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Monday, March 30, 2009

Musing Monday

This week's Musing Monday asks:

Do you keep track of what and/or how many books you read? How long have you been doing this? What's your favorite tracking method, and why? If you don't keep track, why not?

I've been keeping track of what I've read since about the time I started this blog, which would be October of 2007. I wanted a place to review the books I'd read and so I started this blog. About the same time, I was introduced to Goodreads and loved it.

I love having a place to keep track of the books I want to read as well, and Goodreads is perfect for that. I love using Goodreads along with my local library. I look at the Goodreads list and then go to the library's online site and request whatever books I want or what they have available. When the books are ready, I walk in and pick them up and walk out. It's awesome. I'm a member of Shelfari, but I found that after I'd found Goodreads and I didn't want to transfer everything over or use more than one application, so I've stayed with Goodreads. It has what I need (except the ability to give 1/2 stars in your reviews).

I love having the blog to review books as well, because I've met a lot of great readers and found so many book recommendations that I never would have found otherwise.

Check out more Musing Monday's here.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Lady of High Regard...Review

About the book:
Born into affluence, Mia Stanley is a winsome socialite with a knack for matchmaking. She's also a writer for Godey's Lady's Book magazine, much to the disdain of her family and their society friends. A proper young lady of her social standing isn't meant to labor in such a way, but Mia has always had a way with words...

When her writing draws her into the world of downtrodden seamen's wives on Philadelphia's docks, Mia uncovers a scheme that puts her in harm's way. But her heart ends up on the line as well.... Has her determination to always make a match driven away the one man whose esteem she covets?

A fun little historical read mixed with some romance and suspense. Mia Stanley is a wealthy young socialite in 19th century Philadelphia. She works for Godey's Lady's Book magazine, much to the chagrin of her proper parents. Mia's talent for matchmaking has brought her friends husbands, but none for herself.

Unsatisfied with simply writing about fashion, Mia's interests draw her into the world of the poor, downtrodden seamen's wives on the Philadelphia docks. Women who are terrorized and abused by their landlords, while their husbands are away or dead.

Mia feels called by God to help these women, but her desires to serve them put her in harm's way. Her closest friend, Garrett, finds himself falling in love with her even as he is frustrated with her lack of judgment and her compulsion to put herself in danger.

Christian without being overly preachy, the characters are likeable and the story is interesting. A compelling, yet easy read.

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

Read 3/09

* * *

3/5 Stars

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Petticoat Ranch...Review

About the book:
Sophie Edwards is doing just fine, until a strange-yet oddly familiar-man rides into her life, insisting on rescuing her and her four daughters. Can she find a way to love a headstrong mountain man? When Clay McClellan discovers his brother has been murdered, he's bent on finding the killers and seeing them properly hung. But first his Christian duty demands that he marry his sister-in-law. After all, Sophie needs someone to protect her - right? Faith and love help unruly wed newlyweds find common ground and a chance at love on the Texas frontier.

The first book in the Lassoed in Texas series by Mary Conneally. You can find the review for the third book, Gingham Mountain, here.

Sophie Edwards is a spunky widow raising 4 daughters alone in the Texas wilderness, after her husband, Cliff, was murdered by marauding outlaws. When his twin brother, Clay, shows up determined to do his Christian duty and marry his brother's widow, Sophie isn't sure she wants a man around. She's feisty and independent and doing just fine on her own.

The man who killed her husband still wants her ranch and has no qualms about killing her himself, in order to get it.

I read this mostly out of curiosity. I thought the characters were a bit more developed here than in the third one, but I found the story fairly contrived and hokey. Especially that Sophie's old friend, Adam and Clay's friend, Luther, could "hear" Sophie's pleas to God for help, and then knew where to go to find her.

Like the third one, it's a light, Christian read and a nice diversion when you want something light. Nothing stellar about it. I don't think I'll bother with the second book, Calico Canyon, although the main character in that story, is introduced here.

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

Read 3/09

* *
2/5 Stars

The Duggars: 20 and Counting!...Review

About the book:
This practical, positive book reveals the many parenting strategies that Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar use as they preside over America's best-known mega-family. Each time a new baby arrives, the press from around the world clamors for interviews and information. Visitors are amazed to find seventeen (baby number eighteen is due January 1, 2009) well-groomed, well-behaved, well-schooled children in a home that focuses on family, financial responsibility, fun—and must importantly, faith.

Readers will learn about the Duggars' marriage—how they communicate effectively, make family decisions, and find quality time alone. They'll discover how the Duggars manage to educate all their children at home, while providing experiences that go beyond the family walls, through vacations and educational trips. And they'll see how the Duggar family manages their finances and lives debt-free—even when they built their own 7,000-square-foot house.

Answering the oft asked question—How can I do with one or two children what you do with seventeen(soon to be eighteen)?—Jim Bob and Michelle reveal how they create a warm and welcoming home filled with what Michelle calls “serene chaos.” They show how other parents can succeed whether they're rearing a single child or several. With spiritual insights, experience-based wisdom,  practical tips, and plenty of humorous and tender anecdotes, the Duggars answer the questions that pour into the family's Web site on a daily basis—especially after every national media interview and TV appearance—including their segments on the Discovery Health Channel's “Meet the Duggars” series.

While I am, admittedly, not a television watcher, I have seen one or two of the shows about the Duggar family. They fascinate me. So, when I saw that this book was available, I picked it up at the library.

Jim-Bob and Michelle Duggar are an Arkansas couple with 18 children. Their oldest is 20 and recently married, and the youngest is an infant. They share their story: how they each grew up, how they met and fell in love and how they came to have so many children. They also share their financial history: how and why they made the decisions they made and how those decisions came to affect who they are today. How they came to be on the Discovery Channel and how they built their home is also documented.

After their first son was born, Michelle went on birth control pills. When she had a miscarriage, their doctor said that it was likely because of the birth control. They decided, then, that they wouldn't dictate how many children they had, but that they would let God decide.

They home school with a Christian-based curriculum. The book shares their ideas for raising and disciplining children, as well as managing a large family. I found many of the ideas interesting and sound. I admire them for the way they do everything with a God-based foundation. I don't understand their "Fundamental Christian" faith. Regular church attendance doesn't seem to be a part of it, and they admit to "using Old Testament teachings even though as New Testament Christians they don't apply". I don't understand that selective Christianity.

In the interviews and excerpts from the show that I've seen, Michelle is very sweet. I don't think she ever loses her temper. I only have two children and I have never managed that calm sweetness. I do admire the fact that they honestly seem like a happy, healthy, well-adjusted family. Sprinkled throughout the book are favorite family recipes as well as email questions they've received and their, or sometimes their children's answers. There is also an extensive reference section.

Overall, an interesting, easy read.

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

Read 3/09

* * *

3/5 Stars

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet...Review

About the book:
In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.

This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While “scholarshipping” at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship–and innocent love–that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel’s dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice–words that might explain the actions of his father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.

Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

A completely enthralling story. I figured it would keep me busy for an entire 5 hour drive. I finished it in two. Written as a memoir and alternating between World War 2 and 1986, the novel tells the story of Henry Lee, a young Chinese-American boy living in 1940's Seattle.

Now an adult, Henry's wife has died and his son is somewhat distant. While out, Henry passes the Panama hotel one day in 1986 and sees that the new owner has found many old possessions left there by Japanese-Americans before they were sent to internment camps. The sight of an old Japanese parasol takes Henry back to his youth during World War 2.

Henry's father is anti-Japanese, obsessed with the war in China and while he wants his son to grow up American, he also yearns to send Henry back to China for schooling. Henry has no friends, except one: a young, black, Jazz-playing street musician named Sheldon. Henry is sent to an exclusive school and there meets Keiko Okabe, a Japanese-American girl and the only other Asian student. The two become fast, secret friends and eventually fall in love. When Keiko's family is sent to an internment camp, Henry fears losing her forever.

I found the story compelling. Easy to read, it completely captured my attention. I thought the characters were colorful and well-developed enough for the story. This time in history was tragic. I have such respect for those who were sent away to the relocation camps and reacted to the situation with dignity.

I did have my frustrations with this book, mainly that the Internet as we know it today, did not exist in 1986. On-line support groups, such as the grief one what Henry's son joins, were unheard of at that time. I also had some concerns as to the actual historical time lines, but those were easy to suspend. If the author bent some of history's dates to suit his story, it didn't really bother me. I thought it wrapped up well.

A terrific debut novel.

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

Read 3/09

Friday, March 20, 2009

She Always Wore Red...Review

About the book:
Jennifer Graham--mother, student, and embalmers apprentice--could use a friend. She finds one in McLane Larson, a newcomer to Mt. Dora, and is delighted to learn that the young woman is expecting a baby. While McLane's soldier-husband serves overseas, Jen promises to support McLane and then learns that her tie to this woman goes far deeper than friendship. When a difference of opinion threatens their relationship, Jennifer discovers weaknesses in her own character . . . and a faith far stronger than she had imagined. 

A sequel to Doesn't She Look Natural?, the story picks up several months later. Jennifer Graham is now taking courses to become a mortician. She seems to have settled into the Mt. Dora community and her boys are making friends. Gerald still works at the funeral home and surprise, surprise, Jennifer's unknown half-sister arrives, bringing her own drama.

For the coverage of such serious issues as racism and abortion, the story is still very light and trite, with little depth or character development. McLane seems to be a good addition, but her father is a stereotyped caricature rather than a developed character.

Predictably, the story wraps up neatly, although it's not a completely happy ending. Christian lessons are learned along the way.

My big complaint with this story is the same one I had with the first book: 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 sister, Gerald, and her son. These supporting characters aren't written as first-person, but are an awkward present-tense third-person narrative. It was very annoying and quite distracting. The story would have been much stronger had the author maintained the same style throughout it.

Like the first one, I'd give it 2.5 stars if I could. Good, not great.

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

Read 3/08

* *
2.5/5 Stars

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Booking Through Thursday...Worst 'Best' Book

Today's Booking Through Thursday question:

Suggested by Janet: How about, “What’s the worst ‘best’ book you’ve ever read — the one everyone says is so great, but you can’t figure out why?”

This one is fairly easy if you're looking at contemporary books: the entire Twilight series. Hello? Still don't get it. Twilight and New Moon were just painful to get through, Eclipse wasn't bad and I thought Breaking Dawn was the best of the bunch. But, the series as a whole? Didn't care for it. Don't get the hype. It's like really bad fan fiction.

I'd heard rave things about Going Down South, A Walk with Jane Austen, and The Jane Austen Book Club, but didn't like any of them. And what's up with Memoirs of a Geisha? I still don't get the appeal of that one. I don't really care for Nicholas Sparks or James Patterson either: the stories are sad, depressing and all the same. As far as classics go? I've always hated Catcher in the Rye, which is heralded as a great 'coming of age' novel. Maybe so, but I didn't like it.

It's always interesting to read reviews and find that someone adores a book you hated or hates a book you think is terrific. What 'best' book did you find difficult to read?

Go here for more interesting Booking Through Thursday posts.

Saffron Dreams...Review

About the book:
You don't know you're a misfit until you are marked as an outcast.
From the darkest hour of American history emerges a mesmerizing tale of tender love, a life interrupted, and faith recovered. Arissa Illahi, a Muslim artist and writer, discovers in a single moment that no matter how carefully you map your life, it is life itself that chooses your destiny. 

After her husband's death in the collapse of the World Trade Center, the discovery of his manuscript marks Arissa's reconnection to life. Her unborn son and the unfinished novel fuse in her mind into one life-defining project that becomes, at once, the struggle for her emotional survival and the redemption of her race. Saffron Dreams is a novel about our ever evolving identities and the events and places that shape them. It reminds us that in the midst of tragedy, our dreams can become a lasting legacy. 

Fascinating. A fictionalized story, written as a memoir. Arissa is a young Pakistani-American woman who loses her husband in the 9/11 tragedy. Pregnant with a special-needs child, she struggles to find her place in this post 9/11 world. A world without her beloved husband, and a world where many people do not understand the life and faith of Muslims.

Arissa's story is told first-person through flashbacks and present day. Her childhood in Pakistan is covered: an affluent family, a loving father, an emotionally absent mother, and an arranged marriage with the man who would be her true love.

After her husband's death at the World Trade Center, Arissa discovers that her unborn child will have multiple disabilities. Her strength, as she moves forward with her life is remarkable and inspiring. With the support of her in-laws she takes on her challenges. Her son is born and becomes the center of her life. She discovers her husband's unfinished novel and sets out to finish it, and ensure that her husband is not forgotten.

A beautifully descriptive novel: full of color and flavor. A fascinating tale of love and loss, tragedy and triumph, and following your dreams even when they take you on an unexpected journey.

Thanks to Pump Up Your Book Promotion for the opportunity to review this book.

You can find out more about Shaila Abdullah here. You can read other reviews of this book here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 3/08

* * *

3/5 Stars

Red, White and Blue...Review

About the book:
"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Emily Benton is ready to take her place in the Oval Office, but her closest adviser, Kate Rosen, is plagued with doubts.As a person of faith, Kate owes her allegiance to a power higher than a mere political machine. And though Emily has shown some regret over past choices shes made, Kate fears that her best friend will still be corrupted by her quest for power. Soon Kate is torn between helping Emily stay at the top or bringing her down before she can remake America in her own image.

When scandal brings the presidency to the brink of disaster, Kate must weigh the bonds of loyalty and duty, ambition and submission, and choose to stand and fight . . . or walk away.

A sequel to America the Beautiful. Emily Benton has been elected President of the United States and has asked Kate Rosen, her best friend and campaign manager, to be her Chief of Staff.

After Emily's election victory, Kate realizes that she doesn't know her best friend as well as she thought. She tries to overlook small betrayals and Emily's ever increasing ability to blur the lines of honesty in her effort to achieve ultimate political power.

Kate begins to realize that maintaining her Christian values as a politician may be impossible. In addition, she struggles with her growing attraction to Emily's ex-husband. When Kate discovers a scandal that could destroy Emily's presidency, she is also faced with the reality that her best friend would willingly sacrifice her to retain the position of President of the United States.

I have to say that I enjoyed this book much more than the first one. I still don't like Emily, and her true colors really come out in this story. But, Kate really grew on me and I cared about her dilemmas. I appreciated the "insiders view" of the White House: it was believable, even though this is a work of fiction. The book brings home the idea that to be an honest Christian as well as a politician is difficult for many and impossible for some.

Compelling and interesting at the same time. The ending is a bit abrupt, but I think mostly appropriate for the story. I'd love to see another book explore the repercussions of Kate's decisions.

Thanks to First Wild Card for the opportunity to review this. You can read the first chapter here. You can find out more about Laura Hayden here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 2/09

* * *

3/5 Stars

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Galway Bay...Review

About the book:
One family’s epic journey captures both the tragedy and triumph of the Irish-American experience—and echoes the myths and legends of Ireland herself …

In a hidden Ireland where fishermen and tenant farmers find solace in their ancient faith, songs, stories, and communal celebrations, young Honora Keeley and Michael Kelly wed and start a family. Because they and their countrymen must sell both their catch and their crops to pay exorbitant rents, potatoes have become their only staple food.

But when blight destroys the potatoes three times in four years, a callous government and uncaring landlords turn a natural disaster into The Great Starvation that will kill one million. Honora and Michael vow their children will live. The family joins two million other Irish refugees—victims saving themselves—in the emigration from Ireland.

Danger and hardship await them in America. Honora, her unconventional sister Máire, and their children help transform Chicago from a frontier town to the “City of the Century.” The boys go on to fight in the Civil War and enlist in the cause of Ireland’s freedom.

Spanning six generations and filled with joy, sadness, and heroism, Galway Bay sheds brilliant light on the ancestors of today’s forty-four million Irish Americans—and is a universal story you will never forget.

"Epic" is the first word I would use to describe Galway Bay. The words "rich" and "lyrical" would follow. Mary Pat Kelly fully captures the tragedy and triumph of the 19th century Irish emigration.

Michael and Honora Kelly, young newlyweds, begin their life together on a small patch of land overlooking Galway Bay. Michael is a bagpiper and blacksmith by trade. He's the owner of a prized racehorse and plans to breed her and sell the colts. Honora's family are hardworking fishermen and she and Michael plant potatoes to feed their family and pay the required rents to their English landlords.

The plight of the Irish is well-documented. The English, who came in and took over, tried to do all they could to force the proud Irish people from their lands. Their heartless cruelty comes through, and these strong people resist as long as they can. But, after blight kills the potatoes three times in four years, Michael and Honora finally realize they need to leave Ireland for America.

Danger and adventure await them in America as Honora, her sister Maire and their seven sons set forth to find Chicago and Michael's brother, Patrick. The strength of these two women is remarkable and inspiring. Based on the author's great-great-grandmother, Honora's story is one that will captivate you. The Irish people have a strong reputation for storytelling and Galway Bay is the fascinating story of a woman who wants to protect her family and her Irish heritage.

Thanks to Miriam Parker at Hatchette Books and the Early Bird Blog Tour for the opportunity to review this book. You can find out more about Mary Pat Kelly here.  You can purchase your own copy of this book here.

See these book bloggers for other reviews of this book.

http://lorisbookden.blogspot.com/ http://www.bookthoughtsbylisa.blogspot.com

Read 3/08

* * * * *

5/5 Stars

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Editorial Response

After our local paper published an epic proofreading fail last week, I sent an email to the editor and she responded back to me very quickly. My letter is first and her response follows. I thought she responded appropriately, and very politely!
The text of my letter (a wee bit snarky):

I'm sure that I'm not the only one who noticed the rather blatant error on the cover of the "total: health, body, mind" insert in today's paper. As an editor by trade, I realize that it can be difficult to catch absolutely every single error in a published manuscript, especially when one is under a deadline. However, in these days of electronic spell check, in addition to good old-fashioned proofreading, how did Dietebes land on the cover? Did no one check it, or is this a new way of referring to diabetes? Not only is an error like this unacceptable for a professional publication, it's a sign of carelessness. When a cover has a blatant error like this one, it sets a negative tone for the rest of the publication and credibility is lost.

If you're in need of an editor, or someone who can at least proofread, I'd certainly like to offer my services.

The text of the response (very professional and polite):

Thanks very much for your email. You are asking the same questions that I’m asking about that misspelling. You are right, it is unacceptable and I’ll address it with my staff.

I appreciate your offer of services. I don’t have any openings right now. But in the event that we do have one, or need some temporary help it would great to have your resume on file.