Everyday Tidbits...

Be Kind. Do Good. Love is a Verb.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Still Life 2008, used with permission from Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage.

Happy Thanksgiving. May you find many reasons to be grateful today.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

White Christmas Pie...Review

About the book:
Step into Amish country for this bittersweet holiday romance. Here you'll meet Will Henderson, a young man tortured by his past, and Karen Yoder, a young woman looking for answers. Add a desperate father searching for his son, and you have all the ingredients for a first-class romance that will inspire and enthrall.

The Amish life fascinates me, and I've thoroughly enjoyed many of the Amish-themed books I've read. I've never read Wanda Brunstetter before, but she came highly rated and this one looked interesting.

The story centers around Will Henderson, an English boy who, at the age of 6, is left with an Amish couple. His father ostensibly plans to return for him, but through lost messages and miscommunications, never does. Will grows up believing that his father abandoned him. Predictably, as his impending wedding to Karen nears, Will finds that he harbors many doubts about his father and an unforgiving heart. Conveniently, at Thanksgiving, his father suddenly reappears in Will's life.

I'd call this Amish-light. It's a sweet novel with a great deal of unrealized potential. The characters are one-dimensional and the misunderstandings and lack of communication are far-fetched and unrealistic. The ending is convenient and contrived. Will and Karen and the rest of the cast don't inspire any compassion whatsoever. The recipe for the White Christmas Pie mentioned in the story is included in the book. My impression is that the author thought it would be a cute gimmick, but instead of a rich story with depth, we are left with the sugary fluff.

From other reviews I've seen, most of Brunstetter's books receive better reviews than this one has, so I will not count her out yet. Overall, a sweet story. A light, easy read. Nothing more.

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

Read 11/08

* * 
2/5 Stars

Monday, November 24, 2008

Peak...Review by the Boy

About the book:
After Peak Marcello is arrested for scaling a New York City skyscraper, he's left with two choices: wither away in Juvenile Detention or go live with his long-lost father, who runs a climbing company in Thailand. But Peak quickly learns that his father's renewed interest in him has strings attached. Big strings. He wants Peak to be the youngest person to reach the Everest summit--and his motives are selfish at best. Even so, for a climbing addict like Peak, tackling Everest is the challenge of a lifetime. But it's also one that could cost him his life. Roland Smith has created an action-packed adventure about friendship, sacrifice, family, and the drive to take on Everest, despite the incredible risk. Peak is a novel readers won't be able to put down.

This review is from E, my avid 10-year old reader. He dictated it so, for the most part, these are his words.
This book is about a boy named Peak whose dad gives him an opportunity to summit Mount Everest with him. If Peak makes it to the top before his 15th birthday, he will become the youngest person ever to summit Everest.

Peak and his dad go to Everest together. His dad has climbed before and so he often goes ahead of Peak because he's used to the lack of oxygen. Peak and his friend Sun-Jo, the grandson of a sherpa, climb together. This book is very descriptive and talks about the views and how difficult it is to climb Everest and even about the sicknesses you can get.

This book is really entertaining. It holds your attention. I had a hard time putting it down, even when I was at school. Seriously. I sometimes snuck in some reading during math. I could not put it down.

In this book, there is a sentence that says, "For a climber, saying that you are stopping by Everest is like saying you are stopping by to see God." This sentence is kind of true, because this is the biggest mountain in the world and one of the most amazing things you can see.

You definitely should read this book! It's one of the best books I've ever read!

Thanks to the school book fair where we were able to purchase a copy!  You can purchase your own copy here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Booking Through Thursday...Honesty

Today's Booking Through Thursday asks:

I receive a lot of review books, but I have never once told lies about the book just because I got a free copy of it. However, some authors seem to feel that if they send you a copy of their book for free, you should give it a positive review.

Do you think reviewers are obligated to put up a good review of a book, even if they don’t like it? Have we come to a point where reviewers *need* to put up disclaimers to (hopefully) save themselves from being harassed by unhappy authors who get negative reviews?

As always, another terrific question. I started reviewing books mostly by accident. I love to read and I wanted a way to keep track of what I read. I started this blog to do exactly that: keep track. My early reviews are pretty brief. I soon found though, that I liked writing up reviews and being creative. I started finding other book blogs and making new friends through Goodreads too. I was finding new books to read, many of which I wouldn't have read without first seeing a recommendation from someone else.

I think that honesty is very important. I, for one, want to know what someone really thinks about a book. I don't want a sanitized version of the jacket synopsis. I've tried to be honest in all my reviewing and because of that I've posted some negative reviews. Several negative reviews came from books I had received as ARCs for free. Did I relish writing negative reviews? No. But, I couldn't say that I liked a book when I didn't. I've had several authors comment on my reviews, but only one commented on a negative review. And, while they said they respected my opinion, it was clear that they'd taken offense. I felt bad for that, but I truly didn't like the book, and I found nothing redeeming about the main characters.

It can't be easy, as an author, to see negative reviews of something you've put your heart and soul into. Every writer has an idea in their mind of what they want their books to say and how they want them received. Every reader has expectations about books, whether from what is clearly printed on the back of the book, their own experiences or other reviews. To have every reader love and adore the book like they do is incredibly unrealistic for any author.

Should negative reviews be softened? Perhaps. On this one particular review, I did go back and softened a couple of sentences which, in hindsight, were probably unnecessarily harsh, but I didn't change my review.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've watched some of the drama on other blogs, with honest reviews and angry author responses. And, perhaps "disclaimers" on our blogs aren't a bad idea. I may work on one of those. But, I also think that if an author is going to send out a book for review, they should check out the blogger ahead of time. If the book is a legal thriller and that blogger hasn't been very positive about legal thrillers, then don't send them the book and expect a glowing review. And on the same note, I've become more selective about which ARCs I will review. For awhile, I just accepted every ARC that came my way, but after some experience, now, if I truly think I won't like it, I won't request or accept it.

Just my two cents. Go here for more Booking Through Thursday posts.

First Families: The Impact of the White House on Their Lives...Review

About the book:
The first book of its kind,
First Families will provide a lively look at how first families struggle to deal with the new life imposed on them, find a balance between their public and private selves, and create a family home amid the grandeur. Indeed, over the years the White House has taken on the character of a living force, shaping and warping the families it shelters.

First Families is the more than 200–year–old story of these wives, children, extended families and pets of 42 presidents who have lived in the White House, all with mixed feelings about the delights and drawbacks of the dwelling that is both a symbol and a home.

First Families weaves together the stories of presidents and their families, from George Washington to George W. Bush, to capture the intense ups and downs of their lives, both public and private, at the White House. In addition to chronicling dark moments in the lives of the first families and the nation––when presidents walked within the living rooms and bedrooms of White House determining whether or not to go to war––Bonnie Angelo also provides fascinating behind–the–scenes accounts of the illnesses and deaths of children and spouses within those same rooms, the stirrings of love, the squabbles of marriage, the joyful weddings of sons and daughters.

A fascinating account of life in the White House. What is it like being a First Family? How has life in the White House changed over the years? How was it different for Dolley Madison, Bess Truman and Jacqueline Kennedy? Which first ladies were beloved by all and which were the most difficult to like? Who is responsible for the Japanese cherry trees which blossom each April? Who was married in the White House and which presidential children got into the most trouble?

I found this an entertaining and easy book to read. Some stories I'd heard before, but most were new. Bonnie Angelo is a longtime correspondent for Time and reported on the White House for years. She's definitely done her research and shares many delightful anecdotes about past presidents and their first ladies and families, from George Washington to George W. Bush. We learn which First Ladies relished their roles and which ones were reluctant celebrities.

While Ms. Angelo cites many references, she doesn't do so until the end of the book. I found myself wishing that there were footnotes so that I could check references and sources, none of which are found in the actual text. She does have an extensive bibliography at the end of the book, many of which sound interesting and will probably end up on my reading list!

A lively, entertaining book about America's House. Simply enjoyable.

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

Read 11/08

* * * *

4/5 Stars

Friday, November 14, 2008

American Wife...Review

About the book:
A kind, bookish only child born in the 1940s, Alice Lindgren has no idea that she will one day end up in the White House, married to the president. In her small Wisconsin hometown, she learns the virtues of politeness, but a tragic accident when she is seventeen shatters her identity and changes the trajectory of her life. More than a decade later, when the charismatic son of a powerful Republican family sweeps her off her feet, she is surprised to find herself admitted into a world of privilege. And when her husband unexpectedly becomes governor and then president, she discovers that she is married to a man she both loves and fundamentally disagrees with–and that her private beliefs increasingly run against her public persona. As her husband’s presidency enters its second term, Alice must confront contradictions years in the making and face questions nearly impossible to answer.

While it has its interesting moments, this was one of those books that disappointed me and one I really struggled to finish. I'm not quite sure what I expected, but it wasn't this.

I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if it were a true work of fiction, with characters completely created from the author's imagination. There are some bibliographical references at the end of the novel about the books which inspired her to write this piece of work. The main character is modeled after Laura Bush, and while the author admits this, I wish she'd just written a biography about Mrs. Bush, rather than some thinly disguised piece of fiction. She's also modeled the Blackwell family after the Bush family, including the President, and having read several Bush biographies, I can definitely see her similarities.

I have always liked Laura Bush, and I'd certainly rather read a real biography/autobiography than a fictionalized one. While I'm sure this wasn't authorized or approved by Mrs. Bush, if it was me, I certainly wouldn't be happy knowing it was "based" on my life.

The book has moderate profanity and too many unnecessary s*x scenes, all of which are far too detailed and most are not necessary to the story line.

And the cover photo has nothing to do with the book. Nothing. At. All. Overall, a disappointment.

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

Read 11/08

1/5 Stars

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Doesn't She Look Natural?...Review

About the book:
How do you cope when God asks you to bury a dream? In this new series by best-selling author Angela Hunt, readers will meet Jennifer Graham, the no-nonsense chief of staff for a Virginia senator who quits her job after a divorce and finds herself an unemployed single mom. Forced to live with her mother until she can find work on Capitol Hill that does not involve her gregarious ex-husband, her efforts are stymied until she learns that she has inherited a funeral home in picturesque Mt. Dora. Jennifer journeys to the small Florida town with her two sons and her mother, never dreaming that within a mortuary she will discover she has inherited a rewarding career that teaches her far more about life than death.

After a painful divorce, Jennifer Graham finds that she has inherited a small-town funeral home from an elderly great uncle. Needing a fresh start, she and her children move from Virginia to Florida. The Fairlawn funeral home is in need of remodeling and repair, much like Jen's own life.

As Jen embarks on this new journey, she meets new people, makes new friends and learns about herself and her relationship with God along the way. The Christian theme is subtle throughout the book.

The story is light and predictable. Jen decides to keep Fairlawn, and run it, rather than sell it. There is very little depth and minor character development. It's a nice little story that had potential. I liked Jen. I loved Gerald. I thought the ex-husband was a cad, but there was also very little backstory and the conclusion was just a little too convenient for me.

My big complaint with this story is the narration. Jen's story is told in first-person, which I rarely like. The chapters then alternate between Jen and the other characters like her mom, Gerald, and her son. These supporting characters aren't written as first-person, but are an awkward present-tense third-person narrative. It was actually quite annoying and very distracting. The story would have been much stronger had the author maintained the same style throughout it.

I'd give this 2.5 stars. It's a good, not great, story that had a lot of unfulfilled potential.

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

Read 11/08

* * 
2.5/5 Stars

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Outsmart the MBA Clones...Review by the Doctor

About the book:
How can you be immensely successful for many years, and yet not be imitated by competitors? Impossible, you say. Not so. Virgin Atlantic, the Body Shop, Apple Computers, and Birkenstock they all achieved this status, and there are ample additional examples. They cracked the secret of successful differentiation that is not imitated and are adored by customers who think that they are incomparable. Dr. Dan Herman calls it an Unfair Competitive Advantage. It's not at all unethical. Everyone has a fair chance of attaining such an advantage including, every reader of this book.

There is a secret to successful differentiation that is not imitated. It is a psychological secret that has to do with the way your competitors think. Most marketers today are MBA graduates who tend to think and operate in typical and predictable ways - you might call them MBA Clones. You can take advantage of their biases and outsmart them. In this groundbreaking book, Dr. Dan Herman not only reveals the secret of successful differentiation that is not imitated but also supplies you with a comprehensive set of practical rules and tools that will enable you to make an unfair advantage your reality.

Dr. Herman, a competitive strategy consultant with vast global experience, a seasoned CMO in a large corporation, a branding professional and a businessman, does not tell you to 'think out of the box' as so many do he provides you with a new and comprehensive toolbox for success.

You'll learn:

-- The secret of successful differentiation that is not imitated
-- How to scan methodically for both strategic and tactical opportunities for success
-- How to integrate a business model, a competitive strategy and a brand concept to create a unitary 'unique success formula' for your company
-- How to create marketing hits short meteoric successes
-- How to use electrifying marketing, just-on-desire branding and the brand drama approach to build emotionally powerful brands, and many other useful additions to your profit-generating arsenal of concepts and methods.

Using a plethora of examples from top businesses around the world, Dr. Herman offers a business oriented-point of view that is fresh and different, and even humorous at times. Even though this book will turn your thinking inside out, everything in it is practical and easily applicable in any kind of business.

This was another book that I thought would interest my husband, so when I was offered the chance to review this book, I took it. He read it and what follows is his review.
I have a simple rating for business books. It goes like this: Did I get something from the book that will increase my income by at least 5x the cost of the book. If so, then it was a worthwhile read.

I liked it. It’s not the most easy read, which I believe may have something to do with the fact that it’s translated into English, but it’s certainly not badly written. If you want to get a different viewpoint on customer/client psychology and have your ideas widened a little, then this is a book worth your time.

I’d give it a B.

Thanks to Pump Up Your Book Promotion for the opportunity to review this book. You can find out more about the book and the author, Dan Herman, here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Peaceful Endings – The NOPOSAM Project...Review by the Doctor

About the book:
A chilling tale of Nanotechnology

Peaceful Endings: The NOPOSAM Project, is a time labeled techno thriller set on the landscape of Rhode Island over two and a half days, where some doubtful government ethics go astray. When Coventry General Hospital overflows with sick patients that are dying from extremely minor injuries, trauma specialist, Dr. Marilynn Harwell, is bound and determined to stop it. Harwell's chance meeting with Doug Talbot, a television cameraman for Channel 16, entwines the two in a race against time to find an antidote. When General Thomas Uxbridge, head of the SIA, a man with his own agenda, puts the two under suspicion, their own lives become threatened, leading to two climactic endings.

When I was offered the chance to review this book, I asked Alan if he thought it sounded interesting to him. He said yes. So, what follows is his review.
As a quick read--this was o.k. The plot was a little simplistic, which kind of spoilt the ending. Some books you read wondering how it’s going to end--this one you read wondering how the author will get you to the ending you’ve already worked out way beforehand.

The characterisations were rather one dimensional--the good guys were good, the bad guys were bad, and there wasn’t any form of development on either side. I like real characters--ones who have failings, and personal dichotomies. Show me someone in life who is one dimensional and I’ll show you either a fanatic or a fool.

Is this a book to buy--not if it’s the only one you’re buying this week. Is this a book to pick up at the library--sure.

I’d give it a B-.
Thanks to Bostick Communications for the opportunity to read this book. You can find out more about the book and the author, Michael K. Tucker, here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

When the Soul Mends...Review

About the book:
Rumors and lies left Hannah’s life in tatters; can the truth possibly stitch it back together?

Having fled in disgrace more than two years earlier, Hannah finally has found happiness in the Englischer world, as well as love with Martin Palmer, a man with whom she can safely entrust her heart. But almost immediately after her arrival in Owl’s Perch, the disapproval of those who ostracized her reopens old wounds.

As Hannah encounters former fiancë Paul Waddell, truths unknown to her surface about the events during her absence and she faces an agonizing decision. Will she choose the Englischer world and the man who restored her hope, or will she return to the Plain Life-and perhaps her first love?

The concluding book to the Sisters of the Quilt series, this picks up literally at the end of the second one, When the Morning Comes. After receiving a troubling phone call from her sister, Hannah returns to Owl's Perch to find her dear friend Matthew injured in a fire and his brother dead. She finds that belief in the rumors and lies which drove her away still lingers in the hearts of some of her people. She can see her sister suffering from mental illness and her father in denial of that illness. Hannah, now a nurse, is thrown together with her former fiance Paul, now a family counselor, as they try and get her sister the help she needs.

As Hannah reconnects with Paul, will she find that her love for him has never dimmed, or will she choose to return to Martin and the English life to which she has adapted? Will her father ever accept her? Can they all find forgiveness as lies and the circumstances under which Hannah left are exposed?

Cindy Woodsmall has crafted a terrific conclusion to her trilogy. The characters continue to be compelling and you really care about them. I think she's done a terrific job of detailing the Old Order Amish, Mennonite and English worlds, and how they can and cannot mesh. Although the ending was somewhat predictable, I found it satisfying how everything worked out and who ended up with whom.

I found it interesting that the quilt of the series title isn't a more substantial part of the books. The "Past and Present" quilt that Hannah starts in the first book is mentioned in all of the books and finally comes full circle in the end, but almost as an afterthought. I would have thought the quilt would find more prominence throughout the story.

An easy, enthralling read.

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

Read 10/08

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Sunday, November 2, 2008

When the Morning Comes...Review

About the book:
Her relationship with former fiancé Paul Waddell in tatters, Hannah Lapp has fled her home in hopes of finding refuge with another Amish outcast, her shunned Aunt Zabeth in Ohio. Hampered by limited education and hiding her true identity, Hannah struggles to understand the confusing world of the Englischers and embrace unfamiliar freedoms, but a deepening friendship with the handsome Martin Palmer renews her courage to face the future.

Meanwhile, Hannah’s absence and the distressing events that led to her disappearance create turmoil among her loved ones in Owl’s Perch, Pennsylvania. Her father stubbornly refuses to search for her or to acknowledge increasing signs of instability in daughter Sarah, who suffers secret guilt over her sister’s ruined reputation. Fiancé Paul Waddell is wracked with regret over his betrayal of Hannah’s trust and is concerned with her whereabouts. He befriends Hannah’s remaining allies–brother Luke, best friend Mary, and loyal Matthew Esh–trying to convince them to help search for his love.

The second book in the Sisters of the Quilt series, this book picks up from the end of the first book. Hannah has fled Owl's Perch and sought refuge in Ohio with the aunt she never knew. Her Aunt Zabeth was shunned years before and she shows Hannah the love and understanding that her family couldn't give her. Believing that her relationship with Paul is over, she finds new hope and romance with Martin, an Englischer raised by Aunt Zabeth.

Hannah finds a purpose and career in nursing and as she becomes more comfortable in the English world, finds herself torn between her new life and her old one. When tragedy strikes those she loves back in Owl's Perch, she knows she must return. But, will she come back to Ohio?

A quick read. I found myself anxious for the next book. You really learn a lot about the Old Order Amish, and much of it isn't positive. The people live a simple life, yes, but it is a life very much restricted by the man who is their bishop. There is little talk of forgiveness, the whole focus is on doing what is right, regardless of your personal wants or desires. It is in the world of the English where Hannah truly learns where her faith lies and how God speaks to her.

After Hannah leaves the order, several of her family members begin talking about the situation and realize that she was, indeed, telling the truth about her assault. But, can they bring her back and does she want to return? That becomes the question.

The side story of her sister Sarah's psychological issues is interesting. I will be curious to see how it plays out.

Overall, a heartwarming, enthralling read.

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

Read 10/08

* * *
3/5 Stars