Saturday, April 30, 2011

Book Review: "Blood Ransom" by Lisa Harris

Summary from In the African republic of Dhambizao, Natalie Sinclair works with Dr. Chad Talcott to eradicate diseases that are claiming whole towns. Meanwhile, Joseph Komboli returns to his village to find rebels abducting his family. When Chad and Natalie help Joseph expose the modern-day slave trade, they're courting disaster. Will they win their race against time?

This was an intense romantic suspense story that takes place in a made up country in Africa (I have noticed that in a lot of books, when creating a fictional country they also go to either Africa or a country that was formed during the breakup of the Soviet Union). The plot revolves around a medical consultant and a surgeon who are in the country of Dhambizao. Involving corrupt politics, fixed elections, slave trading, rebel soldiers, death, disease and innocent lives in danger, the suspense and action sequences are fast paced. Even though they aren't very similar I was reminded very much of the book/movie The Constant Gardner while reading. Even though the location is made up, things like this to do happen in Africa all the time so the reality is scary. The plot manages to stay fast-paced and filled with action while at the same time highlighting the plight of Africa.

The romance part felt extremely downplayed to me and was not really a major factor in the story. The couple does develop a relationship but the focus on the story is on the people of Africa and helping them which was fine with me. I don't mind romance but with the setting and action that was going on, I was pleased that the majority of the story shifted away from the romantic relationship. Overall, this was a good book that looks at social issues in other countries that we normally tend not to think about. It's a definite eye opener that there are many people in this world who are suffering and don't live a comfortable life like we do.

Blood Ransom by Lisa Harris is published by Zondervan (2010)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Friday, April 29, 2011

Book Winner

Congrats to the winner of Song of the Silk Road by Mingmei Yip: - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more

Book Review: "The Judgment" by Beverly Lewis

Summary from Rose Kauffman is engaged to Silas Good, a well-liked Amish fellow, so why does she still pine for Nick Franco, the former foster son of the bishop? Especially now that Nick has left the Amish community under a cloud of suspicion after the death of the bishop's biological son? Will Rose marry Silas, even while struggling with romantic feelings for Nick?

Meanwhile, Rose's older sister, Hen, has returned to live at her parents' farm with her young daughter. Hen and her modern husband, Brandon, are separated by mutual agreement, although he is threatening to sue for custody of their daughter if Hen does not return soon. Will the judge rule in Brandon's favor? Is there any way Hen can reestablish her place among the People without sacrificing her marriage?

I honestly have no idea what's gotten into Beverly Lewis. Normally I love her books because she usually isn't preachy in her books. She's one of the few Amish authors who shows how their faith might not be as ideal as other books make them out to be. Several of her other series have even shown how the teachings of the Amish aren't even Christian. Usually I can always go to her books to show an unromanticized and realistic portrayal of the Amish as a culture and not as a utopia. However, I have had MAJOR problems with this new series of hers. This series has been nothing BUT preachy!

First the good: Once again I enjoyed Rose's story and I look forward to seeing where it leads to. I'm not quite sure at this point where her eventual path will lead but I am quite invested in her part of the book and was eager to learn more about her. I didn't really get into the parts with Beth but her relationship with Silas and Nick is good stuff. I felt that Rose is a more dimensional character than Hen is and seems to be more compassionate and thoughtful.

However I still cannot stand Hen. She is still very wishy washy and again, i don't know why she wants to stay Amish other than her reasons of it's safe, it'll keep her daughter innocent or it's the "right and only" way to raise a child. I seriously almost threw this book up against the wall because I was so annoyed at Hen. I'm really not sure what Lewis is trying to say here because through Hen we are made to feel like everything that is not Amish is bad, even down to calling your parents Mom and Dad. I also do not like the implications that one cannot remain faithful to God or the church (have other issues with that) if they have higher education. Hen seems to be very fixated on how Madonna is evil as well. There just seems to be so much legalism in the book and not real issues of honest faith. I swear to God if Brandon becomes Amish in the last book, I am going to boycott Lewis' books from now on. It's just the heavy implication that the only right way is the Amish way that is bothering me very much.

From almost all the reviews of the first book that I have seen and all the reviews of this book, it seems that I am one of the very very few people who feels this way. Most other reviews have been praising everything that goes on in the books and keep talking about how they want to live the Amish way. After reading this book, if living the Amish way means living like Hen then I would run away with a pole as long as the United States.

The Judgment by Beverly Lewis is published by Bethany House (2011)

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

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Book Review: "Codependent No More Workbook" by Melody Beattie

Summary from The Codependent No More Workbook was designed for Beattie fans spanning the generations, as well as for those who may not yet even understand the meaning and impact of their codependency. In this accessible and engaging workbook, Beattie uses her trademark down-to-earth style to offer readers a Twelve Step, interactive program to stop obsessing about others by developing the insight, strength, and resilience to start taking care of themselves.

Through hands-on guided journaling, exercises, and self-tests, readers will learn to integrate the time-tested concepts outlined in Codependent No More into their daily lives by
  • setting and enforcing healthy limits
  • developing a support system through healthy relationships with others and a higher power
  • experiencing genuine love and forgiveness
  • letting go and detaching from others' harmful behaviors
Whether fixated on a loved one with depression, an addiction, an eating disorder, or other self-destructive behaviors, or someone who makes unhealthy decisions, this book offers the practical means to plot a comprehensive, personalized path to hope, healing, and the freedom to be your own best self.

I chose this book to review because this subject is very personal to me. Without going into too much detail, I have a family member that has an addiction. It has been a very trying time for me over the past year. I actually own the original book CODEPENDENT NO MORE but I haven't opened it yet. However, when this book was offered to me I realized that some good would come out of me reading it.

Going to a 12 step program such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon or Codependents Anonymous is something the book highly recommends. The format of the book is shaped around the 12 steps of Codependents Anonymous with each chapter going into detail about a step or two. The steps are similar to those in other 12 step programs with slight adaptations to fit Codependents. Each chapter has exercises and activities to make sure the reader understands the steps discussed. Since it can take months or even years to move past certain steps, it can be a while before the book is finished. However taking as much time as it needs to come to this understanding is beneficial to find healing.

There are some places where I am in disagreement with the author. I'm not sure if this is because of my faith vs. the theory but several times I felt that I could not agree with Beattie. I completely understand the need that I need to focus on myself and reevaluate how I am acting and thinking. Maybe I just read it wrong or I'm not completely understanding but there were times when I felt that it seemed that the addict or whoever is causing you to be codependent was not at fault and you were. To worry or even think about them at all seemed to be wrong. It's said that you might even need to completely cut them out of your life in order to make yourself better. The thing with that is that even if you DO cut them out completely and never see or talk to them again, you'll still think about them. To completely have absolutely no feeling for them is impossible or at least it is for me. Still it's a good thing because it makes you think a lot and helps you to reevaluate how you have been living your life.

While I feel that the info in this book is very valuable and highly informative, as a workbook it fell flat for me. When I think of a workbook, I expect to be able to write IN the actual book. If an exercise called for jotting down thoughts or creating a list, I would expect to see actual space and lines in the book to write in. I also would have like a questionnaire or a survey to take to evaluate how you were before starting to read the book. Unfortunately this workbook contains none of that. Anytime there is an activity that calls for writing, the reader is expected to write in an external journal. I don't like that because that seems to defeat the entire purpose of a workbook. It means having to keep up with an extra item and seems pointless. I would want to keep everything together and in the future having to keep referring back and forth between two books would be confusing especially if you lose one. Therefore while the information is greatly useful, the actual setup of the workbook failed.

This is a book not to be rushed through. I read it pretty quickly to finish it in time for the tour but it's a book that I will be going back through again more slowly to make sure that everything sinks in. I found that I have been doing a lot of stuff already that the book mentioned prior to reading the book but there is still more that I need to learn and practice. Regardless of any criticism I've had in this review, please note that I'm not in denial about any codependency issues that I have. It is something that I have to work on in my life and pray that healing and hope will come my way.

Codependent No More Workbook by Melody Beattie is published by Hazelden (2011)

This ARC was provided for a blog tour with TLC Book Tours

I'm able to give away one copy of this book provided by the publicist. To enter, you must fill out the form below. This contest is open to US and Canada entrants only. Winner will be picked Thursday May 5. For this contest, I will not be announcing the winner on the blog but will be emailing the winner privately.

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.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

More organization!

In an effort to tidy up my blog and do some organization, I've created another page in my review database by adding Reviews Sorted by Authors. In case you knew the author but didn't know which genre, I've now listed reviews alphabetically by author last name (if multiple authors, using just the first author's last name) and then alphabetical by title. To access this, click on review database on the header of the main page and there is a link within that post that will take you to it.

I've shrunk the label list on the side of my blog by removing all the author labels, though each post will still have click-able labels to cross reference. What is left on the side are types of posts (book review, contest, movie review, etc) as well as publishers. I might consider doing one more page to to the review database by sorting by publishers but we shall see.

Again if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me.

Book Review: "A Cowboy's Touch" by Denise Hunter

Summary from Abigail Jones intends to spend just one summer in middle-of-nowhere Montana with her Aunt Lucy. Time away from her job is just what Abigail needs to reassess her life. The slow pace has her breathing deeply for the first time in years. And the majestic scenery encourages her to get reacquainted with herself . . . and God.

What she didn't count on was the handsome widowed cowboy who owns the ranch where her aunt lives. When the rancher loses his daughter's nanny, Abigail decides to lend a hand for the summer.

Wade Ryan can't help being attracted to Abigail. But he's given up everything to protect his daughter, and he's not about to risk it all on a pretty face.

Under Abigail's care, Wade's home and daughter thrive. And with Wade's touch, Abigail's heart feels at home at last. But Abigail knows this elusive rancher is hiding something. Will her own secrets separate her from the cowboy who finally captured her heart?

Maybe it's just been me, but lately none of the contemporary romances that Thomas Nelson has been putting out are really doing anything for me. Even though I had loved all the authors' previous works, I just having been feeling too big a fan of the latest releases. I don't know if romance is just not my thing currently or just how it is being portrayed in the stories.

This book is about Abigail who is a journalist who is taking a health related vacation in Montana where she comes across Wade, a former rodeo cowboy in hiding. She becomes his daughter's nanny and begins writing an investigative article about him behind his back but then falls in love with him. Then the story gets a bit predictable. Abigail thinks she can solve everything by doing the article without Wade finding out and of course he does and then all sorts of hijinks happen until the end where they reconcile and end up happily together even though they've known each other only 3 months. I feel like I recently read a story like this in The Queen of New Beginnings and I felt that the story was better handled in that book. This book just seemed very predictable without any twists or turns that would give it a fresh take on the story. Also I felt that the revealing of what happened to Wade's wife happened far too late in the story and by then it seemed not to matter any more.

Hunter writes well and I do love her other books. I did find the story engaging and I grew to enjoy the setting and characters. If you're a fan of cowboys and the western part of the country mixed with your romance, you'll probably enjoy this book. I just wished that the story had taken a different route and explored new ground.

A Cowboy's Touch by Denise Hunter is published by Thomas Nelson (2011)

This review copy was provided by a publicist

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Book Review: "Love Me Tender" by Janice Hanna

Summary from As "Love Me Tender" plays in the background, Debbie Carmichael determines to salvage her family's restaurant, Sweet Sal's Soda Shoppe, when her father's health fails. Teen heartthrob Bobby Conrad agrees to perform at a fundraiser concert. But just two weeks before the highly publicized event, Bobby backs out of the benefit. Enter Johnny Hartman, a young, unknown singer to take Conrad's place.

Debbie soon realizes the twists and turns leading up to the concert are divinely orchestrated. And it isn't dreamy Bobby Conrad who has stolen her heart - but the tender love of Johnny Hartman.

This was a cute book about the 1950s when rock music, diners and poodle skirts reign. I really liked seeing how Hollywood stars and rock musicians are portrayed in this book because normally a lot of Christian fiction tends to act like all entertainment is wrong! The story feels colorful and lively. It's fun to reminisce (ok maybe not for me since i wasn't born until 30 years later) but it's a time of simpler things. Hanna throws in tidbits from the news of the era and facts that make our day and age seem more indulgent and complicated. I was pleasantly pleased with how the romance turned out (no wedding...yet). Debbie acts like a normal young woman for the time period. She helps out her family but is also really into rock musicians and movie stars. Her family's diner sounds like a fun place to hang out at and the food sounded really good at as well. I enjoyed learning about the entertainment industry and thought it a hoot that Leave it to Beaver was thought to be a flop.

I did have two complaints about the book. The first was that I felt like the story was a in a bubble because nothing negative about the time period was mentioned at all. There was no talk about politics, no race relations, no international conflict...nothing that would make the story seem like a downer. I know that the focus was meant to be on the diner and Debbie's relationship but it just seemed too idealized for me. The other problem I had was that I felt the story to be a bit preachy at times. Characters going to church and mentioning faith several times is not a problem. However in the middle of the book, a mini sermon was preached about the Ten Commandments and then Debbie's father gave her a talk about how having crushes on movie stars and musicians can be detrimental to being a Christian. It took me out of the story to have a moral message slipped in like that.

Except for these two instances, like I said it's a cute story. It's like watching Grease or American Graffiti. You'll want to drive to your nearest diner and put on some golden oldies because you'll be in the mood after finishing this book.

Love Me Tender by Janice Hanna is published by Summerside Press (2010)

This review copy was provided by a publicist

Monday, April 25, 2011

Book Review: "Winter Bloom" by Tara Heavey

Summary from In the heart of bustling modern Dublin is a littered, overgrown garden of tangled weeds and a stagnant, hidden pond. Belonging to an iron-willed elderly lady named Mrs. Prendergast, who is rumored to have murdered and buried her husband there, the garden draws Eva Madigan, a young mother struggling to move on from the pain of her past. Eva is joined by Emily, a beautiful but withdrawn college dropout; Uri, an old-world immigrant; Seth, his all-too-handsome son; and occasionally even Mrs. Prendergast herself. But what drives Eva to transform the neglected urban wilderness? What makes the others want to help her? Even as Mrs. Prendergast puts the land up for sale, the thorny lives of all the gardeners are revealed and slowly start to untangle. Overgrown secrets are dug up and shared. Choices are made; a little pruning is in order. Now Eva is about to discover that every garden is a story of growth toward a final harvest. . . .

I haven't read too many books set in Ireland but it's a country that I want to visit one day. I do enjoy hearing Irish accents as much as I do British accents. I was pleased that this book takes place in Ireland and gave me a way to travel to the country without leaving my armchair.

The story centers around an abandoned garden that is going to be replaced by development until a young widow decides to take charge and bring it back to life. She recruits several people to help her out and like blooming plants, the characters begin to open up about their lives and grow. What I love best about the book are all the stories that are woven together because of the owners' relationship to the garden. Eva is the main character and her story begins the revealing of pasts that have been kept hidden and untold.

I felt that Emily seemed to disappear after her story was told in the beginning. I understand that she had to leave the garden due to her situation. It just seemed like she was introduced and then vanished and then brought back at the end of the story to wrap things up. Mrs. Pendergast's story is so sad. I felt so bad for her and the secrets that she's been keeping all these years. It's heartbreaking to read what she went through but I'm glad that she eventually found that inner strength. Her story also explains why her son is the way he is as well. Equally as moving is Uri's story about living as a child during the Holocaust. It's another heartbreaking tale that is incredibly moving. Some of the characters I didn't find so favorable. Their actions left much to be desired though by the end they started to grow on me.

I think this book would make a great book club read. There's a lot to discuss about the story and the characters are all very diverse. Issues about parent/child relationships, dealing with grief, unplanned pregnancies, abusive relationships and finding new friends are some of the things to talk about after reading. This is the first book I've read from Tara Heavey and I'm looking forward to reading more of her writing.

Winter Bloom by Tara Heavey is published by Gallery Books (2010)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Sunday, April 24, 2011

My Library Reads No. 11

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 4/17/11 - 4/23/11

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted by Bridget Asher (Bantam, 3/29/11)

Contemporary Women's Fiction - This was a really nice book about letting love go, family, travel and food. Heidi is still getting over the death of her husband. Even though she has her son to comfort her, she still feels withdrawn from the world without him. A whirlwind trip to France takes her, her son and her teenage niece to the family's home where secrets are revealed, love is renewed and inner strength is discovered. The scenes in France are wonderful and I could picture myself traveling with the characters and taking in the sights and culture. I will admit that I was drawn to this book specifically for the cover which I found very comforting. This is my first book of Bridget Asher's that I've read and I'm eager to discover more from her.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (Listening Library, 7/21/07)

Wahhh. I always get sad every time I finish reading/listening to this series. Seriously, I was sobbing on my commute during certain scenes in the book. I was hoping that I would finish the book closer to the release of the second part of the movie but I ended up speeding through it (thanks traffic jams). I was surprised at how faithful part 1 of the movie was to the book. There were scenes and quotes that came directly from the book. One thing was I remember in the movie how long the forest scenes seemed to drag but when you read the book, that's exactly what just keeps going on and on for them. Jim Dale did another outstanding job.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Guest Book Review: "Miles to Go" by Richard Paul Evans

Summary from Alan Christoffersen, a once-successful advertising executive, wakes one morning to find himself injured, alone, and confined to a hospital bed in Spokane, Washington. Sixteen days earlier, reeling from the sudden loss of his wife, his home, and his business, Alan left everything he knew behind and set off on an extraordinary cross-country journey. Carrying only a backpack, he planned to walk to Key West, the farthest destination on his map. But a vicious roadside stabbing has interrupted Alan’s trek and robbed him of his one source of solace: the ability to walk.Homeless and facing months of difficult recovery, Alan has nowhere to turn—until a mysterious woman enters his life and invites him into her home. Generous and kind, Angel seems almost too good to be true, but all is not as it appears. Alan soon realizes that before he can return to his own journey, he must first help Angel with hers. From one of America’s most beloved and bestselling storytellers comes an astonishing tale of life and death, love and second chances, and why sometimes the best way to heal your own suffering is by helping to heal someone else’s.

Note from Deborah: My mom is a HUGE fan of Richard Paul Evan's books and she's read every single one of them. When I was received this book to review, she jumped at the chance to read and review it herself. Here is my mom's review of Miles to Go:

This book was definitely one of Richard Paul Evan's most inspiring novels. Alan Christoffersen showed us that when going through sufferings, we need to be aware of others who are also going through their own sufferings. By focusing on others' needs, we not only helped them feel loved and form bonds and relationships but also surprisingly we find our own healing and purpose in life. I highly recommend this book to both long time fans and new readers of Evans. Even though this is supposedly Alan's second journal, it is a book complete by itself.

Miles to Go by Richard Paul Evans is published by Simon & Schuster (2011)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Review: "Song of the Silk Road" by Mingmei Yip

Summary from As a girl growing up in Hong Kong, Lily Lin was captivated by photographs of the desert--its long, lonely vistas and shifting sand dunes. Now living in New York, Lily is struggling to finish her graduate degree when she receives an astonishing offer. An aunt she never knew existed will pay Lily a huge sum to travel across China's desolate Taklamakan Desert--and carry out a series of tasks along the way.

Intrigued, Lily accepts. Her assignments range from the dangerous to the bizarre. Lily must seduce a monk. She must scrape a piece of clay from the famous Terracotta Warriors, and climb the Mountains of Heaven to gather a rare herb. At Xian, her first stop, Lily meets Alex, a young American with whom she forms a powerful connection. And soon, she faces revelations that will redefine her past, her destiny, and the shocking truth behind her aunt's motivations. .

I have been looking for more books that deal with Asian American characters and stories. I was eager to find out about this book because not only does it deal with Asian culture but it's also a travelogue novel as well. The reader gets to experience a trip to China and learn about the customs and culture while discovering Lily's story at the same time.

It's a journey of self discovery for Lily. An aunt that she has never heard about has left her money for her to travel to China and perform certain tasks along the way before meeting her. She not only learns more about her own desires and her inner self, but she learns about her background and heritage as well. It's a lot to take in when you are totally unprepared and unsure of what the future holds but Lily takes up the challenge. While she is in the middle of her adventure, she keeps running into a young man named Alex. The two form a connection, even though Lily keeps trying to deny that it doesn't exist. She reluctantly begins to feel affection for him while he is meanwhile head over heels in love with her to the point of asking her to marry him.

There is quite a bit of sex in the book, a little more than I normally like when I'm reading. It's not as graphic as erotica but it might be a little much for some. It's rather sad to see Lily be used as the mistress of her professor and a bit infuriating that he sees her as the stereotypical Asian submissive woman. I was pleasantly pleased with where that relationship headed. Meanwhile it's different with Alex because even though she resists at first, she does begin to care and then eventually loves him.

The revelation of the story is emotional especially when you learn everything about Lily's past and the history of her family. Asian culture is so multi-layered and it's sad how things tend to happen. The story however is rich in detail and I really enjoyed traveling to China through the book. People and places come alive and there is much to learn in this book about the culture (such as food). This is the first book from Yip that I have read and I'm interested now in reading more from her.

Song of the Silk Road by Mingmei Yip is published by Kensington (2011)

This ARC was provided by a publicist

I'm able to give away one copy of this book provided by the publicist. To enter, you must fill out the form below. This contest is open to US entrants only. Winner will be picked Friday April 29.

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.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Review: "Katy's Homecoming" by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Summary from Katy's life outside her Old Order Mennonite sect becomes more complicated when she is elected to the sophomore homecoming court as a joke. When she discovers Bryce, her crush, could be her chaperone on the court, Katy has a big decision to make: follow her heart and attend the dance, or follow her faith and the beliefs of her sect.

This is the third book the YA series about Katy Lambright, a Mennonite teen who has been allowed to continue her education in a public high school. She comes from a rather strict Mennonite background which is almost practically Amish. I like the series because even though she tries to stay as true as she can to her religion and family upbringing, she is still very open about attending school and trying to fit it without compromising. She is willing to try out new things and *gasp* likes boys!

In this book, she's struggling with what to do after being selected to be apart of the homecoming court. Her reactions and everything is fine. She's curious about attending and excited about having a new dress. Then there's the whole boy situation which is portrayed perfectly normally. On top of all this, Katy's also dealing with gaining a new stepmother which she is still wary about. All of this is handled well and Katy acts like a normal teen for the most part.

What I'm more concerned with is all the legalism that's in the book. Mennonites aren't allowed to attend dances or dance so Katy is struggling with what to do about the homecoming dance. Unfortunately it's never really presented as to WHY it's wrong other than to say it's wrong. So it comes off more so that there's this rule that she has to follow and there's no explanation because it's wrong to ask. Which brings me to question, who exactly is the target audience for this book? Even though it's a YA book, I honestly cannot see a regular teen or even a Christian teen picking up this book. The cover is really bad and even then, most teens aren't going to want to read about this type of culture. If they do, some might walk away with the feeling that living in the world is wrong...aka going to homecoming, wearing prom dresses, letting your hair down..all that is not what God wants you to do. It's very conflicted...and I think teens are conflicted enough without having this in their lives as well.

Katy's Homecoming by Kim Vogel Sawyer is published by Zondervan (2011)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

Other books in the Katy Lambright series that I've reviewed:

Katy's New World (Book 1)
Katy's Debate (Book 2)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Book Winner

Congrats to the winner of Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Athira C. from Reading on a Rainy Day!

Book Review: "The Queen of New Beginnings" by Erica James

Summary from Alice knows something about the freedom of reinvention-it makes those tough years in the past a little easier to bear. So when she meets Clayton, she understands why he wants to shrug off his old life. Their unlikely friendship seems stable-until Alice discovers Clayton has betrayed her in the worst possible way.

Take a voice-over artist and a television writer who is in hiding, place them in a house together and watch them keep trying to hide things from each other. Alice and Clayton are this such pair and from the beginning of the story, the reader knows that something is going to happen between the two of them.

Alice's story is very intriguing and quite sad at times. She reveals her dysfunctional childhood and the relationships she shared with her father and step-family. She pours out her heart and soul to Clayton and it's quite dastardly of him to use her feelings and emotions to benefit him. Of course he doesn't come across as a monster because for the most part he really is a nice guy. He's just been jaded and down in the dumps and is trying to crawl back out of the whole again. The best part of the story for me is at the end when Clatyon finally gets back revenge on those who had wronged him. Normally revenge is not thee best way to settle things but what happens here is hilarious and I will say, they had it coming for them especially when we find out the whole truth.

The story takes this familiar scenario: one party goes behind person's back but then falls in love with them, they think that they can still do the deed without the other finding out but of course it backfires. The couple splits angrily but then reunites later in the story and all is well. While this plot has been told many times, James puts an entirely different spin on it and makes it into a compelling story. She makes the characters believable and puts heart and soul into them. The reader sees both their flaws as well as the good that is in them. Supporting characters help to flesh out the main characters as well as we see how past events have shaped them to who they are today.

Part of the story's charm is the fact that it takes place in England. I don't know what it is about British authors but I find British chick lit to be far superior to American chick lit in many cases. This is one of them. James has an extensive backlist and I look forward to discovering more of her works.

The Queen of New Beginnings by Erica James is published by Sourcebooks Landmark (2011)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review: "Tomorrow's Garden" by Amanda Cabot

Summary from Harriet Kirk is certain that becoming Ladreville's schoolteacher is just what she needs—a chance to put the past behind her and give her younger siblings a brighter tomorrow. What she didn't count on was the presence of handsome former Texas Ranger Lawrence Wood—or the way he slowly but surely claims her fragile heart. But can Harriet and Lawrence ever truly put the past behind them in order to find happiness?

This was a nicely done historical romance. I have always liked Cabot's books. While they aren't the most literary piece of work, I do feel like they are a good escape read and nicely written. Harriet is determined to be able to take care of her family single handed but finally has to come to the conclusion she can't do it alone. She has good intentions about what she does and I can understand why she wants to protect her family and those around her the way she does. There were times when she did seem to be a bit over dramatic and probably handled situations the wrong way. Lawrence is the sheriff/mayor of the town and does his best to stand by the law and do what is right. He is a very good guy and I liked him very much. We're introduced to him in a previous book and his admiration for Priscilla is still there but not as strong as previously. Harriet's ways seem to thwart him but he's usually good at handling them without belittling her or putting her in her place like other men would.

The situation with Harriet's unruly brother is handled very well. I understand his rebellion and since he's still a teenager, the angst is understandable especially after the circumstances thrust upon the family. Unfortunately Harriet doesn't really see the problems being cause and she's not handling them correctly, hence his behavior gets worse and worse. When it finally comes to the breaking point, I am very glad that Lawrence didn't give in. He did what was right and even though Harriet protested and was angry, he kept to his word. I am also glad that even though there is sympathy from the townsfolk, they all state that her brother did wrong and are not going to tolerate it anymore.

The romance is very sweet and I really liked it. The pair have good chemistry together without being sappy or unrealistic. It's actually quite natural and very well played off. Equally as sweet is the growing relationship between Harriet's shy sister and the new preacher.

One small thing that bothered me is how Harriet is portrayed on the cover. It is mentioned MANY times that Harriet wears glasses throughout the book. I don't believe that she can see without them. However on the cover you will noticed that the model has no glasses. I suppose that she could beholding them in the same hand that is holding the book and it's just covered by the title design but I don't believe that's the case. It's actually quite a bit annoying and insulting to those people that DO wear glasses (yes I am four eyes myself) because it seems like the cover designer thought that putting glasses on the character would harm the sales of the book.

This is the third book in the Texas Dream series and while they can all be read as standalones, having background info on the characters always helps. Sadly this is the end of the series but I am looking forward to Cabot's future books.

Tomorrow's Garden by Amanda Cabot is published by Revell (2011)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Other books in the Texas Dream series that I have reviewed

Scattered Petals (Book 2)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Review Database is Live!

Yes the myth is now finally true. After YEARS of speculation, I have FINALLY created a review database! I shouldn't have waited so long because do you know how long it took me to link up 785 reviews? (a long time). I'm very happy to have this done because now when people visit my blog they should be able to find reviews more easily and I hope by segregating them by genre, this helps out people who are looking for new reads but don't know authors or publishers.

I will try to update the database weekly but at the very least monthly. Reviews are sorted by genre (with Christian fiction and general market books clearly marked) and then in alphabetical order by author. If you notice any errors or have any questions/suggestions please feel free to contact me.

Book Review: "Friendship Bread" by Darien Gee

Summary from One afternoon, Julia Evarts and her five-year-old daughter, Gracie, arrive home to find an unexpected gift on the front porch: a homemade loaf of Amish Friendship Bread and a simple note: I hope you enjoy it. Also included are a bag of starter, instructions on how to make the bread herself, and a request to share it with others. Still reeling from a personal tragedy that left her estranged from the sister who was once her best friend, Julia remains at a loss as to how to move on with her life. She’d just as soon toss the anonymous gift, but to make Gracie happy, she agrees to bake the bread. When Julia meets two newcomers to the small town of Avalon, Illinois, she sparks a connection by offering them her extra bread starter. Widow Madeline Davis is laboring to keep her tea salon afloat while Hannah Wang de Brisay, a famed concert cellist, is at a crossroads, her career and marriage having come to an abrupt end. In the warm kitchen of Madeline’s tea salon, the three women forge a friendship that will change their lives forever. In no time, everyone in Avalon is baking Amish Friendship Bread. But even as the town unites for a benevolent cause and Julia becomes ever closer to her new friends, she realizes the profound necessity of confronting the painful past she shares with her sister. About life and loss, friendship and community, food and family, Friendship Bread tells the uplifting story of what endures when even the unthinkable happens.

Before reading this book, I had never heard of Amish Friendship Bread before. After reading this book, I was rather hoping that someone would drop off some bags of the starter for me to make some. I absolutely adored this book. It pretty much includes everything that I do love in reading a good book. There's a good story, great writing, multi-dimensional characters, intriguing relationships and lots of yummy food.

The story focuses on several women in the town of Avalon. Julia is a mother who is still recovering from the lost of son several years ago. Her estranged sister Livvy is working at a newspaper with the ambitious journalist Edie. Hannah is a cellist who is discovering life without her cheating husband. Madeline owns a tea shop/restaurant that brings the women together including Connie, a former Laundromat worker with a passion for people. You might think it's hard to keep track of everyone but Gee's writing is so engaging that you get swept into all the stories. Each women is giving ample time for their own personal story to come out and take shape. Since they all interact with each other, their stories overlap and blend perfectly together. Many of the stories have regrets and sadness but also bring hope and happiness for the future. It's an incredibly positive story but doesn't do it with cheesiness or unbelievability. I also love how the story comes full circle at the end.

In addition to these women, there is also the story of the town and the Amish bread that won't go away. Sprinkled throughout the story are short little passages from various members of Avalon who have been blessed/cursed with bags of starter that have been gifted/forced upon them. These passages are hilarious, cute and touching as we see how the bread affects them. The culmination of the story involves a town wide community project to help people in crisis and they do it with lots and lots of bread. It's a great way to see a small town come together, forget their differences for one day and help out others in need.

There are also recipes included in the book for making the starter for the bread as well as many of the variations mentioned in the story. I am severely tempted to make it for myself but I'm not so sure I want to pass it around to people as I can see their reactions mirroring some of those from the book! This was a really great story and I'm so glad that I discovered it. I really hope that there are more books that feature these characters or in this style of writing because I absolutely loved it.

Friendship Bread by Darien Gee is published by Ballantine Books (2011)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Book Review: "The Priest's Graveyard" by Ted Dekker

Summary from Two abandoned souls are on the hunt for one powerful man. Soon, their paths will cross and lead to one twisted fate.

Danny Hansen is a Bosnian immigrant who came to America with hopes of escaping haunted memories of a tragic war that took his mother's life. Now he's a priest who lives by a law of love and compassion. It is powerful men and hypocrites who abide by legal law but eschew the law of love that most incense Danny. As an avenging angel, he believes it is his duty to show them the error of their ways, at any cost.

Renee Gilmore is the frail and helpless victim of one such powerful man. Having escaped his clutches, she now lives only to satisfy justice by destroying him, regardless of whom she must become in that pursuit.

But when Danny and Renee's paths become inexorably entangled things go very, very badly and neither of them may make it out of this hunt alive.

Judge not, or you too will be judged.

Warning: Do not read this book while you are eating lunch. I should have known better than to read a Ted Dekker book while being near any sort of food but I was so engrossed in the story that I forgot. Needless to say after a certain scene in the book involving a certain part of the mouth, I had no desire for my lunch anymore.

Will you get uncomfortable while reading this book? It's quite possible. There are characters and situations that show the worse in people. It's quite disgusting actually how characters are treated as little more than sex slaves. There's a lot of violence and murders. Though to be honest, the scenes dealing with Renee's captivity were more gruesome to me and made me feel more squeamish than all the blood and guts.

Both Danny and Renee have been through horrible things in their lives. Both of them have had to experience and see things that no one should have to ever deal with in a lifetime. I found it interesting the ways that each handled their life. One chooses to live a life of vengeance by absolving guilt and doing what they think is best to rid the world of evil. The other becomes blind to it and accepts everything willingly not realizing the truth of it all. Both are in essence trying to live the life they think they are meant to live when in reality there is so much more for them.

I didn't think this book was as dark as Dekker's previous thrillers however. Boneman's Daughters really upped my ante with that one. Instead this book shows how the very concepts of love, justice and trying to right the world can be twisted and used for the wrong purposes. Dekker gives a lot to think about in this book and it's a very wild ride while doing so. For the record, I would not consider this book to be Christian fiction at all. There is a message about faith in it but it's not pounding the reader on the head while reading the story. Dekker is skillful at blending the two together and I feel that both long time readers and new ones will be satisfied with the result. In my opinion, this book puts him on the same level as other general market suspense/thriller authors out there and I hope that others will think the same as well.

The Priest's Graveyard by Ted Dekker is published by Center Street (2011)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Movie Review: "Winter's Bone"

This is the final movie that I saw at the Best Picture showcase. I still have not seen Black Swan but I am on the holds list for it at the library. Again, this is another movie that I probably would not have watched had it not been nominated for Best Picture. I didn't really know any of the actors, never heard of the book that it was based on and I normally do not see talking dramas in the theater. It's also a small indie flick which I don't see too often especially if I know nothing about it. However, I am very glad that I did and I do think that all the nominations for this movie were greatly deserved.

I loved Jennifer Lawrence in this movie. This is the first time I've ever seen her and she was wonderful. She IS the movie. Since I haven't seen Black Swan, I cannot compare Lawrence to Natalie Portman but I can say that I do believe that her nomination was rightly deserved and she was my favorite to win. Her character is heartbreaking. Ree is only 17 years old yet instead of doing things that most teen girls would do, she has to become the head of her household. Her father is gone, her mother appears to be mentally ill or severely depressed and she has to watch out for her two younger siblings. I think that most teen girls need to look to Ree as a role model. She doesn't complain about how her life is and she sacrifices everything to take care of her family. Her search for her father is heartbreaking. I can totally see why she got chosen to play Katniss in the upcoming Hunger Games movie. Though I still would have been thrilled if Haliee Steinfeld had been chosen, Lawrence is going to be a very good Katniss. I felt like Ree probably would have done very well in the Hunger Games.

I had only seen John Hawkes in one role before this movie: Lennon on Lost. And I thought he was fab (haha) in the 3 episodes that he was in. Still I was pretty clueless about his acting as I haven't seen him in anything else. After watching this movie, I want to see him in more. Teardop is Ree's uncle and he's not exactly the loving type. When Ree goes to see him to inquire about her father's whereabouts, he tells her not to look for him or else there will be trouble. Throughout the movie, his character seems to be rather conflicted. There are times when he's abusive, mean and rather creepy. Then there are times where it seems that he does care about Ree and her siblings because they are his family. The scene in the car with the gun and the cop was played out very well. I also love it when the garage door rises after Ree's confrontation and Teardrop is slowly revealed.

The movie takes place in the Ozarks which seems almost like it's a completely different culture from the rest of the world. Blood is very important in this area and it determines where you stand and who your allies are. Outsiders don't seem to appear that often, this movie is also very white. There's a heavy drug culture in this area but Ree never partakes in any of it. I felt this movie to be a tame rated R. There's some language, drug use and a little violence but not nearly as compared to other rated R movies.

When the movie was done, I heard several people saying that it was very slow and boring. I will admit that this is not your action packed adventure. It does tend to be a bit slow at times and especially after seeing The Fighter right before watching this one which was quite intense, it was quite a different change of pace. However, I thought the story was very interesting and the acting was excellent. I'm really glad that it got nominated because it got a wider audience and people like me, who normally wouldn't have seen it, got a chance to. As I stated all the nominations are greatly deserved and looking back, I do wish it had won one of them (preferably Lawrence for Best Actress). I'm so glad that the Academy went more diverse and picked this little known picture as one of best of 2010.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Book Review: "Wolves Among Us" by Ginger Garrett

Summary from Dinfoil, Germany, 1538. In a little town on the edge of the Black Forest, a double murder stirs up festering fears. A lonely woman despairs of pleasing her husband and wonders why other women shun her. An overworked sheriff struggles to hold the town—and himself—together. A priest begins to doubt the power of the words he shares daily with his flock. And the charismatic Inquisitor who arrives to help—with a filthy witch in a cage as an object lesson—brings his own mix of lofty ideals and treacherous evil. Under his influence, ordinary village fears and resentments take a deadly turn. Terror mounts. Dark deeds come to light. And men and women alike discover not only what they are capable of, but who they are…and what it means to grapple for grace.

First off, I had no idea this book was part of a series until after I finished the book. It's apparently the third book in the Chronicles of the Scribe series but one does not need to read the others to understand this book. I was actually really surprised it was part of a series because normally I am a stickler for reading books in order.

The story takes place in 1500s Germany and deals with witchcraft and gender roles in the church. When the story first begins, women are seen to be very low. It's always their fault for everything bad that happens. The main female character, Mia, is constantly blamed by her husband for everything wrong that happens. No matter what she does, she can't please him. Even when she wants to make love, he refuses her and insults her. However it's not just one abusive husband that's like this. Almost all the men in the story see women as inferior. The priest in fact does as well. When the accusation of witchcraft arrives in the town, again women are constantly blamed. It even goes so far that the men truly believe that the actions that they did are the fault of women bewitching them so it's not their fault at all.

I felt it to be extremely well written with lots of historical detail. It was really frustrating to read about how women were being blamed for everything and that it was their fault that men sinned. I really wanted to kick some of the male character's butts while reading the book. It was very sad to see how the women were being treated simply because of their gender. Even though this book deals with early history Christianity, it is not preachy at all. In fact, it questions a lot of theology and false preaching. It's quite disgusting to see people going around using Christianity and God for justification for the things that they do when it's clearly evil what they are doing. The "witch" trapped in the box was one of the saddest things I have ever read about. It's totally disgusting to see how a "man of God" treating another human being that way.

Equally as fascinating is the author's notes at the end of the book that give more historical insight to all the events that happened in the story. Garrett gives more insight to the Malleus Maleficarum which really gave rise to the notion of the lowering of women in the church. She also talks about gender roles in the church both back in time and in present day. It's absolutely fascinating to read all this because not only does a lot of Christian fiction never talk about this, it's usually never talked about in the church or by Christians in general. I don't feel Garrett trying to get all feminist here but what she says is stuff that I think we really need to sit and think about. I know for certain a lot of these thoughts and questions have entered my mind and I would like answers or explanations on them. She also talks more about the view of witches in historical and modern day by Christians, another fascinating note. There are also some really good discussions questions as well. This would make a perfect book club book especially for Christian book clubs because there would be some deep discussions here about faith.

All in all, this is an excellent read. There is something for everyone in this book. It's a book that really makes you think about why you believe the things you do. I do wish that more men would read it because of all the gender issues that are raised but that's probably not going to happen. This is a story that really gets the emotions and discussion going. I do hope that the other two books in the series are just as good as this one. HIGHLY recommended.

Wolves Among Us by Ginger Garrett is published by David C. Cook (2011)

This ARC was provided by a publicist

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Review: "Separate Beds" by Elizabeth Buchan

Summary from Tom and Annie's kids have grown up, the mortgage is do-able, and they're about to get a gorgeous new, state-of-the-art French stove. Life is good- or so it seems. Beneath the veneer of professional success and domestic security, their marriage is crumbling, eaten away by years of resentment, loneliness, and the fall out from the estrangement of their daughter, and they've settled into simply being two strangers living under the same roof. Until the economy falls apart. Suddenly the dull but oddly comfortable predictability of their lives is upended by financial calamity-Tom loses his job, their son returns home, and Tom's mother moves in with them. As their world shrinks, Tom and Annie are forced closer together, and the chaos around them threatens to sweep away their bitterness and frustration, refreshing and possibly restoring the love that had been lying beneath all along. In Separate Beds, Elizabeth Buchan has captured the concerns and joys of contemporary women, and her timely, warm, and funny novel tracks the ebb and flow of family, fortune, and love that is familiar to so many readers.

Family stories always grab my attention. It's mainly because even though a family may seem like they have it all together from the outside, inside there are secrets and pains and sorrows hiding behind the smiling faces. There are four subplots in the book: Tom and Annie's story, Tom's mother's story, Jake's story and Emily's story. Out of the four, I found Jake's story about his estranged wife and the custody battle for their daughter to be the most interesting. While the others did have appeal, Jake's story grabbed my attention the most. It was mainly because it was the reverse of what most custody cases tend to be. Instead of the mother trying to retain custody, in this case she wanted to first give up her rights and then tries to get her daughter back. Jocasta comes off across as very selfish and only thinking of herself. I feel like she is one those women who was not meant to be a mother and only got roped in because of the one night stand. Jake's fight for his daughter and his discovery of who Jocasta really is becomes a major turning point in his life.

Tom and Annie's lives are at that middle aged point of life when the marriage seems stale and no one has the energy to make it come alive again. They seem to be going through the motions until a major incident happens that forces them to come back together and truly be husband and wife. I really like how this book upholds marriage when it counts. Tom and Annie could have given up a long time ago and either of them could have left. But instead they stayed together and gave it another chance.

I was hoping for a bit more in regards to Hermione's (Tom's mother) story. When the revelation comes out about her past, it wasn't as shocking as I thought it would be. Her relationship with Annie improves a bit by the end, but it still felt like there were major issues that were never going to get solved between the two of them. Emily's story is more interesting in regards to her sister. When she says to her mother "you still have another daughter" there's so much emotion in that statement. Her parents seemed to have grieved over the loss of one daughter leaving but seemed then to not give that same attention to Emily. Going out into the world and starting a career and a new life for herself invigorates her and allows her to truly live her life.

This is my first book of Buchan's that I've read and I enjoyed it immensely. Even though I'm not at Annie's stage of life, I still felt like I could relate to her and her family. The situations are slice of life stories and could happen to almost anyone. Their family struggles together and comes together to help out each other in times of need. The ending is hopeful without being too happy ending-ish. Buchan' has quite a few books on her back list so I'm looking forward to going back and discovering more of her work.

Separate Beds by Elizabeth Buchan is published by Viking (2011)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Book Review: "Attachments" by Rainbow Rowell

Summary from Beth and Jennifer know their company monitors their office e-mail. But the women still spend all day sending each other messages, gossiping about their coworkers at the newspaper and baring their personal lives like an open book. Jennifer tells Beth everything she can't seem to tell her husband about her anxieties over starting a family. And Beth tells Jennifer everything, period.

When Lincoln applied to be an Internet security officer, he hardly imagined he'd be sifting through other people's inboxes like some sort of electronic Peeping Tom. Lincoln is supposed to turn people in for misusing company e-mail, but he can't quite bring himself to crack down on Beth and Jennifer. He can't help but be entertained-and captivated- by their stories.

But by the time Lincoln realizes he's falling for Beth, it's way too late for him to ever introduce himself. What would he say to her? "Hi, I'm the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you." After a series of close encounters and missed connections, Lincoln decides it's time to muster the courage to follow his heart . . . even if he can't see exactly where it's leading him.

Written with whip-smart precision and charm, Attachments is a strikingly clever and deeply romantic debut about falling in love with the person who makes you feel like the best version of yourself. Even if it's someone you've never met.

*Squee!* That was my reaction after finishing this book. I totally adored this story. It's so cute. I know that's probably not the best way to describe a book, but it really is. I absolutely adored this book.

When you first meet Lincoln and hear about his situation, you rather pity him. I mean, he's in his late 20s, lives with his mom and he's only had one girlfriend his entire life. He's also a computer nerd which normally doesn't equal hip. His job consists of him reading other people's emails. He also isn't very good at standing up for himself. That doesn't normally shout out WINNER to the average person. However as the reader learns more about Lincoln's past and what he really wants, he becomes an incredibly likable character. His job of reading emails introduces him to Beth and Jennifer, two workers in his company. He learns about their lives through their emails which he finds he can't stop reading. It is through the emails that he falls in love with Beth even though he doesn't know what she looks like. I don't want to spoil the story but there's a wonderful twist that happens. I was very happy when I discovered it and guessed correctly.

I love how this book combines the email conversations with regular prose. I love stories that use email/IM/twitter formats but I find that I read those books really fast because of the format. While it's fun and different, it feels rather rushed. By combining the emails with a regular narrative, it allows the unique format to blend with the story allowing for a deeper reading but still very enjoyable at the same time. Through the emails we (and Lincoln) learn the deepest secrets of Beth and Jennifer's lives and there's a lot of emotion that flows out of them.

I think what is best about the story is that Rowell takes the very common boy-meets-girl story and gives a very different twist. It's a bold move that I think played off very well. I couldn't stop reading and I found myself really getting into the story. I cheered at parts. I became very sad at parts. I got angry at parts. I felt the love at parts. It's a truly wonderful book and just so very fun to read. I feel that Rowell has written a winner and I cannot wait to read more from her. HIGHLY recommended.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell is published by Dutton (2011)

This ARC was provided for a blog tour with TLC Book Tours

I'm able to give away one copy of this book provided by the publisher. To enter, you must fill out the form below. This contest is open to US and Canada entrants only. Winner will be picked Wednesday April 20.

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.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Book Review: "To Wish or Not to Wish" by Mindy Klasky

Summary from Erin Hollister is waiting for her big break—or even a small one. She's been dumped by her boyfriend, canned by her employer and it doesn't seem that her dream of making it on Broadway will come true either. But then she's given a lantern—complete with genie!—and it looks as if a little magic may be in store….

That is, if she can decide what to wish for. There's the rub. Career? Family? Love life? Even a charismatic genie can grant only so many wishes. Or maybe Erin should just hold on to all those magical chances and think about what might be (instead of seeing just what's under her nose).

Time's running out. Ultimately, it's Erin who must decide how to keep the magic alive—forever.

This is one of those fun and unique series that is good for a light read. It's a situation that almost everyone wishes would happen to them: find a genie who grants you wishes. I love how the book takes place in New York and on Broadway because I enjoy seeing all the behind the scenes events. Erin's character is a bit annoying at first but I gradually began to like her. It is very obvious she cares about her sister and nephew and it gives her character more heart. I loved her relationship with Timothy because he was one of the nicest guys I have ever read in a story. His restaurant sounds amazing, the described food sounded delicious and the fact that he had a table set aside to feed a person in need for free just made me swoon. Do guys like him exist in real life?

I was a bit underwhelmed by this story as compared to the first two in the book. I guess since this was the last book in the series, I was expecting big fanfare as Teel finally gets what he/she has been wanting since the first book. When it does finally happen, it's not as grand as I thought it'd would be. Also, what I wasn't expecting was Erin to get attracted to Teel as that has never happened with any of the other lamp holders before. It just seemed a bit unnecessary to me. She already had so much going on in her life that I felt the attraction was really out of place. This is especially odd since Teel's gender changes constantly but it's never brought up when Teel appears as a female.

While each book can be read as a standalone, I do suggest reading the first two books to get a better understanding of Teel's desire to go to the garden. There is some repetitive stuff as Teel has to explain the stipulations to the wishes and each women apparently does the same thing before fully understanding what is going on. However each has a good story of overcoming failures and a really good romance gets going. I'm sad that the series has come to an end but I'm satisfied with how it all concluded. Now if I could only find my own genie in a bottle as there are several wishes that I would like to make...
To Wish or Not to Wish by Mindy Klasky is published by Mira (2010)

This review copy was provided by the Amazon Vine program

Other books in the As You Wish series that I have reviewed:

When Good Wishes Go Bad (Book 2)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Book Review: "The Women Jefferson Loved" by Virginia Scharff

Summary from Throughout his life, Thomas Jefferson constructed a seemingly impenetrable wall between his public legacy and his private life, a division maintained by his family and the several traditional biographies written about this founding father. Now Virginia Scharff breaks down the barrier between Jefferson's public and private histories to offer an intriguing new portrait of this complicated and influential figure, as seen through the lives of a remarkable group of women.

Scharff brings together for the first time in one volume the stories of these diverse women, separated by race but related by blood, including Jefferson's mother, Jane Randolph; his wife, Martha; her half sister, Sally Hemings, his slave mistress; his daughters; and his granddaughters. "Their lives, their Revolutions, their vulnerabilities, shaped the choices Jefferson made, from the selection of words and ideas in his Declaration, to the endless building of his mountaintop mansion, to the vision of a great agrarian nation that powered his Louisiana Purchase," Scharff writes. Based on a wealth of sources, including family letters, and written with empathy and great insight, The Women Jefferson Loved is a welcome new look at this legendary American and one that offers a fresh twist on American history itself.

Growing up my entire life in Virginia and having my sister attend UVA, I have heard quite a bit Thomas Jefferson worship in my lifetime. There are those who feel like Jefferson could do no wrong, that his status as a founding father puts him on the same level as a demi-god. Then there are those who are eager to point out his flaws especially his relationship with Sally Hemings. I personally am super interested in that relationship because even though there seems to be so much evidence confirming it, there are still people who refuse to admit that it happened. This book takes a good look into that relationship as well as the other relationships that Jefferson had in his life.

I have read several other books dealing with Jefferson including The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed during my graduate studies. Those books tend to be more scholarly and more focused on political aspects and the impact it had on Jefferson's policies. This book focuses more on the heart as we learn about his mother, his wife, his mistress, his daughters and his granddaughters. It's really quite sad about the position of women during the time period. I honestly feel like they were used solely to procreate. There seemed to be nothing else for them to do and they couldn't say no to the men in their lives. Both Martha Jefferson and Sally Hemings seemed like they were getting pregnant every time Jefferson returned home. It's like good Lord, what an extremely sexual man he was! I did find learning about the history of the area and how the house was run and the time in Paris to be of most interest.

While I enjoyed reading the story, I felt that quite a bit of book seemed to be speculation. Scharff repeatedly refers to Gordon-Reed's book throughout the book. The phrasing she uses keeps sounding more like it's possible that events could have happened or that it was probably that people felt a certain way. I never really got the feeling that things were confirmed in this book. I'm not saying that Scharff didn't do any research because it's very obvious that she did. I just felt more like she was throwing out more ideas and doing guesswork than presenting sound and final findings.

Therefore, I wouldn't take this book as a serious academic work. However I do not think that's what it's supposed to be. I did enjoy reading it. It's extremely readable and Scharff's narrative places the reader into the story. The prose reads almost like a historical fiction book yet everything is true. Learning about all these events and relationships in Jefferson's life was fascinating. I wish I could go back into time and learn what really happened and why it happened. Jefferson will always remain an important figure in American history and interest in him and the lives of those he loved will continue in the future. Even if you're not really into history, I still think you'll enjoy this book.

The Women Jefferson Loved by Virginia Scharff is published by Harper (2010)

This ARC was provided by the publisher