Monday, October 31, 2011

Mailbox Mondays

Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia of A Girl and Her Books and is being hosted by Savvy Verse and Wit this month.

Here are the books I got this week.

For Review:

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott
The Bone House by Stephen R. Lawhead

Waking Hours by Lis Wiehl with Pete Nelson
Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire

From Paperbackswap:

Love Finds You in Nazareth, Pennsylvania by Melanie Dobson

Sunday, October 30, 2011

O Hai There

Well, in case you noticed (or maybe you didn't) I haven't been blogging in a while. Even more of a shocker, I haven't been reading either. It's quite absurd I know. The result of me not doing either has been a snowstorm in October on the East Coast! That's how off balanced I made the world!

No seriously, I just haven't felt like reading lately. I'm not apologizing by any means. Obviously this is my blog and I can do what I want! Ok back to being serious, I'm just in a slump. It's not because of what I'm reading because I was reading some fantastic books and I got a bunch of great ones lined up. I think I was just pacing myself too much by trying to have a book reviewed every week day and if life got in the way, my schedule got screwed up.

I think I will take things a bit more easier. I don't have to compete with other book blogs and it's not like the publishers/authors/publicists will kill me if I don't put up a review when I said I was going to (well I hope they don't). I also really need to put up those movie reviews, saw yet another last night (so much for my "There's nothing I want to see in 2011 besides Harry Potter!" theory).

Moral of the story: Don't pressure yourself. I've been blogging for over 5 years. If people stop coming to my blog because I don't blog for a week, so be it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Book Winner

Congrats to the winner of Reasons to be Happy by Katrina Kittle:

Julie from Booking Mama

Mailbox Mondays

Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia of A Girl and Her Books and is being hosted by Savvy Verse and Wit this month.

Here are the books I got this week. Link
For Review:

Unexpected Dismounts by Nancy Rue
Desired by Ginger Garrett

Here's to Friends by Melody Carlson
Composing Amelia by Alison Strobel

A Lasting Impression by Tamera Alexander
The Opposite of Art by Athol Dickson

Love Finds You in Sunset Beach, Hawaii by Robin Jones Gunn
A Marriage for Meghan by Mary Ellis

The Rivals by Daisy Whitney
Say You'll Be Mine by Julia Amante

Valley of Dreams by Lauraine Snelling

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Review: "A Necessary Deception" by Laurie Alice Eakes

Summary from When young widow Lydia Gale helps a French prisoner obtain parole, she never dreams she will see him again. But just as the London Season gets under way, the man presents himself in her parlor. While she should be focused on getting her headstrong younger sister prepared for her entrée into Society, Lady Gale finds herself preoccupied with the mysterious Frenchman. Is he a spy or a suitor? Can she trust him? Or is she putting herself and her family in danger?

I don't why international stories don't fare as well in Christian fiction but I adore them. I especially love stories that take place during the Regency era. While I'm not a huge regency buff, I do enjoy the time period, fashions, customs and history of the era. In this book, readers are introduced to characters who are debating with being loyal to their country or helping out those truly in need. A masquerade ball takes on more than one meaning as national alliances are tested. Romances with those those in enemy territory ensue. Spies, secret midnight rendezvous and never knowing who is really who are just some of the elements included in this story.

I would have liked to have known more about Lydia's relationship with her father. It seems that it has never really been on good terms. I wonder if in future books more about his relationship with his daughters is explained.

There were many times when I was horribly confused by the story. There was a big cast of characters to keep up with as well as many having disguises and multiple identities. I didn't know who was who or what side someone was on. It was very hard to keep track of in the story. Eakes also has a technique in her writing that I do not like at all. She will end a chapter on a cliffhanger and then in the next chapter we have moved on to something else. I feel like nothing gets tied up or actions happen off screen which is very frustrating. I have found many readers who are also frustrated with this so I'm hoping that in the future Eakes stops doing this because it is something that can make or break the entire book.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about the story. The setting, historical aspect and details of the story were fabulous. As I stated I do love regency era books and I really loved the international aspect of the story. I do want to read more about British/French relationships and I would like to hear more about the characters. I just did not really enjoy the writing of the book. It was just a bit confusing and not as strong as it could have been. I will have to wait and see if I decide to continue with the series in the future.

A Necessary Deception by Laurie Alice Eakes is published by Revell (2011)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Book Review: "The Wonder of Your Love" by Beth Wiseman

Summary from Katie Ann Stolzfus lives in the small Amish community of Canaan, Colorado. At forty she is widowed and raising her first child. But baby Jonas will never know his father, and Katie Ann wonders if her Heavenly Father hasn't forgotten about her as well. Is it really God's plan for her to be a single parent?

Eli Detweiler has come to Canaan for a wedding and a long vacation. Having raised six children following the death of his young wife, Eli is finally an empty-nester. He's enjoying the slower pace of having no one to care for but himself.

When Katie Ann and Eli meet, there is an instant connection. Yet as strong as the attraction is, they both acknowledge that a romance would never work. He is done parenting, while she has just begun.

But as their friendship slowly blossoms into feelings that are as frightening as they are intoxicating, Katie Ann and Eli question if the plans they made for themselves are in line with God's plans.

Can Katie Ann entrust her heart to another man, and rediscover the wonder of God's love?

I know most people think that if you've read one Amish book, you've read them all. This could be a correct statement of many of the books in this genre, but Beth Wiseman's books are different. Yes, they are about the Amish but they are not necessarily always the same thing. This book for instance tackles issues that you don't normally read about in Amish fiction. Infidelity, single mothers and Amish traveling are just some of them brought up in here. If you haven't read the first book in the series, I highly recommend reading it before reading this one because it introduces Katie Ann and her struggles that are a big plot in this book.

I was a bit surprised at the fate of Katie Ann's husband. I swore after reading the first book in this series that he had only left her and nothing else had happened. Next thing I know, I open up the book and he's dead. To me this seemed like a cop-out way to handle the situation. I would have much preferred seeing how infidelity in the Amish is handled. What we are left instead is the women having to deal with Ivan's actions. This rather bothered me because we never really know why he did what he did and what he was thinking. I didn't agree with how Katie Ann handled the situation. In fact, I was like "seriously???! Typical Christian fiction."

I'm not sure if the bit with Danielle was supposed to go somewhere. I felt that she was brought abruptly near the last bit of the story and then it didn't really go anywhere. I hope that she will be included in another book because I didn't really feel as if I knew her. One more small thing that irked me was that Katie Ann thinks in her head that Martha should join the Amish community because it is the only way. Many thoughts ran through my head while reading this but all I will say is that it irked me.

Other than these qualms, I rather enjoyed reading the story. I've enjoyed most of Wiseman's Amish books and for the most part this fit into that category. The writing wasn't as strong as her past books but it was still a good story. Fans of Amish stories will enjoy this one. I think it is interesting seeing the community in a new setting as it shows that they are not just limited to certain areas. I'll be interested to see where they will end up next.

The Wonder of Your Love by Beth Wiseman is published by Thomas Nelson (2011)

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

Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Winner

Congrats to the winner of Holy Ghost Girl by Donna Johnson:

Beckie from By the Book

Book Review: "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Susan May Warren

Summary from LitFuse Publicity: Dottie Morgan has no desire to share her home - or her heart - over Christmas. After all, her Christmas spirit froze over when Dottie lost her son in World War II. But when a blizzard of the decade traps Dottie in her home with four near strangers, she just might discover that opening her door just might open her heart a Christmas miracle...and a new reason celebrate Christmas.

Yes, if you read this book you are going to have the title song stuck in your head pretty much the entire time you read it and long afterwards. Interestingly even though the song has been around for a long time, I only first discovered it after the movie Elf came out. I personally seem to have different connotations of the song than most people but I will admit that it is catchy and you can't get it out of your head.

It's just like this story. Even though Susan May Warren is a favorite author of mine, lately I've been a little lukewarm towards her books. They just didn't have the zing I had grown to love. This one however brought it all back. I had a great time reading this story. Even though I obviously did not live during the time period of the book, I felt a great sense of nostalgia in the story. It's a total comfort read.

The main four characters in this book would have rather avoided each other but due to the snowstorm are forced to be together. I could totally see this playing out as a movie. You have all these relationships - Dottie and Violet, Violet and Jake, Jake and Gordie and Gordie and Violet - that play out throughout the course of the book. Secrets are revealed, trust is tested and realizations are made. I felt that some of the characters grew throughout the story and others we were able to get to know better. The romance in this story is realistic and bittersweet.

The only part of the book that I found a bit out of place was Arnie. I kind of felt he was totally out of place. He only comes into the story halfway through and except for the scare when they find him, most of the other characters kind of ignore him. He doesn't really add too much to the story other than softening Dottie's heart a little. Also the scenes with his imagination, while cute, I wanted to skim over. I also wanted to wallop Violet's mom on the head for her constant dismissal at not being girly enough. I know it's due to the time period but it just made me groan and feel sorry for Violet.

Other than those tidbits, this was a really enjoyable read. It definitely got me in the mood for Christmas. I loved the historical aspect of the story. It was nostalgic but not cheesy or making it seem too perfect. The characters are flawed but they have good hearts. If you're looking for a book to get in the holiday mood or just a cozy book to read near the fireplace, this is the story for you.

Baby, It's Cold Outside by Susan May Warren is published by Summerside Press (2011)

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

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book Review: "Wonderland Creek" by Lynn Austin

Summary from Alice Grace Ripley lives in a dream world, her nose stuck in a book. But happily-ever-after life she's planned on suddenly falls apart when her boyfriend, Gordon, breaks up with her, accusing her of living in a world of fiction instead of the real world. Then to top it off, Alice loses her beloved job at the library because of cutbacks due to the Great Depression.

Fleeing small-town gossip, Alice heads to the mountains of eastern Kentucky to deliver five boxes of donated books to the library in the tiny coal-mining village of Acorn. Dropped off by her relatives, Alice volunteers to stay for two weeks to help the librarian, Leslie McDougal.

But the librarian turns out to be far different than she anticipated--not to mention the four lady librarians who travel to the remote homes to deliver the much-desired books. While Alice is trapped in Acorn against her will, she soon finds that real-life adventure and mystery--and especially romance--are far better than her humble dreams could have imagined.

I love reading books about characters who love reading books. There's just something about reading about someone else who is passionate about my interests that makes me happy. What I don't like (and honestly don't understand) is when an author makes their character seem like a fool because they like reading. It always makes me think that the authors is trying to say that you shouldn't read books all the time but then why are they writing a book? Luckily Lynn Austin doesn't fall into that trap as we happily go back into time and see life through the eyes of a bibliophile

Alice is what I would like to call lovingly sheltered. She's a good person with a kind heart. She's just lived in her bubble and hasn't gone to experience the real world in person. When an unexpected stop happens, she is finally thrust into forced survival mode and finds that her reading has not prepared her for a life such as this. Alice didn't grow up in extreme wealth but she has been kept in the dark about how to take care of herself in situations without electricity, telephones and automobiles. Her struggles to fit her modern lifestyle with the primitive conditions are both humorous and a bit sad at the same time.

I really enjoyed reading about libraries and the importance of reading and literature even though we were in rural Kentucky and literary was low. Story telling and imagination were still useful to have even if one couldn't actually read a book. I found the historical aspects of the book to be very interesting, such as money from the government was helping to pay for the horseback librarians.

I was a bit perturbed at how much lying was in this book. I guess I was just rather annoyed that Alice was deceived into staying in Kentucky longer than she intended. People may have thought that they were benefiting her and them, but no one stopped to think that others may have been worried about Alice's safety. I'm glad that she was eventually able to call her parents and let them know as they sounded very relived to find out that she was safe. I'm not a fan of the hat on the cover model. I just think it looks very odd on her. I will admit that the girl does look exactly how I would picture Alice, right down to the slightly clueless look on her face.

Romance-wise, there's a little bit in the book. Not so much that I would classify this as a historical romance however. What was there however was very much in keeping with Alice's character as it is sweet and mostly innocent. Overall, this was a good read especially for readers. It was fun watching Alice grow throughout the story and still able to keep her love of reading intact. She's just now more aware of her surroundings and also what is out in the rest of the world. I look forward to Austin's next book.

Wonderland Creek
by Lynn Austin is published by Bethany House (2011)

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review: "Love On the Line" by Deeanne Gist

Summary from In 1904 Texas Ranger Luke Palmer arrives in Brenham, Texas, with one goal--to capture the gang of outlaws led by Frank Comer. Undercover as a telephone repairman, he uses his days on the range to search, not realizing there's another pair of eyes watching him.

Georgie Gail, switchboard operator and birder, heads out on a birding expedition, but instead of sighting a painted bunting, her opera glasses capture her telephone man, armed and far away from telephone lines. Palmer is forced to take this alluring troublemaker into his confidence and unwittingly puts her in harm's way. The closer he comes to the gang, the further she works her way into his heart--and into trouble. Soon it's more than just love that's on the line.

It's always funny how something can happen in real life and then you pick up a book and then find the same thing happening in the book. Over the past weekend, I had gone to see the movie The Big Year, which is a movie about extreme bird watching. I found the movie fascinating because I didn't really know that much about birds and never realized the deep interest people have in them. Then lo and behold the very next day, I started reading this book and find that our heroine has a huge interest in birds and saving them. It was like my real (well movie) life and my book life had somehow collided.

Georgie is a telephone operator right around the time period when telephones were starting to become popular in houses. It was really interesting reading about how the operator was the one completely in charge at the time as she had the power to transfer news, request help and hear all the gossip in town. It was a job that was in demand for women and I liked seeing them take control of the career. I was very impressed with Georgie's zeal for protecting birds from being needlessly killed for the sake of fashion. I had no idea that birds were being used in that way and I have no idea why in the world someone would want a decapitated bird on their dress or hat.

There were a few scenes when I got a bit annoyed with the characters. Luke laughs at Georgie. I just can't stand scenes where the female is doing her job and gets frustrated at the male and all he can do is stand there and laugh at her. She usually then just gets more frustrated but doesn't do anything to stop his laughing. There is also a scene that disturbed me quite a bit as a character allows others to hurt another character even though they care deeply for the other person. It's supposed to done because they are trying to save an even bigger issue but I was rather disgusted that it even took place to begin with.

I found this book to be a lot tamer than other books by Gist that I have read. There seemed to be none of the sexual tension or undercurrent that I've come to know with her books. Yes, Georgie and Luke had a lot of chemistry together but compared to other of Gist's couples, this was practically chaste.

Overall, I have to say that this wasn't my favorite book from Gist. It's a good story and filled with a lot of adventure, action, spunk and romance. I just personally thought that her previous books were a lot better. I still think fans of her books and of historical romances will enjoy this read. It might not be the best one to start off with but it's still fun and romantic.

Love on the Line by Deeanne Gist is published by Bethany House (2011)

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book Review: "If I Tell" by Janet Gurtler

Summary from Jasmine Evans knows one thing for sure... people make mistakes. After all, she is one. Jaz is the result of a onenight stand between a black football player and a blonde princess. Having a young mother who didn't raise her, a father who wants nothing to do with her and living in a small-minded town where she's never fit in hasn't been easy. But she's been surviving. Until she sees her mom's new boyfriend making out with her own best friend. When do you forgive people for being human or give up on them forever?

I can now declare that Janet Gurtler is one of my top five favorite YA contemporary writers of all time. Seriously, after reading her two books, I am totally in love with her writing. She pushes issues that teens deal with and need to be brought out in the open. Since I read a lot of Christian fiction, one thing that I have major problems with that market is that it tends to be very few POC (person of color) main characters in the story. While Christian YA does tend to feature more POCs, it's still nowhere where it should be. That's why I turn to general market YA. This book clearly takes the subject of race and all the issues that come with it, from a teenage girl's perspective.

There's so much to discuss in the book but racial issues are the biggest one. Jasmine is a biracial teen that grew up in a very white environment. Luckily for her, her grandparents that raised her loved her unconditionally. Her relationship with her mother is on shaky terms but she does try to keep a good friendship with her. I felt for Jaz a lot in this book. I know what it's like to stand out and be teased for your ethnicity, which is something you can't control. I totally understood how hard it was for her to accept who she was because she had been unplanned and eventually unwanted by her parents. It's sad at the way her biological father chose to treat her and while there may have been reasons for his choice, I found it unfair and a bit selfish. Either way, his actions clearly have affected Jaz and caused her to have this anger, bitterness and low self esteem about herself. Her relationship with her own mother doesn't help much. Her relationship with Simon, her mother's boyfriend, seemed to help her until she catches him doing something that almost destroys their relationship.

There were times when I did get a bit annoyed with her as well. I wasn't really a big fan of how she treated Jackson sometimes. There's a lot of teen angst with her. It's accurately done. I just wanted her to snap out of it. I really wished she had discussed with Simon her fears earlier but I understand why she couldn't. It just would have saved a lot of trouble. Then again, her waiting so long probably helped to understand things better.

In addition to all this, there's also some romance, a near rape situation, Jaz's lesbian friend and her own difficulties, mean girls, postpartum depression, coffee shops and guitar playing. There's something for everyone! Overall, I really loved this book. There were times when I honestly forgot that an adult wrote this book. I truly felt like I was in Jaz's world as if I was reading her diary or seeing things through her eyes. Gurtler handles her situation with class and authenticity. I really enjoy her writing style as it is engaging and thought provoking. If you are searching for more contemporary YA books, I highly recommend her books. The problem now is that I want more and will have to wait. This book is just tops. HIGHLY recommended.

If I Tell by Janet Gurtler is published by Sourcebooks Fire (2011)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Monday, October 17, 2011

Book Winners

Congrats to the winners of Maman's Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan:

Beth S. from A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust
Pam K.
Carol W.

Book Review: "Reasons to be Happy" by Katrina Kittle

Summary from

21. Cat purr vibrating through your skin
22. Jumping on a trampoline in the rain
23. Raw cookie dough
24. Getting yourself all freaked out after a scary movie
25. Dancing like an idiot when no one is watching

What happened to the girl who wrote those things? I miss that girl. She used to be bold and fun. Now she's a big chicken loser.
How could so much change so fast?
Let's see, you could be the plain Jane daughter of two gorgeous famous people, move to a new school, have no real friends, and your mom could get sick, and, oh yeah, you could have the most embarrassing secret in the world.
Yep, that about does it.
So, the real question is, how do I get that girl back?

Ok, the colorful cover fooled me into thinking this was going to be a light read. I was expecting a cute story about what it means for a young teen girl to be happy. I thought that this would be a quick read where I would go about my day after reading it. I got a 1/4 of the way in the book and then WHAM! I knew then that this was not going to be an easy story to read.

Hannah is the daughter of two Hollywood actors and the niece of a famous documentary filmmaker. One would think that she would have the perfect life but she's horribly dissatisfied with it. First off, her mother has caner. Then she goes to a new school and is immediately schooled by the popular crowd of what is in and what isn't. According to them, most of what Hannah does/wants to do is not in. Desperate to fit in, Hannah stops doing many things that she likes and starts doing things that begin to harm her.

This is one of the very few books I've that portray bulimia so realistically. Other books I've read kind of skim over the difficult parts. Kittle really takes us into the mind of a bulimic. We witness the entire process of Hannah's addiction with it. We see her first time trying it and the power she feels from doing it to how it becomes her entire life to where she almost gorges herself to death. It's a completely eye opening experience that is very painful to read. One scene that really stood out to me is when Hannah tells her aunt she would rather be anorexic because it's not as disgusting as bulimia. Her aunt then shows her how disgusting anorexia can be as well. Something else I really applauded was that Kittle shows that this is a struggle that Hannah will have to face the rest of her life. Relapses can happen and it's not just something that she can switch off. A lot of other books tend to make it end in a snap but that is clearly not the case.

In addition to Hannah's struggles at school and her bulimia, there is also a section where she goes to Africa with her aunt. This trip transforms her and makes her see more about her life and how to find happiness. It's done very well and it helps the reader and Hannah both see more about life outside of our bubble.

Overall, I really loved this book. As I said, I went into it expecting one thing and came out completely different. Even though the main character is a young teen, I feel readers of all ages (well teen and above) will benefit from reading this novel. This is Kittle's first YA book but I hope it is not her last. There needs to be more contemporary YA books like this. They will make lasting impact on their readers. HIGHLY recommended.

Reasons to Be Happy by Katrina Kittle is published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (2011)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

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 entrants only. Winner will be picked Monday, October 24.

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.

Sunrise on the Battery by Beth Webb Hart

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Sunrise on the Battery

Thomas Nelson (October 11, 2011)

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


With a B.A. in English Literature from Hollins University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, Hart serves as an inspirational speaker and creative writing instructor at conferences, retreats, schools, libraries and churches across the country, and she is the recipient of two national teaching awards from Scholastic, Inc. and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. She lives with her husband, composer Edward Hart, and their family in Charleston.

Visit the author's website.


She wanted her husband to attend the town’s society-driven church.

God answered her prayer in a radical way.

An emptiness dogs Mary Lynn Scoville. But it shouldn’t. After all, she’s achieved what few believed possible. Born in the rural south, she has reached the pinnacle of worldly success in Charleston, South Carolina. Married to a handsome real estate developer and mother to three accomplished daughters, Mary Lynn is one Debutante Society invitation away from truly having it all. And yet, it remains—an emptiness that no shopping trip, European vacation, or social calendar can fill.

When a surprise encounter leads her to newfound faith, Mary Lynn longs to share it with her husband. But Jackson wrote God off long ago. Mary Lynn prays for him on Christmas Eve...and her husband undergoes a life-altering, Damascus Road experience. As Jackson begins to take the implications of the Gospel literally, Mary Lynn feels increasingly isolated from her husband...and betrayed by God. She only wanted Jackson beside her at church on Sunday mornings, not some Jesus freak who evangelizes prostitutes and invites the homeless to tea.

While her husband commits social suicide and the life they worked so hard for crumbles around them, Mary Lynn wonders if their marriage can survive. Or if perhaps there really is a more abundant life that Jackson has discovered, richer than any she’s ever dreamed of.


Mary Lynn Scoville

December 24, 2009

It was the morning before Christmas, and Mary Lynn was preparing for her sunrise jog around the tip of the Charleston Peninsula. She stretched her thighs and calves in the gray light of her piazza, then bounded out of her South Battery home, traveling west toward the coast guard station like she did every morning as part of her effort to “finally get back in shape” since her fortieth birthday, six short months ago.

By the time she reached Tradd Street, the gray had turned to a soft, creamy light, and she hung a left and rounded the corner onto Murray Boulevard where she traced the west tip of the peninsula as buoys bobbed in the churning water of the harbor and pelicans—beak first, wings pulled tight against their large prehistoric bodies—dove for breakfast in a thrilling kind of free fall.

At her husband Jackson’s strong suggestion, she stayed clear of the darkened cars parked along the edge of the waterway leading up to White Point Gardens. Unseemly characters gathered along the water’s edge at night and often fell asleep there, not to mention the handful of homeless folks who made their berths on park benches. There had been a murder in one of the cars last year as well as a rape, but the light was too high in the sky for any of that now. As her friend from her bluegrass days, Scottie Truluck, boldly proclaimed the day after someone broke into her house and took off with her laptop and her sterling silver tea set, you couldn’t let fear get in the way of your city life.

Mary Lynn hit her stride, as usual, at the High Battery as a lone sailboat with little blinking white Christmas lights encircling its mast pushed through the choppy water. She felt her heart rate rising and she became conscious of her breathing, so she attempted to take her mind off of her workout and the pounding of the pavement on her knees by going through her to-do list for the day as she passed the Carolina Yacht Club where Jackson had been offered a membership after his second time through the application process. Hot dog! An invitation to join this exclusive, tight-knit club was a kind of proof that they had been officially accepted by Charleston society. Not an easy feat in this historic southern city that, after two brutal wars and a depression that stretched on for half a century, had good reason to be wary of outsiders. Of course, they both knew they had Mark Waters—an older friend with hometown ties—to thank for this and many of the doors that had been opened to them.

Still, Mark didn’t run the entire city (especially not the old-Charleston set) no matter how deep his pockets, and the yacht club membership meant that they had finally passed some sort of insider’s test after their move to the city ten years ago. And that, along with the invitation Mary Lynn received last year to join the Charlestowne Garden Club and another to serve as chairman of the board of the old and prestigious Peninsula Day School, made her feel like this truly was their home. Their real home. She smiled even as she panted. She and Jackson, two country bumpkins from Meggett, South Carolina, were somehow making their way into Charleston society. Who’d have ever thunk it?

But that wasn’t even the primary goal for Jackson, who was the sharpest, most focused man Mary Lynn had ever known. The real goal for him (and he had written it down and asked her to put it in her jewelry box in an envelope marked “family mission statement”) was to give their three girls the life he and Mary Lynn never had. This meant a top-rate education, exposure and immersion in the fine arts, and frequent opportunities to see the big wide world beyond the Carolina lowcountry or the United States for that matter.

“Not just education, baby—cultivation,” he would say as they lay side by side in their four-poster antique bed purchased on King Street for a pretty penny, Jackson resting some classic novel he should have read in high school on his chest. Then Mary Lynn would look up from the Post and Courier or Southern Living or lately, the little black leather Bible Scottie had given her after the birthday luncheon meltdown, and smile.

Every time Mary Lynn and Jackson discussed their children, she had an image of her husband tilling the soil of their daughters’ minds and dropping down the little seeds like he did every spring growing up on his daddy’s farm. “Just like the tomaters, darlin’,” he’d say in his exaggerated country accent. “Only now it is little intellects that will one day be big as cantaloupes!”

A pretty lofty mission. But a worthy one, Mary Lynn supposed. Though sometimes she grew nervous that he rode the girls too hard with their school work and over scheduled them with extracurricular activities—strings lessons, writing workshops, ballet, and foreign language. They sure didn’t have much time to lollygag or linger or strike out on an adventure as she had as a child roaming the corn fields on her uncle’s farm, climbing trees, building forts, or spending the night in a sleeping bag beneath a blanket of stars. Despite her mama’s missteps and mean old Mrs. Gustafson, who made sure the whole town knew every little detail about them, Mary Lynn had a sanctuary on her uncle’s farm. Much of her childhood she was ignorantly blissful of all the trouble and the gossip that surrounded her family as she played hide-and-seek in the corn husks with her mama, running fast through the papery leaves that gently slapped her face. Then crouching down as she heard the sweet voice of her only parent call, “Ready or not, here I come!”

But Mary Lynn had to acknowledge the fruit of Jackson’s labors. Thanks to his staying after them, the girls were well on their way to mastering a stringed instrument and they could carry on a conversation (and for their oldest, read a novel) in French and Spanish. Imagine!

Who would have guessed the upward turn their lives would take after Jackson’s daddy’s death revealed the little real estate gems up and down the South Carolina coast he had inherited from a great uncle? The timing was right and Jackson had been shrewd. He turned to Mark Waters, who showed him just how to go about it. This was in the early ’90s, well before the economic downturn, and Jackson sold each piece of property for five and even ten times what his great uncle had paid for it. Then he bought more land, bought several low-end housing projects Mark introduced him to, invested in some of Mark’s big commercial and condo development ventures, and did the same year-in and year-out for more than a decade as the market soared.

“Boy, you picked wisely,” Mama had said the first time she came to visit them at their new home on South Battery. She narrowed her eyes and looked up at Mary Lynn. “’Course I thought Mark was going to gnash his teeth when he got a gander at the skinny farm boy you had fallen for.”

“Mama, Mark was married by that point.”

“Not that nuptials ever meant much to the Waters clan.” She winked, then shook her head. Mary Lynn guessed her mama was thinking of her own engagement to Mark’s father, who had proposed after she ran his office for years. They never did make it to the altar. “But you saw something in Jackson no one else took the time to see, smart girl.” Then she walked carefully over to the portrait of some eighteenth-century British gentleman that their decorator had insisted they purchase for the foyer, rubbed the corner of its gilded frame, and shook her head in disbelief before turning back. “You saw the man in the boy, didn’t you?”

Mary Lynn had smiled. Then she walked over and kissed her mama’s made-up cheek. It felt cool like putty.

“I was just lucky, Mama.” And that was the truth. Jackson was the only boy in town she ever dated, though Mark Waters had told her more than once he’d wait for her to grow up. Of course, she wasn’t surprised that he didn’t.

Her mama had nodded her head as she walked into the foyer and rested her hand on the grand staircase’s large pineapple finial. Then she gazed up the three flights of intricately trimmed hardwood stairs, clucked her tongue, and said, “Everybody gets lucky sometimes, I reckon.”

Now if Jackson stuck with Mark and played it right, he might not have to work for the rest of his life, and he and Mary Lynn would leave a pretty penny to their girls someday. With financial security and intellects as big as cantaloupes, what more could their daughters need?

But back to the to-do list. Mary Lynn still had a few presents to wrap, and she needed to polish the silver serving pieces for the “show and tell” tea party they had hosted every Christmas afternoon for the last eight years. Jackson, who had taken up the cello a few years ago, was trying to get their three daughters to perform a movement from a Haydn string quartet (Opus 20, no. 4 in D major, second movement to be exact), and he had played the slow and somber piece on the CD player so many times over the last month that Mary Lynn found that she was waking up from her sleep with the notes resounding in her head.

She’d never really known of Haydn; she never knew a lick about classical music until they moved to Charleston and started going to the symphony and the Spoleto Festival events. Eventually they became supporters of the symphony and the College of Charleston’s music department, and now she found she could recognize a few pieces by ear, though in all honesty, she always daydreamed when she went to a concert. Sometimes it would be over, the audience would be standing for their ovation, and she’d be lost in thought about shelling butter beans on the back porch with Aunt Josey or sitting by Uncle Dale in the rocking chairs as he tuned his mandolin before they started in on “Man of Constant Sorrow” or “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” with him singing low and Mary Lynn singing the dissonant high lonesome sound while she twirled and twirled around. Uncle Dale said she had a voice that was pure sugar and more moves than a croker sack full of eels. And once when Mark Waters and his daddy, Cecil, were over, Cecil teared up over the singing and the twirling and then insisted on underwriting voice and guitar lessons from a famous country music writer who had settled in Charleston. Mary Lynn and her mother drove the fifty minutes into town for the next seven years until she graduated with two offers: one from her guitar instructor to join his newly formed bluegrass band as the lead singer, and an academic scholarship to USC-Beaufort. Since she was smart enough even then to know that an eighteen-year-old girl didn’t need to be traveling in a band, and since Jackson had proposed on bended knee, she did what felt right to her heart: she chose the scholarship and married her sweetheart.

But on those mornings when she dropped the kids off at school and had to run a few errands, she turned back to the radio station she grew up listening to, an old blend of rock ‘n’ roll and country and bluegrass, and tapped along to Elvis Presley or Johnny Cash or the Stanley Brothers as she drove through the historic streets with her windows rolled up as if she were in her own secret time capsule, transporting herself back to when she was thirteen, dancing and twirling with her mama to “Return to Sender” on the screened porch as Aunt Josey and Uncle Dale clapped and laughed.

Catherine and Lilla, Mary Lynn’s oldest girls, both played violin, and Casey, the baby by five years, played the viola. Their family quartet sounded all right, except for the cello, which made an occasional alley cat screech when Jackson came at it a little off angle. She imagined they’d be practicing all day to get it right for tomorrow’s performance.

The sun was beginning to warm Mary Lynn’s back when she turned from East Bay Street onto Broad where she planned to sprint all-out to Meeting Street, then stop and walk briskly home the rest of the way, her hands raised and clasped behind her head, her heart pounding, then slowing moment by moment as the brisk air chilled her sweaty body to the bone. What a way to wake up! She loved it. And she had shed twelve of the fifteen pounds she had been trying to get rid of since her big birthday.

But this morning, just after she bounded at full speed across Church Street and back onto the uneven sidewalk of Broad Street, the front tip of her left running shoe caught for a split second in a crooked old grate so that when she slammed her right foot down and lunged at a sharp angle to keep herself from somersaulting, she heard a tear just below the back of her knee and a pain blasted through her calf as though she had been shot at close range.

“Agh!” she screamed, falling hard on her side and grasping the back of her right leg.

She knew what had happened, and she wasn’t sure if it was her knowledge or the pain that was causing the intense wave of nausea. She spit and attempted to will her stomach to settle down as her aching muscle throbbed.

The injury, she was sure, was tennis leg, a rupture of the calf muscle on the inside of the leg. She had suffered the same kind of tear in the same place two other times before. Once when Scottie had taken her to a Joni Mitchell concert in Atlanta and she had danced a little too hard to “California,” and just two years ago, when she was standing on the top of her living room sofa, hanging a new set of silk drapes hours before hosting a Parents Guild luncheon.

Mary Lynn put her forehead on her knee and ground her teeth. The stones from the old sidewalk were cool beneath her legs, and a chill worked its way up her spine. At best, she would spend the next ten days on crutches icing down her leg every few hours. And then another six weeks in physical therapy. Or worse, she would have to undergo surgery—something Dr. Powell had warned her about after her last rupture. “Surgery means no bearing weight for four months,” he had said, looking over his tortoise shell bifocals at her. “So be cautious, Mary Lynn.”

The street was quiet on this early Thursday morning. No one was around to gawk or help her up, and she started to weep—more from the frustration, from the time she would lose in the days and weeks to come, and from the stupid grate that no one in the city had bothered to right in maybe one hundred years than from the pain that seemed to compound itself with every new beat of her heart.

She put her clammy palms on the sidewalk and rotated her body over to her left side toward the entry way of the Spencer Art Gallery, and then she slowly felt her way up the side of the stone building until she was upright. She would have to walk on her tippy toes until she flagged someone down or found an open store where she could use the phone to call Jackson.

Mary Lynn swung her head back and forth in an effort to shake off the stars she was seeing. She walked a good block, carefully, on the balls of her feet to the corner of Meeting and Broad singing “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” by Elvis just to keep herself going. When she rounded the corner where St. Michael’s Episcopal Church stood, she spotted Roy Summerall, the rector, chatting animatedly to a familiar-looking man who leaned against a parked taxi cab, steam rising from his coffee mug.

She recognized the man as soon as he glanced in her direction. It was Craig MacPherson, Alyssa’s father. (Alyssa was one of Catherine’s best friends.) He had lost his job as a real estate appraiser during the recent economic crisis, and he was forced to pull Alyssa out of the Peninsula Day School, the private school Mary Lynn’s daughters attended. Now she could see that the rumor she heard was true. He was driving a cab to make ends meet.

Then just as she relaxed the balls of her feet after her favorite line in the chorus—“Yeah, before you abuse, criticize and accuse . . .”—in her relief over finding some folks she knew could help her, the pain shot through her leg, worse than before, and she leaned forward and vomited all over the base of the large white church column closest to Broad Street.

The men must have heard her retching. By the time she looked back up again, wincing and straining to get upright and back on her tip toes, they were by her side, gently placing her arms around their shoulders.

“You all right, Mary Lynn?” Reverend Summerall asked. She had been attending his church with Scottie every now and then, and she had met him once briefly at a Downtown Neighborhood Association gathering awhile back, but she was sort of surprised that he remembered her name.

She pulled her arm back around, wiped her mouth with the back of her fleece jacket, then placed it on his shoulder again. “Tennis leg.” She shook her head in disbelief. “I tore a muscle in my calf. It’s happened to me before.”

The men made a quick plan to carry her to the cab.

“On three,” Craig MacPherson said, and after he called out the numbers, she felt them lift her up and carefully scurry her down the sidewalk before setting her gently in the backseat of Craig’s taxi.

“Let’s get you home,” Craig said.

“Wait.” Roy put his hand on her shoulder and uttered a quick prayer. She couldn’t make out the words, but that didn’t matter. She had no problem with prayers. In fact, she was starting to like them. She’d been going with Scottie to a women’s prayer group at the church every Wednesday afternoon for almost two years now, and she had become downright used to listening to folks pray out loud for one another’s needs, though she’d never had the nerve to join in.

“Thank you.” She looked up and swiveled her head back and forth to meet both sets of sympathetic eyes. “I’ll be okay.” And then to Roy, “Sorry to leave a mess on your portico.”

The priest smiled. “Don’t worry about that. Just take care of yourself. I’ll check in on you later.”

Mary Lynn nodded, and Craig gently closed the cab door and walked around to the driver’s side. She was surprised by how clean the car was. It smelled like soap and maybe gardenias? Some sort of flower, anyway. And when she looked up to see Craig’s picture and license displayed on the visor, she noticed a drawing that Alyssa must have made for him. It was of the steeple of St. Michael’s with the sun shining through the second tier balcony. The one with the handsome arches. Then she saw the girl’s name inscribed in the far right corner.

Sitting down felt much better, and Mary Lynn was astonished by how much the pain receded when she took weight off of her leg. She needed to get ice on her calf as soon as she got home, and she would have to elevate her leg (up higher than her heart as she recalled) to stop the ache. That was how she would spend the whole afternoon—her leg in a pillow with a rope tied to the ceiling beam. That and calling all of the guests to cancel tomorrow’s tea.

But she felt so much better at this moment. Whew. Sitting down in the back of the clean cab with the bright sunlight shooting through the windows, she felt relief. As if, for a moment anyway, it had never happened.

As they turned off of Meeting Street onto South Battery, she could see her historic white clapboard home in the distance, particularly grand in its Christmas décor—fresh garland around the doorway and piazza rail, two magnolia-leaf wreaths with large gold bows on each piazza door, and even a little red berry wreath around the head of the statue in the center of the fountain in the side garden. That had been Casey’s idea, and it added a little whimsy to the decorations, Mary Lynn thought. To her it made the house wink to the passersby as if to say, There are children who live here! It’s not a just a photo from Architectural Digest. See? Every time Mary Lynn saw it, she grinned.

As Craig went around to help her out of the car, she turned to face him and still did not feel the pain. He took out his cell phone. “Should I call Jackson to meet us down here?”

“No,” she said. “He’s probably on his morning walk and I’m sure the girls are still asleep.” She reached out her hand. “If you help me out, I can make it in on the balls of my feet.”

Like Mary Lynn, Jackson had a morning ritual—walking their black Labrador, Mac, up King Street to Caviar & Bananas, munching on a scone and an espresso, reading the New York Times, preparing for a meeting with Mark or mapping out the day, the week, or the month—depending on how exuberant he was—and walking briskly home. Sometimes she ran into him a block from their house on her way home from her morning run. He usually brought something back to her—a muffin or a strawberry dipped in chocolate, which she discreetly gave to Anarosa, the housekeeper, to take home to her little boys. And now that the girls were out of school for the holiday, he brought something for them as well. Casey always enjoyed her treat, but the older girls were watching their weight and they, too, gave their treat to Anarosa.

When Craig leaned forward, she put her arm around his shoulder and let him hoist her up on her tippy toes. Then she took a step forward on the balls of her feet, still leaning on him, and she didn’t feel any pain. She took another step. Nothing. Her calf felt normal. She almost put her heels down, but she was afraid to.

When a horn from a driver stuck behind the recycling truck blasted just yards ahead, she was so startled, she leaned back and was forced to put her heel on the sidewalk.

The pain behind the back of her knee was not there.

She looked up at Craig. Her eyebrows furrowed. She rubbed the back of her leg. No tenderness. Nothing. What in the world?

“Hurt bad?” he said. He shook his head in an effort to commiserate. Then he stepped back and leaned forward with his hands on his knees to give her a little space. Maybe he thought she might get sick again.

She looked up at him. Had she dreamed the whole thing? No. She had heard her muscle rip. She had felt the shot of pain. It had happened to her two other times in her life, and she knew precisely what it was.

She decided not to answer Craig. It was just so strange. After a few seconds he lifted out his hand and she leaned into it expecting the pain to kick in, but it didn’t. Once she was on the piazza, she thanked him and he headed back to his cab. Then she unlocked the door, walked in the house with her heels firmly planted on the hardwood floor.

Was she fine?

She shook her right leg out. She walked. She did a few lunges, then jumped up and down several times, which caused Mac to bark and run into the foyer where he stopped, stared, and tilted his head as if he were as confused as she was.

Had Reverend Summerall’s prayer been answered?

“How was your run?” Jackson handed her a chocolate croissant in a waxy little bag. He was back sooner than she expected.

How many calories in a chocolate croissant? Way too many for a gal beating back a middle-age paunch in the midst of the holiday season. And how was her run? Well, she wanted to tell him the whole story, but something held her back. He had made it clear since she started going to church with Scottie that he had no interest in religion. He wasn’t going to stop her. It didn’t bother him that she went. He just didn’t want her to expect him to follow along with all of that. He had a mission, after all, and he was focused.

He cocked his head. “Your jog all right, baby?”

She looked into his bright green eyes. They blinked slowly. It was the first time they had made eye contact today.

“Amazing,” she finally said. She smiled and lovingly squeezed his shoulder. Then she gently accepted the little waxy bag and headed to the pantry where Anarosa kept her purse.

Mailbox Mondays

Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia of A Girl and Her Books and is being hosted by Savvy Verse and Wit this month.

Here are the books I got this week.

For Review:

Remembering You by Tricia Goyer
The Puppy that Came for Christmas by Megan Rix

There You'll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones
Dangerous Mercy by Kathy Herman

Forsaking All Others by Allison Pittman
What Came First by Carol Snow

Contest Win

Record Collecting for Girls
by Courtney E. Smith
Minding Ben by Victoria Brown
That is All by John Hodgman

From Paperbackswap:

Sweet Sanctuary by Sheila Walsh and Cindy Martinusen-Coloma
An Ocean Away by Lisa Harris

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Book Review: "I'm Not Her" by Janet Gurtler

Summary from Tess is the exact opposite of her beautiful, athletic sister. And that's okay. Kristina is the sporty one, Tess is the smart one, and they each have their place. Until Kristina is diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly Tess is the center of the popular crowd, everyone eager for updates. There are senior boys flirting with her. But, the smiles of her picture perfect family are cracking and her sister could be dying. Now Tess has to fill a new role: the strong one. Because if she doesn't hold it together, who will?

As a lover of contemporary YA, I get very excited when I hear a new one has been released. I had been hearing good things about Janet Gurtler and her books so I was very eager to read this one. Let me start off by just saying, I loved how the inside of the cover of the book is a light shade of green. You rarely see color INSIDE the book! It was just a very nice touch. And it set the setting for a lovely read.

Tess's beautiful and popular older sister has been diagnosed with cancer. Tess has been used to being in the background and for the most part has been ok with it. Now with this secret she holds, she finds everyone wants to know what happened to Kristina. I'm never surprised at how insensitive teenage girls are. It was very obvious that Kristina's friends are not really her friends as they try to do anything to get the secret out of Tess and then proceed to act without thinking afterwards. Tess tries to handle this new found popularity with minor discomfort. It was good that she wasn't comfortable with it. Her relationship with Nick was a little painful for me because it felt very familiar. But I loved her character and enjoyed watching her grow throughout the story.

I got so annoyed with Tess's parents especially her mother. Before Kristina's diagnosis, it seemed that Tess was ok with living in the background and did her own thing. She didn't seem like she really cared about what her mother thought but still loved her and allowed her to fawn over Kristina. However after the diagnosis, it seems that Tess was the only one that grew up. It amazed me at how clueless her mother was. Her mother was very immature at times and seemed to be living her life through Kristina. It was horrible how she treated Tess and I felt so much pain for her when her mother makes the drunk comments. Her dad sadly is no help either as he chooses to withdraw and not face the reality either. I was quite angry at both their reactions to Tess's art competition and wanted to scream for her.

I was also not prepared for the fate of one of the characters. I did not see that coming at all and I literally gasped very audibly when I read it and said "No!" It was a turning point in the book and it made several characters change because of it. One of these changes involves the relationship between Kristina and Tess and I was quite pleased with it.

Overall, I adored this story. I always enjoy sister stories and this one is another one to add to my list. This book gave insight to many things: sibling relationship, parent/child relationships, how cancer affects families, popularity in school and following your heart. It's not an easy read at times but it's written very beautifully. I'm so glad that Gurtler's next book is in my TBR pile because after discovering her, I want to read more. HIGHLY recommended.

I'm Not Her by Janet Gurtler is published by Sourcebooks Fire (2011)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Friday, October 14, 2011

Book Winner

Congrats to the winner of Kiss of Night by Debbie Viguie:

Book Review: "Holy Ghost Girl" by Donna Johnson

Summary from She was just three years old when her mother signed on as the organist of tent revivalist David Terrell, and before long, Donna Johnson was part of the hugely popular evangelical preacher's inner circle. At seventeen, she left the ministry for good, with a trove of stranger-than-fiction memories. A homecoming like no other, Holy Ghost Girl brings to life miracles, exorcisms, and faceoffs with the Ku Klux Klan. And that's just what went on under the tent.

As Terrell became known worldwide during the 1960s and '70s, the caravan of broken-down cars and trucks that made up his ministry evolved into fleets of Mercedes and airplanes. The glories of the Word mixed with betrayals of the flesh and Donna's mother bore Terrell's children in one of the several secret households he maintained. Thousands of followers, dubbed "Terrellites" by the press, left their homes to await the end of the world in cultlike communities. Jesus didn't show, but the IRS did, and the prophet/healer went to prison.

Recounted with deadpan observations and surreal detail, Holy Ghost Girl bypasses easy judgment to articulate a rich world in which the mystery of faith and human frailty share a surprising and humorous coexistence.

Even though I'm a Christian, I'm still very wary over a lot of these tent revivals and evangelists. While there are many who are genuine about their faith, there are plenty of others who are wolves in sheep's clothing. There are many who profess true faith but are really con artists and preying on others.

Throughout the book, we see through Donna's young eyes how deceptive and manipulative so called preacher Terrell is. I shuddered at the abuse that the children went through and how these so called Christians had no problems letting them suffer. It was hard reading about how their mother pretty much abandoned them for her new faith and preacher. It's always interesting about how many followers of these preachers tend to be women, especially women who come from abusive or needy backgrounds. The description of the book mentions that there are humorous parts but I just found it mostly sad and appalling of how everyone lived.

It's interesting that while I was reading, I kept feeling that the book was taking place during the 1800s due to how the commune tended to live. I kept feeling jolted when I realized that it was actually during the 1960s and 70s. Near the end of the book, the book speeds up very fast and Donna jumps from a little kid to a teenager in mere paragraphs. I have to admit that I was a bit let down by the book. I thought it was going to be a huge expose where Johnson completely turned away from the faith and would have some big confrontation in the end. Surprisingly this does not happen and it almost made me feel as if Johnson still believed in him. I googled David Terrell after finishing the book and was surprised to see that he's still doing preaching. It rather scares me that there are still that many gullible people out there listening to him and also that he's continuing to believe that his ways are right or at least still respects him.

Overall this book gives a very eye opening inside look at what some of these preachers really are like. It's even more sadder that it is told through a young child's eyes. I do wonder how much of it affected Johnson for the rest of her life. If you're in the mood for a memoir that is revealing, this is the book for you.

Holy Ghost Girl by Donna Johnson is published by Gotham (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 Friday, October 21.

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.