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

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 fiancé, 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.