Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Review: "The Linen Queen" by Patricia Falvey

Summary from BN.com: Abandoned by her father and neglected by her self-centered, unstable mother, Sheila McGee cannot wait to escape the drudgery of her mill village life in Northern Ireland. Her classic Irish beauty helps her win the 1941 Linen Queen competition, and the prize money that goes with it finally gives her the opportunity she's been dreaming of. But Sheila does not count on the impact of the Belfast blitz which brings World War II to her doorstep. Now even her good looks are useless in the face of travel restrictions, and her earlier resolve is eroded by her ma's fear of being left alone.

When American troops set up base in her village, some see them as occupiers but Sheila sees them as saviors--one of them may be her ticket out. Despite objections from her childhood friend, Gavin O'Rourke, she sets her sights on an attractive Jewish-American army officer named Joel Solomon, but her plans are interrupted by the arrival of a street-wise young evacuee from Belfast.

Frustrated, Sheila fights to hold on to her dream but slowly her priorities change as the people of Northern Ireland put old divisions aside and bond together in a common purpose to fight the Germans. Sheila's affection for Joel grows as she and Gavin are driven farther apart. As the war moves steadily closer to those she has grown to love, Sheila confronts more abandonment and loss, and finds true strength, compassion, and a meaning for life outside of herself.

Before reading this book, you should be prepared to get swept away into the story. I didn't realize that this was going to happen before reading so I was totally unprepared for the majestic story that awaited me through these pages. You'll travel to Ireland and meet a young woman named Sheila who works in a factory right before the breakout of World War II. She wins a beauty competition and receives the title of The Linen Queen. This sets off several years of adventures in her life starting with her winning this title.

I started off the story not really like Sheila but as the book progressed I became more sympathetic towards her. Her life is rough and she's pretty much in a dead end situation. Sheila's relationship with her mother is severely dysfunctional and it's very sad that she has to put up with it the way she does. There are some women that are just not cut out to be mothers and hers is one of them. What makes it sad is that there are so many people today who have suffered because of relationships like this. Sheila is able to break out of this cycle and move on but sadly there are many others that cannot break away and disastrous results happen because of this. There were times when I wanted to slap that woman as well as her other relatives. What they did to the young girl who lived with them was disgusting and absolutely despicable.

The romantic relationships in her life are rather hopeful and sad at the same time. I really enjoyed reading about her relationship with the young American Joel as well as her long time friendship with Gavin. It's not really about picking sides but I enjoyed reading how different the two men are and what Sheila does for both of them.

I found the view of what was happening to the Jews to be very interesting. I never really thought about it much but it's brought up that most people did not know why exactly their country was fighting against Germany. When it's mentioned about what's going on with the Holocaust and what Hitler is doing, there are people that don't seem that concerned or figure that it's not their problem. It feels a little shocking to hear people talking so flippantly about the Holocaust but at the same time, they weren't getting the news like we do now so they really had very little info about what was happening.

While I really liked the story, there was one small detail that I did not enjoy. I usually have no problems reading profanity in books. While I don't like excessive swearing, I honestly don't pay much attention to it in books especially if it plays a part in the story. What I do draw the line at is seeing Jesus's name used in vain. Since I am a Christian, I just do not prefer seeing his name constantly being used as a swear word. This was used several times in the book and it was a bit jarring especially since the characters are supposed to be practicing Catholics. This might be my faith getting in the way of my objectiveness but I really found it distressing to keep seeing it used over and over again.

Other than this, I really did enjoy the story. I honestly felt like I was in 1940s Ireland during the war. Falvey really makes the scenery and characters come alive through her words. I haven't read her previous book, The Yellow House, yet but after finishing this one, I know I need to add it to my TBR pile.

The Linen Queen by Patricia Falvey is published by Center Street (2011)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review: "The Promises She Keeps" by Erin Healy

Summary from BN.com: Promise, a talented young vocalist with a terminal illness, is counting on fame to keep her memory alive after she dies. Porta is an aging witch and art collector in search of the goddess who will grant her immortality.

When Promise inexplicably survives a series of freak accidents, Porta believes that Promise is the one she seeks. But Chase, an autistic artist who falls in love with Promise and opposes Porta, comes between the women with his mysterious visions and drawings, and plunges everyone into a flesh-and-blood confrontation over the true meaning of eternal life.

This book seemed to be written differently from other Christian fiction books that I have read. It's a unique read that might not gel with all Christian fiction readers but those that do enjoy it will so very much. The story seems to focus on five characters: Promise - a young girl with cystic fibrosis, Porta - an older woman who wants to live forever, Zack - a young artist with connections between the two women, Chase - an autistic man, and Chelsea - his twin sister who has devoted her life to taking care of him. These five characters soon find their lives intertwined in ways that they didn't see coming. Promise has lived her entire life expecting to die young due to her condition. Suddenly events keep happening that seemingly prolong her life and even seem as if she is being healed. This news gets around to Porta who wants to find out more about Promise and the secrets that she holds.

There is an autistic character in the story who plays a big role in the plot. His character is very blunt at times with the statements he makes. It got a bit frustrating at times because while people got angry with him to the point of violence, no one ever really sat down to talk with him about the things he was saying. His words end up being prophetic which can be a bit scary at times when what he says becomes reality. I felt a bit sorry for his sister because as his twin, she feels obligated to give up her life to take care of him.

I walked away from the book having some mixed feelings. On one hand, I felt the story to be written well. Healy's writing has literary fiction touches in it mixed in with the suspense and speculative elements blending together nicely. On the other hand, I was a bit disappointed with how everything turned out in the story for the characters. I didn't feel as if all the characters truly understood what was going on with all the events in their lives. I felt that parties were missing important info from the other side and never fully got a grasp of the whole picture. I got really annoyed at the treatment Promise had to endure for something that wasn't her fault at all. It's a tricky situation because I liked the story yet I felt there was just something missing. I've read Healy's previous works with Ted Dekker and liked them. I still think I will continue to read her other works because I did like her style of writing.

The Promises She Keeps by Erin Healy is published by Thomas Nelson (2011)

This review copy was provided by a publicist

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Book Review: "The Fitting Room" by Kelly Minter

Summary from BN.com: Kelly Minter explores what it means—in real life—to "clothe" ourselves (Col. 3:12) in Christian virtues like forgiveness, joy, patience, compassion, and more. Can we really "dress up" in the character of Christ? Kelly Minter says the answer is yes—if we let the Master Designer do the fitting. This relatable book offers insightful Scripture study with real-life stories and simple, down-to-earth explanations of tricky concepts such as justification and sanctification—stitching it all together with dry humor and down-to-earth honesty. There are no gimmicks, no guilt trips, just an irresistible invitation for women to enjoy a spiritual makeover—to put on a life that's personally tailored by the One who knows and loves them best.

I'm normally not a non-fiction reader. Oh, I like memoirs and enjoy a good narrative history book (partially because of my major) but overall I don't really like non fiction like some others do. Most of the time it's because the writing is so dry. The topic may be interesting but the author doesn't seem to know how to actually write to keep an audience. They may be knowledgeable and passionate about their topic but actually putting it in words is hard for them to do.

That being said, I really enjoyed reading this book. Minter takes a subject that is very dear to a lot of Christians: self image and how we can work on it in our quest for a deeper relationship with Christ. She uses several passages of scripture to get her points across but it doesn't feel overbearing or repetitive. The main points I walked away with is that we need to stop trying so hard to make things work for us and instead allow Christ to do the work for you. Only then can we have the peace in our lives that we crave so much.

One thing I really enjoyed about Minter's writing is that she's FUNNY. Yes there are serious topics discussed in the book, as well as passages that are supposed to help you think about deeper spiritual issues. But sprinkled throughout the book are Minter's quirky and hilarious comments. These help to revive the reader and also give you a good guffaw while reading. This is one of the reasons why I normally don't read a lot of Christian non fiction. The writers tend to just keep going on and on in a dry monotone. Here, Minter breaks up that repetition and "wakes up" the reader by helping them relate and get back into the story with a quick laugh and her dry humor.

One last thing to say about this book: I was eager to pick it up for a certain reason. Minter's dad is my pastor. I had no idea she was an author or a recording artist when I started attending our church and I didn't discover the connection between the two until earlier this year in fact. It was very interesting to hear about him from her perspective as he has mentioned her in his messages several times. That being said, I'm really glad that I enjoyed and got a lot out of her book. It looks like the book is targeted at women but I think all readers will enjoy her work.

The Fitting Room by Kelly Minter is published by David C. Cook (2011)

This review copy was provided by a publicist

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Book Review: "A Killer Among Us" by Lynette Eason

Summary from BN.com: Kit Kenyon is a first-rate hostage negotiator. Noah Lambert is a good detective with excellent instincts. The new partners have hardly had time to get used to each other when they are thrown into a grisly murder case. As evidence mounts up and more victims are found, Kit and Noah realize they are on the hunt for a serial killer. The problem is, he's hunting one of them too.

Kit's job as a negotiator is one that I could not do. The way she is able to keep calm while someone is in state of unsureness and could kill everyone nearby is pretty amazing. You don't really hear too much about negotiators in the news. However after reading this book I am in awe of their ability to stay calm and reason with an unstable person while putting themselves in extreme danger. She does this several times throughout the book including one scenario that could possible kill her own self.

Stories that always take the perspective from the serial killer POV simultaneously creep me out and fascinate me. The killer in this book had major issues about the role of the family which led to the reasons of why he killed his victims. One trait of a psychopath killer that I've found in numerous books is that if it is male, he giggles. Now most men don't giggle when they laugh, so when a guy giggles and there's killing, at least in books he's not all there. I will admit I was in the dark as to who the killer was so I looked in the back. If I hadn't, I would have been clueless until the reveal so in that case, Eason does this very well.

As I had stated after reading the previous book in the series, I had found the secret from the Cash family to be a little too dramatic. It had come out of the nowhere, the revelation of Kit's background and it honestly felt that she was only being introduced in this way so there could be a third book in this series. That being said, the downside to this book was that a lot of those issues feel like they are never really resolved. It's explained why it all happened but Kit never grows a good relationship with her birth mother and she's still harboring resentment towards her adoptive mother. She gets along better with her sisters but the relationship with her father is pretty much nonexistent. Even though she comes to realize how lucky she is to have two sets of family, I didn't feel as if a true relationship between everyone really existed by the end of the book.

Other than this, I enjoyed the story. Kit and Noah have good chemistry together as both partners and a growing relationship. Though I really wonder how many detectives actually have a romantic relationship together and how many actually stay as partners afterward. I'm sad to see the series ending as I feel that Eason blends well the romance with high quality suspense that doesn't stay all neat and tidy. I'll be looking forward to her next series.

A Killer Among Us by Lynette Eason is published by Revell (2011)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Other books in the Women of Justice series that I've reviewed:

Too Close to Home (Book 1)
Don't Look Back (Book 2)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Book Review: "Instructions for a Broken Heart" by Kim Culbertson

Summary from BN.com: When Jessa catches her boyfriend, Sean, making out with Natalie "the Boob Job" Stone three days before their drama club's departure to Italy, she completely freaks. Stuck with a front-row view of Sean and Natalie making out against the backdrop of a country that oozes romance, Jessa promises to follow all of the outrageous instructions in her best friend's care package and open her heart to new experiences. Enter cute Italian boy stage left.

Jessa had prepared to play the role of humiliated ex-girlfriend, but with Carissa directing her life from afar, it's finally time to take a shot at being a star.

Kim Culbertson's first book, Songs for a Teenage Nomad, made my Best Reads of 2010 so I was really looking forward to her next book. She writes in style that I really enjoy and gives insight to characters that most YA writers tend to skim over. I really enjoy how her books are more about what the characters are feeling as opposed to just things that happen to them. This story is about about teenage love, drama, friendship and everything in between mixed in with an armchair vacation to Italy.

Jessa's had the worse thing that could happen to a teen girl. She catches her boyfriend in the act of cheating with her right before they are set to go on a school trip to Italy together. You can't run away from the pain and hurt and have a good cry or recover when your ex-boyfriend is down the aisle with his new girlfriend. In order to help Jessa get through this time, her best friend Carissa has written instructions on what to do to get over Sean. Through these instructions, Jessa learns more about Sean, Carissa, and her own self.

I feel as if Carissa is at sort of a disadvantage in this story because we only get to know her character from the letters she's written Jessa as well as conversations other characters have about her. We don't get to her personally from her and she's not there to defend her actions or viewpoints. Sometimes it even seemed as if the things she was getting Jessa to do towards Sean are things that Carissa wanted to do herself but couldn't. I personally would have like to read a book from her point of view of the whole situation as well.

There's a scene that happens with Jessa and her teacher that thankfully does not go further than it does. I've seen this type of seen happen quite a bit in other YA books and while I know that it can happen, I really don't like it because of all the trouble it causes (among other issues). Things don't get too awkward between them afterward and it's almost forgotten about by the end of the book. One plot that I did wish have more closer involved "Cruella" because I didn't feel as if we got full justification of why she acted the way she did.

All the scenes involving the actual trip were fun to read and it made me feel like I really was traveling along with the group. Italy is one of the places that I would love to see before I die so every little bit I discover in stories is a joy to read. What I got most out of this book is remembering all the pain from past heartbreaks when I was in high school and college. It just made me remember that even though you feel like you're never going to heal your broken heart again, that eventually it will happen.

This is one of the reasons why I love contemporary YA fiction. I like realism in my books and authors like Culbertson make me feel as if I'm reading a real story about a teen girl who I can empathize with. Jessa doesn't always make the right decisions but she does everything with her heart. And I can totally relate to it. I am looking forward to see what Culbertson will put out next.

Instructions for a Broken Heart by Kim Culbertson is published by Sourcebooks Fire (2011)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Book Winners

Congrats to the winners of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees!

Tobe from Wading Through the Ocean of Life

Maria from To Read, Perchance to Dream

Book Review: "The Royal Treatment" by Lindsey Leavitt

Summary from BN.com: Desi Bascomb's job as a princess substitute has gotten a whole lot more glamorous now that she's advanced to Level 2 within the Facade Agency. Magical make-up, roller-skating celebrities, and the chance to see Prince Karl again are just some of the major perks. Not to mention, she's landed the role of Fairy Queen in her school's production of Midsummer's Night Dream (opposite her best friend's crush. Which is a little weird, but at least he wears a donkey head during their kissing scene). Life should be perfect, but Desi can't seem to shake the feeling that there is more going on with the agency's magic than she's told. Like why is this mind-bending power exclusive to royals? Is it possible that there could be a bigger way to make an impact in both parts of her life?

This story was really fun to read and very cute! I enjoyed it even more so than the first book in the series that introduced readers to Desi and how she is now part of a organization that uses magic to help princesses in need. In this story, Desi has upgraded to the next level of the agency which comes with more perks and more responsibilities. It's fun seeing what she has to do in her secret life and how she balances it with her real life.

I really liked going behind the scenes in Facade. I wish that I had the same powers that Desi had or just given brief access to get all the perks of working for them. While reading about Desi's adventures with the younger princess set is fun, I would have loved to get in on the stories of the older princesses like newly married Kate! I also like how within all the lightness of the story, there are some subtle serious tones as well. Desi's character is quite responsible and is eager to learn but she also has a curious streak as well which leads to some pretty big discoveries. I really like how she is now comfortable with what she is doing and spends her time enjoying herself as well as help out the girl she is replacing in times of need.

If you haven't read the first book in the series, I strongly recommend doing so because it's important to know the background of how Desi got this sweet gig. Also you learn more about her relationship with Prince Karl and why it plays into such a big factor in this story. I loved the twist at the end of story as it gives the whole concept another different meaning. I can't wait to find out what happens next in Desi's story as she discovers more about the secrets of Facade. Middle grade girls will really enjoy this light read.

The Royal Treatment by Lindsey Leavitt is published by Disney Hyperion (2011)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Armchair BEA Day 3 - Interview with Molly from The Bumbles Blog

Today's topic is was to interview another blogger. I myself was interviewed by the lovely Becky of
Bibliognome and you can read my fascinating interview over here. As for me, I got to meet a new blogger to me, Molly from The Bumbles Blog. She got to experience the wacky questions that makes up an interview from Deborah. Hope you guys enjoy it!

Your basic standard questions: What's your blog about, when did you start and how did you get started, yada yada yada

I began our blog in the Fall of 2008 in order to play along with the book meme, Teaser Tuesdays (http://shouldbereading.wordpress.com/?s=Teaser+Tuesdays). I wanted a way to be able to interact with other readers online and came across that meme. It seemed I needed a blog too in order to really get to know the other participants. So I created one on the fly as a virtual extension of the things that interest my husband and I in our little corner of the real world.

We are a buffet blog – a little bit of everything for your reading pleasure for as little or as long as you like to hang out with us. Another way to describe us would be nicheless wonders. We are not a book blog, a sports blog, a music blog or a travel blog, but there are posts about all of those things there at any given time.

We host the Monday Movie Meme (http://thebumblesblog.blogspot.com/p/monday-movie-meme.html) each Monday and a Blogging post (http://thebumblesblog.blogspot.com/p/blogging-tips.html) every Friday – either to expound on an issue within the blogosphere or to provide a blogging tip. In between could be a recipe, a tour of our town through photos, a funny personal story or a reminder about one of our live monthly chats (http://thebumblesblog.blogspot.com/p/chat-on-our-forum.html).

The majority of my book reviews are now found on the group book blog, Quirky Girls Read (http://quirkygirlsread.wordpress.com/). But I do still post bookish thoughts on our personal blog too.

If you're into burgers, describe the ultimate burger. Calories/fat/sodium/cholesterol have magically disappeared for this occasion.

It is funny that you ask this question. Just this weekend I came across an item on a menu called a Pretzel Burger, which is basically a bacon cheeseburger baked in pretzel dough. I couldn’t decide if that was genius or gross.

(Deborah here: It's absolutely delicious!)

I opted for something else on the menu because I wasn’t hungry enough to find out. But a burger with a twist is always exciting. Burgers with peanut butter are awfully good. I haven’t had one of those in a while. But really, nothing beats a delicious juicy patty good enough to survive without an abundance of toppings and condiments. I write restaurant reviews for and am the editor of UpTake’s Restaurants Blog (http://restaurants.uptake.com/blog/). Perhaps I will begin some research for the ultimate burger in my region!

I see from your blog that you're from the Boston area. What's the biggest stereotype of Bostonians that is not true? And one that is?

Well, I am not from the Boston area, though it has been my home now for the last half of my life. The biggest untrue stereotype? I am always surprised when I hear outsiders exclaim unexpectedly how friendly everyone here is. Do Bostonians have a reputation for being rude? If so that is far from the truth. They are very friendly and happy to help – unless it is a frigid cold winter day and it is too miserable to stop and chat. Or if you cannot grasp the one way streets and snaking highways. Bostonians like to use their horns and middle fingers on less than perfect drivers. Bad traffic and impatient drivers are certainly true Boston characteristics. So are the accents. My husband, a true local, really does pronounce it like “Pahk the Cah in Hahvahd Yahd.”

You get a call one day from an author saying, I'm going to write a book about your life and you're going to have to let me. Which author would you want portraying you in their words? (Can be fiction (any genre) or non fiction..or graphic novel if you'd like)

Harper Lee. She needs to write another book. To Kill A Mockingbird was perfect in every way except that nothing has been published since. I’m not sure if the unexpected success it garnered for her at such a young age scared her off, soured her on the experience or just left her with nothing better to say. But if she decided for some strange reason that my life was worthy of her voice, I would be in superb hands. Hailing from a southern family myself, I have great admiration for storytellers. And she is one of my favorites.

Well the rapture didn't happen and we're both still here. If the end of the world were to happen, what are 5 things in your "end of the world" emergency kit?

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Coke (the soda, not the drug – although if the world was ending perhaps drugs would be an idea). A bible – it would be helpful for this tentative religious believer to pull an all-nighter studying up on things. I don’t know how big this kit is, but there are really no other material things that would be more important to me than my cat and my husband. So if I could pack them in that’s what I’d prefer. If not, a video of the Red Sox 2004 World Series journey would be nice to cheer me up in such dire circumstances. And something to write with would keep me from going insane.

Star Wars fan? Yes? No? If no, why not?? (this is a question i ask everyone, as i am a huge star wars geek, lol)

Having grown up with the original Star Wars trilogy, it would be hard for me to not be a fan. I had the bubble gum trading cards. The glow-in-the-dark plastic light sabres that made that swooshing sound when you waved them around. I still have an R2D2 action figure as well as an R2D2 phone that is connected in our office and bleeps and rotates his head around when it rings. My brother, in his greatest moment of stupidity (of which there have been many), gave away our Millennium Falcon full-scale model toy that was the epitome of awesomeness. No one in our family has ever forgiven him for this. The friend who suckered it out of him disappeared, surely in a state of utter glee – or greed. That thing was a classic and would certainly fetch a pretty penny on E-Bay.

Thanks again for answering these questions Molly and readers, be sure to check out The Bumbles Blog!

Book Review: "The Wilder Life" by Wendy McClure

Summary from BN.com: Wendy McClure is on a quest to find the world of beloved Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder — a fantastic realm of fiction, history, and places McClure has never been to yet somehow knows by heart. She traces the pioneer journey of the Ingalls family—looking for the Big Woods among the medium trees in Wisconsin, wading in Plum Creek, and enduring a prairie hailstorm in South Dakota. She immerses herself in all things Little House — exploring the story from fact to fiction, and from the TV shows to the annual summer pageants in Laura’s hometowns. Whether she’s churning butter in her apartment or sitting in a replica log cabin, McClure is always in pursuit of “the Laura experience.” Along the way she comes to understand how Wilder’s life and work have shaped our ideas about girlhood and the American West.

The Wilder Life is a loving, irreverent, spirited tribute to a series of books that have inspired generations of American women. It is also an incredibly funny first-person account of obsessive reading, and a story about what happens when we reconnect with our childhood touchstones — and find that our old love has only deepened.

I have been waiting for this book for a LONG time. Not actually this particular book (though as you will soon tell I am so glad that I did) but I mean the concept of the book in general. I have been a Little House fan since I was 8 years old and I have been waiting to see if there was someone else in this world who shared some of the obsession that I had with those books. I have found that person in Wendy McClure. Within the first 5 pages of this book, I was pretty much reading my childhood and howling with laughter. There's so much in this book that I enjoyed, I can only mention highlights.

McClure goes on a journey to visit all the historical, cultural and entertainment sites tied to Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House legacy. She brings her boyfriend along for the ride and the two of them infuse their enthusiasm and snarky (yet respectful) humor through their adventures across the prairie. It's almost like a travelogue in a covered wagon. I also really liked how McClure talks about the research she did, the books she read, archives she visited, people she contacted in order to fully understand the whole phenomenon and the true history behind it.

I'm not a fan of the TV show like I am the books. I tried to get into the TV show but the differences was too much to keep me watching for very long. I am so glad that she agreed that Michael Landon is not at all how one pictures Pa. I mean he has no beard! Who shaves daily and that clean close on the prairie in the 1800s?! Another section that made me grin was the section on the American Girl dolls. I was/am a big fan of the books growing up and I really wanted to get one of those dolls for my own. McClure notes the similarities and differences between AG and LH and it's really interesting what she comes up with.

I got incredibly giddy when McClure brought up the Little House Cookbook by Barbara Walker. That is one of my absolute favorite cookbooks of all time to read (especially while I'm eating) but I didn't know anyone else that knew about it. So imagine my geekiness when it's mentioned in the book AND McClure tries to make vanity cakes! Plus she brings up the fact that food is a HUGE HUGE factor of the Little House books. I loved how after taking the tour of the Farmer Boy house, they mention how it wasn't really complete because you don't get any food (or see the doughnut jar) which is pretty much what that book consists of.

The only thing for me that I found lacking is that McClure, though while mentioning other spinoffs, did not mention the children's books based on the lives of Rose, Caroline, Charlotte (Laura's grandmother) or Martha (Laura's great-grandmother). I can see her overlooking the books about Caroline, Charlotte or Martha but the books on Rose were very popular and I myself enjoyed them very much. Now that I think about it, maybe a tiny brief passing reference is made to them, but I would have liked a little more mention. This is particularly of interest because when she visits the museum in Mansfield and people didn't really visit the Rose side because she wasn't popular as her parents. From reading The Rose Years books, I would have been very interested to learn more about her and I'm sure there were plenty young girls in my generation who read those books and felt the same way.

That being said, I absolutely adored this memoir. McClure has written on a subject very near and dear to my heart and explored it in ways that I wish that I could. There are things I discovered about Laura Ingalls Wilder that I never knew before and now wish to explore on my own. She went to places that I will probably never get to go and saw them through a mindset similar to my own. There's so much in this book that it's hard to describe every single detail that I enjoyed because that's practically the whole book. This is another one of my favorite memoirs of 2011 and it's really a great book for all Little House fans everywhere. If you have ever pretended to be Half-Pint, this book is for you. VERY HIGHLY recommended.

The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure is published by Riverhead Books (2011)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Armchair BEA Day 2

Today's topic is to highlight some of my favorite books this year. As you may or may not know, I always do a year in review post spotlighting my favorite books of the previous year, so it will be interesting to see if some of these books still make that list come December 31.

To read my review of each book, click on the title under each cover.

YA (Christian fiction) - Waterfall by Lisa T. Bergren (David C. Cook)

Contemporary Women's fiction - Born Under a Lucky Moon by Dana Precious (William Morrow)

Memoir - Big in China by Alan Paul (Harper)

Historical Romance (Christian fiction) - To Win Her Heart by Karen Witemeyer (Bethany House)

Chick Lit/Contemporary Fiction - Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (Dutton)

Historical Fiction (Christian fiction) - An Eye for Glory by Karl Bacon (Zondervan)

Historical Romance (Christian fiction) - A Heart Most Worthy by Siri Mitchell (Bethany House)

Chick Lit (Christian fiction) - Operation Bonnet by Kimberly Stuart (David C. Cook)

Book Review: "Who Is My Shelter?" by Neta Jackson

Summary from BN.com: When she was thrown out of the penthouse she shared with her husband and their sons, Gabby didn't know if she'd ever find a soft place to land. But after seeking refuge at the shelter where she works, extraordinary things happen as she is reintroduced to God.

From the ashes of her marriage comes the House of Hope-a safe haven for homeless moms and their children. But now those ashes of her destroyed marriage are being stirred again. When her long-gone husband's life hits rock bottom, he reappears and asks for one more chance. And Gabby faces what feels like an impossible choice. Take him back. Or keep moving forward without him. Toward someone new who hasn't betrayed her.

Is God redeeming what Gabby thought was gone forever? Or is He leading her down a different path and giving her something-and someone-new?

This is the ending of Gabby's story that begin in Where Do I Go. She's now come full circle in terms with her husband as he has become the one that needs her in a time of need. While dealing with those issues, she is also still very much involved at both the shelter and her own apartment which is now the House of Hope. Her story is detailed and long but it never feels boring. In fact it feels frazzled since we are reading it from Gabby's POV. There were times when I empathized with her and I wanted to grab my hair and pull it out of frustration. I really love how there is a multi-cultural cast of characters. Although it seems a bit too convenient that everyone gets along with everyone, I felt it to be very realistic. It's very nice to not just keep showing the standard generalization of characters that is in most Christian fiction.

While I liked the book very much, I had a few issues. One is what happens to Lucy's character. Her story is not resolved. In fact it just fizzles away after almost the entire book is hinting at a revelation. It just seemed a letdown after so much buildup throughout the whole series about her past and then it just goes away. The other problem I have is Gabby's entire situation. Gabby has major codependent issues throughout the entire series but they are especially present in this book. Her desire to want to try to fix everything

Unfortunately nowhere in this series is it mentioned that she go and get counseling. Yes she does talk to people from her church (but not a senior member or one that had counseling training) or having prayer partners, but not once does she go to seek professional help for what is happening to her. I'm not saying that she needed to go to someone who would tell her to divorce her husband. I just think that she has a lot of issues that she needs to work through before getting back in a relationship with him. I would have liked for her to be able to express these issues at least once verbally without another character telling her that she needs to have faith in God and trust him before she can barely get the words out. While there is nothing wrong at all in these things, I feel that it would have been more realistic to allow Gabby to get it all out instead of having to keep internalizing everything.

It is good however that Gabby does have the support group. I could relate A LOT to her situation while reading the story and I wish I had even half the support she did.
I do not recommend reading this book as a standalone. There are MANY things that are talked about from the first three books in the series and if you come to this one, things will not make sense at all. You don't have to read the original Yada Yada Prayer Group series in order to read this series, but it can help to understand Jodi's character a bit better if you do. I'm sad the series is over but from what I've read on Jackson's website this won't be the last time we see these characters.

Who Is My Shelter? by Neta Jackson is published by Thomas Nelson (2011)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Other books in the Yada Yada House of Hope series that I've reviewed:

Where Do I Go?
(Book 1)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Armchair BEA Kickoff

Hello and welcome to my blog! In case this is your first time visiting, my name is Deborah and I'm the proud owner of Books, Movies and Chinese Food.

Here's the story of me and my blog in a nutshell

-I've been blogging since September 2006
- I've reviewed over 800 books on this blog.
- In the past 3 years I've read over 1200 books (not sure exact number)
- I do read and review a lot of Christian fiction, but I've gotten pretty picky about which CF books I read these days. I also read/review general market chick lit, contemporary women's fiction, memoirs and YA. I'm a big YA fanatic especially contemporary YA but many people don't know this as I mostly read but not review a lot of the YA books that come my way.
- I'm a huge geek and I love stuff like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, James Bond...all the proper geek movies. I am also a big Beatles fan.
- I'm an archivist during the day. Think something like National Treasure...minus all the treasure hunting.

Last year I had the opportunity to go to BEA and had an awesome time. I wish I could have gone this year but with starting a new job in the past few months, I didn't feel comfortable taking off from work so soon. So I'm doing Armchair BEA and I'm looking forward to meeting others who are doing the same. Yes I'm still insanely jealous of all those who get to go. Not because of all the books they get (I still haven't read about 90% of the books I got last year!) but because of meeting all the other bloggers and getting to really know the publishers and publicists face to face. Hopefully next year I'll be able to go again.

So thanks again for stopping by my blog!

Book Review: "Undercover Pursuit" by Susan May Warren

Summary from BN.com: The only way to get security agent Luke Dekker to a wedding? An undercover mission as groomsman. He'll bust the groom, a drug cartel heir, before anyone can say "I do." Then Luke can escape all this love and romance nonsense—and the too pretty bridesmaid/agent assigned as his "fiancée" for the weekend. Until Luke discovers that sweet, vulnerable Scarlett Hanson isn't his contact. Isn't an agent. Isn't trained for the high-stakes mission now trapping them both. And worse, Luke's falling for her—which is not part of the assignment.

Out of the three books in the series, this one was my favorite. First it takes place in the Caribbean giving a nice change of scenery. Second, the plot is slightly different and deals with characters other than Eastern European suspects. Third, the characters are more likable than others in the series. The chemistry between Luke and Scarlett is a lot more fun in this book. It might have to do with the scenery as romance is more fun with beaches. I found the relationship between Scarlett and her sister to be interesting as well. The stuff her sister makes her do and how she treats her makes you wonder what really happened between the two of them.

Interestingly, I didn't have anything major to complain about with this story. It's a fun read and the suspense bits are written well. I did feel bad for Scarlett several times because things are out of her control but overall I think she handled them well. I guess my only qualm is that I wish the story was a bit longer. As I stated with the two previous books, the LI Suspense format is not the best to first experience Warren's work. This one is a bit better than the other two but I still advise reading her other suspense books before reading these.

Undercover Pursuit by Susan May Warren is published by Love Inspired (2011)

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

Other books in the Missions of Mercy series that I reviewed:

Point of No Return (Book 1)

Book Review: "Mission: Out of Control" by Susan May Warren

Summary from BN.com: Brody "Wick" Wickham is a former Green Beret turned security agent—with a 100 percent mission success rate. No way is his new assignment changing that. Even if it's protecting a diva American rock star while she's on tour in Europe. Except Veronica "Vonya" Wagner isn't just a beautiful celebrity used to having her way—she's the daughter of a U.S. Senator. And she's hiding a dangerous secret. When Wick discovers what's at stake, how far over the line will he go to keep them both alive?

The second book in the Missions of Mercy series introduces to new characters as well as brings back those from the first book as well as Warren's other series. I was actually quite intrigued with Ronie's alter ego Vonya. She sounds like a mix of Lady Gaga and an indie band. She really was into her music and I enjoyed seeing her slip into the Vonya character and be someone that no one else was expecting. Actually Ronie seemed to have three personalities. There's Vonya, then Veronica as the rich quiet girl she portrays to her family, and then Ronie, her true self. It's a lot of effort to keep up these three personalities but she seems to slip easily into all of them.

I did have one huge major qualm about this story. There is a scene where Wick goes out to find Ronie when she's dressed as Vonya. Ronie was trying to spy on a suspicious character when Wick catches her in the act. She initially refuses to go with him so he throws her over his shoulder like a caveman as she's pounded on his back to let her go. I absolutely hated this. I hate when men do this and it's supposed to be used as a romantic device. Do women really enjoy being thrown over a guy's shoulder like a sack of potatoes? All this is showing is that Wick can do this simply because he is physically stronger than Ronie. She cannot do anything because of her size and what's worse, is that she DOES find herself attracted to him after this. Again lots of eye rolling and groans.

As I said with the previous book, this format of the story does not really showcase Warren's best talent. It's a quick read with a lot of romance and some suspense. Try her other books first and then come back to this as it's more like a quick snack than a hearty meal.

Mission: Out of Control by Susan May Warren is published by Steeple Hill (2011)

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

Other books in the Missions of Mercy series that I've reviewed:

Point of No Return (Book 1)

Book Review: "Point of No Return" by Susan May Warren

Summary from BN.com: An American boy and a warlord's engaged daughter have disappeared—together—in an Eastern European border country. Only one man can find them in time to prevent an international meltdown—Chet Stryker. But Chet is taken aback when he realizes the boy is the nephew of Mae Lund, Chet's former flame. When Mae insists on rescuing her relative herself, Chet knows he has to protect her from the enemy on their trail. Yet can he protect himself from falling for Mae again?

Susan May Warren is one of my favorite romantic suspense authors because she uses her international knowledge and infuses them into her stories. Her specialty is lies in stories that place in Russia and Eastern Europe since she has actually lived in those areas. If you've read her previous books based in these countries, you will recognize some of the characters from those stories. The story takes the reader to Georgia (the country, not the state) in a international chase involving kidnappings, arranged marriages and terrorists.

While the book is fast paced and enjoyable, there were a few things that annoyed me. One was Mae still calling her nephew Joshy like he's 6 years old, even though he's in college and probably does NOT want to still be called that. Her character is also a bit annoying at times because it's very hard for her to trust people therefore she puts herself in needless danger when she doesn't have to. The other was the whole dramatic revelation that seemed way too soap opera-ish. Then people start acting in roles that just 5 minutes ago they didn't know existed and now they act like they have to right to do so. I honestly felt like I was reading an episode of Days of Our Lives on location in Eastern Europe. I rolled my eyes a lot during this scene.

That being said, there was a huge redeeming factor for me with the end of the story. Without revealing what happens, I was thrilled to see that a promise was kept and there was no cliched ending. In fact I was rather surprised because almost every other romance book I read would have ended it in that way. I'm not too sure that the Love Inspired Suspense format is the best for Warren. One of her strengths is allowing the reader to get to know the character and these books are way too short to allow that. Diehard fans will enjoy the story, but new readers to her books will do better to read her other books instead first.

Point of No Return by Susan May Warren is published by Steeple Hill (2011)

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

Sunday, May 22, 2011

My Library Reads No. 13

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 5/9/11 - 5/16/11

Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer (HaperTeen, 2/15/11)

YA - I am so glad that I'm doing the YA Contemps challenge because otherwise I would have never discovered this book. This is a beautifully written story about two former best friends who are now rivals in everything, especially in their competitive singing. The POV goes back and forth between Brooke and Kathryn and also between past and present. We see how the two of them met, became friends and then enemies and the aftermath of it. It's very interesting because we see things from all angles. Not everyone was right, not everyone was wrong. Unfortunately the two of them don't get the complete whole story of everything like the reader does.

I've seen other people mention Glee in terms of this book, but as I have never watched the show, it never entered my mind once while reading. I was pretty much just like, oh two girls singing. That's great and that was it. That being said, I didn't really know how serious it can all be. I was in chorus during elementary school but I hated it and I sucked so I quit after 5th grade. I admire those who continue and want to go further in their career with their voice as their talent. I do wish that the story had continued as I wanted to know what's going to happen now with their relationship. I can understand though why the story ends where it does as life is not all neat and tidy so why should a story have to be? This is a fabulous read and I look forward to more from Wealer in the future.

Book Review: "Waterfall" by Lisa T. Bergren

Summary from Goodreads: American teenager Gabi Betarrini accidently finds herself in Fourteenth-Century Italy . . . Knights. Swords. Horses. Armor. And Italian hotties. Most American teens want an Italian vacation, but the Betarrini sisters have spent every summer of their lives there with their archaeologist parents. Stuck on yet another hot, dusty dig, they are bored out of their minds... until they place their hands atop handprints in an ancient tomb and find themselves catapulted into the Fourteenth Century and in the middle of a fierce battle between knights bent on killing one another.

I've been a big fan of Lisa Bergren's books for years. I can't remember exactly which was the first book of hers that I discovered but I know that I've enjoyed every book of hers that I've read. My particular favorite is her Gifted series. That being said, when I heard that she was putting out a YA series, I will admit I was a little skeptical. This is not because I doubt her writing skills. It's because a lot of Christian authors who decide to write YA after writing adult fiction tend not to know how to write YA. And the main reason is that they don't read YA on a normal basis. And when they do, they tend to stick with Christian YA for their examples. And (yes I'm using And as a first word a lot here) while there are good examples of Christian YA, in order to get a real knowledge of how to write to a YA audience, you need to read ALL types of YA. So I was worried that this series would feel out of touch for the general YA audience.

I was dead wrong. Not only has Bergren written a wonderful story, but I really feel that all audiences will enjoy this book. There's time travel, historical events, sword fights, jousting, hot guys, what more could you want? The story starts off in the contemporary but then switches over to historical as our heroines find themselves traveling through some weird time warp that's taken them back to 14th century Italy. Gabi has to worry with dealing with this sudden change plus finding her sister who got separated from her.

If there's anything to nitpick at all about the story it's that Gabi seemed to adapt very very quickly to her new surroundings and lifestyle. She seems like a mature teenage girl and that's fine. I just felt that she immediately accepted everything and played along even though obviously something strange and unnatural has just happened. I just don't think that many teens would have done that. It seemed a bit unrealistic. But then again, this story involves time travel so why am I saying this bit is unrealistic?

Even though this book comes from a Christian publishing house, the faith aspect in this book is very minimal. I do not think that anyone who reads this that is not of the Christian faith would get offended or feel that they were getting preached at while reading. Any references or mentions of God, faith, or religion are keeping with the time period when it would have been historically inaccurate to not bring it up. Gabi's faith didn't seem to be that big of an issue or at least it didn't to me. I just hope that general market YA fans/bloggers are being targeted this book and not just Christian fiction readers (especially adult readers who say I never read YA but I did because Lisa wrote it. I want actual teens and YA fans to read it!).

Bergren's writing is what ultimately wins me over with this story and I found myself eagerly turning pages to find out what was going to happen with Gabi and Lia. My favorite literary device were the scenes when Gabi is floating in and out of consciousness and only brief sentences would take up a single page. It felt just like I was reading Gabi's fleeting thoughts and only able to grasp a little bit at a time. It's very well done and I cannot wait until I get a hold on Cascade. I'm also very pleased to know that Bergren has done her research and is currently reading general market YA books as we speak. Well done! If you like YA, any type of YA this is the book for you. HIGHLY recommended.

Waterfall by Lisa T. Bergren is published by David C. Cook (2011)

This ARC was provided by the Amazon Vine program

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Book Review: "The Lightkeeper's Ball" by Colleen Coble

Summary from Christianbook.com: Olivia Stewart's family is one of the Four Hundred-the highest echelon of society in 1910. When her sister dies under mysterious circumstances, Olivia leaves their New York City home for Mercy Falls, California, to determine what befell Eleanor. She suspects Harrison Bennett, the man Eleanor planned to marry. But the more Olivia gets to know him, the more she doubts his guilt-and the more she is drawn to him herself.

When several attempts are made on her life, Olivia turns to Harrison for help. He takes her on a ride in his aeroplane, but then crashes, and they're forced to spend two days alone together. With her reputation hanging by a thread, Harrison offers to marry her to make the situation right. As a charity ball to rebuild the Mercy Falls lighthouse draws near, she realizes she wants more than a sham engagement-she wants Harrison in her life forever. But her enemy plans to shatter the happiness she is ready to grasp. If Olivia dares to drop her masquerade, she just might see the path to true happiness.

I was rather disappointed with this story. Olivia's character is quite weak. I did not sympathize or feel anything for her at all. She didn't seem too distraught over her sister's death. Pretty much she came across as a rich girl to me. Harrison isn't too much better. His nickname for Olivia was rather annoying. He too came across as rIt really annoyed me at how fast the two "fall in love." Harrison doesn't even know Olivia's true first name, never mind her entire identity. They proclaim how much they love each other but they barely know each other. There's a lot of lies and deceit between the two of them that everything seemed so soap opera-ish with how they were acting. Their reconciliation comes too quickly and neither is as mad as they really should have been. The mystery didn't really keep my attention either. When the resolution finally happens, I wasn't really too concerned anymore.

I honestly do not get why there is a common thread running through all of these books where men end up having relationships with sisters. It's something that I immediately noticed as soon as I read the first book in the series. In the first book when it came up, I was a bit taken aback but shrugged it off. When it happened again in the 2nd book, I was like, this again? With this book, I was just waiting for it to happen and sure enough...BOOM. Call me weird, but I would not want to marry any guy who had a relationship with my sisters.

This makes me sad to say this because I normally love Coble's books. In fact the first book in the series was very enjoyable and I thought the mystery woven in the historical setting was done perfectly. However as the series went on, I felt that there were major things that did not go well with the stories and characters were lacking depth. After reading all the books, I hate to say this but I'm not sure if historical romances are the right fit for Coble. Her contemporary suspense stories are her forte and I hope she continues to write more in that genre.

That being said, I absolutely love the cover of this book. I'm a huge fan of dresses like this and I love seeing them on covers and this is one of the first Christian fiction covers to showcase a dress like this. I hope the industry pays more attention to the praise the cover is getting and puts out more like this!

The Lightkeeper's Ball by Colleen Coble is published by Thomas Nelson (2011)

This review copy was provided by a publicist

Other books in the Mercy Falls series that I've reviewed:

The Lightkeeper's Bride
(Book 2)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Book Review: "Born Under a Lucky Moon" by Dana Precious

Book Summary from BN.com: Born Under a Lucky Moon is the tale of two very important (but distant) years in the lives of Jeannie Thompson and her (embarrassing, crazy) colorful family members to whom "things" just seem to happen. From the Great Lakes of Michigan to Los Angeles and back again, it is a story of surprise marriages, a renegade granny, a sprinkler system cursed by the gods, and myriad other factors Jeannie blames for her full-tilt, out-of-control existence. But it's also about good surprises—like an unexpected proposal that might just open Jeannie's eyes to her real place among the people she loves most in the world . . . the same ones she ran far away from to begin with.

This was one of those books that I couldn't stop reading. It's one of those rare occasions when you discover a brand new author and you pick up their book and you fall instantly in love. Yes this was that such book. I started reading it during my lunch break at work and I did not want to put it down. Yes, I was even contemplating reading the book while I was working but alas I don't want to get fired so sadly the book had to be put away until I got back home. As soon as I did get home, I savored the rest of the story like a fine wine or some good cheese. Seriously, this is one of the best stories that I've read this year.

I love sister stories and this book is full of them. There are four sisters (and 1 brother) in the Thompson family. Jeannie is telling the story of the summer of 1986 where everything that could possibly go wrong and crazy for her family does. There is so much hilarity in the story and so much going on that it could have possibly gone awry. But Precious weaves everything perfectly together. I can't believe how much could happen with one family but it did. From surprise weddings, gas leaks, a sexually charged priest and everything in between. That summer was one to remember.

And remember Jeannie does as she reminiscences about it in 2006 to the man that she's in love with but afraid to fully commit. 20 years later, she finds herself working in Hollywood and beings super stressed about her job. She is also hiding her family from her boyfriend because she doesn't want to lose him the way she did her ex-husband on account of them. Reading about the background scenes of the movie scene was fascinating. It's not all glitz and glamour to get those big budget movies out there. It's a frantic world and even when you give 200%, it still won't be enough.

I can understand being embarrassed or even a bit ashamed of your family. It happens to almost anyone. Jeannie's family didn't seem all that bad to me (ok except for her dad's mom, yes she was very touched). In fact, they seem like a family that loves each other and truly cares about each other throughout the years. I loved reading their story and all their adventures. I think that anyone who comes from a family with multiple siblings will really enjoy this story. There's so much emotion, realism and honesty in this book. This is honestly one of the best debut books that I've read and I cannot wait to read more from Dana Precious. A great read to enjoy during the upcoming summer break. HIGHLY recommended.

Born Under a Lucky Moon by Dana Precious is published by William Morrow (2011)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book Review: "A Stitch Before Dying" by Anne Canadeo

LinkSummary from BN.com: When Maggie Messina, owner of the Black Sheep Knitting Shop, is invited to give knitting workshops at a Berkshires spa resort, she manages to negotiate a cottage that fits all five of the Black Sheep for what promises to be a weekend of knitting bliss. But while the friends are expert at counting stitches, they haven’t counted on murder. Guests and staff at the Crystal Lake Inn are as varied as a mixed bag of yarn, but most colorful is certainly the owner, charismatic self-help guru and former psychiatrist Dr. Max Flemming. The doctor may have told all in a revealing autobiography, but from his ex-wife to the widow of his former business partner—both employees at the inn—Max seems mired in shad­ows from his past. And when a killer strikes during a mountaintop retreat, the Black Sheep wonder what the good doctor might be hiding. The police seem to be following the wrong thread. But while Maggie’s workshops have given the knitters a unique view of the tensions at the little inn, can they make sense of a crime that is as complexly stranded as a Fair Isle sweater? When the killer murders a second time, the Black Sheep won­der if they’ve dropped a stitch and put themselves in mortal danger. . . .

This is light and fun cozy mystery. I find it very interesting how murder can be described as fun and light but this genre had totally done that. I have enjoyed the other books in the Black Sheep Knitting Mystery series because they are written well. Even with a rather large character list, the mystery is still tight and woven fluidly throughout the story. I totally guessed wrong as to who the murderer was and I was quite pleased about it. It's never fun when you guess it too early.

What I liked best about the story was the details. I really like stories that take place in spa resorts because they are always very soothing and peaceful for me. However most books, especially mysteries, tend to skim over the description of the resort and its activities in order to get the other parts of action. In this book however, Canadeo allows the reader to enjoy massages, wraps, facials, and other treatments with the characters. Even after the murders, in order to calm themselves down, they still have time to pamper themselves. In turn, it made me like the story better and enjoy it even more.

The only small thing that bugged me was Lucy's passive aggressive behavior towards her boyfriend. She is mad at him for not doing something that he has no idea about. She never told him about the murders that happened on the trip yet she's angry at him for not calling to ask if she's ok. Even being called out on it doesn't change her attitude. Then it drives me nuts when she gets home and she STILL doesn't tell him how she really feels but continues to get angry and irritated at him. It's eventually resolved but I'm still iffy about someone dating someone when the divorce isn't finalized yet. Her whole attitude really annoyed me.

Knitting fans will probably enjoy this book as there is quite a bit of knitting talk in the story. There's not too much that non knitters will get bored but just enough to drum up interest. I'm hoping there will be more books in this fun series. While this is the third book in the series, it can be read completely as a standalone.

A Stitch Before Dying by Anne Canadeo is published by Gallery Books (2010)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Other books in the Black Sheep Knitting Mystery series that I've reviewed

Knit, Purl, Die (Book 2)