Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mistletoe Cowboy by Carolyn Brown


I have a great love for Christmas romance novels.  I had never read any of Carolyn Brown’s previous novels, but I jumped at the chance to review her Christmas cowboy romance.

Sage Presley is having a bad Christmas.  While away at an art show, her Grandma has decided to sell the family ranch to a stranger and move to Pennsylvania to take care of her older sister.  Sage rushes home in a blizzard to talk her Grandma out of the absurd idea, only to find herself snowed in with sexy cowboy Creed and her Grandma gone.  Sage soon finds out that her Grandma has her best interests at heart.  Will she be able to convince her Grandma to kick Creed out, or will she want Creed to stay?

The story was very cute, especially with the addition of puppies and kittens.  My only criticism would be that it seemed a bit slow in the middle with repetitive times . . . which would be the reality it you were caught in a blizzard.  I finished this book on Christmas Eve and it was a perfect Christmas read.

Book Source:  Review Copy from Sourcebooks.  Thank-you!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Reading with the Kids . . .a few books we read in 2012

We read every night to the kids.  Having a mother that loves to collect books and family members and friends that also like to give them, the kids have a lot of books.  We also go to our local library, and my eldest son (in first grade) brings home books from school to practice reading.  We read a lot of books.  Each kid is allowed two books a night.  Kile now reads one of the books and we read the other for him.  Penelope is two and often picks small books so we are guilty of reading her extra books.  We usually read kid picture books, but we also have been reading chapter books for the past two years.  The chapter books that we read this year include the following.
 
On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
By far, the boys enjoy the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder more than any other chapter books.  I know I am very enthusiastic about them, but they love the on their own merit.  They especially love Pa and all of the things that he builds.
On the Banks of Plum Creek was especially exciting to the boys as it is set in Minnesota.  Their grandparents live in Minnesota and that is where my husband is from originally.  They thought it was very cool that Laura and Mary lived in a sod house in the ground and found it hilarious when a cow stuck its foot through the roof.  They loved when Pa built the new house.
They identified with all of the feelings encompassed in the book.  Kile looked nervous when Laura disobeyed Pa and went swimming by herself.  Similarly he was torn up when Laura had to give her beloved doll Charlotte away.    When Pa got trapped away from home by a blizzard at Christmas, both boys were very worried.  And they were both disturbed by the invasion of the grasshoppers.
I believe that is why the Little House books are timeless.  They are great historical fiction, showing the hardships faced by families settling the frontier in the nineteenth century, but they also show universal feelings shared by all children as they grow up.  What it means to be good and why parents give you rules seemed to hit home with this book.
Overall, we loved On the Banks of Plum Creek.  We are reading Farmer Boy right now, and the boys love it even more as it focuses on Almanzo. 

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Kile is very impressed that I still have the scholastic book order slip in this book from when my Mom purchased it for me when I was in elementary school.  The story of Wilbur the pig and his friend Charlotte the spider is timeless.  I love the start of the book, “Where’s Papa going with that ax?” asked Fern.  And so Fern goes to save Wilbur’s life and to love him.  The boys loved how Fern had a pet pig and were sad when he moved on to the Zuckerman’s farm.   They perked up at the introduction of the animals and Charlotte.  I enjoyed reading this book again and got a little teary at the bittersweet ending.  The boys handled it better than me.  Daniel was willing to let Wilbur meet his end in addition to another character if it meant bacon for breakfast.
 
Pirate School:  The Curse of Snake Island by Brian James
The boys LOVE pirates and Kile had a pirate birthday party earlier this year.  Aunt Jenn gave him this book and both boys enjoyed it.  It was a quick read with plenty of pictures.  Pete and his friends live aboard the ship called the Sea Rat.  They are learning to be pirates, but first mate Rotten Tooth is always trying to foil their plans.  They decide to prove their worth as pirates by discovering treasure on Snake Island.  Will they be able to get past the scary snake guarding the treasure?



Thursday, December 20, 2012

Victorian Challenge Nov/Dec and Wrap-Up


I have been very neglectful of the Victorian Challenge. What I didn’t anticipate when I started the challenge was that I would be going back to work full time in May and developing a brand new environmental engineering technology degree at our local technical college. Between my new job and my family, I haven’t been able to devote myself to this challenge as I originally intended too. That is why you will note that I lost steam and the ability to keep up after May for the challenge. I had some great guest blogs the first half of the year that died off the second half. I sincerely apologize for all of those that signed up for this challenge.


I will not be hosting this challenge for 2013. What I will most likely do is either host a summer challenge in 2014 (my first summer off) or will focus on Victorian authors in summer months. What would sound best to you? Would you be interested in the future?

November was Lewis Carroll month and December is Louisa May Alcott month. I am thoroughly enjoying listening to Little Women, a digital audiobook with Christina Ricci as the narrator. I will post my review hopefully in the next week or two. What are your favorite novels by Carroll and Alcott? I myself was obsessed with Louisa May Alcott as a youth. I loved reading her biographies and especially her novels Little Women and An Old Fashioned Girl. I’ve read Rose in Bloom, Eight Cousins, etc., but strangely, I have never read Little Men or Jo’s Boys, even though I bought myself a copy of each as a youth with hard earned dollars. I have them both on my night stand and hope to get to them soon.

What was your favorite Victorian read this year? Who is your favorite Victorian author? Does Alcott’s Little Women or Dickens’s A Christmas Carol make it on your yearly Christmas reading list? Please share your thoughts.

Thank-you for being a part of this challenge. Please post any last entries or wrap-up posts below. If you don’t finish up this month, you can continue to add to this post in the future.

Post your  reviews below in the following format Laura’s Reviews (Little Women).


Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

In a book club I used to belong to in Milwaukee, one member was a fan of P.D. James and picked one of her novels for her selection. I had never read James up to that point, but I soon discovered she is a fantastic and well known British mystery author. I’ll admit that I was surprised to learn that she had written her own follow up to Pride and Prejudice, Death Comes to Pemberley. I love all things Jane Austen, and was not surprised to learn that P.D. James is a fan of the superb Jane Austen herself.


In Death Comes to Pemberley, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy have been married for six years and have two cute boys. Elizabeth’s beloved sister Jane and husband Charles Bingley live nearby. Darcy’s sister, Georgiana has two suitors for her hand in marriage and life is looking perfect right before their annual Lady Anne’s Ball. Perfect until the moment that a carriage speeds to the front of Pemberley and discharges a screaming Lydia Wickham. A murder has taken place in Pemberley wood and Mr. Darcy has to take charge to find the culprit.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I thought it was an intriguing mystery and loved revisiting some of my favorite literary characters. I thought that James was very faithful to the characters and I also enjoyed how some of Austen’s characters from other novels were brought into play. I relished how the mystery followed early nineteenth century investigation and trial procedures. CSI this was not, but they managed to get to the heart of the matter.

I have seen mixed reviews on this book with many fellow Austen fans not enjoying it. Did you enjoy this novel, why or why not? I want to know!

I will admit that although I enjoyed this book, it does not replace authors Stephanie Barron with her Jane Austen mysteries or Carrie Bebris with her Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mystery series as my favorite Austen mystery writers. I have sadly fallen behind on both of their series and need to catch up!

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent

 My Grandpa passed away in October and my 6 and 4 year old boys have had a hard time understanding it all. Heaven is a vague term they’ve heard from church and their parents, but they don’t really know what that means. I was talking about this with my friend Carol and she told me about Heaven is For Real, as she had just seen something about it on TV.


I posted about it on Facebook and my friend Nancy from church loaned me her copy. It was an intriguing and inspiration story. Todd and Colton Burpo had been having a rough year. Todd had broken his leg, had kidney stones, and survived a cancer scare. The bills were mounting and Todd was unable to work at his part time job installing garage doors. His other job is as the pastor of a small Wesleyan Church. Todd and Sonja took their two kids; Colton and Cassie with them to a conference that Todd needed to attend. They had some great family time, but then the two kids got sick. At first, thinking it was the flu; they didn’t realize that four-year old Colton did not have what his sister had. He was in fact, much, much worse. He had appendicitis, but was misdiagnosed and was in grave danger. While being operated on, Colton went to Heaven, but then returned.

Todd and Sonja didn’t realize that Colton had been to heaven until months later. Colton started letting out bits and pieces of the story. He knew things that he shouldn’t have – the most astonishing being that he had a sister that was in heaven. Sonja had suffered a miscarriage before she had Colton and had never told him about it. Colton also met “Pop,” Todd’s Grandpa that had died while Todd was a little kid. Colton also knew where Todd and Sonja were in the hospital while he was gone and what they were doing. His trip to heaven was inspiring and matched scripture in many ways that Colton couldn’t have known about as a four-year old.

I enjoyed the book and read it quickly. It made me cry when Colton was so sick. Having a four-year old son of my own, I can’t imagine such a situation. I enjoyed reading about Colton’s trip to heaven and it was very inspirational

I also purchased Heaven is For Real for Kids. My sons love it and want us to read it to them each night. It was a great book for really showing kids was heaven is all about from a kid's prospective. It may have made my boys a little too enthusiastic however. Danny declared that he wants to have wings and fly so he’s ready to go to heaven right now. I told him that most people don’t make the trip back from heaven, so I don’t want him to make the journey until he is a very old man! The book is beautifully illustrated and unlike any other children’s book I’ve read before. If you’ve experienced a recent death in the family, or just want to teach your children about heaven, this book is perfect!

Book Source: Heaven is For Real was borrowed from my friend Nancy, Heaven is For Real for Kids was purchased from Amazon.com.

Mommy Grace by Dr. Sheila Schuller Coleman

Mommy Grace is a series of stories by Dr. Coleman about trials she had while raising four sons and how she used her faith to make her way through it. I enjoyed the stories and found them very relatable. At the end of each story was a scripture reading and a prayer. I thought this book was a perfect way to end each day.


I especially enjoyed the chapter called “Can a Working Mom be a Good Mom?” This matter gets a variety of opinions based on who you talk too and can be a very sensitive matter. I have worked part-time since I had my first child, and just went recently back to full time this past May. Therefore, this chapter was especially pertinent to me now. I loved the following section from this chapter,

“Did my children miss out because of my choice to work? Would they have turned out better if I had not pursued my career? Was I, in reality, a bad mom because they had to be in day care? Well, I couldn’t be prouder of my sons than I am. They are accomplished and happy and we are very close as a family. As a school administrator I have seen many mothers who are called to school from work to come and pick up their sick children. The exasperated, worried, torn looks on their faces are very familiar to me. But I have also seen many, many children at our school who were raised by working mothers who grew up to be remarkable young adults.

My boys didn’t miss out on anything. These other children didn’t miss out on anything. If anybody missed out, it was all of the mothers who chose to or had to work. How many more memories could I have had if I had spent more time with them? Every mother’s choice or circumstance is different. It is impossible to define a plan that is best for all of God’s children. No two of us are alike. In the final analysis it is between every mother and father and their children and God. Beyond that – it is nobody’s business.”

I thought this perfectly summed up quite eloquently what I am always trying to explain to people. It’s distressing to me that in this day and age people still say you are “paying people to raise your children” and that you “must not love your children if you don’t stay home with them,” etc. What is the most disturbing is that it is usually fellow women that say this to other women. We should all respect each other’s choices and realize that what is good for you and your family is not the best for all.

The only thing I didn’t like about this book was its subtitle, “Erasing Your Mommy Guilt.” It implies that you must have guilt as a mother for how you are raising your child or that you are a working mom or some other myriad problem. I think Mommy Grace is good enough a title without bringing perceived guilt into the matter.

Book Source: I won this in a giveaway a few years ago.

Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight by Grace Burrowes

I have a great love for Christmas regency romance. Luckily Grace Burrowes has helped me out by publishing quality books in this genre at Christmas the past few years. As I love Christmas books, I picked this book and Christmas as a theme for our FLICKS Book and Movie Club this month.


Lady Louisa Windham is a smart woman in a time when smart woman are not honored or admired. In the past, she used her smarts on a project that if known, could ruin her reputation. With this in mind, she has resolutely decided she can never marry. Her parents, the Duke and Duchess, have decided otherwise and are on the prowl for a husband for Louisa.

Sir Joseph Carrington is a widowed neighbor also on the search for a wife. He is a happy pig farmer and war hero and does not relish the season in London. He often finds himself in corners drinking alone or enjoying himself talking poetry with Lady Louisa. Sir Joseph also has a secret indiscretion that he is trying to hide. When Sir Joseph helps Lady Louisa out of an unfortunate situation, the two find that sparks are flying.

I love the characters in this book. Old characters from Burrowes previous novels show up, but I loved the new characters the best. The plot was great and it was a wonderful Christmas romance. Overall, if you are looking for a way to relax during the stressful holiday season, I highly recommend that you immerse yourself in the wonderful world of Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight.

Book Source: Review copy from Sourcebooks – Thanks!!

Sacred Treason by James Forrester

Sacred Treason is a riveting historical fiction thriller set during one of my favorite time periods, Tudor England during the reign of Elizabeth I. William Harley, Clarenceux King of Arms, is interrupted in the night by a knocking the door. Fearful that his religion (Catholicism) has been discovered and that he is to be taken away as a traitor, he is at first happy and then puzzled to see an acquaintance, Henry Machyn, a merchant tailor, at the door. Machyn is also a secret Catholic and gives his journal to Clarenceux having him promise to keep it safe and to gather the members of the “round table” together to crack the book’s code. The code will determine the fate of two Queens.


Clarenceux is thus pushed into circumstances that are far beyond his control. With an evil sergeant, Crackenthorpe, after him under Walsingham’s direction to protect Queen Elizabeth no matter the cost, Clarenceux soon finds himself on the run with Machyn’s wife Rebecca. Together they work to crack the code. What is the mystery that can bring the queen down? Will the two survive? Why is Machyn’s journal so important?

I loved the mystery and thought the characters were very well developed. The history of the time was riveting, especially with Forrester’s end notes discussing Machyn’s real journal. I was pleased to discover that this is part of a trilogy and will definitely be reading on in this series. I don’t want to ruin this book by giving away too many details for those that have not read it. I will say though that it was very thought provoking on how if one was of the “wrong” religion during this time period, you always had to be on alert. The “wrong” religion seemed to vary with the season during this time period. It was also disturbing on if you were on the wrong side of the law in this age how torture and other means could be used to get rid of you. There was no fair trial. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Overall, I loved this book. If you are a fan of historical fiction, thrillers, or just a good book, I highly recommend Sacred Treason. James Forrester gave an interesting interview on this blog. To read it, check out this link.

Book Source: Review copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!

Where We Belong by Emily Giffin

Where We Belong by Emily Giffin was the November book for the FLICKS Book and Movie Club. Sadly, there was a backup of holds on the library system and I did not get it until after Book Club as did half of the other members. Hopefully we’ll be able to have a meaningful discussion in December about it.


I loved this book. Giffin’s work is mostly classified as “chick lit,” and light and fluffy. There was nothing light and fluffy about this novel, which packed an emotional wallop. Marian Caldwell is a 36-year old television producer. She has achieved her dreams and is living the high life, with her one disappointment being that her boyfriend of two years, Peter, has not yet proposed. One day she answers the door only to find 18-year old Kirby Rose, the daughter she gave away at birth. The novel tells the story from both Kirby and Marian’s perspectives. Marian’s story includes how she fell in love with Kirby’s father, but knew that he was not the man that would allow her to achieve her dreams. She made choices, some good, and some terribly bad. The choices have come back to haunt her and with the prodding of Peter, she decides to face them head on.

I really enjoyed the timeline of the book. Marian would be two years older than me (my husband’s age) and I loved her teenage years in the 1990’s. The characters were all vividly drawn and complex. At times I didn’t know whether I loved or hated Marian or her choices. I couldn’t put this book down and thoroughly enjoyed it to the very last page. I highly recommend this book and can’t wait to discuss it.

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner

Jennifer Weiner caught me with Good in Bed. Her infectious humor and witty non-conventional heroines kept me riveted. I’ve enjoyed her books and have enjoyed introducing her to new readers in my book clubs and amongst my friends. I’ve also loved reading her blog over the years. But something has been happening the last couple of years. I no longer find myself entranced with her novels. The Next Best Thing was a good example of this phenomenon.


Ruth Saunders has a dream of writing her own television series. Scarred after a childhood car accident that claimed the lives of her parents, she grew up raised by her loving Grandma. She moves her Grandma and herself to California and starts working towards her dream of creating her own television series. After years of hard work, her TV series has been picked up, but nothing is working the way she dreamed it would. With the network taking charge and the miscasting of characters, the once perfect script becomes a rather lackluster show.

Weiner had her own such experience in creating the ABC Family series State of Georgia. I wanted to like that show, but couldn’t. Her experiences shine through in the plot and made it interesting. My problem with the book though was that I didn’t really ever like Ruth and her love interests were also very lackluster. I want to feel and identify with the character as I have in other Weiner’s books, but I wasn’t feeling it this time around. There was little snappy dialogue or humorous situations. Overall, the plot was interesting, but the lack of depth to the characters really brings this book down. Has anyone else had this experience?

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Monday, December 3, 2012

Dream More: Celebrate the Dreamer in You by Dolly Parton

Title: Dream More: Celebrate the Dreamer

Author: Dolly Parton
Read by: Dolly Parton
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: Approximately 1.5 hours (2 CDs)
Source: Penguin Audio Review Copy

Dream More is a positive little book with a great message. Dolly Parton is world famous for her singing, song writing, and movie career, and also for her image and body. As she states in the book, people sometimes focus on the outer aspects of Dolly Parton, and ignore her other positive inner aspects. For example, she is a very successful business woman and part owner of Dollywood. She has also started a very successful Literacy Program to help bring reading to all children. I was impressed by how she has spent her life trying to help the people in her home community and people in general. She sounds like a genuinely lovely human being that deserves to be judged for her accomplishments rather than her appearance.

Dream More is actually an extension of a commencement speech that Parton gave at the University of Tennessee. She added to the speech and came up with this great book. She basically gave great words of advice such as how to dream big dreams and work to accomplish and would follow up the advice with a story about how that advice helped her on the path to stardom. She also sang a few songs including “Coat of Many Colors,” which is a truly wonderful and inspirational song.

Dolly Parton read this book herself and gave it her own special charm. I loved listening to it on my way to and from work and would definitely listen to more audio from her. It also has inspired me to put some of her CDs on my wish list.

I recommend this audiobook and think it would be a great gift for the dreamers in your friends and family or maybe for you!

One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathon Tropper

Title: One Last Thing Before I Go

Author: Jonathon Tropper
Read by: John Shea
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: Approximately 8.5 hours (7 CDs)
Source: Penguin Audio Review Copy

I will admit, when I first started listening to this audiobook, I was ready to turn it off. Drew Silver leads a very sad and depressing life. He was a drummer with a one-hit wonder band. His fleeting fame cost him his wife and daughter, and he now lives in an apartment building, the Versailles, full of sad divorced men like himself. They are a very sad lot also with depressing stories of lost families and lost self-worth. A lonely life filled with no love and a distance from all of his family members is the hallmark of Drew’s life. He is so down and out now that he and his friend Jack sell their sperm to a study at a local hospital. It was exactly during this description of the process of selling one’s sperm, that I was ready to eject the CD and move on to another book. I didn’t, and I am glad I did not.

Silver discovers that he has a heart condition and he will only live with a life-saving surgery, performed by his ex-wife’s fiancĂ©, a man that he can’t quite bring himself to hate. Silver decides to opt out of the surgery and to spend his days remaining trying to repair his broken relationships and find meaning in life again. His main focus is his daughter, Casey, but he also spends time with his father and ex-wife, Denise. The book gets comical at times, but also remains serious. It overall asks the question, what makes your life worth living?

I will just say that by the end, I loved Drew Silver and his entire crazy family. The ending was unexpected and brought tears to my eyes. I found myself constantly thinking about this book long after its conclusion. I previously read The Book of Joe by Tropper and enjoyed it, but I enjoyed this book even more. It is a masterpiece.

John Shea was a great narrator of this audiobook and gave a real voice to all of the characters.

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

Title: This is How You Lose Her

Author: Junot Diaz
Read by: Junot Diaz
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: Approximately 5 hours (5 CDs)
Source: Penguin Audio Review Copy

This is How you Lose Her is the first book I’ve read (or listened to) by Junot Diaz, but it will not be my last. This is How you Lose her was a brilliant series of short stories, mostly involving Yunior and his ill-fated love life.

If I would have read this book before I was married, I might have given up in despair. Most of the reason Yunior loses his loves is because he is a very unfaithful man and his girlfriends invariably find out. What brings this beyond a sad tale of a sad man that can’t keep it in his pants is the background story of Yunior. It was interesting how he came to America as a youngster and lived in the shadow of his older brother. As he older brother wasted away from cancer, Yunior tried to find meaning in life and love. By the end, Yunior has come a long way from his youth as an immigrant, but he still has not found the true meaning of love. One quote I loved from the book is “the half-life of love is forever.”

Overall, I enjoyed the story of Yunior. While he was not always a character I could relate to or even like, he had a compelling story full of vivid details of life as a Dominican immigrant. I was fascinated. Author Junot Diaz read the story himself and I now identify his voice completely as Yunior.

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Title: Shadow of Night
Author: Deborah Harkness
Read by: Jennifer Ikeda
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: Approximately 24.5 hours (20 CDs)
Source: Penguin Audio Review Copy

Shadow of Night is the second riveting novel in the wonderful Discovery of Witches trilogy. Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont continue their search for Ashmole 782 while also escaping from their prosecutors by “time walking” with Diana’s power to Elizabethan London. Once there, Diana meets a new coven and works on improving her use of her powers. Matthew has replaced his past self, which is always a tricky time travel problem when you are an ancient vampire and travel to an era that you once existed during. I’m not sure how I feel about this use of time travel. I think it might have been more interesting to have the past Matthew still there and to try to keep the past and future Matthews apart.

During Elizabethan times, Matthew was a part of the School of Night which included the thinkers of the day such as Sir Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlowe, George Chapman and Thomas Harriot. Matthew is excited to see his old friends, especially his best friend Christopher Marlowe. Diana enjoys getting to know them all too, except for Marlowe who despises her for the love that Matthew shares with her and not him. They have many adventures trying to find Ashmole 782 and to navigate the dangerous politics at the time to stay alive. Diana tries to learn how to use her power, while falling deeper in love with Matthew.

I loved this book. I loved the romance between the two leads and I especially loved the historical detail of Elizabethan England. The one thing missing was the characters from the 20th century that I had grown to love in A Discovery of Witches. I can only hope they return in Book three. I also was annoyed by Marlowe. I think if I were Matthew, I would have disowned him as a friend long before he did. Anyone else annoyed?

Shadow of Night was a beautifully written and engaging novel and I can’t wait until Book 3. Jennifer Ikeda is the same narrator as in A Discovery of Witches and once again she did a fantastic job of bringing a unique voice to each character. This made the audiobook a joy to listen too. I highly recommend this novel.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Winner of A Walk in the Park by Jill Mansell

The lucky winner of A Walk in the Park by Jill Mansell is Na.  Na was chosen using the power of random.org and was notified via email that she is a winner.  She has one week to send me her mailing address. If I do not hear from her within that time frame, a new winner will be chosen. Congrats to Na!

Thank-you to Jill Mansell for the lovely guest blog, and to Sourcebooks for allowing me to host this giveaway and review the novel.  I always enjoy Jill Mansell's novels. 

As I stated in my other entry, I am still reading/listening, but I have fallen behind on my reviews.  Expect many brief reviews to hopefully be popping up over the next week or two while I attempt to catch myself up and successful end this semester.

Thank-you again for all who entered this giveaway!

Winner of Sacred Treason by James Forrester

I'm sorry that I have been missing from action on my blog for a few weeks.  The end of the semester is proving to be quite hectic trying to get my students to the finish line for this semester while also trying to set up new classes for next semester.  Throwing in the holidays also adds in another level of hecticness.  I've still been reading and listening to audiobooks and need to catch up on reviews - they will probably be brief just to warn you!

I loved Sacred Treason by James Forreser and will hopefully have my review up soon.  It was a fantastic historical fiction thriller and had me engrossed until the last page.  The lucky winner of a copy of Sacred Treason is Kimberlee of Girl Lost in a Book.  Kimberlee has been notified via email and has one week (until December 5th) to email me her mailing address.  If I do not hear from her, a new winner will be drawn.  Kimberlee was chosen using the power of random.org.

Thank-you to James Forrester for the wonderful interview, Sourcebooks for this giveaway and allowing me to review the book, and all of you that entered the giveaway.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Walk in the Park Guest Blog by Jill Mansell (and Giveaway!)

I am excited today to have author Jill Mansell on my blog.  I have enjoyed reading her novels the past couple of years and look forward to each new one.  She has wonderful way of writing realistic wonderful community of characters that really draw me into the story.  The worst part about her novels is that they end and I can't find out more about them!  Thank-you for your wonderful guest blog today about your new novel, A Walk in the Park. Hello Laura, and thanks so much for the invitation to appear on your lovely blog!




Starting a new book is always an exciting time. I start off with a situation that's been borrowed from real life, but not necessarily my own life - an idea can be sparked by a TV programme, a line from a movie, a story in a newspaper...anywhere really. For A Walk in the Park, the inspiration came from a wedding we attended, of friends of ours. The bride was really really late arriving at the church and we couldn't understand why she eventually turned up in a flustered state. It wasn't until later that we heard the story: a day or two before the wedding, she'd had a falling out with an old friend, who had gone off in a huff. The wedding present from this old friend had been to provide hair and makeup artists for the bride, the bridesmaids and the bride's mother on the day...

So there they all were, at home on the morning of the biggest day of her life, waiting for the hair and makeup artists to arrive and begin the transformation. What they didn't know was that the old friend had cancelled them. The panic was terrible...they were having to peer at YouTube videos to learn how to curl hair into ringlets using straighteners. Luckily my friend is good with makeup, but they had a fraught time getting everyone ready.

Needless to say, the old friend is no longer any kind of friend at all. But, being a writer endlessly in need of ideas, I asked if I could use the story in my new book. (I know, I have no shame!) And luckily my friend was delighted to let me do it. In the story, though, my characters have NO CLUE how to do their own hair or apply make-up. And there's another reason entirely why my fictional hair and makeup artist doesn't turn up...

Creating the cast of characters is more of an organic process, like a gradually expanding cobweb. The main character has to have family...and friends...and work colleagues...and so do each of those people too. It's hard to limit the number of characters in my books - there always seems to be room for more. But I love choosing names and personalities for them. I'm in charge of everything! It's like being God! After twenty five books, I really wish I had compiled some kind of chart or database of names used, as I have a dreadful memory and it's incredibly difficult to keep track and remember if I've used a name before. Surnames are even trickier, because people who enjoy my books might spot that two entirely different characters from different books share a surname...they'll then write and ask me why, and try to work out if they're related to each other in some way!

Finally, choosing personalities for my characters is something I've never had to worry about - that's the magical bit for me. As soon as I create them, I know everything about them and they spring to life. I might not have any clue what they look like - I have to keep a cheat-sheet for that aspect - but I instantly know their personalities inside out.

Thanks so much for letting me witter on, and I do hope you'll enjoy reading A Walk in the Park. When I wasn't struggling with the tricky parts I absolutely loved writing it!

Love,

Jill xx



A WALK IN THE PARK BY JILL MANSELL – IN STORES NOVEMBER 2012

No one could have planned for this...

Lara Carson left her family and boyfriend Flynn eighteen years ago without a word to anyone. Why has no one heard from her since? Does it mean anything that she's suddenly reappeared in Bath just in time for her ex–best friend Evie's wedding? And what about Flynn? Even the most eagle–eyed observer can't tell whether he's happy to see her, or just stunned.

While secrets pile up on secrets, and the gossip mill wings into high gear, the brand–new life Lara's searching for becomes ever more elusive. There's a lot of catching up for everyone to do, and Lara's return is going to be anything but a walk in the park.

Praise for Jill Mansell:

“Bestselling Brit Mansell delivers a romantic and lighthearted story about a woman's struggle to overcome grief—and the quirky people who help her along the way… Enjoy feeling warm and fuzzy.” —Publishers Weekly

“Mansell crafts a lovely story with multiple plotlines, characters and love interests.”—USA Today

“A master storyteller who creates characters with unique personalities that captivate the reader’s imagination and heart.”—Long and Short Reviews

“Exquisitely told... Compelling. The book was irresistible.” —Fresh Fiction

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A New York Times, USA Today and international bestseller, Jill Mansell has written over 20 funny, romantic novels, and has sold millions of books around the world. Jill lives with her family in Bristol, England. For more information, please visit www.jillmansell.co.uk or follow her on Twitter: @JillMansell.

Giveaway Details


Sourcebooks has graciously offered a giveaway of one copy of A Walk in the Park by Jill Mansell.
If you would like to win a copy of this book please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the this book or this great Guest Blog.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using random.org (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight on Friday November 16, 2012.

Please make sure to check the fourth week of November to see if you are a winner. I send emails to the winner but lately I have been put in their "junk mail" folder instead of their inbox.
Good luck!

Winner of A Place Beyond Courage by Elizabeth Chadwick!

The lucky winner of A Place Beyond Courage by Elizabeth Chadwick is FolliesGirl14 (Katy)!  Katy has been notified by email and has until next Monday, November 12th, to send me her mailing address.  If I don't hear from her by that time, a new winner will be drawn.  Katy was chosen via random.org and was the last person to enter the giveaway.  It's never too late to enter, well unless you are after the deadline.  Congrats to Katy!  I hope she enjoys the book as much as I did.

Thank-you to Sourcebooks for allowing me to host this giveaway and thank-you to Elizabeth Chadwick for writing such an excellent book.  Thanks to all who entered the giveaway.

I still have one historical fiction giveaway ongoing as noted on my sidebar.  I also have a women's fiction giveaway that I will be posting shortly so stayed tuned!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Interview (and Giveaway!) with James Forrester, author of Sacred Treason

I love historical fiction and am vastly enjoying James Forrester's new novel set during Elizabethan times.  It is a world of religious strife and Forrester has crafted a riveting mystery set in the middle of it.  Thank-you to James Forrester for being interviewed on Laura's Reviews today!

LAG: I am intrigued that you are a British historian. Can you tell us a bit about your background? What was your primary research focus? What intrigued you about the Tudor Dynasty?


JF: How far back do you want me to go? I grew up with history, surrounded by antiques that gave me a direct connection with the last two hundred years and a surname that gave me a direct connection with the last 900 years. As you probably know, ‘Mortimer’ is one of the most important names of medieval English history. So there was never any doubt in my mind I would write things that connect with the past. But for me traditional history is not enough. I do have the full set of academic qualifications, including two doctorates; but it is understanding humanity over periods of time that really excites me. Being able to look back across the centuries and see all Mankind marching on, struggling, joyous, clever, cruel, intriguing, defiant…


The idea behind Sacred Treason was inspired by a document in the British Library. It is the charred remains of the chronicle of Henry Machyn, who was born about 1497 and taught himself to read and write, and wrote a London-based chronicle that covered the last thirteen years of his life (he died in 1563, the year in which Sacred Treason is set). In the course of researching Henry Machyn for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography I came across a reference to an Elizabethan secret society – and that was where I started to invent the story. The main character, William Harley, Clarenceux King of Arms, is loosely based on the herald William Hervey, to whom the real Henry Machyn gave his chronicle when he died.

LAG: I have always wanted to time travel to Medieval England and love the title of your non-fiction handbook The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England. Can you give us a brief synopsis of the book?

JF: The idea is simple. If you really could travel to the past, where will you stay? What will you wear? What will you eat? It goes further, however, touching on such subjects as the different standards of cleanliness and the high degrees of cruelty in society. You could call it a biography of the whole of a society. Or you could just call it a guidebook to another time. I sometimes describe it as a plotless novel in which nothing is made up - everything is based on evidence.

LAG: Why did you decide to turn to writing historical fiction?

JF: Because there are things I wanted to say about life – and especially about loyalty and about betrayal – that one cannot say in non-fiction. If I were to write a history book about the 16th century I could only really describe what really happened. To my mind, the Elizabethan period is far too interesting just to tell stories that happened. Think of yourself there, and the betrayals you might commit – against your spouse, your religion and the kingdom. You could be flogged publicly for adultery, hanged for treason and burnt for heresy. That makes the whole social landscape far more dangerous, far more interesting.

LAG:  Catholic versus Protestant - how do you think people survived in the Tudor times when religion seemed to change day by day?

JF: Very cautiously, by keeping their heads down. Many Catholics survived by using their wealth and connections. Lesser men just accepted things. Of course many people did NOT survive…

LAG:  What do you like most about your character, William Harley? What do you like least?

JF:  I call him ‘Clarenceux’ (his heraldic title) throughout the novel. I like the name. I also like his loyalty and his sincerity. I like his compassion and his courage. Downsides – I wish he had a sense of humour and was not so religious. But in the 16th century religious zeal was the norm, not the exception.
LAG:  What do you think made Queen Elizabeth an effective ruler?

JF:  A sense of being apart from normal people. It empowered her to make decisions that normal women could not have made. But also she was just so clever and self-controlled. She was able to play people off against each other very effectively. And of all the Tudors, she was the greatest exponent of their greatest art: visual self-promotion. The image we have of her today is almost entirely one of her own careful construction. No subsequent female ruler does not owe her something.

LAG:  What is next for you? Any teasers about book two of this trilogy?

JF:  Both the subsequent books are now out in the UK. Book Two, The Roots of Betrayal, involves a charismatic pirate called Raw Carew – think along Captain Jack Sparrow lines and you'll get the picture – who is an atheistic foil to Clarenceux and inadvertently gets caught up in a quest with him. Book Three, The Final Sacrament, begins with Elizabeth I being told by Walsingham that Clarenceux is dead, consumed in a great fire. But that of course is just the start of things...

Thanks for your questions
LAG:  Thank-you for the excellent answers.

Sacred Treason Description (From Sourcebooks):
London, December 1563. England is a troubled nation. Catholic plots against the young Queen Elizabeth spring up all over the country. At his house in the parish of St Bride, the herald William Harvey – known to everyone as Clarenceux - receives a book from his friend and fellow Catholic, Henry Machyn. But Machyn is in fear of his life, claiming that the book is deadly... What secret can it hold? And then Clarenceux is visited by the State in the form of Francis Walsingham and his ruthless enforcers, who will stop at nothing to gain possession of it. If Clarenceux and his family are to survive the terror of Walsingham, and to plead with the queen’s Secretary of State Sir William Cecil for their lives, Clarenceux must solve the clues contained in the book to unlock its dangerous secrets before it’s too late. And when he does, he realises that it's not only his life and the lives of those most dear to him that are at stake...

Author Description (From Goodreads):
James Forrester was born in Petts Wood (Kent) in 1967. He was educated at Eastbourne College, the University of Exeter and University College London. He is a historian by profession, publishing medieval and early modern non-fiction under his first and last names Ian Mortimer (his full name being Ian James Forrester Mortimer). He lives in Devon with his wife and three children, on the northeast edge of Dartmoor.
Sacred Treason is his first novel, inspired by contemporary documents in the National Archives and the British Library discovered in the course of his scholarly research.



Giveaway Details

Sourcebooks has graciously offered a giveaway of one copy of Sacred Treason by James Forrester.
If you would like to win a copy of this book please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the this book or this interview.
As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using random.org (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight on Friday November 9, 2012.

Please make sure to check the third week of November to see if you are a winner. I send emails to the winner but lately I have been put in their "junk mail" folder instead of their inbox.

Good luck!

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Place Beyond Courage by Elizabeth Chadwick Review and Giveaway!

One of my favorite times of year is whenever there happens to be a new Elizabeth Chadwick novel. After reading her wonderful, engrossing novel, The Greatest Knight, she now ranks as one of my favorite authors. Her historical fiction has no equal. It doesn’t just state the dry history, but becomes living history. Chadwick uses creative techniques to tell the story including reenactment and akashic records.


A Place Beyond Courage is the story of the Greatest Knight’s (William Marshal’s) father, John Fitzgilbert. The thing I most remembered about John from The Greatest Knight was that he once ransomed his young son William to King Stephen and then broke his word. When Stephen threatened to kill his son, John said that he had the “anvils and hammers to make more and better sons.” That is a statement that is heard to forget!

In A Place Beyond Courage, John Fitzgilbert starts off as the marshal of King Henry I. Although his father was also marshal, John won his position through a trial by hand combat. Realizing he is ready for a family, he marries Aline, a shy young neighbor girl. Aline is not well suited to John. Although they have two sons, Aline is always too shy to be out in company, to keep John company, and to take command of her home.

During this time, John has many difficult decisions to make. King Henry has died unexpectedly, with only a female heir, Matilda. Henry’s nephew, Stephen, is crowned the next king of England and John serves him as marshal. John is soon disillusioned by Stephen’s inability to be a firm leader and his followers that do not like John. He leaves Stephen’s household and throws his lot in with Matilda and her young son Henry. Part of this decision is that John must also cast aside Aline and marry feisty Sybilla. Sybilla and John become soul mates and their story is very romantic.

While reading A Place Beyond Courage, I was struck by the difficulty of the decisions that John had to make to survive and prosper during such a tumultuous time in history. He was a strong man and his toughness shown in several key scenes. There is a horrific battle scene where John was very badly hurt, but yet managed to walk miles back home. He survived sieges, battles, and more. Yet, there was a softer side of John that played out in his relationship with Sybilla and all of his children from both wives. In particular, I will admit to crying during the entire William hostage crisis. That part of the book was masterfully written. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about John and his infamous statement, but the book put it wonderfully into context of John having to stand firm, although he loved and favored his young son.

Overall, A Place Beyond Courage is another absolutely wonderful historical fiction novel from Elizabeth Chadwick. It made me cry and really feel for the characters involved in the story, as well as appreciate the history of living during that difficult time in England’s history. I highly recommend this book and Elizabeth Chadwick in general. She is a master of historical fiction.

Book Source: Review copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!

Giveaway Details

Sourcebooks has graciously offered a giveaway of one copy of A Place Beyond Courage by Elizabeth Chadwick.

If you would like to win a copy of this book please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the this book.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using random.org (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight on Friday November 2, 2012.

Please make sure to check the second week of November to see if you are a winner. I send emails to the winner but lately I have been put in their "junk mail" folder instead of their inbox.

Good luck!

Searching for Captain Wentworth by Jane Odiwe

Is there a literary hero that shines brighter than Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice? To me, the answer is yes – Captain Wentworth is to me the sexiest Austen hero and among my favorite literary romantic leads. Besides the fact that Captain Wentworth is a navy man that has made his fame and fortune at sea, he is also a man with strong feelings and passion. Who can forget his letter to Anne Elliot at the end of Persuasion where he admits to never forgetting her and harboring a love for her for eight years after her rejection of him? That letter is the most romantic letter in the history of literature!


In Searching for Captain Wentworth, one of my favorite Austen Authors, Jane Odiwe combines many of my favorite elements; romance, Jane Austen, Bath, time travel, and Persuasion to create a very romantic tale of love across the spans of time. Sophie Elliot is taking time in Bath to get over her cheating boyfriend and to see if she can finally write the novel she has always dreamed of writing. Her Great-aunt has given her the keys to the family’s old home in Bath to use during her stay. Part of the home has been split up for others to live in including her attractive new neighbor, Josh Strafford.

Sophie soon discovers that through the use of a mysterious glove, she is able to travel back through time to Regency Bath and live the life of her ancestor and namesake Sophia Elliot. Sophia is friends with her neighbors, Cassandra and Jane Austen. The Austen’s brother, Charles, is on leave from the navy and Sophia soon finds herself falling in love with Charles. Will their love last and how will they make it work through space and time? You will need to read this novel to find out for yourself!

I love Odiwe’s characterizations in this novel. Jane was a lively young woman in the spirit of Elizabeth Bennet and I could easily see her writing her witty novels. Jane had a secret passion of her own, which was intriguing to read about. I loved how Sophia’s Elliot family strongly mirrored the Elliots from Persuasion with herself as Anne and Charles as Captain Wentworth. It was a great story and oh so romantic. I liked the surprise ending. I didn’t see it coming and it was the perfect ending.

I follow author Jane Odiwe online and am a virtual friend. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that I was acknowledged at the beginning of Searching for Captain Wentworth as well as many of my other favorite Austen bloggers. The quote reads, “ Laurel Ann Nattress, Vic Sanborn, Julie Wakefield, Meredith Esparza, Maria Grazia, Lori Hedgpeth, Alexa Adams, Nancy Kelley, Laura Hartness, Deb Barnum, Laura Gerold, Margaret Sullivan, Austen Authors, Historical Romance UK Authors, and the Romantic Novelist’s Association, for your friendship, kindness, and entertaining blogs.” This was a very awesome surprise and I was very humbled as well as excited.

Does anyone else harbor a passion for Captain Wentworth over Mr. Darcy?

Book Source: Author Jane Odiwe – Thank-you very much!!

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Before I Go to Sleep was the October pick of the FLICKS Book and Movie Club. It was a perfect suspenseful pick for the month of Halloween. Christine was involved in an accident and now cannot retain any memories. She falls asleep at night and wakes up the next day not remembering anything. She either thinks she is still a child, or a twenty-something when she is in fact in her late forties. It is a shock every day to wake up in a strange bed and to see her older face staring back at her in the mirror. Luckily her patient husband Ben helps to remind her each day that he loves her and guides her through the memories of her life that she has forgotten.


After Ben leaves for work, Christine gets a call from her doctor that is working with her without Ben’s knowledge. He tells Christine that she has been writing a journal and where she hid it the night before. Christine can then catch up on what she has discovered about herself and how she has been living her life. She soon discovers that there are many layers and secrets to her life to uncover and that it is hard to find someone that she can trust.

I loved the unique style of this book. Told from Christine’s prospective, we get what she is doing day by day and then her journal makes up a large part of the novel. Finding out the mystery of Christine was very intriguing. I literally couldn’t put the book down by the end and I was shocked by the ending. The premise of the book did remind me a lot of one of my favorite movies, Memento, but the storyline was completely different. Watson did a fantastic job of creating the world through Christine’s eyes where you had to question every move and every person in her life. Every day was a new day with new things to learn.

Sadly I missed book club meeting, which I hate to do. I had been out of town for work and was missing the kids. Although I missed the discussion, the kids were glad to have Mommy at home so it was worth it.

Overall, Before I Go to Sleep is a gripping suspense novel with an unforgettable plot and heroine. I would love to read more novels by S.J. Watson. This is her first novel and I can’t wait to see what she writes next!

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library – Thanks!

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Title: A Discovery of Witches

Author: Deborah Harkness
Read by: Jennifer Ikeda
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: Approximately 24 hours (20 CDs)
Source: Kewaunee Public Library

I have wanted to read A Discovery of Witches since I first saw it light up the blogosphere last year. Billed as an “adult version” of Twilight, I was instantly intrigued. I received the second book, Shadow of Night to review from Penguin Books, so I knew it was finally time to read (or listen to in this case) the first book.

Diana is an avid historian of alchemy and also a witch. After her parents were tragically killed when she was a child, Diana has decided to live her life as “normal” as possible to blend in with the humans. In this world, there are four types of “creatures” – Vampires, Witches, Demons, and Humans. I think it is very interesting that Demons are people that are usually frenzied and more artistically persuaded.

While at the library in Oxford, Diana comes upon a magical manuscript, Ashmole 782, and her life is forever changed. Feeling that the manuscript is magical, she quickly sends it back. It is too late however, as no one has accessed that particular manuscript in over 150 years. All creatures have sensed that she has the ability to do it and they start to watch her. One such creature is Matthew Clairmont, a handsome vampire.

Matthew is threatening to Diana at first as witches and vampires do not in general get along. Soon Diana realizes that Matthew is trying to protect her from a variety of creatures that wish to do her harm. As they grow closer, a forbidden love springs up. Will Diana and Matthew find Ashmole 782? Will they stay save from the variety of creatures that are against a mixed creature relationship? You will have to read it to find out.

I LOVED this book. It took me a bit of listening to get into it, but afterwards I was hooked and looked forward to my drive to and from work. The romance was chaste, but intense. Diana was a strong woman coming into her own and I liked it. I enjoyed the mystery and the use of history in the book. Although this wasn’t historical fiction by definition (although book 2 is), it had many references to historical events that a history buff like myself could enjoy. Diana and Matthew have a wonderful chemistry. I have to say although this book deals with very different subject matter, it reminded me a lot of one of my favorite books, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. They both are weighty books with fascinating detail, a strong heroine, and sparks between the two main characters that you can almost see.

Overall, if you are looking for an “adult Twilight,” skip the terrible Fifty Shades of Grey and come right to this very adult book that really has nothing to do with Twilight except for staring a very sexy vampire and his love for a woman not of his species.

I listened to the audiobook version and my way to and from work and loved it. Jennifer Ikeda is a word class narrator. She has excellent voices for all of the characters and really brings them to life. I really enjoyed all of the secondary characters and she was a large part of the reason why!

It’s the Middle Class Stupid! By James Carville and Stan Greenberg

Title: It’s the Middle Class Stupid!

Author: James Carville and Stan Greenberg
Read by: James Carville and Stan Greenberg
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: Approximately 7 hours (6 CDs)
Source: Review Copy from Penguin Audio – Thank-you!

I like politics, but I was a little scared to listen to this audiobook. I wasn’t sure who James Carville and Stan Greenberg actually were to begin with and I was afraid the book would be a screaming partisan rant. Instead I found a very thoughtful debate about the current status of the middle class and what can be done to improve its lot. As I am firmly in the middle class, I was very intrigued with this premise and found myself frequently agreeing with Carville and Greenberg.

While both Carville and Greenberg were advisors to Bill Clinton and are on the liberal side of the tracks, they both found fault with both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama’s platforms. I was only annoyed a few times by a few “facts” that weren’t quite right. One quip about the state of politics in Wisconsin was wrong in which they stated that firefighters and policemen had their union rights and pensions cut. In fact, they were not cut, which is part of the debate. Only the teachers and other public workers unions were busted in Wisconsin (Democratic) while the Republican leaning Firemen and Police Unions were left intact. That is why the law was actually just struck down by a judge because it was so partisan based.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the way Carville added Southern sass to the audiobook while Greenberg had the more level headed reading. It was very interesting learning their backgrounds and entry into politics and I enjoyed their views on the middle class and how both parties need to bring the focus back on the middle class. This is a great book to listen to during a heated campaign season.

Tough Shit by Kevin Smith

Title: Tough Shit

Author: Kevin Smith
Read by: Kevin Smith
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: Approximately 6 hours (5 CDs)
Source: Review Copy from Penguin Audio – Thank-you!

I could listen to Kevin Smith talk all day. I loved this CD and listening to his story about having a dream and achieving it by making great movies in Hollywood. I was saddened that he seems ready to hang up his director’s hat, but the audiobook has inspired me to start listening to his SModcasts.

As you can probably tell from the title, this is rather a profane book. Smith has no problems talking using colorful language, and talking about things such as his conception and awkward sex with his wife. I am normally not fond of profane language myself, but Smith is just so entertaining and has such a great voice that I really enjoyed listening to the book.

I’ll admit that while I’ve watched all of Smith’s earlier fare, since having kids, Ben and I hardly watch any movies that are not children’s movies. I think Clerks II is the last Smith film we have seen. Although I hadn’t seen his latest movies, I had read about them in Entertainment Weekly and it was entertaining to hear his stories about making them. I especially loved his Bruce Willis stories.

Overall, Tough Shit was a very entertaining audiobook. The only negative was that it had to end, but luckily Smith left me with a way to keep listening to him (SModcasts). I loved that he read the book himself and had several asides about the process. I also loved his geeky references to geeky things I enjoy myself like Star Wars.

Winner of Charming Blue by Kristine Grayson

Petite is the lucky winner of Charming Blue by Kristine Grayson.  Congrats to Petite!  Petite was chosen using random.org and has been notified via email.  Petite has one week to send me her mailing address, otherwise a new winner will be chose.

Thank-you to all who entered this wonderful giveaway.  As I noted below, stay tuned as two new giveaways will be posted this week!

Winner of Searching for Captain Wentworth by Jane Odiwe

Searching for Captain Wentworth by Jane Odiwe is a wonderful, romantic novel that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.  I will hopefully get my review up of the novel this week, but before that, I have one lucky winner of a copy of this great book to notify.  Using random.org, Michelle F. is the lucky winner of one copy of Searching for Captain Wentworth by Jane Odiwe.  I have notified Michelle via email and she has one week to send me her mailing address, otherwise a new winner will be chosen.

Thank-you to all who entered this wonderful giveaway.  If you didn't win a copy of this book, I suggest you pick one up - it was a great novel!

Stay tuned this week as I will have two new giveways posted throughout the week.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fairy Tales in the Modern World by Kristine Grayson (and GIVEAWAY!)

I am excited today to have Kristine Grayson on Laura's Reviews with a guest blog about modern day fairy tales.  I loved her book Utterly Charming and can't wait to read Charming Blue later this week.  I have been a fan of fairy tales my entire life, and Grayson does an excellent job bringing them to the modern world.

Lately I’ve felt like everyone has jumped on my bandwagon. Back when I wrote “The Strangeness of the Day,” under my real name, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, no one wanted modern fairy tales. I wrote the short story for an anthology called Battle Magic, and the editor (who loves my work) said he’d never seen anything so original. That originality got me several awards, but when I decided to expand “Strangeness” into a novel, my agent and half a dozen editors told me that modern fairy tales were so 1980, and I shouldn’t even try.


I don’t listen to people, at least not when they tell me something is impossible. So I write Utterly Charming anyway, and that started my fairy-tale-in-the-modern-world career. The book won RT Book Review’s Reviewers Choice award for best paranormal romance, and launched an entire series.

Fast forward eleven years, and suddenly everyone wants to redo fairy tales. Once Upon A Time has thrown every fairy tale creature possible into its modern mix, and Grimm is taking the Gothic view. Now, my trusty Entertainment Weekly tells me there’s be a new twist on Beauty and the Beast set—you guessed it—in our world.

Hey! Wait a minute! I was here first!

Except that I wasn’t. Fairy tales have always had a modern equivalent. That’s why certain romance movies are called “fairy tales”—not just because of the Happily Ever After ending, but because you can see Cinderella being abused by her stepmother and that guy in the Porsche? He’s the Prince Charming.

We are all raised on fairy tales, and of course, we insert them into our daily lives. If you watched the royal wedding a year or so ago, you know all about fairy tales in the modern world. Heck, Kate Middleton nabbed herself a real (if balding) prince. Dunno if he’s truly charming, but he seems like it. And if that weren’t enough, every single commentator on the wedding mentioned fairy tales. Just in case we didn’t get it.

We get it. Or at least I do. I love fairy tales. I love thinking about fairy tales. I love fracturing fairy tales.

My latest makes Bluebeard a hero. Yep, fractured. And I had fun. I hope you do too.

Book Description (from Goodreads):  Once upon a time...he was the most handsome of princes. But now he's a lonely legend, hobbled by dark history. With too many dead in his wake, Bluebeard escapes through the evil spell of alcohol. But it's a far different kind of spell that's been ruining his life for centuries. Jodi Walters is a fixer, someone who can put magic back in order. But Blue has a problem she's never encountered. And worse, she finds herself perilously attracted to him

Giveaway Details
Sourcebooks has graciously offered a giveaway of one copy of Charming Blue by Kristine Grayson.

If you would like to win a copy of this book please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the this book or this guestblog.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using random.org (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight on Friday October 5, 2012.

Please make sure to check the second week of October to see if you are a winner. I send emails to the winner but lately I have been put in their "junk mail" folder instead of their inbox.

Good luck!

Winner of Before Versailles by Karleen Koen

Thank-you to all who entered the giveaway for Karleen Koen's great new novel, Before Versailles.  The one lucky winner is LunaRaven from the blog Bird Talk.  Congrats!!  I have notified LunaRaven via email and she has one week to respond with her mailing address before I draw a new winner.  LunaRaven was selected using random.org.

Thank-you again to Karleen Koen for the great interview and fantastic book.  Check out my right side bar for other giveaways.  One is currently ongoing and I will be posting another one today, and yet another one later this week (the one later this week will be another great historical fiction novel).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Searching for Captain Wentworth Guest Blog by author Jane Odiwe (and GIVEAWAY!)

I am excited to have Jane Odiwe, a fantastic Austen inspired author on my blog today.  Her latest novel involves one of my favorite literary heroes, Captain Wentworth from Austen's wonderful novel, Persuasion.  It's next on my "to-read" pile and I can't wait to get to it!

Thank you very much Laura for inviting me as a guest to your blog today!


My new book, Searching for Captain Wentworth, is inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion - my favourite of her novels.

When aspiring writer, Sophie Elliot receives the keys to the family townhouse in Bath, it's an invitation she can't turn down, especially when she learns that she will be living next door to the house where Jane Austen lived. On discovering that an ancient glove belonging to her mysterious neighbour, Josh Strafford, will transport her back in time to Regency Bath, she questions her sanity, but Sophie is soon caught up in two dimensions, each reality as certain as the other. Torn between her life in the modern world and that of her ancestor who befriends Jane Austen and her fascinating brother Charles, Sophie's story travels two hundred years across time and back again, to unite this modern heroine with her own Captain Wentworth. Blending fact and fiction together, the tale of Jane Austen's own quest for happiness weaves alongside, creating a believable world of new possibilities for the inspiration behind the beloved novel, Persuasion.

I’ve loved being able to write about a contemporary love story as well as one in the past and it’s been wonderful to write about all the places I love that Jane wrote about too.

One of these places is the Pump Room in Bath and it’s here that my heroine Sophie first meets my hero Josh who lives in the flat beneath her. He is rather a mysterious figure - Sophie’s never met him face to face - she’s only had a little glimpse of him from the back. And because she’s ‘borrowed’ something, which belongs to him and not yet returned it, she’s taken aback when fate brings them together before she has a chance to explain. Knowing he is completely in the dark about her, she’s not at all sure what to do or say. Here’s an excerpt:

The room was buzzing with chattering people whilst a trio on the stage entertained everyone with music from a piano, viola and violin. Presiding over it all was the statue of Beau Nash who along with the portraits of stern gentlemen looked as if he might climb down from his stony pedestal at any moment to remonstrate with the table underneath him, a noisy family who were gathered to catch up with their gossipy news. At the water fountain in the bow-windowed alcove, a man in fancy livery was dispensing water into glasses. A little queue was forming and there was a lot of laughter and pulling of faces as people decided whether they liked or disliked the taste of Bath’s spa water. I made my way to the counter, pulling off my gloves and hat and leaving them to one side. The steaming water frothed from an urn into the mouths of copper fish, green with verdigris, as the Pumper filled the glasses placing each one before reticent customers. He put one before me with an enquiring look. I couldn’t really come to Bath and not try the waters. After all, I was sure Anne and Captain Wentworth had managed, as had Jane herself, so I handed over my money. I must admit, I wasn’t thrilled by the smell and I did end up holding my breath so that I couldn’t taste the warm, sulphurous liquid. But, I managed to get to the bottom of the glass, which I felt was an achievement, though I wasn’t sure I was going to do it again. I was just about to leave when I was suddenly aware of someone standing too closely behind me, right by my elbow, wedging themselves in between the person next in line and myself. I think I probably looked a bit cross when I turned round, but I was sure that they were rudely barging in.

‘Does this belong to you?’

I started and stared, both at the glove in his hand and the face looking down at me. Although I’d never seen this face before, I immediately recognized the mop of chocolate curls. Registering the lightly tanned skin and deep velvet eyes; brown as the bed of the brook I paddled in as a child, I watched sensuous lips curve into a smile revealing white teeth. I’m sure my mouth fell open in surprise.

‘I’m sorry if I made you jump,’ he said, ‘but I just saw your glove fall to the floor a moment ago and someone tread on it. The next thing it had been kicked to one side, and I thought you might not notice, or find it yourself.’

I managed to say thank you, but I couldn’t utter another word.

‘Are you sure you’re okay? You know, you look really pale. Would you like to sit down?’

I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was Josh whatshisname. Though I hadn’t seen his face before, I knew the rest of him so well. Standing right next to me, he was so close, I could have put a finger up through one of those long, loose curls that tumbled in dark, unruly waves. I could just imagine what Lara would have said about his leather jacket, the silver chain he wore round his neck and his snug fitting jeans. I admit I was slightly over-awed; he had such presence. He was one of those people that command attention, who everyone stares at when they enter a room. His large, expressive eyes were looking at me in concern, but he smiled again, a sort of funny, half smile that just hinted at a sense of humour. I was shocked, utterly dumbfounded. I just kept thinking, he must wonder if I’m totally stupid as I stood with my mouth open doing a very good impression of the copper fish on the water pump behind the counter. It was so unexpected.

‘Have you come for your usual, Mr Strafford?’

‘Yes, line them up, Toby,’ Josh said, thumping the counter, ‘I’m ready and willing!’

Toby, the pumper, poured three glasses of spa water and placed them before Josh. I watched him drink the first, draining the glass without flinching once. I noticed his hands, like artist’s hands, I thought, with long, slender fingers. He looked at me again with those eyes that seemed to acknowledge the effect he was having on me and he winked playfully.

I felt myself blushing but, at last, I found my tongue. ‘You’re not going to drink them all, are you?’ I asked, before I realized that I’d actually spoken my thoughts out loud.

He paused to turn and grin at me. ‘Every morning without fail, I’m here to take the waters. Isn’t that right, Toby?’

‘That’s correct, Mr Strafford,’ replied the pumper, with a tone that suggested a certain pride in what he obviously thought was a very admirable habit in his customer.

‘But, do you actually like it?’ I persisted. Drinking one glass had been quite enough as far as I was concerned.

Josh licked his lips and grinned, his eyes sparkling mischievously. ‘Don’t you?’

I wanted to say yes. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I really wanted to agree with him. I hesitated.

Picking up the next glass, he threw back his head in a theatrical manner and I watched his throat move as the liquid disappeared. ‘One to go,’ he cried, dashing the glass down noisily upon the wooden counter top.

Then he suddenly leaned towards me, which surprised me so much, my immediate reaction was to back off, but there was nowhere to go as I was up against the edge of a tall column. He buried his face in my hair and I remembered thinking how sorry I was that I hadn’t had a bath or shampooed my hair that morning, but hot water was something in short supply and I’d just had a quick wash. Thank goodness, I’d drenched myself in perfume, I thought.

‘The water is disgusting,’ he murmured, ‘but don’t tell Toby, it would break his heart.’

I couldn’t help but laugh. Toby, I noticed, was on the other side dispensing more water to hopeful clientele. Josh now turned away, looking straight ahead as if there had been no communication between us, all innocent and quite like a small boy who has just been very naughty.

‘Can I get you another?’ he asked, with a twinkle in his eye, just as Toby passed by.

‘Oh, no thank you, but it was delicious,’ I said, loud enough for Toby to hear and be rewarded with a smile.

‘I’m Josh,’ he said, putting out his hand very formally, the smile friendly, but less conspiratorial.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little excerpt from Searching for Captain Wentworth. Have you ever visited Bath? If you could travel to the UK, would you like to visit Bath and where would you like to go first?

Giveaway Details

Author Jane Odiwe has graciously offered a giveaway of one signed copy of Searching for Captain Wentworth.

If you would like to win a copy of this book please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the this book and/or answer Jane's questions from above about Bath.  I so long to visit Bath myself!!
As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using random.org (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is International!

The deadline for entry is midnight on Friday September 28, 2012.

Please make sure to check the first week of October to see if you are a winner. I send emails to the winner but lately I have been put in their "junk mail" folder instead of their inbox.
Good luck!