Everyday Tidbits...

The sun is shining and the sky is blue. My doors and windows are open.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Season of Sacrifice...Review

About the book:
Sarah Williams is a young Welsh immigrant, coming to Utah to join her sister Mary Ann Perkins. When the Perkins are asked to join the San Juan mission to pioneer a trail through Southern Utah, they take Sarah along to help care for the children. But a six-week journey turns into six agonizing months of hard work and toil as the Saints blast their way through a cliff to bring their wagons through what would become the famous Utah landmark "Hole in the Rock."

Finally settled in the San Juan, Sarah's true hardship begins when Ben Perkins asks her to be his second wife. With their faith and testimonies challenged to the core, both Sarah and Mary Ann struggle to find the true meaning of Christ-like love and obedience. Will they make it through?

Loved, loved, loved this novel! I couldn't put it down. Tristi Pinkston not only explores the physical struggles of the Mormon pioneers, but the emotional and spiritual struggles they endured. The story is about Tristi's great-grandmother and is based on historical fact. However, she writes it as if she was the one who lived it.

Sarah Williams is a young Welsh girl who immigrates to Utah to join her sister Mary Ann. When Mary Ann and her husband are asked to join the San Juan mission to pioneer a trail through Southern Utah, they take Sarah along to help care for their children. What was to be a six-week journey turns into six agonizing months of hard work and toil as the Saints build roads and blast their way through a cliff to bring their wagons through what would become the famous Utah landmark "Hole in the Rock."

It was so easy to be caught up in the story, to feel the frustration and fear that these good saints felt as they struggled to build roads and cross canyons and rivers, and yet keep their faith that the Lord would provide for them. I had always heard about the "Hole in the Rock pioneers" but I had never completely understood what they went through. I still don't. When I googled "Hole in the Rock" I was stunned. The area is completely dry and desolate. I wouldn't want to 4-wheel in that area, let along do it in a covered wagon. But, faith and perseverance are what characterized these early saints and Tristi has brought forth the compelling voices to share their story.

Once the Perkins family settles in the San Juan, Sarah's true hardship begins when Ben Perkins asks her to be his second wife. Sarah loves her sister so completely that she doesn't want to hurt her, and she initially tells Ben, no. But as she tries to come to understand what the Lord has in store for her, she realizes that it's right for her to marry Ben, even though it will cause pain and heartache.

As I read the story of Sarah, Ben and Mary Ann I was deeply touched. To take a second wife wasn't something that Ben did lightly, or out of a need for power or s*xual satisfaction. It was something that he did because he felt he had been commanded to do it. He knew it would hurt his wife and he knew that Sarah had a difficult time accepting his proposal. However, his desire to be obedient to God, no matter what, was stronger than he was, and ultimately they were all blessed because of it. Tristi has woven these three voices together, masterfully, and the anger, frustration and ultimate humility ring true.

The early Mormon saints practiced polygamy because they believed it to be a commandment from God. Those who did enter into it with a spirit of obedience and love seemed to be blessed, the Perkins family were among the blessed. A definite must-read. You can purchase the book here and here.

Personal copy read 5/08

* * * * *

5/5 Stars

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Drenched in Light...Review

About the book:
In Dell's writing, Julia sees luminous sparks of hope. But as she fights to forge a brighter future for one disadvantaged student, she is drawn into startling undercurrents of conflict and denial within the academy. Only when she is tested in ways she never could have imagined does she begin to discover where real meaning and fulfillment lie - and realize that even though her life has seemed off course, she's been on the right path all along.

I think that this book is my favorite Wingate book so far. I simply couldn't put it down. The story follows Julia, a former ballet dancer whose career is cut short due to a life-threatening eating disorder. After she "recovers" she becomes a guidance counselor at a middle school and befriends Dell Jordan, who is living with Karen and James from The Language of the Sycamores and struggling to fit in at her elite arts school.

The format is the same as Wingate's previous books: homespun wisdom and advice, a coming-of-age and finding your place in the world, and family ties. As Grandma Rose communicated with Kate through the written journal, Dell communicates with Julia by writing essays. As Dell finds her voice, so does Julia.

Kate and Ben make an appearance in the novel, as does the engaging Keilor Bradford.

I enjoyed Julia's voice. I could relate to her struggles with her family as their love and concern grew to smothering and stifling. The story comes together, predictably again, at the end. I read it in a day. It was compelling enough that, predictable or not, I simply had to find out what happened.

A delightful, insightful read.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 5/08

* * * *
4/5 Stars


The Language of the Sycamores...Review

About the book:
Karen Sommerfield has been hiding from the big questions of her life-the emotional distance in her marriage, her inability to have children, and her bout with cancer. Getting lost in her high powered career provides the sense of purpose she yearns for. Until the day she's downsized out of her job and the doctor tells her the cancer may be back. It's a double blow that would send anyone reeling. It also sends Karen to Grandma Rose's old farm, where her sister has made a seemingly perfect life. Opening herself to the unexpected, Karen finds a lonely child in need of nurturing and insights into her family's past. And in the quiet of the Missouri Ozarks, she begins to discover the joy to make her life complete.

A continuation of the story in Tending Roses, although this story is about Karen, Kate's sister. Karen loses her high-powered job and returns to the farm to find herself. Similar to Tending Roses, Karen finds herself through her memories of Grandma Rose and her experiences with her (no longer) estranged family, and a group of children.

As with Tending Roses, the story is somewhat predictable. But, full of homespun advice and inspiration, it is a sweet, pleasant read. Karen is someone you can connect with and you want to see her find happiness.

A lovely story about family ties.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 5/08

* * *
3/5 Stars


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mrs. Darcy's Dilemma...Review

About the book:
Beginning twenty-five years after Darcy and Elizabeth's wedding, their life together has been wonderful and their marriage is still thriving. Their grown children bring them great delight, along with some trepidation, Mrs. Darcy's nieces come for a visit, and a theatrical scandal threatens to embroil them all. The Victorian age is dawning, and Pemberley's new generation is coming into their own.

As a rule, I don't like attempted sequels. I especially don't like attempted sequels of classic novels when those sequels are written by wannabe Jane Austens or Margaret Mitchells.

When I picked up Mrs. Darcy's Dilemma, I was prepared to dislike it. (When Austen wannabes try to be Jane, they fail miserably. No one can do that, so just stop trying, ok?) As I read the book though, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying it instead. It was entertaining and difficult to put down. Diana Birchall didn't try to be Jane Austen. Thank goodness. Birchall did, however, manage to capture the essence of Pride and Prejudice as this novel picks up 25 years after the end of the original. Elizabeth and Darcy have 3 children and the novel is about the exploits of those children. Darcy's compassion is readily apparent, as is his pride and the expectation he has for his family. His tenderness with Elizabeth is sweet.

While there is a bit too much Lydia in the book, I also found that Birchall's take on how Lydia's life turned out was believable. Her two eldest daughters play a major role in the book, and the Collinses, as well as Elizabeth's other sisters and Lady Catherine all make appearances as well.

Overall, an entertaining and delightful read.

I read my personal copy, but you can purchase your own here.

Read 5/08

* * *

3/5 Stars

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Baker's Apprentice...Review

About the book:
Having found her calling, Wynter Morrison is blissful about her new career in Seattle as a baker -- cherishing the long days spent making bread and the comforting rhythms of the Queen Street Bakery. Still, she struggles with the legacy of her failed marriage and with her new boyfriend Mac's reluctance to share his mysterious past. When Mac abruptly leaves Seattle, Wyn again feels abandoned and betrayed, at least until intimate letters arrive in which Mac at last reveals his deepest secrets. But the more she learns about her absent lover, the more Wyn discovers about herself -- and when tragedy threatens, she will have to decide if there is a place for Mac in this new life she has made.

A sequel to Bread Alone and continues the story of Wynter Morrison. Wynter has stayed in Seattle and become a part owner of the bakery. The story explores her relationship with Mac and how she comes to mentor/mother Tyler.
The voice is the same and the bread recipes sound delicious. Mac leaves and ends up in the Yukon and begins to deal with his own issues, but communicates to Wyn by letter.

Wynter isn't as self-absorbed in this novel as she was in Bread Alone. I found her much more likeable here, but the novel still isn't anything spectacular. It's a nice story. It's left completely open for a potential third sequel.

Like Bread Alone, the "F" word is sprinkled throughout.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 5/08

* * *

3/5 Stars

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Chocolate Lovers' Club...Review

About the book:
The Chocolate Lovers’ Club brings together four very different women with one thing in common: they can't resist chocolate. This is an irresistible novel for anyone who wishes they were a member! Lucy Lombard can't resist it - rich, creamy, sweet, delicious chocolate. For her there's nothing it won't cure - from heartache to a headache - and she's not alone. Sharing her passion are three other addicts: Autumn, Nadia and Chantal. Together they form The Chocolate Lovers' Club. They meet in their sanctuary, Chocolate Heaven, as often as they can, and with a cheating boyfriend who promises he'll change, a flirtatious boss, a gambling husband and a loveless marriage, there's always plenty to discuss!

I was disappointed. I loved the premise: a group of women who get together to share their lives and love of chocolate, in a store called, "Chocolate Heaven." I'd love to be able to visit a place like that--sort of a Starbucks type chocolaterie. There were bits and pieces of the story that I enjoyed. The friendship and support between the women was great. I loved the scene when the girls get their revenge on the creep who stole Chantal's jewelry. Awesome revenge sequence!

But, I don't know how I can even admit this next part: there was too much talk of chocolate. It was unrealistic, and yes, I know, it's a novel so it can be unrealistic. But, there is no way that you can eat as much chocolate as these women do and still be fit and thin, even with occasional yoga classes.

There were several s*x scenes, and that was several more than I needed. There is also fairly liberal use of the "F" word, which I don't need either. Honestly, I can't recommend it.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  If you're so inclined, you can purchase your own copy here.

Read 5/08


1/5 Stars

Saturday, May 17, 2008

California Demon...Review

About the book:
Welcome to San Diablo. The perfect place to raise a couple of kids. And a lot of Hell.

What's a mother to do, when there are only so many hours in the day, and the fate of the world is in her hands?

Kate Connor was a retired demon hunter. Now, after fourteen years busting her tail as a suburban housewife, raising two kids, and supporting her husband s political ambitions, she s rejoined the workforce -- and except for a few minions of evil, no one has a clue. She tries hard to keep her home and work lives separate -- a good idea when your job involves random slaughter.

Between fending off demon attacks, trying to figure out why the mysterious new teacher at the high school seems so strangely familiar, and keeping a watchful eye on her daughter s growing infatuation with a surfer dude, Kate is the busiest -- and most dangerous-- soccer mom on the block...

I enjoyed the first book. I couldn't get into this one. I finally settled for skimming it. A definite disappointment. In theory, these could be fun books: a Buffy wannabe becomes a soccer mom, complete with teenager and toddler.

Unfortunately, this one wasn't a fun read. In fact, I just found the whole thing annoying. There was no point, no reason to keep reading. It was tiresome and repetitive.

Don't bother.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow instead of buy.  If you want to get one, you can do so here.

Read 5/08


1/5 Stars

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Host...Review

About the book:
The earth has been invaded by a species that take over the minds of their human hosts while leaving their bodies intact, and most of humanity has succumbed. But Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. Wanderer, the invading "soul" who has been given Melanie's body, knew about the challenges of living inside a human: the overwhelming emotions, the too vivid memories. But there was one difficulty Wanderer didn't expect: the former tenant of her body refusing to relinquish possession of her mind. Melanie fills Wanderer's thoughts with visions of the man Melanie loves--Jared, a human who still lives in hiding. Unable to separate herself from her body's desires, Wanderer yearns for a man she's never met. As outside forces make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, they set off to search for the man they both love.

It's no secret that I did not jump on the Twilight bandwagon. I put my name on the hold list at the library for The Host, however, because I wanted to see if Stephenie Meyer had improved in her storytelling. I'm happy to say, "Yes, she did. To a point."

I would like someone tell me what her fascination is with sappy, overly dramatic dialogue, 17-year old girls and over-protective older men who carry them while running? Because there are some definite similarities here.

I find it interesting that this novel is pegged for "adults" where the Twilight novels were pegged "young adult" as I don't see a great deal of difference, except for one main fact: Wanda and Melanie are likeable. Thank goodness. If one of them had shown up as whiny and annoying as Bella, I never would have finished the book. Well, I would have finished it, but only to say, "I told you so."

While I found a lot of similarity to the Twilight novels in her storytelling and in the details (over-protective older men, teenage girls, dramatic sappy dialogue, etc.) this was a much better story. Far more developed than I would have expected. It still takes her a long time to get to her main points, but I wasn't as bored with this one in the beginning as I was with Twilight.

I found the storyline fascinating: that aliens who invade other planets and take over the species, invade earth and take over the human bodies and then live as humans. Wanda is one of those aliens, a "soul" who takes over Melanie's body, only to find out that Melanie isn't quite ready to give it up. This is where Meyer's storytelling has improved. She crafted a story where the romance was secondary to the main plot, and I think that is why this book is so much better than her earlier attempts. She explores the idea of a person's soul or spirit and how an individual is defined as much by that spirit as by their physical body.

I thought her character development was well done. I liked these characters. I cared about them. I don't need to tell you that I never cared about Bella. I enjoyed the complexities that the storyline created. Wanda was affected by Melanie's memories and feelings and couldn't help but love the man Melanie loved. Then, when she found herself caring for a different man, the conflict is believable. The humans have a difficult time accepting Wanda, but when they do, she truly becomes one of them.

The novel ends neatly, with hope. Predictably there is room for a sequel, which I no doubt expect.

I'd actually re-read this book. I won't re-read the others.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 5/08

* * *

3/5 Stars

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Wake Up, I'm Fat!...Review

About the book:
You already know Camryn Manheim can act. She won the Emmy Award as the don't-mess-with-me attorney Ellenor Frutt on The Practice. Manheim made the ceremony itself entertaining by hoisting her trophy and hollering, "This is for all the fat girls!"

But can she write? Yes. This memoir is by turns funny ("If Barbie were a real woman, she'd have to walk on all fours due to her proportions") and excruciating. It helps that the material was honed in a one-woman show that sold out at New York's big-deal Public Theater, but the subject matter was strange and interesting in the first place. Manheim could not possibly be a less likely candidate for artistic and commercial success on TV. Born Debi Manheim in Peoria, the very metaphor for mainstream culture, Manheim re-created herself as a dozen-earringed California biker chick, a Renaissance Faire wench, a protester who helped drive the Miss California Pageant out of Santa Cruz, and one of 28 actors in America accepted at NYU's exclusive graduate school. In her book, Manheim gets even with her cruel, fat-bashing teachers; credits the director who gave her her first ingenue lead role (Tony Kushner, who cast her in
Fen); and tells how the same temper that got her booted from school and arrested also won her the TV role that made her name.

There's good gossip for drama buffs. Manheim ribs her famous boss David Kelley within an inch of her livelihood; rips into Celeste Holm for cattiness backstage in Clare Boothe Luce's
The Women; and opines that Bridget Fonda, whom she got naked next to in a movie, "could use a sandwich." But it's the private-life stuff that sticks with you. Read her touching, hilarious account of a personal-ad date from hell, and how she got even by picking up the hunky model who plays the Marlboro Man. She is not making this up!

I loved it. A quick, easy read. It is laugh-out-loud funny. Camryn shares her story: how she became an actress and the highs and lows along the way. She's forthright and funny. She doesn't apologize for who she is: a woman who happens to be fat.

What I found so interesting, is the perspective. Often when we meet people, our first reactions aren't that they're skinny or fat, our first reactions are how much we like or don't like them. But to someone with image issues, whatever our "issue" is, is what takes center stage in our minds. We assume that people are looking at us as fat, or they're only seeing the bad hair day or the blemish on our faces. We don't realize that, very often, those things are second place to them. I remember seeing Camryn accept her Emmy, and being surprised when she said, "This is for all the fat girls."

She always comes across as so poised and confident in her interviews, and I wouldn't think that she was nervous walking down the red carpet or that buying clothes could be a mortifying experience. I find myself surprised, but not surprised at her image issues. Her honesty is refreshing and I could connect with her on so many levels.

There is liberal use of the "F" word, so if that is something that normally bothers you, you will find it spread throughout the book.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 5/08

* * * *

4/5 Stars

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tending Roses...Review

About the book:
The lessons that most enrich our lives often come at unexpected moments and from unlikely places. That's what Katie Benson learns when she moves temporarily
with her husband Ben and baby sonto her grandmother's Missouri farm. She arrives at a time of crisis and indecisionstruggling with the demands of being a new mother, a not-so-new wife, and a well-meaning but often impatient granddaughter. The family has assigned her and Ben the job of convincing Grandma Rose, who's become increasingly stubborn and forgetful, to move off the land that means so much to her and into a nursing home. Katie knows such a change would break her grandmother's heart. But what is right for her grandmother? And what is right for herself and her family?

Just when Katie despairs of finding answers, she discovers her grandmother's journal. A beautiful handmade notebook, it is full of heartwarming stories that celebrate the virtue of patience, the power of love, and the importance of family, friendship, and faith. Stories that make Katie see her life
and her grandmotherin a completely new way... and lead her toward a new, more meaningful future...

I'd heard so many rave reviews about this book that I was tempted to not read it. Too much praise normally turns me off of books. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this one, which is based on the author's own experiences with her grandmother.

Kate Bowman and her husband arrive at her grandmother's farm to spend Christmas, but to also prepare the way for the rest of the family to inform Grandma that it's time to move to a care facility. Kate and her husband are young, up and comers, with an expensive lifestyle, and due to their newborn son's heart surgery, a lot of medical debt and unpaid medical leave.

While predictable, I loved the story of family. There were many areas in which I could relate to Kate: my newborn son had open-heart surgery, and while we all love each other, my family has had its own communication issues. Grandma Rose, realizing that Kate doesn't want to hear well-intentioned advice, writes stories of her life in a journal and then leaves that journal in places Kate will find it. Being curious, Kate reads the entries and along the way comes to understand not only her grandmother, but herself as well.

There are some beautiful quotes which are always attributed to Grandma Rose, but are quite profound. "Sometimes we must try to view the actions of those around us with forgiveness. We must realize that they are going on the only road they can see. Sometimes we cannot raise our chins and see eye to eye, so we must bow our heads and have faith in one another."

A touching novel that simply reminds you to slow down your life and enjoy the roses along your path.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 5/08

* * *

3/5 Stars

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Life is Just What You Make It...Review

About the book:
At age five, Donny Osmond first sang his way into North Americas heart. By the time he was a teenager, he had four separate careers successfully underway, as a solo artist, as a member of the Osmond Brothers, as part of a singing duo with his sister, Marie, and as the co-host of a highly successful network television variety show. But by the early 80s, public perception had changed, and Donny discovered that, thanks to his squeaky-clean image, his very name had become poison.

In this inspiring autobiography, Donny tells what it is like to survive the ups and downs of the entertainment business while trying to keep his faith, dignity, and sense of humor intact. He recalls memories of his experiences with a variety of celebrities, from Groucho Marx and Lucille Ball to Michael Jackson and Howard Stern. He shares how he finally achieved resolution through marriage, fatherhood, perseverance, and self-acceptance. And he recounts the long and difficult road leading to a renewed recording career, nearly two thousand triumphant performances in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and a new nationally syndicated talk show. The millions of people who watched Donny grow up are now embracing the man whose life and career exemplify the classic values that so many now share.

I'm an Osmond fan. I'll state that fact right up front! I reread this book recently and enjoyed it just as much as the first time. Donny shares his life and his career experiences. He's honest and forthright: at times his recollections are heart-breaking.

The Osmonds went through some incredible successes and just as incredible losses. As Donny talks about trying to find himself as an entertainer and the humiliations he endured, your heart just breaks for him. As he finds his comeback and transitions to his successful theater career, you cheer, even as he then struggles with social phobia. At no time does he ask for your pity, nor do you feel the need to offer it. When he talks about singing, "Puppy Love" as a heavy metal song in a concert, in response to some jeering bikers, you laugh out loud.

He's open about his faith and his family and the joy and frustrations that came from being an Osmond. The point that comes through in this book, over and over, is to believe in yourself. Your life is literally just what you make it, and even if you don't succeed in what you think you want the most, you still need to find a way to be happy.

I read my personal copy, but you can purchase your own here.

Read 5/08

* * * *

4/5 Stars

Monday, May 5, 2008

Bread Alone...Review

About the book:
Thirty-one-year-old Wynter Morrison is lost when her husband leaves her for another woman. Desperate for a change, she moves to Seattle, where she spends aimless hours at a local bakery sipping coffee and inhaling the sweet aromas of freshly-made bread. These visits bring back memories of the time she apprenticed at a French boulangerie, when her passion for bread-making nearly led her to leave college and become a baker.

Once again, the desire to bake bread consumes her thoughts. When offered a position at the bake shop, Wyn quickly accepts, hoping that the baking will help her move on. But soon Wyn discovers that the making of bread—the kneading of the dough—possesses an unexpected and wondrous healing power—one that will ultimately renew her heart and her soul.

I almost put it down and didn't finish it, but it is entertaining, for the most part. A romantic, coming-of-age book for adults. In LA, Wynter marries a rich man, lives a life of leisure and luxury and then her husband finds someone else and leaves. She's lost and angry and finds her way to Seattle, where her best friend lives. She looks back into her past and her love of baking and bread and gets a job in a bakery. Along the way, she makes some friends and learns about herself and her family, and comes to terms with issues and people in her life.

The book intersperses flashbacks of the time she spent in Toulouse, working in a boulangerie, and learning about the art of making bread. The author includes bread recipes and details about making it, which I found fascinating.

Although she's a bit shallow and selfish, there is a ring of truth to Wynter's voice. I can't say I liked her all that much, but as the story unfolds, she does sort of grow on you and you can find sympathy for her.

The *F* word is sprinkled throughout the book, and while not overused, it's also not necessary. There are also several love scenes that while not excessively graphic, do leave little to the imagination. Again, details like that aren't necessary to the story, as far as I'm concerned.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 5/08

* * *

3/5 Stars