Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper by Kate Ascher

 On our family trip to Michigan a week ago, we passed through Chicago. Although it was hazy, our eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to the impressive and distinctive skyline created by the skyscrapers. It was therefore fitting that the book I brought along with me to enjoy on our journey was The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper by Kate Ascher.

The Heights is a coffee table sized book that is packed full of information about the history, design, construction, maintenance, and future of the skyscraper. It is full of great pictures and graphics. I thought the graphics were particularly well done and a wonderful way for a person to really understand what is going on in the text of the book. From showing how test boring is performed by a geotechnical engineer to how a wind tunnel works, the graphics were fantastic. The graphics are so amazing that my two sons (5 & 3) are also intrigued with this book. They like to flip through and have us read to them about the graphics that particularly intrigue them such as fire safety and construction of the skyscraper. My favorite graphic was actually at the beginning of the book which showed the steady progression of the height of skyscrapers over the past 150 years.
Beyond the excellent graphics, Ascher has a gift of being able to take quite complex topics and write them in a way that is accurate, but easily relatable to anyone.

As an engineer, I was very pleased to see that Ms. Asher pointed out that the design and construction of a skyscraper is very much a team effort. Too often architects end up with all of the glory, while the engineers are left in the shade.

I will admit that when I first received The Heights in the mail, my husband was very enthused and looked through the book before I did. He is a structural engineer (I am a water resources engineer) so it is right up his ally. I let him read this book too to give his opinion. He also thought it was very interesting and also very accurate. While Ben designs buildings himself, his company specializes in curtain wall design. What is a curtain wall? The Heights answers that question for you!

I have worked on sustainable projects in my career and thought that section in this book was very well done. I will admit I really loved the “drainage and sewage” bit on page 116. That is my specialty and I was more than a little disturbed to discover that in Dubai, the buildings have grown faster than the sewage systems. They actually have to deliver the waste from their skyscrapers via waste truck to the wastewater treatment plant. I could hardly believe it! I think they need to hire my firm ASAP to design a better system, preferably with me on the job. Seriously though, I thought it was very strange overall planning to forget about your sewage system.

I also was intrigued with the last section which has the future of skyscrapers. It is a little sad to me that while the skyscraper was an American invention, over the past ten years we have been far surpassed in the construction of skyscrapers by Dubai, Asia, and the rest of the world.

Overall, The Heights was an excellent book about a fascinating topic. The graphics and explanations of the design, construction, and workings of the modern marvel of the skyscrapers are perfect. The Heights is not only technically accurate, but written in a way that anyone with an interest can understand from my three-year old son to his structural engineer father.

I reviewed The Heights as part of the TLC Book Tour. For more stops on this tour, please check out this link.

Book Source: Review copy from the The Penguin Press. Thank-you!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Watershed Year by Susan Schoenberger

 Some novels grab you and don’t let you go until you have finished a marathon reading session. Even afterwards, you find yourself thinking about the novel and wondering about various characters and plot points. A Watershed Year is just such a novel.

I will admit that I initially wanted to read A Watershed Year because of its very cool title. I am a dorky water resources engineer, and one item I do in my job is to draw watershed maps to determine where rainfall will drain once it hits the earth. A watershed is the boundary between two different drainage areas, although in the title to this book, the watershed is the division between the period of Lucy’s life before and after the death of her best friend (and secret love) Harlan.

Although I had my own nerdy reason for initially picking up A Watershed Year based on its wonderful title, I found myself soon swept into Lucy’s life. The book begins at Harlan’s end. He knows he is at the end of his life although he is only thirty-three and asks Lucy to be with him at the end. When she comes to be with him, she discovers he died before she got there. She grieves for him, but two months after his funeral, she starts to receive monthly inspirational, informative, and confessional emails from Harlan that outline his love for Lucy when it was too late and also explain past decisions.

The book moves on in Lucy’s life, but also flashes back to how they first met as students and ended up as professors together at the same college. Harlan was engaged for most of their relationship until he contracted cancer. Lucy and Harlan never seemed to be on the same page for having their relationship work out.

Lucy tries to move on with her life by becoming what she has always dreamed of becoming, a mother. She adopts a 4-year old boy, Mat, from Russia, but the adoption is put into jeopardy when his father arrives stating that he never signed the papers to give Mat up. Will Lucy get her happy ending?

I loved this book, the characters, the setting, and the story. Although the emails from Harlan were reminiscent of the letters after death in P.S. I Love You; it was still a wonderful and unique story. Lucy was a wonderfully complicated character that I wanted to sit down and have coffee with. I loved her friends and her family. Her problems and life seemed very realistic. I liked how the book did not turn itself into a starry eyed fantasy that Lucy would instantly find love after Harlan’s death, or that Mat would be an angelic boy. Her adoption of Mat and trying to cope with his behavior was very believable to me as a mother of three. Love in all of its complications was portrayed in a wonderfully nuanced way in A Watershed Year. I also enjoyed that the story was about a thirty-something year old woman with a career of her own trying to find her second chance at happiness.

I also loved the timeframe that this story was set in. Harlan first discovers that he has cancer when he faints as the World Trade Center towers collapse on September 11th. The novel ends shortly after America enters the War in Iraq. It brought back memories of some of our most terrible times as a country, and it was interesting to see the times reflected in Lucy’s life and her ultimate move towards hope. I also thought a side story about Lucy’s brother and sister-in-law and their hard financial times was also very relevant. After the hard financial times of this past three years, it is hard to remember that the early 2000’s also had a downturn in the economy.

Another key part of the story was that Lucy’s professional research was into the lives of saints. There were fascinating tidbits about saints throughout the novel. Lucy was a bit of a saint herself. She sacrificed a year of her life to care for her dying friend Harlan and also adopted an older boy that may have been left in the orphanage system to live a life of deprivation. She had her human failings as well – pushing Harlan and not accepting his decision to stop treatments, and not willing to realize that Mat’s father might want to keep his son. As a Catholic who became Catholic later in life, I thought the saint information was riveting, and as a reader, I liked how it played itself out throughout the novel.

Some of my favorite quotes in this novel were related to the saints including:

“If you want to know what the human spirit is capable of doing, read about the life of a saint.”

“Beyond that, small groups devoted themselves to particular saints, supporting shrines and societies that offered hope to people who couldn’t live without it. And those people came week after week, even day after day, to petition, say novenas, move rosary beads swiftly through practiced fingers. They didn’t make the news, even if their prayers were answered, but that never stopped them.”

Lucy was very perceptive about people including her sister-in-law, which inspired her to think another one of my favorite passages.

“But then again she thought, no one sees themselves as others do. The tics the fears, the neediness, the vanity – all of it could be laid bare in one conversation.”

Overall, A Watershed Year is a wonderfully complex novel with great, moving, and realistic characters and a captivating plot. I loved reading this novel, my only complaint was that it had to end. I would love to read more about these characters. The book club questions and interview with author Susan Schoenberger at the end of the novel were also very interesting.

I read A Watershed Year as part of the TLC Book Tour. The complete list of tour stops can be found here.

Book Source: A Review (and signed!) copy from author Susan Schoenberger. Thank-you!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The End of Normal by Stephanie Madoff Mack (audiobook)

The End of Normal is a riveting look into the downward spiral of the Madoff family. Stephanie Madoff Mack is the widow of Mark Madoff, Bernie Madoff’s eldest son that committed suicide two years after the Madoff scandal broke.

The End of Normal details Stephanie’s first meeting with Mark, their dating life, and fairy tale marriage. Stephanie and Mark had a wonderful life with each other and a deep love that only seemed to be threatened by control issues with Mark’s ex-wife. Although Mark came from the uber-rich Madoff family, he made his own wealth by running a successful enterprise in his father’s firm. Mark and Stephanie had a wonderful daughter and were expecting a new son when their world came crashing down.

Mark and his brother Andy sat down with their father to discuss some irregularities at work only to receive a bombshell from their father; he was running a Ponzi scheme and was trying to get rid of the last millions to family and friends before he would be discovered. Mark and Andy left enraged and Mark turned his father in to the authorities later that day.

Although Mark and Andy had nothing to do with Bernie’s Ponzi scheme and had in fact turned him over to the authorities, having the Madoff name became a curse rather than a blessing. Hounded by the press and lawyers, Mark and Stephanie’s marriage started to falter. Mark was also the most hurt by his mother who chose to stay by Bernie’s side at the expense of her sons’ feelings. With their marriage on the mend, Stephanie and her four-year old daughter are at Disney World when the unthinkable happened.

The End of Normal was a fascinating book to listen to at times, but also a very hard book to listen to at other times. Stephanie Madoff Mack read her own work in the audiobook, which gave it the personal touch, but also made it hard to listen to during emotional events. One could hear the crack in Mack’s voice like she was doing all she could to keep it under control. I give her much credit for reading her own memoir for the audiobook version as it must have been fraught with emotional landmines.  I had a hard time stopping this book as I wanted to keep listening to it all of the way through!

The End of Normal gave me a new view of the Madoff scandal. I read Tangled Webs earlier this year, which gave me the clinical view of what went wrong, but this gave me more of the emotional view of how Bernie Madoff’s crimes tore apart his own family, ultimately resulting in his son’s suicide. It also disturbed me how in our society today, a person can be literally hounded to their death. I think Mark Madoff thought he would be helping his family by his death in hopes that the lawsuits would stop, but they only went on to his children.

I just can’t understand how Bernie Madoff could swindle not only the entire world, but his family as well. What did he think would happen to his own family when his crimes would eventually come to light? It makes one wonder if he had any soul at all.

On a side note, I just listened to Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand last month and I’m amazed at how much of that novel actually followed the real life circumstances of the Madoff family. It almost makes me want to read it again!

The only negative I had with The End of Normal is that Mack tried to write about how they were a normal family and not living the jet set life of Bernie and Ruth Madoff. While this worked on some level, it had the major effect that it made me believe she didn’t realize how the other 99% lives. Most people do not have three homes and a nanny, especially after losing your job. I think this comes from living an upper middle class life in New York City for her entire life.

Overall, The End of Normal is a captivating personal account of how the Bernie Madoff scandal affected his son’s family. It really made me think about the witch hunt mentality of our society and how that can extend to innocent bystanders.

The End of Normal is my thirteenth item for The Audiobook Challenge 2011.

Audiobook Source: Review Copy from Penguin Audio. Thank-you!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Victorian Challenge 2012

I had a very scientific poll on this blog last month with the question of what challenge should be on Laura’s Reviews for 2012. I talked about bringing back the All About the Brontes Challenge, or opening it up to new authors. From the comments and poll, I gathered that most people would like to have a broader challenge where the Brontes can be celebrated along with other authors.

The poll results were as follows: Victorian (31%), Gothic Fiction (23%), All About the Brontes (23%), 19th Century Authors (15%), and Women of Suspense (8%). Victorian had a narrow victory, and I am excited to have a new challenge for next year.

I need help from my loyal readers for this challenge. I will post a sign-up in December, but one of my problems is my lack of artistry. I’m an engineer and I’ll admit to appreciating art, but I have an inability to produce beautiful graphics unless they are detailed diagrams of sewers or streams. If any of my artistic readers would like to put together a logo for this challenge, I would really appreciate it.

For the Victorian Challenge, we will focus on the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901. I think we will count books that were written by Victorian authors during this time period, books set during the Victorian age, or books about a Victorian author, history, manners, architecture, etc. Also besides reading books, short stories, audiobooks and movies will also be accepted. The sky is the limit; I would love to make this a true celebration of all things Victorian.

I would also like to challenge myself to have one Victorian author to focus on for each month of 2012. I will post something about that author each month and will read, listen, or watch something related to that author as well. Fellow challenge goers can join me if they would like, or can take the challenge in any direction that they choose. I need help choosing these twelve authors. I’m going to post a large poll on my right sidebar with various authors from this time period. Pick the top authors that you would like to see focus on with this challenge! If your favorite Victorian author is not included in the poll, please leave a comment below.

Please leave any comments for what you would like to see in the Victorian Challenge 2012 to make it a fun and exciting challenge. I appreciate all comments and tips. Stay tuned for a sign-up for this challenge to appear in December!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Betsy-Tacy Treasury by Maud Hart Lovelace

 I had never heard of the Betsy-Tacy series until I started to see reviews pop up on different blogs. I was astonished to discover a series of beloved books for girls that I never discovered as a child. As a great fan of such classic series as Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew, etc., I knew I must rectify this situation. Therefore I was happy to be a TLC tour stop for Harper Collins new edition of The Betsy-Tacy Treasury in order to discover what all of the fuss is about.

The Betsy-Tacy Treasury is the first four of the Betsy-Tacy books: Betsy-Tacy, Betsy-Tacy and Tib, Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, and Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. Included in the book are great forwards by current authors that are also fans including Judy Blume, Ann M. Martin, and Johanna Hurwitz. There are also sections at the end with background about Maud Hart Lovelace, illustrator Lois Lenski, and each of the four books included. I loved all of this information and found it very interesting. Also interesting was the praise at the beginning of the book for Maud Hart Lovelace from such personalities as Anna Quindlen, Meg Cabot, Laura Lippman, Bette Midler, Nora Ephron, Lorna Landvick, etc. In particular, Anna Quindlen stated, “There are three authors whose body of work I have reread more than once in my adult life: Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Maud Hart Lovelace.” This is praise indeed!

Was this book truly worthy of all of this praise? I am more than happy to say a very emphatic “YES!” By the end of the first book, I had fallen in love with Betsy Ray and Tacy Kelly and their world in Deep Valley, Minnesota. Deep Valley is the Mankato of Lovelace’s childhood around the turn of the nineteenth century. (For fellow Little House on the Prairie TV series fans, this is the same Mankato that characters from Walnut Grove visit to get trade goods.)

Five-year old Betsy is excited when a new family with lots of children moves into the house across the street. One girl appears to be her age. After a slight misunderstanding, they soon become fast friends and the people of Hill Street and Deep Valley can’t remember a time when Betsy-Tacy were not friends. Soon a new girl moves in to the chocolate house on the way to school, and Tib becomes their fast friend. Betsy wants to be a writer and is full of imaginative stories. Tacy is shy, but loyal and fun. Tib is very matter of fact and also very pretty. The books move through their lives. By book two they are eight, book three they are ten, and book four they are twelve.

What did I like so much about this book? Although the adventures took place long before my childhood, the spirit of their life and adventures perfectly captures the spirit and joy of childhood that does not change through the ages. The wonder of the world and how one street and one city can seem so giant and faraway places like Milwaukee can be viewed with imaginative delight are just how a child views the world. Their adventures playing and making up stories reminded me of the fun I had as a child with my best friend Stephanie and sister Kristi doing very similar things. It was wonderful how Lovelace was able to capture her childhood and to remember what it was like to be a child and to have a fantastic imagination that can make climbing a hill the most exciting journey.

What really brought these books to the next level to me was when in book one, tragedy strikes. Tacy’s baby sister, Bee, dies from a childhood illness. Tacy and Betsy go for a walk and Tacy is very sad about her sister’s death. Betsy tries to cheer her up and talks to her about Bee’s adventures in heaven. “Of course she can see us. She’s looking down right now. And I’ll tell you what tickles Bee. She knows all about Heaven, and we don’t. She’s younger than we are, but she knows something that we don’t. Isn’t that funny? She’s just a baby, and she knows more than we do.”

Betsy brings the death down to the level of a child’s understanding, and is able to make Tacy think of all of the fun that Bee is having in heaven being a big girl and watching out for her family. I found it to be a very moving conversation and quite touching. Betsy and Tacy are the best kind of friends; the kind of friends that can help you out in a moment of crisis and be what you need them to be.

I also really enjoyed how Betsy, Tacy, Tib befriend a little girl (Naifi) from “Little Syria” in Deep Valley in Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill. They defend her when she is picked on by some rather nasty boys. Tib’s mother (Mrs. Muller) had some wise words to say about it, “I’m glad Tib stood up for that little Syrian girl. Foreign people should not be treated like that. America is made up of foreign people. Both of Tib’s grandmothers came from the other side. Perhaps when they got off the boat they looked a little strange too.”

Overall, The Betsy-Tacy Treasury was a wonderful, delightful series of books that I am very happy to have finally read. They are great adventures of childhood wonder and also have beautiful illustrations. I will definitely be reading these stories to Penelope when she gets older and I’m already planning for making a future trip to Mankato to check out Big Valley. I also want to read the rest of their adventures as they grow into teenagers and beyond! My only complaint is that poor Tib is always left off of the title of the books.

I am counting the Betsy-Tacy Treasury as my 21st historical fiction book this year for The Historical Fiction Challenge 2011. Lovelace’s historical detail brings the world of Mankato circa 1900 to life. The notes at the end of the book also illustrate how much research she did to make sure her memories matched the historical detail.

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

Eva Ward’s famous actress sister, Katrina, has just died tragically young. Returning to a place they both loved as children, Eva brings Katrina’s ashes to Trelowarth House in the small town of Polgelly in Cornwall, Great Britain. Katrina’s former teenage boyfriend and their family friend, Mark Hallett now owns the family estate and is trying to keep it and its beautiful rose garden solvent.

Eva fights off her depression over Katrina’s death by trying to help Mark and his sister Susan advertise Trelowarth and start a new tea shop that will cater to tourists. An old childhood friend named Oliver has popped back in the scene and is a very attractive man. One day Eva “slips” into another time. She is still at Trelowarth, but it is Trelowarth of the early eighteenth century. At that point, two brothers, Jack and Daniel Butler together with their Irish comrade Fergal live at Trelowarth. They are smugglers and about to get involved in an ill-fated upraising to restore James Stuart to the thrown of England. Eva is unable to control when she slips back and forth between the two time periods, but finds herself falling more and more in love with Daniel Butler. Will Eva be able to find happiness between the two worlds? And will the Butler brothers escape their fate?

I enjoyed this novel. I am a big fan of time travel novels. It always fascinates me on the method of time travel. In this novel, Eva fades away or slips through time only while at Trelowarth at unexpected times. I liked all of the secondary characters too and the setting was described beautifully and vividly. The love story between Eva and Daniel was also very romantic as was the story of love between Mark’s father George, and stepmother Claire.

I liked the ending. There were a couple of surprises that I didn’t catch on to as I read the book that really made it the kind of book I couldn’t put down at the end. I really wanted to see where it was going!

Susanna Kearsley has been compared to Diana Gabaldon, Daphne Du Maurier, and Mary Stewart. These are three of my favorite authors so this naturally intrigued me. With the Cornwall setting I felt shades of Du Maurier and the time slip and subsequent love affair reminded me of Gabaldon. I will be blunt though that while I really enjoyed this book, I didn’t think it was as good as a Gabaldon or Du Maurier novel. It was missing the detail and spark that puts both of those authors on a higher level than most. With that being said, I still thought this novel was wonderful and the next best thing to a new Gabaldon or Du Maurier novel. I will definitely be reading Kearsley’s other novel, The Winter Garden.

I long to visit Cornwall someday. After reading the magnificent novels of Daphne Du Maurier and now Susanna Kearsley, it sounds like a beautiful and unique place. I also want to taste a real Cornish pasty. I lived for six years in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan while obtaining my bachelors and masters degrees at Michigan Technological University. While there I learned the fascinating history of copper mining in the area. Expert miners came from the tin mines of Cornwall. The Cornish left their mark on the area, with the greatest mark of all being the pasty which is now a regional treat. It is basically a meat and potato pie that the men would heat up by holding their shovels over a candle for lunch while in the mines. I cook mine in the oven, but it is a favorite meal in the Gerold household.

Overall, The Rose Garden was a wonderfully imaginative tale with true love, time travel, and a fascinating setting.

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (audiobook)

I read The Help two years ago and loved it. It was one of my top ten reads for 2009. I was excited when my FLICKS Book and Movie Club picked this book for our December read. It was good to revisit a book I loved; although this time I decided to revisit it in a new format, audiobook. I had read several reviews that stated that this was an audiobook not to be missed.

It was a riveting audiobook. Read by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, and Cassandra Campbell; each of the main characters (Skeeter, Minnie, and Aibileen) has their own distinctive voice and personality. I found myself listening to the audiobook everywhere I could to find out how the story would end. Listening to the audiobook seemed like listening to my favorite characters tell the story in their own words. I loved it. My only complaint was that the ending seemed rather abrupt, more so than when I read the novel. I was ready to listen to even more of the story!

My original review of the novel is located at this link. For a quick summary of the plot, this book takes place in racially charged Jackson, Mississippi during the early 1960’s. Aibileen is an African American woman that works for a young family and takes care of their daughter. She is troubled by the lack of love that Elizabeth displays towards her daughter, and also about the racially charged death of her own son. She gets to know one of Elizabeth’s friends, Skeeter, and together they work towards changing their world. Skeeter is a young white woman who is dissatisfied by her current life and expectations for a female during this era. She does not like how her friend Hilly treats the African American servants and wonders why the woman that raised her, Constantine disappeared right before she graduated from college. Aibileen and Skeeter start to work with different maids to put together their stories anonymously on what life is like as a maid in the segregated South. One of these maids is Minnie. Minnie tells it the way it is, which does not make her a popular maid, although her famous cooking skills make up for it. She tries to raise her kids and deal with an abusive husband, while also trying to keep a job.

The Help is a novel that adapts particularly well to the audiobook format. It is my twelfth audiobook for The Audiobook Challenge 2011 – I have made my goal for the year!

I have yet to see the movie The Help and will probably watch it whenever I can get a copy of the DVD from the library. Have any of you seen the movie? What did you think?

Audiobook Source – The Kewaunee Public Library

Winner of Utterly Charming by Kristine Grayson!

I really enjoyed the fractured fairy tale world of Utterly Charming by Kristine Grayson and also her guest post on this blog about her love affair with fairy tales.  I'm happy to announce the winner of Utterly Charming is Suko of Suko's Notebook.  Suko was chosen using and has been notified via email.  She has one week to respond with her mailing address or another winner will be chosen.

Thank-you to Kristine Grayson for writing such an enjoyable book and for also writing a guest blog for Laura's Reviews.  Thank-you to Sourcebooks for allowing me to host this giveaway and also to everyone who entered.

Sad that you lost?  There is still an ongoing giveaway for a great regency Christmas romance (one of my favorite subgenres) on my right sidebar.

Also speaking of fairy tales, is anyone watching Once Upon a Time on ABC?  I love it!

Friday, November 11, 2011

How to Write a Christmas Regency Romance by Grace Burrowes (and GIVEAWAY!)

 For Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish, I needed a story that had timeless elements of the Nativity—no room at the inn, an unexpected but very dear baby, three wise men bearing gifts—but I also needed some Regency elements.

This required a bit of research. We’re told that much of what we consider to be traditional about an English Christmas was in fact the invention of the Victorians when they copied Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s holiday style. The royal couple imported majestic German pines for their Christmas trees, decked the halls at Buckingham Palace and sang Christmas carols as a family.

While it’s true we’ve retained some of those traditions, it’s also true many of them were cropping up in England prior to Victoria’s reign. Prinny’s wife, the much maligned Caroline of Brunswick, decorated a full size tree as early as 1800, hanging both ornaments and children’s gifts from its bows. And while the Puritans outlawed plum pudding (recall that it can soak for weeks in brandy before being brought flaming to the table), it was “German” George I who reinstated this traditional holiday fare on the court menu.

For Sophie and Vim’s story, I could not, of course, ignore the romantic possibilities inherent in the fine old English tradition of the kissing bough. The custom of kissing beneath the mistletoe dates back to the Middle Ages, though when properly observed, each couple takes a white berry from the bow when they kiss, and when the berries are gone, the bough comes down—until next year (or the sequel is in print, about which Lady Louisa Windham has a few ideas!).

To keep Sophie and Vim’s story moving forward, I also relied on the Regency tradition of visiting among neighbors over the holidays. No less authority than Jane Austen confirms the prevalence of holiday socializing, and without it, Vim and Sophie would not have had as dramatic an occasion for their reconciliation.

I could not in good conscience bestow a Christmas star on Sophie and Vim, and neither was there a royal census to be taken in the Regency period that would suit the story’s needs. Nonetheless, Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish, is a tale of love, family, courage and faith in a benevolent fate, and no couple ever wished for or received a better Christmas gift than their very own happily ever after.

Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish by Grace Burrowes – In Stores NOW!

A luminous holiday tale of romance, passion, and dreams come true from rising star Grace Burrowes, whose award-winning Regency romances are capturing hearts worldwide.

All she wants is peace and anonymity…

Lady Sophie Windham has maneuvered a few days to herself at the ducal mansion in London before she must join her family for Christmas in Kent. Suddenly trapped by a London snowstorm, she finds herself with an abandoned baby and only the assistance of a kind, handsome stranger standing between her and complete disaster.

But Sophie’s holiday is about to heat up…

With his estate in ruins, Vim Charpentier sees little to feel festive about this Christmas. His growing attraction for Sophie Windham is the only thing that warms his spirits—but when Sophie’s brothers whisk her away, Vim’s most painful holiday memories are reawakened.

It seems Sophie’s been keeping secrets, and now it will take much more than a mistletoe kiss to make her deepest wishes come true…

The Virtuoso by Grace Burrowes – In Stores November 2011

A genius with a terrible loss…

Gifted pianist Valentine Windham, youngest son of the Duke of Moreland, has little interest in his father’s obsession to see his sons married, and instead pours passion into his music. But when Val loses his music, he flees to the country, alone and tormented by what has been robbed from him.

A widow with a heartbreaking secret…

Grieving Ellen Markham has hidden herself away, looking for safety in solitude. Her curious new neighbor offers a kindred lonely soul whose desperation is matched only by his desire, but Ellen’s devastating secret could be the one thing that destroys them both.

Together they’ll find there’s no rescue from the past, but sometimes losing everything can help you find what you need most.

About the Author

Grace Burrowes is the pen name for a prolific and award-winning author of historical romances. The Heir, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist, and was selected as a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year for 2010. Both The Heir and its follow-up, The Solider, are New York Times and USA Today bestsellers. She is a practicing attorney specializing in family law and lives in a restored log cabin in western Maryland without a TV, DVD or radio because she's too busy working on her next books. For more information, please visit

Giveaway Details

Sourcebooks is going to send two lucky winners a copy of Lady Sophie's Christmas Wish by Grace Burrowes.

If you would like to win a copy of Lady Sophie's Christmas Wish by Grace Burrowes please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this 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 (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, FRIDAY DECEMBER 2nd (time extended from original post).

Good luck!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book is a unique and fascinating supernatural young adult novel. I read this book in a state of wonder, excited to find out what would happen next. It was a perfect read for the week of Halloween. I have had this book on my “to read” list after reading excellent reviews over the past two years and it was well worth the wait.

The Graveyard Book starts with the murder of a family. A small “baby barely a toddler” escapes the atrocity by getting out of his crib and wandering out to the night through the open front door. The killer, the man Jack, follows his scent to a graveyard, but he loses the trail and is escorted away by a mysterious man named Silas. A childless ghost couple, Mr. and Mrs. Owens want to care for the child, especially after the spirits of his family ask them to help the boy. After a spirited debate in the graveyard, it is decided that the Owens will raise the boy with the help of Silas as guardian. The boy is not old enough to know his own name and is christened “Nobody Owens” by the ghosts with a nickname of Bod.

The old adage is that it takes a village to raise a child, but in this case, it takes a graveyard. Young Bod has ghosts for playmates and has great adventures when he meets up with a group of ghouls and the cemetery’s lone witch. Leaving the graveyard is dangerous for Bod as his family’s killer has never been captured. Bod has unique experiences and escapades growing up in a cemetery, but the greatest one of all is the journey to discover his identity and to face his family’s murderer.

I immensely enjoyed reading this book. The premise sounds so strange I wasn’t sure what I would think of it. The book read as a modern myth, legend, or fairy tale. Each chapter was a unique adventure of its own, but overall the book built to a stunning conclusion and epic graveyard battle as the mystery of murder of Bod’s birth family was finally solved.

The setting of the cemetery was brilliant. I have always been fond of cemeteries. I think they are very peaceful and beautiful places. I’ve always liked to read the old names on the gravestones and wonder what the lives of the individuals who lived so long ago were like. I’m used to graveyards in the mid-western United States where an “old” gravestone can be dated 1840. Part of the allure of The Graveyard Book to me was that the history that went along with the graves was fascinating. The oldest grave in the cemetery is a Roman centurion, but even older is an ancient “indigo man” who lives inside the hill. I particularly liked the chapter on the witch, Liza Hempstock. It really told of a time when a woman could be accused for witchcraft and murdered because she stole someone else’s man. Liza was buried outside of the cemetery proper in the potter’s field.

The copy of The Graveyard Book that I read included illustrations by Dave McKean. I thought the illustrations really added to the mood of the book and I enjoyed starting each new chapter with a new picture.

Although the book starts with my own worst nightmare, a family murdered in their sleep by a stranger, I thought overall the book was a positive book. It was not overly violent or gross, but did have plenty of adventure, history, and mystery.

A Facebook quiz told me that Neil Gaiman was my literary match. I had no idea who Neil Gaiman was, but soon discovered I had many friends who were fans and highly recommended his works. I’ve enjoyed reading his blog over the past year or so and I really enjoyed reading The Graveyard Book. It was the first Gaiman book I’ve read, but will definitely not be the last.

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Winner of Expectations of Happiness!

Patricia of The Joy of the Written Word is the lucky winner of Expectations of Happiness by Rebecca Ann Collins.  Patricia was chosen using and has been notified via email.  She has one week to respond with her mailing address, otherwise a new winner will be chosen.  Congrats to Patricia!

Thank-you to Rebecca Ann Collins for writing a great novel and a fantastic guest blog.  Thank-you to Sourcebooks for allowing me to host this great giveaway and to all of you who entered! 

There is still one giveaway currently going on my right sidebar.  Stay tuned until the end of the week when a new giveaway will be posted!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Utterly Charming by Kristine Grayson

As a child, I loved the “Fractured Fairy Tales” that were part of the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. Truthfully I didn’t care much for Rocky and Bullwinkle themselves, but I loved Fractured Fairy Tales, Dudley Do-Right, and Peabody’s Improbable History. I loved how the Fractured Fairy Tales took a classic tale that you thought you knew and turned it upside. I also loved reading traditional fairy tales when I was around 13 and read everything in my school library. It was interesting to see the depth of the stories so much beyond the Disney cartoons.

Utterly Charming is similar to the Fractured Fairy Tales by taking a classic story that you thought you knew, and turning it upside down into a fun, thrilling, modern adventure. Nora is just out of law school and is trying to get her struggling practice off the ground. One day she is visited by a very handsome man named Aethelstan Blackstone and his sidekick, Sancho Panza. Nora has always believed a bit in magic, but even she is overwhelmed by the events that take place when Aethelstan fights his arch nemesis, Ealhswith. Nora helps Aethelstan to break the curse on his soul mate, Emma aka Sleeping Beauty, but finds herself enamored with Aethelstan. Will they all be able to have their happy endings?

I loved Utterly Charming. The plot was witty, fast-paced, with never a dull moment. It kept you interested and wondering how it would all end. It also had its humorous moments. All of the characters were great, including the secondary characters such as Nora’s Mom, Amanda, and hardworking secretary Ruthie. Although the material is vastly differently, it reminded me of the quick-paced plot and charm of a Stephanie Plum novel, which I adore. But in a new fresh way. I thought it was a very original and interesting take on a classic fairy tale. I enjoyed the romance, it was my favorite kind with lots of build-up and the question of sex left to your own imagination.

Overall, Utterly Charming was a very charming novel that was the best romance novel I’ve read in quite a while. I will definitely be reading more Kristine Grayson novels, and particularly want to read more of her fractured fairy tales.

If you’d like to read about Kristine Grayson’s love affair with fairy tales, check out her great guest blog. If you’d like a chance to win a copy of the novel, please leave a copy by midnight November 11th.

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand (audiobook)

I have found a new author that I really enjoy, and that I’m sure my FLICKS Book and Movie Club would also enjoy. In Silver Girl, Elin Hilderbrand has written a moving story of friendship through the changes and hardships of life. If you enjoy novels by some of my and my book club’s favorite authors such as Jennifer Weiner, Kristin Hannah, and Jodi Picoult, I think you would really enjoy Hilderbrand as well. This is my first book by Hilderbrand, but it definitely will not be my last!

In a story ripped from headlines, Meredith Martin Delinn has discovered that her husband Freddy has been running a giant investment scheme and has ripped his clients off of all of their money. Freddy has single-handedly brought the American economy down to its knees, and for it has been thrown into jail for the rest of his life. Suddenly without money, her husband, and separated by her sons due to current criminal investigations, Meredith finds herself alone and hated by friends, the press, and all of Freddy’s investors. Luckily, Meredith has one estranged best friend, Constance “Connie” Flute that she can call.

Connie has recently lost her husband to cancer and has become estranged from her daughter. She lives a lonely life and is ready to welcome Meredith back into it. She worries about the fact that Meredith is under a criminal investigation, and things turn sinister as someone starts to vandalize Connie’s home. Will Connie and Meredith be able to repair their friendship? Will they be able to move on with their lives after love lost? Who is stalking Meredith? There are a lot of great story threads in this novel that kept me riveted.

I love how this novel gave the entire story of both women’s lives and the history of their friendship. It was a deep complex look, just like the greatest of friendships. I also liked the many mysteries imbedded in the story, especially the stalking of Meredith, what caused their friendship rift, where did Freddy hide his money, and what caused the rift between Connie and her daughter. It made it a great story to listen to the audiobook as I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next as well as the resolution to all of these mysteries. The novel does an excellent job of tying up all of the threads of the narrative for a great conclusion.

The characters were all fantastic, particularly Meredith and Connie. They were full three-dimensional characters with problems and worries of their own. Meredith was not painted as a just a victim of her husband damsel in distress. She had been duped, but she was able to help solve the mystery and take her future into her own hands. Connie was able to battle alcoholism and to put her love for her deceased husband aside in order to move on with life. I particularly liked when Connie was going to go on a date and had the same worries as a teenager although she was in her 50’s.

I also enjoyed the shout-outs to Jane Austen in the book. Meredith goes to a bookstore and purchases Persuasion, the only Austen she had not read. I thought to myself, you are in for a treat, it is a fabulous novel.

I find it interesting how the Bernie Madoff scandal has made it firmly into our culture. I read and really enjoyed Tangled Webs by James B. Stewart this past spring which includes an analysis of the scandal. Next up on my audiobook list is The End of Normal by Stephanie Madoff Mack, a memoir by Bernie Madoff’s daughter-in-law. I find it all intriguing, but what do you think – too much Madoff? Or did the impact on our society as well as the intrigue of a man whose selfish greed ruled him too intriguing of an idea for a writer to resist?

I thought it was interesting in this novel that Meredith was shunned by everyone and guilty by association, although she had no clue that Freddy was a liar and a cheat. It was almost a Salem witch trial feel where everyone was so against her, which was sad to read, but so true of the way our society works at times.

Silver Girl was told through the point of view of both Meredith and Connie. The audiobook did an excellent job of putting voices to both of these narratives by having two different readers, Janet Metzger and Marianne Fraulo. I think they both did an excellent job narrating the story. I also thought it was a perfect book to listen too as I stated before due to the great plotlines and mysteries.

Silver Girl is the 11th book I’ve listened to this year as part of The Audiobook Challenge 2011.

Book Source: Review Copy from Hachette Book Group. Thank-you!