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Monday, December 29, 2008

The Christmas Sweater...Review

About the book:
If you could change your life by reversing your biggest regrets, sorrows and mistakes...would you? New York Times bestselling author and renowned radio and television host Glenn Beck delivers an instant holiday classic about boyhood memories, wrenching life lessons, and the true meaning of the gifts we give to one another in love. We weren't wealthy, we weren't poor -- we just were. We never wanted for anything, except maybe more time together....When Eddie was twelve years old, all he wanted for Christmas was a bike. Although his life had gotten harder -- and money tighter -- since his father died and the family bakery closed...Eddie dreamed that somehow his mother would find a way to have his dream bike gleaming beside their modest Christmas tree that magical morning. What he got from her instead was a sweater. "A stupid, handmade, ugly sweater" that young Eddie left in a crumpled ball in the corner of his room.

Scarred deeply by the realization that kids don't always get what they want, and too young to understand that he already owned life's most valuable treasures, that Christmas morning was the beginning of Eddie's dark and painful journey on the road to manhood. It will take wrestling with himself, his faith, and his family -- and the guidance of a mysterious neighbor named Russell -- to help Eddie find his path through the storm clouds of life and finally see the real significance of that simple gift his mother had crafted by hand with love in her heart. Based on a deeply personal true story, The Christmas Sweater is a warm and poignant tale of family, faith and forgiveness that offers us a glimpse of our own lives -- while also making us question if we really know what's most important in them.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought it was a completely true story, but Glenn explains at the end that while it was a true story, he novelized his experiences and condensed them into this book. Whatever the reason, the Christmas Sweater is a must-read story of faith and forgiveness.

Eddie's father has died and his mother works 4 jobs to provide for him. As Christmas approaches, all he wants is a bike. What he finds under the tree instead, is a hand-made sweater which, at first, represents all that is missing in his life. But, as we read Eddie's story and the experiences that follow, we find, as he does, that the pathway of life isn't always easy, but with God's love, you can get through it and even enjoy the journey along the way.

I didn't like Eddie at first. He was a selfish boy even before his dad died, but afterwards he became downright prickly. He pushes everyone away with his ugly accusations and cruelty. Then, through some remarkable, spiritual experiences, he finally comes to understand that he is not alone: God loves him and his family loves him.

Some might say the book is predictable and full of platitudes, but I found it thought-provoking and compelling. There is a ring of truth to the lessons that Eddie learns. Lessons we can all learn from. This is a book that I know I will read again.

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

Read 12/08

* * * *

4/5 Stars

Through the Storm...Review

About the book:
We all want our children to succeed. What happens when they do?

Britney Spears wanted to sing ever since she was a little girl. But the years of sacrifices, auditions, performances, albums, fame, and paparazzi left the little Louisiana family swept up and spun around, and nothing turned out the way anyone ever imagined or wanted. Now Lynne shares the inside story of the Spears family as only a mother can.

Through the Storm takes readers outside the narrow orbit of the Hollywood glitterati. Lynne shares how fame forever changed their family; her regrets letting managers, agents, and record companies direct the lives of her children; the challenges that shaped Lynne and Jamie's failed marriage and how they affected Bryan, Britney, and Jamie Lynn; the startling events that led to Britney's breakdown; the aftermath of Jamie Lynn's pregnancy; and how the family has tried pulling together to recapture a sense of hope and purpose.

Through the Storm, says Lynne, is "the story of one simple Southern woman whose family got caught in a tornado called fame, and who is still trying to sort through the debris scattered all over her life in the aftermath. It's who I am, warts and all, with some true confessions that took a long time to get up the nerve to discuss."

I liked this book more than I thought I would. I figured it would be some tabloid-esque piece of trivia. What I found, instead, was a thoughtful book written by a loving mother. Lynne shares her story and that of her famous family. She shares the ups and downs as well as her fears.

An incredibly easy book to read and while somewhat shallow and trivial, I came away with the impression that Lynne was very naive and trusting when it came to allowing her daughters to pursue their dreams of entertaining. She blindly trusted too many people, rather than educating herself about the entertainment world and taking an active role in her daughters' careers.

I also understood her fear and distrust of the media. I believe very little of what I read and hear reported by media outlets. I think that the entertainment media, especially, have a distinct lack of integrity in their reporting.

I don't follow Britney Spears in the media. I really don't care about her or her life. I did, however, appreciate the viewpoint her mother gives about how difficult life in the public eye can be. I'm sure that Lynne Spears is a loving, concerned mother just like the rest of us. Parenting itself is difficult, parenting in a fishbowl must be a nightmare.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.

Read 10/08

* * 

2/5 Stars

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fall Into Reading 2008 Challenge Wrap-Up

It's time to wrap up my Fall Into Reading 2008 Challenge list. Katrina at Callapidder Days hosted the challenge and, as always, it was fun.

I read 26 books. Some of them were on my original list, but most were just added as I found them or they came up on my list in the library. Most I liked, some I didn't.

I read some delightful Christmas Books, including The Paper Bag Christmas, by Kevin Milne, and Finding Father Christmas and Engaging Father Christmas, by Robin Gunn. I had my first taste of an author responding to a negative review when I reviewed Chasing Diana, by Jack and Robin Firestone. I thoroughly enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Schaffer, but was disappointed in Going Down South, by Bonnie Glover.

The books I read are as follows, in reverse order and all have been reviewed here on the book blog.

Your Roots are Showing, Elise Chidley
Let Them Eat Cake, Sandra Byrd
More Letters from Pemberley, Jane Dawkins
White Christmas Pie, Wanda Brunstetter
First Families: The Impact of the White House on Their Lives, Bonnie Angelo
American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld
Doesn't She Look Natural?, Angela Hunt
When the Soul Mends, Cindy Woodsmall
When the Morning Comes, Cindy Woodsmall
The Paper Bag Christmas, Kevin Alan Milne
Going Down South, Bonnie Glover
Dark Pursuit, Brandilyn Collins
When the Heart Cries, Cindy Woodsmall
The Quilter's Kitchen, Jennifer Chiaverini
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Schaffer
One Perfect Day, Lauraine Snelling
Engaging Father Christmas, Robin Gunn
Finding Father Christmas, Robin Gunn
Chasing Diana, Jack Firestone
The Secret Journal of Brett Colton, Kay Lynn Mangum
Sisters, Ink., Rebeca Seitz
Midwife of the Blue Ridge, Christine Blevins
Matrimony, Joshua Henkin
Nice to Come Home to, Rebecca Flowers
Talk of the Town, Lisa Wingate
The Tenth Case, Joseph Teller

Thanks Katrina, for hosting this. I read anyway, but it's fun to have a little challenge to motivate me along. I'm now off to find another challenge. Any suggestions?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Your Roots Are Showing...Review

About the book:
Lizzie Buckley has a life many women dream of - a gorgeous husband, a beautiful home and darling (when they're not fighting) three-year-old twins. But ever since the birth of her children, she's had a fantasy about locking herself in her bedroom for twenty-four hours with a good book and a box of chocolates.

Unfortunately, her husband James doesn't understand her feelings. And when Lizzie unburdens herself in a flaming email to her sister Janie, then hits send at the wrong moment and accidentally shoots it off to James instead, her fairytale life gets a big dose of reality. With the word "divorce" ringing in her ears, Lizzie finds herself moving out and embarking on a totally different life - working hard to reinvent herself as a runner, a gardener, and a writer of children's books.

But despite transforming her body, her neglected career, and her libido (courtesy of the local landscape gardener), Lizzie can't get over her soon-to-be ex. As Lizzie discovers, sometimes the fairytale ending is just the beginning of the real story.

Lizzie Buckley has what appears to be a perfectly wonderful life: a lovely home, a handsome husband and two beautiful twin toddlers. But, as so often happens to tired young mothers, she suffers from exhaustion, some depression and a decreased desire for s*x. She writes an email to her sister, venting about her frustrations and, unfortunately, sends it to her husband by mistake.

What follows is a charming novel about life and love, and family and friends, and what happens when two people who really love each other forget how to communicate. After her husband leaves, Lizzie must pick up the pieces of her life and put it back together. As she does this, she finds herself again.

A funny, enthralling novel set in contemporary England. Lizzie's voice rings true and while you both cringe and laugh at her antics and misjudgments, you cry with her frustrations.

Elise Chidley captures what it's like to be a wife and mother. A terrific debut novel. I can't wait for more.

Thanks to Hatchette Books for the opportunity to review this book. You can find out more about Elise Chidley here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 12/08

* * * *

4/5 Stars

Monday, December 8, 2008

Twilight the Movie

Disclaimer: I haven't seen the film version of Twilight. I borrowed the books from the library. I don't plan to see the movie, at least until it's at the Dollar Theater or even a nearby Red Box.

It's no secret that I'm not a Twilight junkie. I even liked Breaking Dawn the best.

Stephenie Meyer claims to have been inspired by Pride and Prejudice. (Not my Pride and Prejudice anyway.) If you want to read a terrific review of not just the film, but of Edward and Bella and their whole twisted non Darcy/Elizabeth relationship, read this blog post. Then come back and tell me what you think. I tend to agree: Bella is no heroine and Edward is simply a pretty boy who, despite his years of immortality, has never grown up.

Gosh, I miss Angel. He had a purpose. He wore leather jackets. And his heroines? Cordelia and Buffy. Now there were girls to be reckoned with.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Let Them Eat Cake...Review

About the book:
Lexi Stuart is at a critical crossroads. She’s done with college but still living at home, ready to launch a career but unable to find a job, and solidly stalled between boyfriends.

When a lighthearted conversation in French with the manager of her favorite bakery turns into a job offer, Lexi accepts. But the actual glamour is minimal: the pay is less than generous, her co-workers are skeptical, her bank account remains vertically-challenged, and her parents are perpetually disappointed. Her only comfort comes from the flirtatious baker she has her eye–but even may not be who he seems to be!

So when a handsome young executive dashes into the bakery to pick up his high profile company’s special order for an important meeting–an order Lexi has flubbed– she loses her compulsion to please. “What am I going to do?” he shouts. “Let them eat cake!” she fires back with equal passion and a nod to Marie Antoinette. And then, something inside Lexi clicks. Laissez la révolution commencer! Let the revolution begin! Instead of trying to fulfill everyone else’s expectations for her life, Lexi embarks on an adventure in trusting God with her future–très bon!

Definitely chick-lit. Light and fluffy with very little depth or substance. Lexi is a college graduate going from job to job. Her degree is impractical, having something to do with French culture and literature. She moves back home, only to find that her parents are in the midst of preparing to sell their home and move to a retirement community. Predictably, Lexi's choices disappoint them. However, Lexi loves all things French and is determined to find employment that will indulge her.

When a casual conversation with the manager of a French bakery leads to a job offer, Lexi jumps in only to find that the pay is inadequate and the staff are difficult. The story is fairly predictable, but Lexi is likeable. She's real, there is nothing fairy-tale about the story. She says the wrong things at times and makes mistakes. Her family is annoying, but whose isn't at times? The story is Christian, without being preachy or religious.

Overall, a light, enjoyable read.

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

Read 11/08

* * *

3/5 Stars

More Letters from Pemberley...Review

About the book:
Letters from Pemberley, Jane Dawkins's popular continuation of Pride and Prejudice, described Elizabeth Bennet's first year at Pemberley as the newly wed Mrs. Darcy. More Letters from Pemberley picks up the story in 1814 and follows the life of one of literature's best loved figures for another six years to the twilight of the Regency period in 1819.

Again incorporating Jane Austen's own words and characters from her other works (who appear with different names, either associated with Austen's life, borrowed from another of her novels, or a word-play on their original name), Jane Dawkins has pieced together another literary patchwork quilt. The result is an entertaining and satisfying tale which …will surely delight Jane Austen fans, and please the many readers of
Letters from Pemberley who asked for more.

I enjoyed this book much more than the first one. The story picks up where the previous one left off, in 1814 and follows Elizabeth and Darcy for another 6 years. The letters are written by Elizabeth to her sister Jane, her Aunt Gardiner, and Charlotte Lucas, among others. In this story, Elizabeth has matured and grown in her roles as wife, mother and mistress of Pemberley.

The story has more drama in it, but birth and death are a part of life and, for the most part, I felt the situations created here were plausible. Darcy's accident was a bit overly dramatic, but not distracting. No one can replace Jane Austen, and no one can recreate the voice of Elizabeth Bennet. However, this is a charming book and very easy read. I think it might have been richer though, if we could have read the responses to Elizabeth's letters.

My only complaint is the same one I had with the first book. Jane Dawkins thought it would be interesting to incorporate some of Austen's other characters into both novels. All have different names and I found it confusing and distracting. With some, it was obvious as who they were supposed to be, but with others is was more annoying. Again, a cute idea that fell flat.

Overall, an easy enjoyable read.

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

Read 11/08

* * *

3/5 Stars