Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Books in Review

2010 has come to a close. And what a year it has been. I've had a rather eventful year, with both highs and lows. Among the highs was me graduating with my master's degree in history. I also had some really bad lows but I'm hoping that next year will be a lot better.

In terms of reading....*snickers*. I had a really awesome year. I read 624 books this year. That is the most books I have ever read in my entire life in one year. I thought last year's total of 530 books was over the top but I just went all sorts of crazy this year. I didn't think that I would even get near last year's total but I went above and beyond. In case anyone is wondering how I did this, the first half of the year I had a job where I could read at work. The second half of the year I have been jobless allowing me to read all the time. Also I don't have kids. Enough said.

As most of you know, I read and review mainly Christian fiction on this blog. I do read other genres but this past year I really wanted to broaden the types of books that I read. The two types of books that I seemed to be able to not put down this year were YA and cozy mysteries. I had made a goal to read more YA this year and found myself reading it non stop. I discovered cozy mysteries around April and got completely addicted to them. Now if I could only find some YA cozy mysteries!

Here's a small breakdown of the books that I read in regards to those three genres:

Books Read: 625
Pages Read: 179,306
Christian Fiction: 228
YA & MG (this includes Christian YA/MG as well): 172
Cozy Mystery: 120

I thought I was going to do some more stats but there are too many books to count and it is hurting my head to keep looking at that list!

I couldn't pick just 10 books that I liked this year. Instead I just went through all the books I read and picked the ones that stood out the most to me.

Memoirs
Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman (Review)
Hear No Evil by Matthew Paul Turner (Review)

YA

Paper Daughter by Jeanette Ingold

The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz
Beautiful by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma (Review)
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (Review)
Songs for a Teenage Nomad by Kim Culbertson (Review)

Christian Fiction
Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart by Beth Pattillo (Review)
The Preacher's Bride by Jody Hedlund (Review)
For Time and Eternity by Allison Pittman (Review)
Lady in Waiting by Susan Meissner (Review)


The Bishop by Steven James (Review)
Her Mother's Hope by Francine Rivers (Review)

Non Fiction

Everything is Broken by Emma Larkin (Review)
Stuff Christians Like by Jonathan Acuff (Review)

General Market Fiction (Contemporary, Historical, Literary)
Balancing Acts by Zoe Fishman (Review)

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahme-Smith (Review)
Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees (Review)
How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway (Review)

The Gentleman Poet by Kathryn Johnson (Review)
The Debutante by Kathleen Tessaro (Review)
Love Goddess' Cooking School by Melissa Senate (Review)
City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell (Review)

So that was my year in reading for 2010. My goals for 2011 will be posted tomorrow. Whew.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book Review: "Lydia's Charm" by Wanda Brunstetter

Visit Amish Country during the fall as Lydia King attempts to make Charm, Ohio, feel like home after losing her husband. But is her heart ready to open back up to love when gifts appear on her porch from a mystery source? Could it be from the widowed father of four energetic boys, or is it from the man who has rejected romance to be his family's caregiver? When life hands Lydia another challenge, will the gift giver be there to support her?

This is hard to believe but this was actually the first Amish book that I have read by Wanda Brunstetter. I'm a big Amish fiction reader but even though I have many of Brunstetter's books, I haven't actually sat down and read one until now. I know she's very popular with Amish readers but I just haven't gotten around to reading her. This book brought together something I never thought I would read in a book: Amish and midgets. It's a very unlikely combination that sounds like it would never work out but Brunstetter makes them both flow together naturally to make an interesting story.

The main focus of the story deals with recent widow Lydia and the two men who want to court her. Both would like to make her their new wife but they feel as if they have roadblocks holding them back. For widower Menno, it is his four unruly boys who holding him back from offering a good home. For storekeeper Levi, he is ashamed of his family who are are dwarfs. The two men battle between courting Lydia and trying to help her see which is the better pick for her. I enjoyed getting to know the two men and there were times during the story where I had no idea who she was going to end up picking. I really liked Levi's family as they are not the norm that you read about in Amish fiction. I also liked learning about frogmore stew and would love to try it out for myself one day, thanks to the recipe included in the back of the book.

While I enjoyed the story, there were some things that got on my nerves while reading. I was confused as to why Lydia's son is four years old and still not speaking any English at all. I felt that she was way too lax with him and didn't seem to want to punish him at all. Therefore I totally sided with her mother when she would try to discipline him for not following rules. But then after a certain tragic event happens, I felt bad for thinking all this. Still, that event seemed way over dramatic and very soap opera-ish to happen in the middle of the book.

Overall, this was an interesting read. It's very safe Christian Amish fiction meaning there is nothing in here that will offend anyone. There's no antagonist and the story just basically deals with Lydia's decision of which husband she is going to pick. It's not the best writing but for those that do enjoy a clean story and also enjoy Amish fiction, this book will probably find high favor in their eyes. As for me, it was an ok read. Nothing about the Amish faith is really mentioned and while there are some insights into their culture, it's more for the setting of the story than anything. I wouldn't mind though going back and reading more of Brunstetter's stories as they do offer a nice relaxation read from all the stress of the holidays.

Lydia's Charm by Wanda Brunstetter is published by Barbour (2010)

This review copy was provided by PTA Reviewer Rewards

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Book Review: "The Home for Broken Hearts" by Rowan Coleman

For young widow Ellen Wood, her Victorian home is a refuge—a place to feel safe with her eleven-year-old son, Charlie. But when money grows so tight that Ellen could lose the house, her sister, Hannah, makes a radical suggestion . . . rent out some of the rooms. Soon Ellen has three lodgers: Sabine, a German coworker of Hannah's, recently separated from her husband; Allegra, an eccentric but wise novelist; and Matt, an up-and-coming young journalist in search of his voice, who has just landed a plum job in London.

Ellen thinks three strangers are the last complication she needs, but they make her realize just how isolated she has become. Their presence exposes a secret she's been keeping hidden, as well as a conflict with her sister that is both shocking and revealing. And while a love affair with a younger man seems like a fantasy powered by her imagination, Ellen can't deny her deep connection to Matt, or the changes he inspires in her and her relationship with Charlie. Outside her home's sheltering walls lies a world of opportunity as well as danger. Now that she's had the courage to open the door, does Ellen dare step through?

I knew I was going to enjoy this book as soon as I read the description. For some reason, I seem drawn to books about people who take boarders into their own home. I love reading about how many different personalities and secrets lie under one roof. As soon as I began the book, I began to see that very plot begin to take shape right before me. Ellie and her young son are still trying to get over her husband's untimely early death. I was a bit disheartened to see that Matt had completely left Ellie in the dark about everything in their lives and now that he was gone she was completely clueless. However, by forcing her to open up her house it forces her to start to change her lifestyle and be open to more people.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I love British chick lit books and this book fits the genre very well. I found the whole take on the cougar storyline to be interesting because it comes at it from a different point of view. Ellie is not on the lookout for a younger boyfriend, in fact she's not on the lookout for any sort of relationship at all. Matt is not the typical guy for her but their chemistry works out perfectly. There is some fantasizing that goes on but I found it fitting to the story and not like a romance novel at all.

The only person that really bothered me was Hannah. I didn't like her character from the start of the story and as the novel progressed, her actions didn't help me to sympathize with her character at all. Part of the reason may have been because the reader mainly sees her from Ellie's point of view as the the older sister. Still, I felt Hannah to be a character that brought a lot of drama in her life and couldn't see things from others' point of view because she's too caught up into herself. A book just on her story could be interesting as I feel her character needs to evolve in order for her to become likable.

Overall, I did enjoy this book very much. I got really into the story and into all (well, with the exception of Hannah) the characters and their lives. I really liked reading about Ellie's job as an editor as it gave me a closer understanding of how a book gets edited and published. I love reading books about people who love reading books so it was fun to see Ellie get excited to read Allegra's new book and have a say in it. The romance in the book was also fun for me as I didn't feel it to be too overpowering yet just enough to keep me intrigued. I love Coleman's style of writing and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

The Home for Broken Hearts by Rowan Coleman is published by Gallery Books (2010)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Review: "Stay With Me" by Sandra Rodriguez Barron

In 1979, five toddlers were found alone in a luxury boat tied to a dock in Puerto Rico after a devastating hurricane. No one knew who they were or where they came from. Raised by different families, they remained connected by a special bond—always considering themselves siblings, despite their unknown blood relations.

Now adults, Taina, Holly, Adrian, and Raymond have been summoned by the fifth, David, to an island off the coast of Connecticut and the family home of David's ex-girlfriend, Julia. But along with the joy of reuniting comes the exposure of raw places, jealousy, and childhood sorrows. Having been diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer—and experiencing flashbacks to the time before the hurricane—David believes that healing his relationship with Julia and discovering his origins will strengthen his ability to endure and survive. David pushes the people he loves the most to their emotional breaking points in order to uncover the truth about the mystery that both unites and divides them.

This is a sweeping saga of a family that is condensed into one story. The former five orphans are connected together due to a tragic event that created a bond that goes deeper than blood. Three brothers and two sisters find themselves reunited when one of them learns that they have only a short time left to live. I was worried at first that this might turn out to be a story full of drama fit for a soap opera. Instead what I found was a intricate character study into the lives of a unusual family that defines itself not by blood but by love.

I found myself being pulled into the story and not wanting it to end. At first I thought it would be difficult to keep track of everyone because of the multiple characters in the story. However each character is so distinct that I was able to find each voice to be unique. Also because only one character (David) has his story told in first person, it was easier to follow the narrative. The mystery of how the five got together keeps the story going as it is not revealed until the very end. The reader as well as the characters are kept in suspense, allowing for great depth of the personalities to be put on full display instead. It almost becomes an afterthought because the relationships of the family is more important. If there's anything that I could complain about is that I felt that some characters didn't get enough attention as others did. While their personalities are easy to distinguish, I just didn't feel as if I got to know them as well as others.

Overall, I found this to be a fascinating read. It's a wonderful story about the power of love and family. Family does not necessarily mean that you have to be connected by blood. Just being there for each other through the good and the bad times can create a stronger bond than some actual brothers and sisters will ever have. Barron's story is one that will be able to stand the test of time as it contains a story that will never grow old or outdated. This is a fantastic and emotional read. I look forward to reading more books from this author.

Stay With Me by Sandra Rodriguez Barron is published by Harper (2010)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Winner

Congrats to the winner of DEWEY'S NINE LIVES


Book Review: "Salting Roses" by Lorelle Marinello

A young woman abandoned as an infant on an Alabama porch is horrified to discover that she is the missing heiress to a vast Connecticut fortune—a birthright she is desperate to reject in favor of her Peachtree Lane roots.

Gracie Lynne Calloway—once left in a coal bucket on a front porch in a small Alabama town—discovers on her twenty-fifth birthday that she is the kidnapped daughter of a late New England financier and heiress to a fortune. When the tabloid press and her unwanted greedy relatives descend on her, she has to admit the quiet secure life she's known and loved is gone for good. As Gracie struggles to stabilize her world and come to terms with her new identity, she learns that belonging is not about where you came from but who you are.

What would you do if you suddenly came into money? Would you go out and start buying everything left and right or would you try to refuse it? That's exactly the dilemma that Gracie is suddenly put through as she discovers that she's not the small town once abandoned baby she always thought she was and is instead the heiress to a grand fortune.

This is a very character driven story and there are a LOT of characters who have very distinct personalities. I really liked Gracie and Sam's characters. I felt the two to be very down to earth and easy to get along with. Even though they both could have taken the advantages and opportunities handed to them and turned them into something nasty they did not. I really liked how even though Gracie does not really want the money for herself, she does use it to help others including her uncles who have done nothing but show her love and kindness all these years. I also liked seeing Gracie's relationships with her new family especially her sister and grandmother. Her relationship with her birth mother is a bit odd. It's almost as if her mother never wanted her to begin with and then when she does discover her, there seems to be no love lost between the two of them.

While I did enjoy the overall story, some of the characters kind of annoyed me. The one that stood out most was Alice. I can understand her feeling protective of Gracie, her actions really got on my nerves. The buying of all the jeans in town simply to have Gracie wear dresses irked me plus the fact that she was pretty much planning Gracie's life without talking to her at all. Then there was Gracie's birth mother as well as Clare's mother as well. Money does strange things to people.

Overall though, it was an enjoyable story. Southern culture is alive and well throughout the book. It's nice to read that there are people in this world who do not feel as if money has to control them even when they are entitled to it. Gracie is a good character with a good heart. I enjoyed reading her story and getting to know her. The importance of family is also encouraged. It's a fine book to read if you want to experience Southern culture and get a good story out of it as well.

Salting Roses by Lorelle Marinello is published by Avon A (2010)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

For all those of you who celebrate Christmas, may this be a joyous day and a happy celebration to you all.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Book Review: "An Amish Christmas" by Cynthia Keller

Meg Hobart has everything: a happy marriage to a handsome, successful husband, a beautiful home in Charlotte, North Carolina, and three wonderful children. But it all comes crashing down around her the day she learns that her husband, James, has been living a lie—and has brought the family to financial ruin. Penniless and homeless, the Hobarts pack up what little they still possess and leave behind their golden life for good. But it’s not the material things Meg finds herself mourning. Instead, she misses the certainty that she should remain married to James, who has betrayed her trust so thoughtlessly. Worse, she is suddenly very aware of just how spoiled her children have become. Meg wonders what her family has really sacrificed in their pursuit of the American dream.

A frightening twist of fate forces the Hobarts to take refuge with a kind Amish family in Pennsylvania, where they find themselves in a home with no computers, no cell phones, nothing the children consider fashionable or fun. Her uncooperative brood confined to the Amish world of hard work and tradition, their futures entirely uncertain, Meg fears she can never make her family whole again.

This book would make the perfect Hallmark Christmas movie. Rich family has it all. Rich family loses everything. Now poor family sets out to start new life. Family gets caught in accident. Family is taken in by kindly strangers. Family learns to change their ways. It's a simplistic plot but one that many people enjoy because of it's familiarity and heartwarming plot.

Ok, the Hobart family was just really unbelievable. The entire family was just plain spoiled, all of them. James deceits his family for months and then throughout the entire book NEVER looks for a job himself. Even at the end, with the resolution he is basing his career just on Meg and hoping that she will be able to do enough for his job to work out. I did not like him at all. Meg is a total pushover. I can understand her ignorance in the beginning of the story and then her shock and anger when she does discover the truth. However she doesn't do anything to counter James' actions, she is pretty much just a doormat. I wonder if that has anything to do with her horrid parents and the disgusting way that they treat her. Then their three children are just plain spoiled. Will and Lizzie are rude and spoiled. The youngest son shows all signs of being a hoarder which his mother seems to think is a cute trait of his, never thinking that he might have some issues that need to be discussed.

While I could not stand the Hobart family, on the other hand I really did like the Lutz family , the Amish family that they stayed with. They were an excellent, although a bit stereotypical, example of the type of family that the Hobarts should have attempted to live like. What does make the book stand out is that this is not a faith based Amish novel. While references to the Amish faith is mentioned, there is nothing in this book that encourages or even really discusses any talk about faith at all. It is simply just used a plot device to get the Hobart family to realize that they need to change their ways in order to survive as a family. As it stands, nothing about the Hobarts' own faith is ever mentioned throughout the entire book.

Overall, this was an ok read. It's a predictable yet feel good story for the most part. As I stated, I'm not a fan of the Hobarts at all but I hoped that they learned their lessons and will be able to move on in life as better people. The story is simplistic but not groundbreaking. To be honest, at times I felt as if the Amish characters were simply used because of the recent Amish trend and craze that is going on now. Still it's an interesting read and if you like Christmas stories as well as the Amish, you'll enjoy this book.


An Amish Christmas by Cynthia Keller is published by Ballantine Books (2010)

This ARC was provided by the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book Review: "A Plain and Simple Christmas" by Amy Clipston

When Anna Mae McDonough left her Amish community four years ago to marry David, an Englisher, her family shunned her. Now eight months pregnant with their first child, she longs to return home for Christmas. But when she arrives, she doesn't receive the welcome she expects. Will it cause her to question her faith in God?

I will admit before I started reading this book, I was very wary about it. I had read Clipston's first Amish book last year and I did not like it at all. In fact, I had major problems with it and swore that I would never read another of her books again. Then I saw that she had written a Christmas novella and I'm a sucker for Christmas books. So I picked up this books with very low expectations and was thinking that I would find myself being very disgruntled again. Therefore it was a complete shock to find that not only was the story done very well but that I found myself enjoying the book very much.

The story deals with a couple with the wife being ex-Amish. Anna Mae left her Amish community and family after she fell in love with Kellan. Because of this, she had been shunned by her family. Two years later, she's pregnant with their first child and missing her family dreadfully. Plans are made to go back and visit them but there's a lot of trepidation and tension. Anna Mae's family could completely reject her and her husband. This whole scenario is very interesting to me. Anna Mae has no intention of returning to the Amish faith yet she still wants to reconnect with her family. Kellan brings up a very good point of asking why they are shunning her when she's not only a faithful Christian but she's married to a Christian as well. While the whole thing deals with tradition and custom, it's a very legit question because as true Christians they really shouldn't be doing it at all.

The only over dramatic part was that I knew with Anna Mae being so pregnant at the time of the visit that her having the baby not in a hospital was bound to happen. She just kept ignoring all the signs that she was about to go into labor and of course there would be a snowstorm during the climax scene. Nothing wrong with it but I could see this coming miles away. A bit predictable but nothing completely out of the ordinary.

Overall, I will have to say that I did enjoy this story. Beliefs are challenged but also allowing for both sides to come to a truce with each other. I really liked all the characters especially Kellan (especially because he never gave in to become Amish which I was dreadfully afraid he was going to by the end of the book just to be with Anna Me). The best part of this for me was that even though Anna Mae respects her parents and their beliefs, she has chosen a life for herself and chooses to stay with her husband and make a family together instead of going back to her childhood home. This was a really nice Christmas story as well. In short, it has made me think twice before banishing an author from my library again. At the least, I'll give the author a second try because like Amy Clipston, they might surprise me on the second go round.

A Plain and Simple Christmas by Amy Clipston is published by Zondervan (2010)

This review copy was provided by the Amazon Vine program

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Book Winner

Congrats to the winner of Dining With Joy!

Wendy B from Wall to Wall Books

Book Review: "The Mailbox" by Marybeth Whalen

When Lindsey Adams first visits the Kindred Spirit mailbox at Sunset Beach, she has no idea that twenty years later she will still be visiting the mailbox—still pouring out her heart in letters that summarize the best and worst parts of her life.

Returning to Sunset for her first vacation since her husband left her, Lindsey struggles to put her sorrow into words. Memories surface of her first love, Campbell—and the rejection that followed. When Campbell reappears in her life, Lindsey must decide whether to trust in love again or guard herself from greater pain. The Mailbox is a rich novel about loss, hope, and the beauty of second chances.

I don't always like reading romances but I do love a good love story. And this book is a beautiful love story. It's the story of two people who were meant to be together, misfortune happens along the way, and then they are brought back together under the most unlikely of circumstances. It's a story that;'s been told numerous times but Marybeth Whalen's debut brings a new take on the story that's fresh, realistic and a joy to read.

The parts of the story where Lindsey and Campbell are teens read just like a YA book. In fact a whole entire book could have been written about their summers as teens and marketed as a YA book and would be FAB. These segments are written in flashback form, including the letters that Lindsey has been writing to her Kindred Spirit throughout the years. Through these flashbacks and letters the reader is able to see everything that happened between the couple as well as different perspectives of each person that the other did not know about. I found both of their stories to be both enthralling and sad at the same time. Campbell thought he was doing the right thing to own up to his mistake and instead found himself losing almost everything. Lindsey tried to move on with what she thought was a good guy and instead saw her marriage crumbling.

This story is unique in that both Campbell and Lindsey are divorcees. While this is not unusual in real life at all, for a Christian fiction book this is breaking new grounds as divorce is usually a taboo topic. For me, I'm glad it is included because it's very realistic and it happens to everyone even Christians. It's not something that should be avoided at all especially in the situations of what Campbell and Lindsey's spouses did.

Overall, I was completely enthralled with the characters, the plot and the mailbox itself. I could totally picture the setting, of the beach and the houses there. It made me yearn to go visit the mailbox myself as my hometown is just a few hours away, it's totally possible to make a visit next summer. This is a wonderful and lovely debut and a book that I will think about a lot in the years to come. I am looking forward to more books from Whalen and hope that they will be able to capture the magic and love from this outstanding story. HIGHLY recommended.

The Mailbox by Marybeth Whalen is published by David C. Cook (2010)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fall Into Reading Wrap Up



Well all good things must come to an end. And the Fall Reading Challenge is now over. How'd I do? Well I've gone absolutely bonkers this past year and reading WELL over my norm (I'm currently at up to 618 books for the year). I read all the books (29) on my list PLUS 92 more for a grand total of 121 books in 3 months!!!!!

Here's the official list of books (click) I read for the challenge.

Here's a breakdown of the OTHER books that I read during the same time:



Christian Fiction
  • The Fiddler's Gun by A.S. Peterson
  • Stray Affections by Charlene Ann Baumbich
  • An Honest Love by Kathleen Fuller
  • Embers of Love by Tracie Peterson
  • The Waiting by Suzanne Woods Fisher
  • Love Finds You Under the Mistletoe by Irene Brand and Anita Higman
  • Divine Appointments by Charlene Ann Baumbich
  • Hometown Ties by Melody Carlson
  • Lady in Waiting by Susan Meissner
  • While We're Far Apart by Lynn Austin
  • In the Company of Others by Jan Karon
  • Don't Look Back by Lynette Eason
  • Secrets of Harmony Grove by Mindy Starns Clark
  • A Lady Like Sarah by Margaret Brownley
  • Emily's Chance by Sharon Gillenwater
  • The Miracle of Mercy Land by River Jordan
  • The God Hater by Bill Myers
  • The Preacher's Bride by Jody Hedlund
  • Head in the Clouds by Karen Witemeyer
  • The Perfect Blend by Trish Perry
  • Grace by Shelley Shepard Gray
  • Almost Heaven by Chris Fabry
  • Critical Care by Candace Calvert
  • Amy Inspired by Bethany Pierce
  • Disaster Status by Candace Calvert
  • Code Triage by Candace Calvert
  • Christmas at Harrington's by Melody Carlson
  • The Silent Order by Melanie Dobson
  • Nightingale by Susan May Warren
  • Hatteras Girl by Alice Wisler
  • Facelift by Leanna Ellis
  • The Snowflake by Jamie Carie
  • Naomi and Her Daughters by Walter Wangerin Jr.
  • Sweet Caroline by Rachel Hauck
  • Angel Song by Shelia Walsh and Kathryn Cushman
  • Love Starts With Elle by Rachel Hauck
  • The Skin Map by Stephen R. Lawhead
  • Dining With Joy by Rachel Hauck
  • Love, Charleston by Beth Webb Hart
  • The Mailbox by Marybeth Whalen
  • A Plain and Simple Christmas by Amy Clipston
  • Love Finds You in Carmel By-The-Sea, California by Sandra D. Bricker
  • The Clouds Roll Away by Sibella Giorello
  • Reinventing Rachel by Alison Strobel
  • Love Finds You in Deadwood, South Dakota by Tracey Cross
  • Love Finds You in Sun Valley, Idaho by Angela Ruth
  • Lydia's Charm by Wanda Brunstetter
Young Adult
  • Beautiful Dead: Arizona by Eden Maguire
  • Chosen by Ted Dekker
  • I Now Pronounce You Someone Else by Erin McCahan
  • Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins
  • Pure Sin by Kate Brian
  • Donut Days by Lara Zielin
  • Belle of the Brawl by Lisi Harrison
  • Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr
  • Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen
  • Spotlight by Melody Carlson
  • Boyfriends, Burritos and an Ocean of Trouble by Nancy Rue
  • Tournaments, Cocoa and One Wrong Move by Nancy Rue
  • Freefall by Mindi Scott
  • Don't Kiss Him Goodbye by Sandra Byrd
  • Flirting With Disaster by Sandra Byrd
  • The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee
  • Losing Faith by Denise Jaden
  • You Wish by Mandy Hubbard
  • Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColi
Middle Grade
  • Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder
Memoir
  • The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker
  • What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen
  • Dewey's Nine Lives by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter
Contemporary Fiction
  • The Love Goddess' Cooking School by Melissa Senate
  • The Secrets Sisters Keep by Abby Drake
  • Getting In by Karen Stabiner
  • The Transformation of Things by Jillian Cantor
  • An Amish Christmas by Cynthia Keller
  • Salting Roses by Lorelle Marinello
  • Stay With Me by Sandra Rodriguez Barron
  • The Home for Broken Hearts by Rowan Coleman
Cozy Mystery
  • Buzz Off by Hannah Reed
  • The Lover's Knot by Clare O'Donahue
  • A Drunkard's Path by Clare O'Donahue
  • The Double Cross by Clare O'Donahue
  • Fundraising the Dead by Shelia Connolly
  • Pinned for Murder by Elizabeth Lynn Casey
  • Sinister Sprinkles by Jessica Beck
Other Literature
  • The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig
  • Blood of the Prodigals by P.L. Gaus
  • City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell
  • Broken English by P.L. Gaus
Non Fiction
  • America's Prophet by Bruce Feiler
  • The Word Made Flesh by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor
  • The Peanuts Collection by Nat Gertler

What was the best book you read this fall? There were quite a few goodies that I discovered. The Preacher's Bride by Jody Hedlund and The Love Goddess' Cooking School by Melissa Senate are some standouts.

What book could you have done without? Was not a fan of Death by Darjeeling by Laura Child. I know she's very popular but she just wasn't for me, at least not with that book.

Did you try out a new author this fall? If so, which one, and will you be reading that author again? Yep, discovered a bunch as always. Will give everyone new at least one more try.

If there were books you didn't finish, tell us why. Did you run out of time? Realize those books weren't worth it? Finished them all! And I was very glad to do so because it meant finally returning those honor system library books that I had been keeping for over half a year.

Did you come across a book or two on other participants' lists that you're planning to add to your own to-be-read pile? Which ones? I actually didn't really gaze around too much at other lists as my TBR pile is already so huge that I don't want to make it any bigger!

What did you learn -- about anything -- through this challenge? Maybe you learned something about yourself or your reading style, maybe you learned not to pick so many nonfiction books for a challenge, maybe you learned something from a book you read. Whatever it is, share! Books that I don't have to review, I tend to read faster. Not that I'm skimming but because I don't have to remember specific details when writing a review later, these books I tend to read and forget.

What was the best part of the Fall Reading Challenge? Being able to finish up those library books. I really need to stop getting library books.

Would you be interested in participating in another reading challenge this spring? Of course. Always do :)

Any other thoughts, impressions, or comments. Thanks for hosting this Katrina!!!! Can't wait til spring!

Book Review: "The Clouds Roll Away" by Sibella Giorello

Closing her assignment with the FBI's Seattle office, forensic geologist Raleigh Harmon returns to her hometown of Richmond, Virginia, expecting a warm welcome. Instead she finds herself investigating an ugly cross burning at a celebrity's mansion and standing in the crosshairs of her boss at the Bureau. And the deeper Raleigh digs into the case, the murkier the water becomes...until she's left wondering who the real victims might be. To make matters worse, Raleigh's personal life offers almost zero clarity. Her former confidant is suddenly remote while her former boyfriend keeps popping up wherever she goes. And then there's her mother. Raleigh's move home was supposed to improve Nadine's fragile sanity, but instead seems to be making things worse. As the threads of the case begin crossing and double-crossing, Raleigh is forced to rely on her forensic skills, her faith, and the fervent hope that breakthrough will come, bringing with it that singular moment when the clouds roll away and everything finally makes sense.

As someone who lives in Virginia, I always enjoy books that take place in the state. I really enjoy it when the author chooses an actual location in the state and either does research or knows the area already instead of making stuff up. Sibella Giorello brings Richmond and the rest of Virginia alive in this latest Raleigh Harmon adventure.

While I don't enjoy the topic itself, I really appreciated how this book deals with racism and hate crimes. It's a topic that is rarely mentioned in Christian fiction so seeing it brought up here and in a way that doesn't leave for a tidy ending was enlightening. Giorello doesn't showcase the people in a stereotypical way but does focus on views that are sadly popular in certain parts of the country. However the whole topic of race relations is very interesting and I liked how Raleigh is able to to just blend in with all the characters. Giorello does a very good job with showing urban culture. She did her research and didn't make it sound like it was an outsider just making assumptions.

As with the previous book, I really enjoyed how Raleigh is a no nonsense, non girly character. She can totally take care of herself and does not need a man to rely on. In fact that is a highlight of the book, the fact that there is no romance in the story at all. It is so refreshing to read a book that does not include any sort of romance at all. Unfortunately, this book also shares my sentiments with the last book where I felt the ending to be of a let down. I just felt the whole story was building up to the conclusion and I felt it to be rather abrupt in ending. I also felt a bit like the story with Raleigh's mom didn't really conclude.

Even though this is the third book in the series, it can be read completely as a standalone. In fact I still haven't read the first book and I don't feel lost at all. The story is full of suspense and action yet drives home with a resounding message. I think Raleigh is one of my favorite female heroines and I would love to read more about her in the future.

The Clouds Roll Away by
Sibella Giorello is published by Thomas Nelson (2010)

This review copy was provided for a blog tour with LitFuse Publicity


Other stops on the tour can be found here

Contest: Sibella’s celebrating the release of The Clouds Roll Away by giving away a KINDLE prize pack worth over $150.00!

One Grand Prize winner will receive:

* Latest Generation KINDLE with Wi-Fi
* $25 gift certificate to Amazon.com

To enter simply click on one of the icons below! Then tell your friends! Winner will be announced January 3, 2011 on Sibella's blog: http://sibellagiorello.blogspot.com/.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Review: "The Transformation of Things" by Jillian Cantor

Jennifer Levenworth has a headache—a great, big, pounding headache. It could be because her husband, a judge, is indicted on bribery charges, leaving her unsure about everything in her marriage. The headache could also be caused by the news stations, every one of which is covering the story, or the local paper, where it’s plastered on the front page. Or it could be because the friends Jennifer thought she knew and trusted have turned their backs on her in her greatest hour of need.

But there is something else very odd going on, and the headache isn’t quite what it seems. In fact, Jennifer doesn’t feel exactly right, and all of her thoughts aren’t her own. Suddenly privy to hear and see things her family and friends are saying and even thinking in their most private moments, she has new insight into all of their inner-most emotions and secrets. Her herbalist says it’s stress combined with her imagination. . . but something unbelievable has happened to Jennifer. Something that allows her to finally see the people around her more clearly. And what she sees beyond the surface of other people’s lives, ultimately allows her to transform her own.

Sometimes I wish that I really could live in a book. The characters get to experience things that are not at all possible in real life. If I was given the chance to get a redo of my life and get to look at things from a distance before making decision, I would jump at the opportunity. Unfortunately that will never happen, so the next best thing is to experience through the eyes of a character in a book. In this book, we meet Jennifer who has just discovered that her husband has been living a lie in their relationship and her life is about to become completely changed.

Throughout the story, Jennifer begins to reevaluate the relationships she has with those around her. These include her so called friends, her true friends, her husband and other members of her family. She has somehow been given insight to these people's lives and begins to see how they really feel and what they are really thinking. The one that stuck out to me the most was how she begins to see her sister in a different light. This is partially due to the Jennifer seeing Kelly's mother in law from how Kelly sees her, and it's not pretty. There's a line in the story that mentions about how some women are not meant to be mothers and Bev is definitely one of those women.

While I really liked the story, I felt a little deceived by the ending. It just felt like a cop-out ending to me. I felt like everything I had been reading in the book was just a lie. Don't get me wrong, it was done very well and I had enjoyed what I read. I just felt like the rug had been thrown out from under my feet and I'm not really a big fan of that when I read a book. It's different from just a twist that catches you off guard. I also was not a real big fan of the dream sequences. It would take me a long time (and probably Jennifer herself) to realize whose perspective the dream was coming from.

Overall I did like the book a lot. It's an engaging read and the characters are all very interesting. There's some cursing for those that aren't a fan of it but otherwise this story is a good read to enjoy on a winter afternoon. It's written in a light tone but the story is deep and reflective. I haven't read Cantor's YA books but after reading this one, I'm eager to go back and find those. I'll also be looking forward to more adult fiction titles from her as well.

The Transformation of Things by Jillian Cantor is published by Avon A (2010)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Library Reads No. 4

My Library Reads is a spotlight on the library books that I have read during the previous week. This is not a post on what books I borrowed but books that I read. Since I don't review library books, this is a way to still be able to showcase them on my blog.

BTW, if anyone knows of another meme that is like this on another blog, could you please let me know? I don't know of any myself, but if there is one already in place, I'd like to give credit where credit is due!


Library Books read from 12/12/10 - 12/19/10

Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2010)

Middle Grade: This was a REALLY cute book. I loved Penny's character and her adventures in both her old home and her new one. The story was refreshingly realistic and lots of fun to read. This is exactly the type of middle grade fiction that I love reading and I would love if there is a sequel to Penny's story in the future.

Love Finds You in Sun Valley, Idaho by Angela Ruth (Summerside Press, 2010)

Christian Fiction - Romance: This was a fairly typical Christian romance but I thought the premise was more interesting than normal. I was intrigued that a Wonder Woman movie was made since in real life that movie probably never will be. I was glad that Emily's character wanted to be an actress and was interested in pursuing this in the future. The ending is a bit tidy but not as bad as I thought it was going to be.

Reinventing Rachel by Alison Strobel (David C. Cook, 2010)

Christian Fiction- General/Contemporary: I REALLY enjoyed this book. Very realistic without being over dramatic. Rachel's situation is one that a lot of people do face and seeing her faith go from being strong to non existent to slowly going back was refreshing to read. Strobel's writing is very good and I'm looking forward to reading more from her in the future.

You Wish by Mandy Hubbard (Razorbill, 2010)

YA: This book was highly addictive and fun to read. I couldn't put it down. The story is not very serious but it was just a really enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. It makes you go back and think that you might want to think twice about what you wish for. Hubbard's books have been great to read so I'm looking forward to more from her.

Love Finds You in Deadwood, South Dakota by Tracey Cross (Summerside Press, 2010)

Christian Fiction - Historical Romance: I was rather disappointed with this book. I have loved Tracey Bateman's (she wrote this book under a pen name) historical books in the past but this one felt very all over the place. I was not a fan of Jane or Franklin and the villain in the story was just crazy. I also wasn't a big fan of the stereotypes of slaves and Chinese immigrants in the book. It just kept going on and on and felt like a huge western soap opera. I'm hoping future books from her will go back to the quality I know she can write.

The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee (Candlewick, 2010)

YA: This was an awesome book!!! An Asian, ok half-Asian but still!, young girl who solves mysteries in Victorian England? And the writing is awesome too? This book was so good and I cannot wait to get my hands on the rest of this series.

Losing Faith by Denise Jaden (Simon Pulse, 2010)

YA: Wow, is all I could say when I finished this. Great story about faith (no pun intended). Such an interesting read and I hope that lots of readers will be able to discover this book. Read for The Contemps Challenge.

Love Finds You in Carmel By-The-Sea by Sandra Bricker (Summerside Press, 2010)

Christian Fiction - Romance: Rather predictable storyline. In fact I can't really remember much of what happened but I do remember that the heroine acted more like a middle age older lady than a twenty something.

Sinister Sprinkles by Jessica Beck (Minotaur, 2010)

Cozy Mystery: Donuts. YUM. Third book in the Donut Shop Mystery series. I absolutely love this series. The characters are great. The story is fun. The mystery is suspenseful. And there are DONUT recipes. So I can't wait to read more in this series.

Audiobook:

Adventures In Odyssey: Hidden Treasures (Tommy Nelson, 1999)

Adventures in Odyssey: Out of Control (Tyndale, 2005)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Movie Review: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1"

I don't know about you but just thinking about Harry Potter has the theme music just swelling loudly in my head. It's so sweeping and majestic and perfectly fits the theme of the books. Instantly recognizable by long time fans, the music sets the mood for the entire series. And now the series has come to an end....or rather the beginning of the end.

As always before a Harry Potter movie comes out,
I've been walking around with a pencil (or just holding my hand pretending) and yelling out things like "Lumos!" "Expelliarmus !", "Expecto Patronum!" or my favorite, thanks to the Wizarding World ads, "Protego!" I've also been relistening to the audio books (AGAIN) to get pumped up. I'm currently on Goblet of Fire and am on track to finish Deathly Hallows again before the last movie comes out.

Be warned...there will be lots of spoilers throughout this post so if you are one of the FEW PEOPLE who have not read the book or seen the movie, you have been warned. Also this is really more of a fan girl post than an actual review.

I saw this movie with my husband who is not a reader and has never read any of the Harry Potter books. I cannot get him too either which is a bit frustrating because in my opinion, these are some of the best books ever written. At the same time it's interesting to see the movies with him because he see them in a completely different light than I do because his knowledge of the story is only from the movies.

I felt like this is the first movie, since SS that is the most faithful to the books. Of course this is mainly due to the movie being split in two in order to portray more of the movie. And believe me that was greatly appreciated. I'm one of those fans who wishes they could do the book word for word but I was more than pleasantly pleased with what was shown.

Still there were some scenes that I wish had been added or hadn't been changed (these might look like a lot but I swear I loved this movie)

1) The Dursleys leaving. Ok the 10 second shot shown was completely pointless in the movie. The touching scene between Dudley and Harry is eliminated. And there is no remorse from Aunt Petunia. All they had to do was just show her looking back at Harry for a few seconds and then walk away. That's all I wanted and it would have shown so much! I'm really hoping that's a deleted scene otherwise they totally wasted the actors' time for their very brief cameo.
2) Wormtail. Why the heck is he not dead by the end of the first movie? I mean he's supposed to be dead.
3) The two way mirror. While faithful readers of the books know what this is, since it was eliminated from the other movies, just movie watchers have no idea what it is and it is never explained throughout the entire movie.
4) Harry not being disguised during the wedding. Also the lack mention of the invisibility cloak. Also why they are not wearing the cloak or use Polyjuice potion during important scenes such as Godric's Hollow.
5) Harry visiting Sirius' room but NOT finding his mother's letter. There's time to look at a mobile but not enough time to briefly show an important and (later on) emotional scene?
6) Downplay of Kreacher's involvement in Regulus's death. Another emotional scene from the book.
7) Lack of The Lies and Life of Albus Dumbledore. The movie watchers do not know anything about Dumbledore's history.
8) Lack of Potter Watch. I thought for sure it was going to pop up during the NUMEROUS scenes with the stupid radio but no, just force the audience to keep listening to static.
9) Lack of Dean Thomas. Yes I know this keeps in line with how he's been really minimized in the movies but I'm just saying this because I like Dean.

Scenes I did enjoy

1) Fred and George. I adore these two and am so glad that the later movies FINALLY show their sense of humor that is so prevalent in the books. Love George's little scene with Harry and Ginny. Although it makes me sad knowing what is going to happen in the final movie.
2) Bill and Fleur. Perfect casting of Bill (the actor is also Moody's son), he looked just like the other Weasleys! Also glad to see Fleur again and loved her wedding dress. Although slightly sad that Charlie does not make an appearance.
3) Hedwig dying while being free. I was annoyed she was in her cage when she died in the book so I was so glad she went out protecting Harry.
4) The animation scene during The Tale of the Three Brother. OMG, that was beautiful. The entire story needed to be told and I was wondering how they were going to do it without someone reading the story just word for word and nothing else. It was brilliantly done. That could be a short film on its own.
5) The actor who played Scabior. GORGEOUS. Thank goodness they decided to focus on him instead of Greyback.
6) The entire scene with Bathilda Bagshot. So deliciously creepy.
7) The opening scene with the Death Eaters. Snape (who looks like his hair got even pouffier) is wonderful at masking his true loyalties even when Charity Burbage pleads for his help. The Malfoys look very uncomfortable with their new situation and Lucius looks very disheveled. And Voldermort is just evil.
8) The scenes in the forest. While this may drag on for some viewers, I really appreciated how they showed the despair and hopelessness the trio felt while they are waiting to figure out what to do next.
9) The romantic tension. Wonderfully done. Give me Ron and Hermione over a certain dysfunctional paranormal trio any day. The dancing scene with Harry and Hermione was a nice touch. The scene with the locket was a bit uncomfortable but nicely done because it showed Ron's true fears.
10) Harry's parents' grave. And they left the inscription on there "
"The last enemy to be conquered is death" which is a Bible verse in case you didn't know.
11) The entire scene in the Ministry. Loved the adult actors that the trio had transformed into. I thought they portrayed our heroes very well and hilariously too. God, I want to slap Umbridge. Ugh to seeing her again but kudos to Imelda Staunton for being so deliciously evil.
12) Voldermort getting the elder wand (or so he thinks...hehehe). It's not how I originally pictured it but it's so fitting with his character that it's perfect.

The movie is full of sad scenes. I didn't cry during all of them but here there were three scenes that made me feel weepy inside. The first was when Hermione modifying her parents' memories. It's not a scene shown in the book but when you think of why she has to do it and the sacrifice she is making to protect them, it's very touching. The second is when Harry sees the doe patronus. I got sad because of who sent the doe and WHY it is in the shape of a doe. Foreshadowing folks. And the scene where I did cry? Dobby. Oh my lord, I was sobbing. When he appeared on the screen earlier, everyone in the theater cheered but it was sort of a halfhearted cheer because we all knew what was going to happen. And it's insane because Dobby annoyed the heck out of me in COS. But they portrayed his death wonderfully and so emotional.

The crazy part is that I know what is going to happen in the final movie. I know who is going to live, I know who is going to die. I know how the story will end. But I'm hoping that the movie makers will be able to put all the emotion of the last half of the book into the movie. And I know that there are millions of fans who feel the same way I do. So far they have managed to set it up (albeit those few discrepancies and changes) in a very good way and I'm hoping that it will continue when the movie concludes next summer. In a way, I am torn with wanting to see it. I want to see the movie of course. I'm even looking forward to a good cry, which I know will happen. But I don't want it to be over. With the release of Part 2, there is now officially no more Harry Potter anything to look forward to. And what a sad world that will be when that happens.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Book Review: "Dewey's Nine Lives" by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

Dewey's Nine Lives offers nine funny, inspiring, and heartwarming stories about cats—all told from the perspective of "Dewey's Mom," librarian Vicki Myron. The amazing felines in this book include Dewey, of course, whose further never-before-told adventures are shared, and several others who Vicki found out about when their owners reached out to her. Vicki learned, through extensive interviews and story sharing, what made these cats special, and how they fit into Dewey's community of perseverance and love. From a divorced mother in Alaska who saved a drowning kitten on Christmas Eve to a troubled Vietnam veteran whose heart was opened by his long relationship with a rescued cat, these Dewey-style stories will inspire readers to laugh, cry, care, and, most importantly, believe in the magic of animals to touch individual lives.

Ok, I'm going to honest. I am not a cat person. Yes, all you cat people can gasp in horror. I love dogs. I've just never been a fan of cats. It's nothing personal. They can be cute and I'm sure they are wonderful companions for a lot of people. But I just don't have a dying love for them like I know some people do. Which makes it all strange that I'm a big Dewey fan. I had listened to the audiobook version of Dewey's first book and I really enjoyed reading how he touched the lives of the people in his community.

This new book is a collection of stories from people who were affected by Dewey's story as well as owners who loved their cats as much as Myron loved Dewey. Many of these stories involve people whose lives are changed after a certain cat comes into their lives. The owners weren't even necessary looking to own a pet much less a cat when that certain feline entered their lives. It's interesting to read how such a small animal manages to work its way into the heart of a person.

I will admit that since some of these stories didn't have anything to do with Dewey at all, I found some more interesting that others. This might also have to do with not being a cat lover because in some certain instances I could not relate with the owners at all. However, Myron's narrative throughout each story is very engaging which made each story more enjoyable.

SPOILER: I will warn those who are cat lovers: all the cats in the book die. BUT they don't die from horrible deaths but instead natural deaths after a long and happy life with their owners. This is just a warning for those who can't stand to read about any pets dying.

The best story of all is the very last story as it involves a certain twist of fate and a happy ending. It's just amazing how much Dewey's legacy still managed to live on even though he's been gone. While this book doesn't exactly live up to the first book, it's still an enjoyable read. Cat fans will want to add this to their collection and even non cat fans (such as myself) will enjoy this collection of inspiration and love.

Dewey's Nine Lives by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter is published by Dutton (2010)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

I'm able to give away one copy of this book provided by AuthorsontheWeb.com. To enter, you must fill out the form below. This contest is open to entrants from the US and Canada only. Winner will be picked Monday, December 27.

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.