highly desirable in every other man's eyes except her own husband. It's enough to make anyone have low self esteem and become depressed. Luckily she's able to pull herself out of it and learn to liver her life again. The characters in the book are very colorful. I found her brothers and their wives to be very interesting. In fact, I hope there is a book that focuses on her sister in law Emily, because I feel that there is a story there, waiting to be told. I loved the photo shoot Shey had with her brother, where they had to pretend to be a couple in love and they're holding hands, while whispering, "This is SO uncomfortable!"

Her relationship with Dane is quite interesting since the two have a history. While rekindling their romance, they discover things about themselves they've been keeping from each other all these years. Dane's back story is touching and sad and it explains his reluctance to open up to Shey again. Still he's a good guy overall in contrast to Shey's ex husband who is pretty much self centered. While he does love his sons, I was not a fan of how he treated Shey both now and in the past.

What I found a bit interesting about this book is the fact that it is set in Texas. Normally this wouldn't stand out to me, but this summer I interned with two other students who were both from different parts of Texas. Therefore the ENTIRE summer, I heard nothing but the great things about Texas and how they couldn't wait to get back there. So it was a hilarious that the first book that I picked up after my internship was over took place in Texas! And it's funny because the characters in the book felt the same way that my friends did. Shey had been denying herself all these years about how much she had missed her hometown and finally came to realize that this was where she needed to be.

Out of all of Jane's chick lit/contemporary fiction, this seemed the least chick lit-ish at least to me. This is not really a problem except there were some scenes that seemed a bit more romance novel than normal. The only tiny qualm I had was with the presentation of Shey's mother. Her mom is portrayed a typical Southern woman who HAS to be in church every Sunday and keeps trying to force Shey to go and blames the fact that she doesn't on the state of her marriage, children and overall life. This just annoyed me because her mom made it seem as if suddenly going to church to was going to change Shey's life but in reality that's not going to happen if Shey doesn't WANT to change her life.

If you have been a fan of her other books, there are cameos from previous characters so it's nice to see how they've fared in their lives and what they are up to. Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. It's a great read and makes one long to come home again.

She's Gone Country by Jane Porter is published by 5 Spot (2010)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

I'm able to give away five copies of this book provided by the publisher. To enter, you must fill out the form and have a US or Canada mailing address (no PO Boxes). Winners will be picked Monday, August 30.

PLEASE use the form only to enter the contest. For any comments about the book, review, etc. please use the comments link at the bottom of the post. All information must be filled out correctly or else your entry will not count. (ie. you must use FULL name and list your mailing address). Your info will only be used for this contest and will be deleted after the contest is over.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Movie Review: "How to Train Your Dragon"

I'm going to say right now, this was the surprise hit of the summer for me, movie wise. I'm kinda iffy about Dreamworks animated movies. Other than the Shrek series and Kung Fu Panda, none of their movies have been a hit with me. And then when you compare them with Pixar's movies, they just fall flat. The animation is hit or miss (sometimes it's awesome, other times extremely fake) and the same goes with the writing. For some reason, Dreamworks movies seem to be more childish than Pixar's. Also, during the Olympics this movie was featured like 30 times EACH night during the games to the point where I was sick of it. I had no desire at all to see this movie. Until my sister went to it and came back from it saying that she had cried. Well, that peaked my interest since we cry pretty much at the same movies.

By the time, I finally decided I wanted to see the movie, it had already gone out of the first run theaters. So, two of my fellow interns from the Smithsonian and I headed to the second run theater in town where we saw this movie for a cool price of only $3. First off, I'd like to say that the quality of the theater was fantastic. I've been in several second run theaters where the sound system and the seats are awful. I was pleasantly surprised at how well kept this theater was and that sound was fantastic.

Well let me say, just like the theater, my expectations of this movie were totally caught of guard. I really enjoyed it! The story was wonderful with the underdog theme running throughout. However the story takes on a different twist as it involves dragons! Who knew Vikings were so witty? Let me say now that Night Fury is the CUTEST THING EVER!!!!! He reminded me of our pug! And I'm sure anyone else that owns a dog could totally relate to how Hiccup felt about Night Fury.

There's A LOT of humor and action in the movie. A lot of the humor comes from Hiccup's relationship with Night Fury as the two learn to trust each other and learn from one another. It's seriously the cutest relationship ever. I also loved how Astrid goes from tough girl to finally caring for Hiccup. The scenes with the dragons was intense especially that last battle. I still have no idea how everything really got resolved. It seemed like nothing was going to save them from the imminent danger they were in. There is also a good story between the relationship between parents and children. Both sides need to listen to each other and learn to be able to confide and trust to one another. A lot could have been avoided if Hiccup and his dad had had a better relationship.

Overall, this was a great movie. It was funny, suspenseful, adventurous, had good animation and a wonderful story line. It had all the wonderful elements of a really good movie. Families will enjoy it. Adults without kids will really like all the humor that's in the movie. By the way is it wrong for me to think that Hiccup is pretty cute and has really awesome hair? I didn't see this movie in 3D but I bet that it was wonderful to watch. This movie should be coming out on DVD soon but if it's still in the second run theaters near you and you haven't seen it, I would definitely go out and see it. It was a pleasant surprise and wonderful to watch.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Review: "Autumn's Promise" by Shelley Shepard Gray

Until Robert Miller met Lilly Allen, his world had been dark. A widower after only two years of marriage, he'd been living in a haze, feeling that, at twenty-four, his life was already over. But thanks to his friendship with Lilly, he now has new reasons to wake up each day. He knows his connection to her doesn't make sense. She's only nineteen, with a past the whole town talks about. Even more, she's not Amish, like Robert. A marriage between the two of them could never happen.

Lilly's heart is drawn to Robert, not to his faith. No matter how much she admires his quiet strength and dependability, she doesn't think she could ever give up her independence and reliance on the modern world. Is their love doomed before it even begins?

It's time to return one more time to the folks at Sugarcreek and this time the main focus of the story is on Lily Allen. She was the pregnant teenager who had minor plot lines in previous books and now the attention is focused on her. Lily has always been one of my favorite characters throughout the series because she is outspoken and very independent. That is one of the reasons why Robert falls for her. Their relationship was very interesting to read. It wasn't like any other Amish/English relationship in other books. They had a LOT of chemistry together. My favorite scene happened when Lily is taking Robert's order at the restaurant and asks him what he wants and all he says is "You." *Swoon!* And that is coming from a normally reserved Amish guy!

There's sort of a Romeo/Juliet scenario that happens with how both families don't want to encourage the relationship. Robert's side condemns Lily for having been pregnant and the fact that she would never fit in the Amish where Lily's family is worried that she will never be able to fit in. However the pair ignore the naysayers and continue their relationship even though they know that sooner or later, they will have to face reality and make a decision.

The story also deals with Caleb, an Amish teenager who is struggling with what he wants to do in life. He doesn't know whether he wants to stay Amish or join the outside world. Unfortunately for him, at first all his experiences with the English world are not so good, as the teens he hang around with drink and smoke among other bad habits. He's also afraid of telling his parents his feelings because he's worried at how they would react to the confusion he's facing. While probably not intended at all, this is the probably the closest scenario I can see to how a LGBT teenager in the Amish world would feel.


I was SO happy with the ending of the book. Seriously, if you have ever read any of my other reviews on Amish fiction, you know that one of my biggest complaints is how someone from the outside world will join the Amish to be with the person they love. And I hate that because it RARELY ever happens in real life. That is why I loved the ending of this book because it didn't happen!

And this is why Shelley Shepard Gray is my favorite Amish author. I love her books because they are realistic, non preachy, and she allows the characters to act as they are without forcing them to change their personalities. The Amish are allowed simply to be Amish and those from the outside are allowed to stay as they are. The two sides mix together because they are neighbors but there is never any pressure to give up who you really are unless you truly want to. Even then, it's ok to backtrack on your decision.

If you don't read Amish fiction, you probably won't understand my happiness over the ending of this book. However, if you do read Amish fiction and share my feelings, I think you will understand. I love Gray's books and I will continue to read more of hers because I love her style of writing. Even though the subject matter is one I have issues with, she handles them in a way that makes me enjoy reading her books and always wanting more.

Autumn's Promise by Shelley Shepard Gray is published by Avon Inspire (2010)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book Review: "The Crimson Cipher" by Susan Page Davis

In 1915, German sympathizers escalated acts of sabotage in the United States to keep the nation from joining in the war. Following the mysterious murder of Emma Shuster's father, Lt. John Patterson invites Emma to become a Navy cryptographer because of the expertise she gained in helping her father develop a cipher system. Emma finds new strength in her faith as she strives to outwit her adversary, known only as Kobold - German for goblin. Can Emma and John find love in the midst of turmoil as America plunges toward war?

I love a good historical fiction read. Not a historical romance, mind you. They are two completely different genres. Now, a sprinkle of romance in the historical fiction is ok but not so much that the only historical aspect of the book is that it doesn't take place in present time. No, give a me a book where it is clearly obvious that the author has done lots of research to make sure that facts are correct and historical figures are portrayed accurately. And that's exactly what this book gave me.

I believe this is the first fiction book that I've read that deals with cryptography. I'm very limited with my knowledge about breaking codes. In fact the only two recollections I can recall about my experiences with this subject in pop culture are a James Bond film (For Your Eyes Only) and an episode of Ghostwriter (remember the first episode? THABTO?). Therefore I was really interested in the subject matter of this book and how Davis was able to bring it to life. Because breaking codes are usually top secret material that the general public doesn't know about until years later, it was fascinating to read about the lives of the code breakers. During the first World War there were many opportunities for those skilled in the field to help out the government. I was pleased at all the opportunities for women to be able to participate and help out during this time period even though the 19th Amendment hadn't been passed yet. Emma still faces some discrimination because she is a woman but because of her skilled background she became respected.

As for the romance part of the story, there is chemistry between Emma and John but not so much that it distracts from the historical aspect of the story. In fact the characters are separated most of the time so each is allowed to focus more on their work than each other. I found this to be quite refreshing as, to be honest, I was more involved with the code breaking aspect of the story and found their jobs to be more interesting than their love life. One extra plus for me about this story was that several scenes take place in Fairfax, VA which is where I live now. Even though there is nothing that is the same, due to the time difference, it was still nice to know that this area had a big impact with the story.

Overall, I found this book to be a fascinating read. It's a really good historical fiction novel, heavy on the historical aspects but written extremely well. The religious aspects of the book are downplayed and are respectful of the era that the book is set in. I found this book to heighten my interest in code breakers and look forward to finding out more about them in my own personal research. A great book for those looking for a new twist on the same old war story.

The Crimson Cipher by Susan Page Davis is published by Summerside Press (2010)

This review copy was provided for a blog tour with the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Book Review: "Licensed for Trouble" by Susan May Warren

PJ Sugar receives shocking news that she’s inherited the Kellogg family mansion. Though she has no idea why, the timing is perfect—PJ has clearly worn out her welcome at her sister’s house. Unfortunately, the mansion is in shambles, and PJ is short on cash. Rescue comes in the form of Max Smith, a mysterious handyman willing to trade his services for PJ’s investigative skills. But PJ already has a full docket with cramming for her PI license and nurturing a growing romance with her boss, Jeremy Kane. Can she take on Max’s case without dropping the ball?

I have loved all of Susan May Warren's books and I have especially enjoyed this light fun romantic mystery series featuring amateur PI PJ Sugar. This series stands out because event though the frame of the story may seem familiar (amateur sleuth, coworker of opposite sex that shares attraction), Warren takes it make it her own with a very likable heroine. Personally I felt this to be the best book in the series. As I have stated in previous reviews, I have never really been a fan of PJ's sister. Connie has just always rubbed me the wrong way throughout the series so I was rather glad that she didn't show up much in this book. It's just how she treats PJ and then the whole business of her new marriage just really irk me. Although I was bit sad to see interaction with Sergei's parents reduced to nothing in this book after the rollicking ride from the last story.

There seems to be two different subplots happening, both with the same focus of finding out about one's past. There is Max, who has amnesia and hires PJ to help him find himself again. As they go along the way, there are details that may make Max NOT want to really discover himself again. There's a good mystery into his background but honestly I felt it played second fiddle to other one that I was more interested in. The other plot deals with PJ being the sole heiress to the Kellogg inheritance and having to discover why she was chosen. PJ hunts down the reasons as to why the Kelloggs might have included her in the will and along the way finds more about the family history than she had been expecting.

In addition to all this, PJ is finally having to come to terms with her relationships between childhood sweetheart Boone and coworker with insane chemistry Jeremy. This love triangle is handled exceptionally well with equal amounts of tension, humor, and awkwardness. While all these subplots may seem to make the story sound very busy, they don't. Warren is an expert story teller and manages to make each one stand out on its own as well as tie them all in together.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and the great way it tied up the series. It's a good light romantic suspense mixed with fun characters and an intriguing storyline. PJ's discovery of who she is has helped to understand her character completely. She has also made me realize that I will never want to be a PI if I can help it. It'd be too nerve wracking for me!

Licensed for Trouble by Susan May Warren is published by Tyndale (2010)

This review copy was provided for a blog tour with Lit Fuse Publicity

Check out other stops on the tour here

Enter PJ Sugar's "Sweet" Giveaway

Enter PJ Sugar's

Licensed for Trouble, Susan's brand new PJ Sugar novel, is in stores now! To celebrate the release, we’re giving away a Kindle!! You can enter using Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail using the icons below.

One Grand Prize winner will receive a A SWEET Kindle prize package that includes:

  • A brand new Kindle (Free 3G, 6”, Latest Generation)

  • The entire PJ Sugar series by Susan May Warren

To enter, simply click on the icons below to fill out the entry form, then tell 5 or more friends about the contest.

Oh, and enter soon! Winner will be announced on September 2nd.

Solitary by Travis Thrasher

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:


David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings Senior Media Specialist
The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***


Travis Thrasher is an author of diverse talents with more than twelve published novels including romance, suspense, adventure, and supernatural horror tales. At the core of each of his stories lie flawed characters in search of redemption. Thrasher weaves hope within all of his tales, and he loves surprising his readers with amazing plot twists and unexpected variety in his writing. Travis lives with his wife and daughter in a suburb of Chicago. Solitary is his first young adult novel.

Visit the author's website.


1 . Half a Person

She’s beautiful.

She stands behind two other girls, one a goth coated in black and the other a blonde with wild hair and an even wilder smile. She’s waiting, looking off the other way, but I’ve already memorized her face.

I’ve never seen such a gorgeous girl in my life.

“You really like them?”

The goth girl is the one talking; maybe she’s the leader of their pack. I’ve noticed them twice already today because of her, the one standing behind. The beautiful girl from my second-period English class, the one with the short skirt and long legs and endless brown hair, the one I can’t stop thinking about. She’s hard not to notice.

“Yeah, they’re one of my favorites,” I say.

We’re talking about my T-shirt. It’s my first day at this school, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think carefully about what I was going to wear. It’s about making a statement. I would have bet that 99 percent of the seven hundred kids at this high school wouldn’t know what Strangeways, Here We Come refers to.

Guess I found the other 1 percent.

I was killing time after lunch by wandering aimlessly when the threesome stopped me. Goth Girl didn’t even say hi; she just pointed at the murky photograph of a face on my shirt and asked where I got it. She made it sound like I stole it.

In a way, I did.

“You’re not from around here, are you?” Goth Girl asks. Hersparkling blue eyes are almost hidden by her dark eyeliner.

“Did the shirt give it away?”

“Nobody in this school listens to The Smiths.”

I can tell her that I stole the shirt, or in a sense borrowed it, butthen she’d ask me from where.

I don’t want to tell her I found it in a drawer in the house we’re staying at. A cabin that belongs to my uncle. A cabin that used to belong to my uncle when he was around.

“I just moved here from a suburb of Chicago.”

“What suburb?” the blonde asks.

“Libertyville. Ever hear of it?”


I see the beauty shift her gaze around to see who’s watching. Which is surprising, because most attractive girls don’t have to do that. They know that they’re being watched.

This is different. Her glance is more suspicious. Or anxious.

“What’s your name?”

“Chris Buckley.”

“Good taste in music, Chris,” Goth Girl says. “I’m Poe. This is Rachel. And she’s Jocelyn.”

That’s right. Her name’s Jocelyn. I remember now from class.

“What else do you like?”

“I got a wide taste in music.”

“Do you like country?” Poe asks.

“No, not really.”

“Good. I can’t stand it. Nobody who wears a T-shirt like that would ever like country.”

“I like country,” Rachel says.

“Don’t admit it. So why’d you move here?”

“Parents got a divorce. My mom decided to move, and I came with her.”

“Did you have a choice?”

“Not really. But if I had I would’ve chosen to move with her.”

“Why here?”

“Some of our family lives in Solitary. Or used to. I have a couple relatives in the area.” I choose not to say anything about Uncle Robert. “My mother grew up around here.”

“That sucks,” Poe says.

“Solitary is a strange town,” Rachel says with a grin that doesn’t seem to ever go away. “Anybody tell you that?”

I shake my head.

“Joss lives here; we don’t,” Poe says. “I’m in Groveton; Rach lives on the border to South Carolina. Joss tries to hide out at our places because Solitary fits its name.”

Jocelyn looks like she’s late for something, her body language screaming that she wants to leave this conversation she’s not a part of. She still hasn’t acknowledged me.

“What year are you guys?”

“Juniors. I’m from New York—can’t you tell? Rachel is from Colorado, and Jocelyn grew up here, though she wants to get out as soon as she can. You can join our club if you like.”

Part of me wonders if I’d have to wear eyeliner and lipstick.


“The misfits. The outcasts. Whatever you want to call it.”

“Not sure if I want to join that.”

“You think you fit in?”

“No,” I say.

“Good. We’ll take you. You fit with us. Plus … you’re cute.”

Poe and her friends walk away.

Jocelyn finally glances at me and smiles the saddest smile I’ve ever seen.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified.

I might look cool and nonchalant and act cool and nonchalant, but inside I’m quaking.

I spent the first sixteen years of my life around the same people, going to the same school, living in the same town with the same two parents.

Now everything is different.

The students who pass me are nameless, faceless, expressionless. We are part of a herd that jumps to life like Pavlov’s dog at the sound of the bell, which really is a low drone that sounds like it comes from some really bad sci-fi movie. It’s hard to keep the cool and nonchalant thing going while staring in confusion at my school map. I probably look pathetic.

I dig out the computer printout of my class list and look at it again. I swear there’s not a room called C305.

I must be looking pathetic, because she comes up to me and asks if I’m lost.

Jocelyn can actually talk.

“Yeah, kinda.”

“Where are you going?”

“Some room—C305. Does that even exist?”

“Of course it does. I’m actually heading there right now.” There’s an attitude in her voice, as if she’s ready for a fight even if one’s not coming.


She nods.

“Second class together,” I say, which elicits a polite and slightly annoyed smile.

She explains to me how the rooms are organized, with C stuck between A and B for some crazy reason. But I don’t really hear the words she’s saying. I look at her and wonder if she can see me blushing. Other kids are staring at me now for the first time today. They look at Jocelyn and look at me—curious, critical, cutting. I wonder if I’m imagining it.

After a minute of this, I stare off a kid who looks like I threw manure in his face.

“Not the friendliest bunch of people, are they?” I ask.

“People here don’t like outsiders.”

“They didn’t even notice me until now.”

She nods and looks away, as if this is her fault. Her hair, so thick and straight, shimmers all the way past her shoulders. I could stare at her all day long.

“Glad you’re in some of my classes.”

“I’m sure you are,” she says.

We reach the room.

“Well, thanks.”

“No problem.”

She says it the way an upperclassmen might answer a freshman. Or an older sister, her bratty brother. I want to say something witty, but nothing comes to mind.

I’m sure I’m not the first guy she’s left speechless.

Every class I’m introduced to seems more and more unimpressed.

“This is Christopher Buckley from Chicago, Illinois,” the teachers say, in case anybody doesn’t know where Chicago is.

In case anybody wonders who the new breathing slab of human is, stuck in the middle of the room.

A redheaded girl with a giant nose stares at me, then glances at my shirt as if I have food smeared all over it. She rolls her eyes and then looks away.

Glancing down at my shirt makes me think of a song by The Smiths, “Half a Person.”

That’s how I feel.

I’ve never been the most popular kid in school. I’m a soccer player in a football world. My parents never had an abundance of money. I’m not overly good looking or overly smart or overly anything, to be honest. Just decent looking and decent at sports and decent at school. But decent doesn’t get you far. Most of the time you need to be the best at one thing and stick to it.

I think about this as I notice more unfamiliar faces. A kid who looks like he hasn’t bathed for a week. An oily-faced girl who looks miserable. A guy with tattoos who isn’t even pretending to listen.

I never really fit in back in Libertyville, so how in the world am I going to fit in here?

Two more years of high school.

I don’t want to think about it.

As the teacher drones on about American history and I reflect on my own history, my eyes find her.

I see her glancing my way.

For a long moment, neither of us look away.

For that long moment, it’s just the two of us in the room.

Her glance is strong and tough. It’s almost as if she’s telling me to remain the same, as if she’s saying, Don’t let them get you down.

Suddenly, I have this amazingly crazy thought: I’m glad I’m here.

I have to fight to get out of the room to catch up to Jocelyn.

I’ve had forty minutes to think of exactly what I want to say, but by the time I catch up to her, all that comes out is “hey.”

She nods.

Those eyes cripple me. I’m not trying to sound cheesy—they do. They bind my tongue.

For an awkward sixty seconds, the longest minute of my sixteen years, I walk the hallway beside her. We reach the girls’ room, and she opens the door and goes inside. I stand there for a second, wondering

if I should wait for her, then feeling stupid and ridiculous, wondering why I’m turning into a head of lettuce around a stranger I just met.

But I know exactly why.

As I head down the hallway, toward some other room with some other teacher unveiling some other plan to educate us, I feel someone grab my arm.

“You don’t want to mess with that.”

I wonder if I heard him right. Did he say that or her?

I turn and see a short kid with messy brown hair and a pimply face. I gotta be honest—it’s been a while since I’d seen a kid with this many pimples. Doctors have things you can do for that. The word pus comes to mind.

“Mess with what?”

“Jocelyn. If I were you, I wouldn’t entertain such thoughts.”

Who is this kid, and what’s he talking about?

And what teenager says, “I wouldn’t entertain such thoughts”?

“What thoughts would those be?”

“Don’t be a wise guy.”

Pimple Boy sounds like the wise guy, with a weaselly voice that seems like it’s going to deliver a punch line any second.

“What are you talking about?”

“Look, I’m just warning you. I’ve seen it happen before. I’m nobody, okay, and nobodies can get away with some things. And you look like a decent guy, so I’m just telling you.”

“Telling me what?”

“Not to take a fancy with the lady.”

Did he just say that in an accent that sounded British, or is it my imagination?

“I was just walking with her down the hallway.”

“Yeah. Okay. Then I’ll see you later.”

“Wait. Hold on,” I say. “Is she taken or something?”

“Yeah. She’s spoken for. And has been for sometime.”

Pimple Boy says this the way he might tell me that my mother is dying.

It’s bizarre.

And a bit spooky.

I realize that Harrington County High in Solitary, North Carolina, is a long way away from Libertyville.

I think about what the odd kid just told me.

This is probably bad.

Because one thing in my life has been a constant. You can ask my mother or father, and they’d agree.

I don’t like being told what to do.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Contemps Challenge

Take The Contemps Challenge!

Ok as you know (or may not know), I love reading YA fiction. HOWEVER, I am NOT a fan of paranormal or fantasy YA that seems to be flooding the market these days. I barely tolerated Twilight and I cannot stand that every time I turn around there is a new book featuring vampires, werewolves, mermaids, fairies, etc. So I was VERY excited to hear about this new website, The Contemps, that is focusing on YA authors who write contemporary YA fiction, which is EXACTLY what I enjoy reading. That's right...no magic, no having to enter a world where beasts come alive. It's ALL REAL.

To kick off the launch of the site, they are hosting a reading challenge. The goal is to read at least 18 of the 19 upcoming Contemp books featured on the site from now until August 15, 2011.

Here is the nitty gritty from the site:

To enter:
  • Participants must be at least 13 years old.
  • Send an e-mail by November 15, 2010 with I ACCEPT THE CONTEMPS CHALLENGE in the subject line to: contempscontests(at)gmail(dot)com
  • Start reading! Visit our Books page for the complete book list or add books to your "to read" list from our Goodreads page (books that release later in 2011 may not be available on Goodreads yet).

I'm excited to this challenge because I already have some of these books and am looking forward to discovering new authors who do focus on the exact type of YA that I enjoy reading. I hope to be able to read ALL 19 books by the end of the challenge!

I will be adding to this post as the year goes by with the books I have read.

1. Freefall by Mindi Scott - finished 12/3/10
2. Losing Faith by Denise Jaden - finished 12/15/10
3. Girl, Stolen by April Henry - finished 2/5/11
4. Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers - finished 2/8/11
5. Trapped by Michael Northrup - finished 4/23/11
6. Rival by Sara Bennett Whealer - finished 5/12/11
7. Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt - finished 5/28/11
8. Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard - finished 6/19/11
9. Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith - finished 7/8/11

Book Review: "Sisters, Strangers, and Starting Over" by Belinda Acosta

Beatriz Sánchez-Milligan is shocked when her 14-year-old niece, Celeste, stumbles into her 25th wedding anniversary party. Celeste reveals that her mother, Perla, has died and that she has nowhere else to go. Beatriz immediately takes Celeste in-a decision that troubles her husband, Larry, who remembers that wherever Perla went, trouble followed. He worries his wife is rushing in without having all the facts. Undaunted, Beatriz begins to plan a quinceañera for Celeste; but the party planning doesn't comfort Celeste, nor does it ease Beatriz's pain. She feels guilty for losing contact with Perla, and that guilt grows deeper when she meets Josie Mendoza, a journalist who reveals that Perla may have been murdered. Beatriz wants to adopt Celeste to make peace with her late sister, but Larry still has concerns. For the first time, their rock solid marriage starts to crumble, and a frightened, young girl is caught in the middle. Somehow Beatriz must find a way to save her family, before the ghosts of her past tear it apart.

As someone who is in an interracial marriage and of minority culture, I adore reading multicultural books that focus on both of those aspects. I'm not always looking for insight into serious conversations dealing with these subjects, but it's always nice to see them pop up in literature and therefore become exposed to more readers. I had really enjoyed the first book in this series, Damas, Dramas and Ana Ruiz, because it gave a great representation of an intro to Latin American culture and the importance of what a quinceañera represents to the family. When I heard there would be another book in the Quinceañera Club series, I was excited to return back to the adventures of the close knit family.

The book starts off at the anniversary celebration of husband and wife Larry and Beatriz. It is interesting to note that Larry is Irish American while Beatriz's family is from Mexico. The couple celebrate their differences together, with both having made attempts throughout their years of marriage to get accustomed to the others culture. It's quite clear that the two love each other and are willing to do everything to make the other happy. Until Perla shows up.

Perla is the daughter of Beatriz's estranged little sister who Beatriz turned away years ago. She's felt horribly guilty about this her entire life and sees this as a chance to redeem herself and acts like her sister is back again. Meanwhile Larry is wary of this girl coming into their lives especially after he has already made plans for a future with Beatriz after their kids have left the house. The two of them spend a lot of time bickering over Perla to the point where their once perfect marriage is now in jeopardy. There were times throughout the story where I would get annoyed at Beatriz for not thinking about Larry's feelings and then I'd read a few more pages and get annoyed at Larry for being stubborn. I really liked how there was a balance with this. This way the reader doesn't side with one character too much and flaws and faults are shown so that the reader can see that both are not entirely right in their decisions.

There are two other side stories in addition to the Perla/Beatriz/Larry triangle. One involves Larry's sister, who is emotionally immature and pretty much abandons her kids every day to Larry and Beatriz. It frustrated and disgusted me to see this "mother" treat her children this way and also shows the contrast between her and Beatriz. It's really sad that women who don't deserve children have them when women who would love to be mothers can't. The other story involves a reporter who is trying to find Perla to return a special keepsake from her mother. She feels to blame for Perla's situation due to a story she was working on involving violence on women in the area that they were from. I wish more had been talked about the story she was working on as I think more awareness needs to be brought to light.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. It's a great way to see how mothers interact with their children (both the good and the bad) and gives a wonderful sense of the power of family. I've already mentioned how much of a wonderful multi-cultural book this is and how it gives a sense that it's ok to celebrate one's differences. There's some Spanglish sprinkled in the story, but not as bad as last time where even with my studies in Spanish I still couldn't translate all of it. So far, this series has been a hit and I'll be looking forward to more books in the series. If you're in the mood for some culture in your life, mixed with a mother/daughter story, this book is perfect for you. HIGHLY recommended.

Sisters, Strangers, and Starting Over by Belinda Acosta is published by Grand Central Publishing (2010)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

Monday, August 16, 2010

Book Review: "Hot" by Laura L. Smith

Lindsey is gorgeous and dresses like a model, but inside she feels alone. She feels as though no one truly understands her—until she meets Noah. Noah possesses a calm self-confidence that Lindsey craves. But what price will she pay to escape to the comfort of Noah’s soft words and strong arms?

Drawn into a world where fashion, boys, and popularity rule, will Lindsey discover what truly matters before it’s too late?

This book is probably the best Christian based novel that tackles the ever touchy (har har) topic of teen sex. I'm always wary of these types of books because they always end up the same way. Same story, same outcome, same message throughout. Half the problem is that the author doesn't seem to understand how teens think and act, so the characters come off either too adult, too naive or just not cool. However this book is totally different from all the rest of them and I was more than pleasantly surprised when I finished reading.

First off, it did not fall into the oh so predictable stereotype of having the girl get pregnant, especially after the first time. I am so tired of reading about the Christian girl who is so naive and does it once, and then immediately finds herself pregnant. While I am sure that it happens quite a bit, I don't think it happens EVERY SINGLE TIME. In fact, it was refreshing to read about a girl who had sex, and enjoyed it albeit with a slightly guilty conscience. Because, while parents don't want their kids to be having sex, there are teens, even Christian teens that are doing it because they enjoy it. Why not hear from that point of view?

Second, Lindsey is not some naive, dumb blond. She knows what's going on in her relationship. While she may question Noah's complete stance, she is completely aware of her situation. She made the decisions herself and knew the risks and complications that might happen from them. Even with her final decision, she made it on her own. Such a refresher from other books where the girl tells everyone her problems.

Third, for a Christian book, it's rather kinda "hot" in describing what Lindsey and Noah do and how they feel. Some readers might feel a blush come on their cheeks while reading, but if you've read any general market YA, this is just a tamer version of what goes on in real life. Very realistic and gives the true nature of the feelings of the characters.

Fourth, Noah is a Mighty Ducks fan. And they watched all three movies. That's just major props in my book!

Due to the slightly mature subject matter, I would recommend this book for older teens. It's perfect though for those who are Christian and those who aren't. Smith writes this book in the exact way I felt a teenage girl would think and speak. Lindsey remains realistic throughout the entire book. I could relate to her feelings and I'm sure there will be teen girls who will be able to do so as well. The only qualm I had was that I felt the book ended rather abruptly. The reader is not sure what is going to happen after Lindsey tells Noah how she feels. Then again I can understand this because neither does Lindsey. Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. It's a short read (less than 180 pages) but it packs a deep message throughout. Any teen girl would get a lot out of this book. HIGHLY recommended.

Hot by Laura L. Smith is published by NavPress (2010)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Movie Review: "Toy Story 3"

It is a rare occasion where I go to see a movie more than once. That is usually reserved for my geek movies like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, James Bond. You know, the epic movies that demand more than one sitting to drink everything in and also because I was so geeked out to see it the first time that I missed out on half the stuff. Well, with this movie, I did not see it just once. Or even twice. I saw it THREE TIMES. And guess what? Each time I saw it, it was just like seeing it for the first time. And I had the same reactions and same emotions every time I saw it.

I grew up watching the Toy Story movies. I was 11 when the first movie came out and could still relate to playing with my toys even though granted it had been a few years since I had last done so. After watching the first movie, my sisters and I were convinced that our stuffed animals came to life when we were gone so sometimes we would sneak into our room to try to catch them in the act. They were very sneaky and never got caught. When the second movie came out, I deemed that to be the best Pixar movie ever. We had just gotten into our Star Wars stage, so the scenes involving Fake Buzz and Zurg acting out Empire Strikes Back were just hilarious. Plus the entire movie was just wonderful, with the right mix of humor, emotion and wonderful animation. Even after seeing Ratatouille, Up and Wall-E, I still held a special place in my heart for Toy Story 2 to be at the top of my list.

Until Toy Story 3 came out. It had been 11 years since TS2 came out. Would the magic still be there? It definitely was and more so! My sister and I went to see it on opening night at 10pm to avoid any kidlets in the audience. The theater was packed. There was actually only 1 kid there. I would say that the audience was mostly 20somethings and other adults.

Almost all the voice actors from the original movies came back. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen ARE Woody and Buzz. I mean when I watch the movie, I hear their voices and I just seem them in their characters, if that makes any sense. I love Ham, John Ratzenberger really shines as him (as opposed to just having cameos in the other movies). With the new characters I loved Ken! OMG absolutely hilarious and if you saw it, you know why! And Mr. Pricklepants! I wanted more of him. He was played by Timothy Dalton...my favorite 007! I want a movie starring Mr. Pricklepants!!!! I absolutely loved how they used the same voice actor who played Andy as a little boy and brought him back to play him as an older teenager. And this might sound weird, but Andy grew up into a hottie! He is definitely going to get some girls in college!

The movie is just FILLED with humor. There are just so many scenes that I can't even begin to mention them all. The entire audience was cracking up several times. Oh Spanish Buzz was a hit with everyone. Did you know that the dance scenes were choreographed by Tony and Cheryl from Dancing With the Stars? There are also several Star Wars references. The biggest and most obvious is when Big Baby lifts Lot-so over his head to throw him akin to Vader picking up the Emperor in ROTJ. Actually there are several Star Wars references in the first two movies that match up to the number of the movie and the trilogy. Email me if you are interested because I would get too dorky on here.

I don't want to spoil the story for the few of you that still haven't seen THE MOST AWESOME MOVIE EVER but I will say this. That scene involving the hot, possibly tragic part? Based on that scene alone, the movie should have been rated PG. I mean, it was INTENSE. I was sobbing during that scene. I mean there was so much emotion going on and the fact that such a mature subject (potential death) was being accepted by the characters. This is where Pixar shines as no words are said at all, but from just the expressions on the faces and the music really connected with the audience. I seriously had no idea how in the world they were going to escape. I knew that the worst couldn't happen because there was about 20 minutes left in the film and they couldn't possibly OFF them. But still, how in the world were they going to get out of this one? When the resolution happened, the entire theater burst into cheers and applause. We also let out a collective sigh of relief.

And then the ACTUAL ending. OMG. Tears, tears and even more tears. The entire audience was sobbing, I kid you not. There were a bunch of 17-18 year old GUYS sitting next to me that were sniffling. The last 10 minutes of the movie are some of the most emotional stuff I have ever seen in a movie. Still not spoiling things but from when Andy's mom sees the empty room, to the slight pull away at a reach, to the last little wave, I sat there silently with tears streaming down my face. BTW, this happened during all of my three viewings. This movie made me really understand what it's like to grow up and accept change. It also made me feel horrible for getting rid of my toys. I wanted to drive home to my parents' house and find my old toys and go out and play with them.

With this movie, Pixar has cemented its place as an absolute landmark in movie making. And I don't mean with just the animation. Don't get me wrong. It is top notch. The movie is bright and colorful. The toys look so real now compared to 15 years ago in the first Toy Story. I didn't see the movie in 3D (was told it wasn't worth it) but just the 2D was eye popping. No, the real magic in Pixars works is the writing. They have the BEST writers working on their movies. This is why almost ever Pixar movie has also been nominated for BEST SCREENPLAY. How many other animated movies get that honor? (Dreamworks, I'm looking at you. Your next few offerings look horrible. Although I'm not too sure about Pixar's next movie....Cars 2. Really? Cars was my least favorite one.)

I will close this out this review by saying, if you haven't seen this movie yet...WHY NOT???!!! If you are an adult you will enjoy this movie. If you are a kid, you will enjoy this movie. But I think the people who will get this movie best, are the 20-somethings. This is our movie. We grew up watching the first two, and the movie makers made this movie for us. It is the animated classic of our generation. Just bring tissues. And Lots of them.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Book Review: "Georgia's Kitchen" by Jenny Nelson

At thirty-three, talented chef Georgia Gray has everything a woman could want—the top job at one of Manhattan's best restaurants; a posse of smart and savvy gal pals who never let her down; and a platinum-set, cushion-cut diamond engagement ring courtesy of Glenn, the handsome entertainment lawyer who Georgia's overbearing mother can't wait for her to marry. The table is set for the ambitious bride-to-be until a scathing restaurant review destroys her reputation. To add salt to her wounds, Glenn suddenly calls off the wedding.

Brokenhearted, Georgia escapes to the Italian countryside, where she sharpens her skills at a trattoria run by a world-class chef who seems to have it all—a devoted lover, a magnificent villa, and most important, a kitchen of her own. Georgia quells her longings with Italy's delectable offerings: fine wine, luscious cheeses, cerulean blue skies, and irresistible Gianni—an expert in the vineyard and the bedroom. So when Gianni tempts Georgia to stay in Italy with an offer no sane top chef could refuse, why can't she say yes?

An appetite for something more looms large in Georgia's heart – the desire to run her own restaurant in the city she loves. But having left New York with her career in flames, she'll need to stir up more than just courage if she's to realize her dreams and find her way home.

I may not be a foodie when it comes to actual food, but I cannot get enough of foodie fiction. Seriously there is nothing better than a good story that involves food. I had a delightful time eating my lunch and reading this book. I swear the food I was eating tasted so much better than it normally would have due to the wonderful creations that were talked about in the story.

Georgia is a chef who is trying to make her mark in the culinary world. Unfortunately for her, she works in a restaurant where the owner cares more about getting into pants than watching his own. I was devastated at the turn of events that caused Georgia to be removed from her job. Even though I can sort of understand the reasoning behind it, it just makes no sense to me as to why she got the blame when it was due to a personal issue with the owner. Luckily though, these turn of events allows her to go to Italy where she's able to start fresh again.

I loved the travel aspect of the book. I could totally picture myself in Italy, creating dishes along side Georgia. There is great chemistry in the book with all the characters. Her coworkers and especially the head chef in Italy made for good reading. Georgia's relationship with her parents is interesting. Her mother seems to be oblivious to Glenn's faults and keeps thinking that Georgia has shorted herself in life by becoming a chef. I was worried that throughout the book she would keep lamenting at how Georgia had never reached her full potential and keep forcing her to a marriage that would be unhealthy for her. Luckily, their relationship patches up throughout the book though it is amusing how it happens. Her relationship with her father is a bit better but it is easy to see how even with their quirks and faults they both love their daughter very much.

If there was anything at all that I would have added to the book, it might have the inclusion of some of the recipes of the dishes mentioned in the book. Almost everything that Georgia cooked sounded absolutely delicious and I would have loved to at least try to be able to recreate them in my own home. Although from what I read, I would probably have to cut back on the salt! Overall I really enjoyed reading this book. I had a great time eating and traveling with Georgia and sharing in all her adventures. If her restaurant actually existed, I would have to go to NYC just to stop in and order. This is an excellent debut from Nelson and I look forward to reading more from her. HIGHLY Recommended.

Georgia's Kitchen by Jenny Nelson is published by Gallery Books (2010)

This ARC was provided by the publisher