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Be Kind. Do Good. Love is a Verb.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Russian Winter...Review

About the book:
A mysterious jewel holds the key to a life-changing secret, in this breathtaking tale of love and art, betrayal and redemption.

When she decides to auction her remarkable jewelry collection, Nina Revskaya, once a great star of the Bolshoi Ballet, believes she has finally drawn a curtain on her past. Instead, the former ballerina finds herself overwhelmed by memories of her homeland and of the events, both glorious and heartbreaking, that changed the course of her life half a century ago.

It was in Russia that she discovered the magic of the theater; that she fell in love with the poet Viktor Elsin; that she and her dearest companions—Gersh, a brilliant composer, and the exquisite Vera, Nina’s closest friend—became victims of Stalinist aggression. And it was in Russia that a terrible discovery incited a deadly act of betrayal—and an ingenious escape that led Nina to the West and eventually to Boston.

Nina has kept her secrets for half a lifetime. But two people will not let the past rest: Drew Brooks, an inquisitive young associate at a Boston auction house, and Grigori Solodin, a professor of Russian who believes that a unique set of jewels may hold the key to his own ambiguous past. Together these unlikely partners begin to unravel a mystery surrounding a love letter, a poem, and a necklace of unknown provenance, setting in motion a series of revelations that will have life-altering consequences for them all.

Interweaving past and present, Moscow and New England, the backstage tumult of the dance world and the transformative power of art, Daphne Kalotay’s luminous first novel—a literary page-turner of the highest order—captures the uncertainty and terror of individuals powerless to withstand the forces of history, while affirming that even in times of great strife, the human spirit reaches for beauty and grace, forgiveness and transcendence.

The cover alone was enough to make me pick up this book, but I also have a fascination with Russian history and a love of ballet.  A potential win/win and a book that didn't disappoint.

The narration alternates between Nina in 1950s Soviet Russia and Nina, Drew and Grigori in modern-day 21st century Boston.  Grigori has his own secrets and a family ancestry that somehow intertwines with Nina's. As Drew and Grigori follow leads and work to discover the history behind Nina's jewelry, Nina recounts her life as a prima ballerina during Stalin's reign. A time of political intrigue, a time of fear and secrets. 

The history of amber was fascinating as was the account of life at the Bolshoi Ballet.  Daphne Kalotay did a terrific job of depicting the political climate of Soviet Russia: the fears that someone is always listening or watching, the bright, cheerful atmosphere of the West where you could buy bananas as opposed to the dreary, darkness of the East here you stood in line to buy bread and where people disappeared without explanation, never to be seen again.  Her imagery is simple, but vivid.

I do admit to being a bit disappointed in the ending.  While very literary, it's as if the door is closed and the conversation I wanted to hear was behind glass.  I desired a bit more closure.

I can't describe this as an inherently happy novel, but it's a story about choice and consequence, love and loss and regrets and restitution.  This wasn't a fast read for me either.  I couldn't just race through it.  It's a bit slow at times, but more than that, it's a story to be savored and enjoyed.

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

Read 4/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Friday, April 29, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Oh! My! Goodness!
I have shivers.
July 15th can't come soon enough.

Army of Entrepreneurs: Create an Engaged and Empowered Workforce for Exceptional Business Growth ...Review by the Doctor

About the book:
Imagine the benefits to be gained from a pool of employees who act as if they own the business: greater motivation, increased productivity, and a supercharged desire to succeed. As a young entrepreneur who turned a small PR business into a highly successful, international communications firm, Jennifer Prosek has experienced firsthand the power of instilling an "owner's mindset" in every employee.

With innovation driving the new economy, your company's people have never been more important. But old management models don't truly encourage the entrepreneurial thinking needed for success. In
Army of Entrepreneurs, Prosek presents an easy-to-follow action plan any company--large or small--can use to build a workforce dedicated to generating new business, creating breakthrough products and services, and sustaining growth.

Yes. Yes, yes, yes. As someone who's being both an employee, and managed employees, I love this book. After you read this book, you will wish you worked for Jennifer Prosek because she totally gets what it means to "own the company" and look after her employees. The system she defines here is the perfect recipe for making employees happier, making your business bigger and better, and taking often fractious relationships (employer/employee) and turning them into synergistic win/win scenarios where everybody feels involved, everybody feels respected and everybody makes more money.

If you are an employer, prepare to feel like you've been doing it wrong for a long time. If you're an employee, you'll probably want to buy this book for your employer, and either give it to them face-to-face, or mail it to them anonymously. Personally, I think this book should be given to every politician, and they have to swear to follow the principles. If we took the whole country, ran it by these principles and really got every American involved and participating in the success of the country, we would have this economic downturn taken care of faster and easier than any other idea I've seen.

So take the weekend, take this book, take a deep breath and prepare to have your understanding of how to build a business modified and improved. Unless you are too entrenched in your current "less effective" business model, there is something here that can really help your life.

Thanks to Eric at Planned Television Arts for the opportunity to review this book. You can learn more about Jennifer Prosek here. You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 4/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Kitchen Daughter...Review

About the book:
After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning (“do no let her…”) before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, (aka “Demanda”) insists on selling their parents’ house, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them.

As a young woman with Asperger's, Ginny has always been protected and sheltered by her parents.  After their sudden death, Ginny is suddenly on her own.  Her dominating sister insists on selling their parents house and having Ginny live with her, even though Ginny prefers staying in the home she's always known.  Frustrated with the fact that Amanda won't listen to her, Ginny cooks, finding comfort in the order and ritual of recipes and preparation.  When she prepares her grandmother's soup, her Nonna appears to her and they are able to speak, but her Nonna disappears after giving her a cryptic message. 

As Ginny struggles with expressing her feelings to her sister, she discovers family secrets hidden in her home.  Wishing to find answers to her questions, she continues cooking, finding recipes from her mother and father which enable her to speak with them.  What their answers reveal teach Ginny more about herself than anything else and she learns that "normal" is different for everyone.

Ginny is a fantastic character.  Jael McHenry has completely captured the essence of Asperger's syndrome and the reality that it's a spectrum and it manifests differently in people.  I loved her notion that there is no "normal".  I have a son with Asperger's.  I could see much of him in Ginny.  He has coping mechanisms just like Ginny does.  He has some of the same tendencies as Ginny and many of her thought processes and reactions are what I see in him. 

The narrative is lyrical and well written with mouthwatering descriptions of food and cooking. There is mild, non-gratuitous use of the F word.  There are also some great sounding recipes that I can't wait to try. With magical realism elements that evoke Sarah Addison Allen, this is a terrific, engaging story.  It's not a ghost story, but a story about determination, acceptance and family.

Thanks to Lisa at TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Jael McHenry here and here.  You can purchase your own copy here

You can see other tour stops and reviews here:

Monday, April 11th:  girlichef
Wednesday, April 13th:  Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Thursday, April 14th:  She is Too Fond of Books
Friday, April 15th:  Book Club Classics!
Monday, April 18th:  The Singleton in the Kitchen
Tuesday, April 19th:  Back to Books
Wednesday, April 20th:  Coffee and a Book Chick
Thursday, April 21st:  Books Like Breathing
Monday, April 25th:  Simply Stacie
Tuesday, April 26th:  Book Reviews by Molly
Wednesday, April 27th:  Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, April 28th:  2 Kids and Tired
Monday, May 2nd:  The Brain Lair
Tuesday, May 3rd:  Stephanie’s Written Word
Friday, May 6th:  Book Addiction
Monday, May 9th:  Farmgirl Fare
Tuesday, May 10th:  Overstuffed
Wednesday, May 11th:  Books, Movies, and Chinese Food
Friday, May 13th:  The Literate Housewife Review

Read 3/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Blackberry Crumble...Review

About the book:
Modern Miss Marple: A Magnet for Murder? by Jane Seeley, feature reporter, The Denver Post
Local "celebrity" Sadie Hoffmiller has been involved in a number of unfortunate situations that have taken her to crime scenes from London, England, to Miami, Florida, and even in her own backyard of Garrison, Colorado. But is she truly an unwitting bystander in all these investigations? Or is she something more? Is she, perhaps, even the cause...?

The word is out about Sadie Hoffmiller's amateur detective work, but it's not the kind of publicity Sadie wants. When Jane's article threatens Sadie's reputation in the community, she accepts her first investigation-for-hire and travels to Portland, Oregon - if only to give herself some space from her whispering neighbors. And from Pete, who is sending her mixed signals about their budding relationship.

Sadie hopes the Portland air will clear her head, and she is eager to get to work for May Sanderson, who has suspicions about her father's untimely death.

Putting her detective skills to the test, Sadie delves into a complicated past that includes a business partnership that didn't end well, several unsavory family secrets, and more than a few motives for murder.

Sadie is afraid she might crumble under the pressure, but in a new place with new recipes, she finds herself more determined than ever to uncover the answers buried in scandal, insatiable appetites, and pure and simple greed. 

Sadie Hoffmiller strikes again!  This time, however, she has accepted her first paid investigative assignment.  That she isn't a licensed detective doesn't matter.  Armed with a lock pick set and a fake ID, she heads off to Portland to put some space between herself and her hometown.

In true Sadie fashion, she gets herself in trouble and has many cringe-inducing embarrassing moments.  But, also in true Sadie fashion, as she uncovers motives and clues she also discovers families that need to be reunited.  And, along the way she discovers some terrific new recipes, some of which sound absolutely delicious.

Simply a fun story.  An easy enjoyable read.

Thanks to Tracee at Pump Up Your Book for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Josi Kilpack here.  Check out Lemon Tart, English Trifle, Devil's Food Cake, and Key Lime Pie. You can find other Blackberry Crumble reviews here. You can purchase your own copy of Blackberry Crumble here.

Read 3/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mine is the Night...Review

About the book:
She lost everything she loved.
He had everything she needed.
But could she find the courage to trust him?

Stepping from a battered coach on a rainy April eve, newly widowed Elisabeth Kerr must begin again, without husband or title, property or fortune. She is unafraid of work and gifted with a needle, but how will she stitch together the tattered remnants of her life? And who will mend her heart, torn asunder by betrayal and deception?

Elisabeth has not come to Selkirk alone. Her mother-in-law, Marjory Kerr, is a woman undone, having buried her husband, her sons, and any promise of grandchildren. Dependent upon a distant cousin with meager resources, Marjory dreads the future almost as much as she regrets the past. Yet joy still comes knocking, and hope is often found in unexpected places.

When more than one worthy hero steps forward to woo Elisabeth, she makes a bold choice, then must confess her heart’s desire. Will he refuse her out of pride, or surrender to her love?

The heartrending journey of the Kerr women comes to a glorious finish in Mine Is the Night, a sparkling gem of redemption and restoration, set amid the velvet landscape of eighteenth-century Scotland.

I really liked Here Burns My Candle, but I loved Mine is the Night.  This was a fantastic sequel.  Much like Ruth stays with Naomi in the bible, Elisabeth follows Marjory as she returns to her husband's ancestral home.  Because King George considers the Kerr support of Prince Charles to be treason, they have lost everything and must prevail upon a distant cousin for shelter.

As they go from wealth to poverty, Elisabeth and Marjory must support themselves and Elisabeth is fortunate to secure work as a dressmaker for wealthy Lord Buchanan.  As she and Lord Jack begin to fall in love, her Jacobite past comes back to haunt her and threatens her very life. 

The transformation of Marjory is terrific. As she struggles with her new, lowly status and the prospect of no society whatsoever, she discovers a forgotten, inner strength and faith in God.  With her new, humbled heart, she is able to discover that love has always been right before her eyes.

As their new lives unfold, Marjory and Elisabeth discover their inner strength, their faith in God and the love of family and friends. As historically rich as Here Burns My Candle, this story moves swiftly.  The book is enthralling and a fantastic end to the Kerr saga.

Thanks to Random House and First Wildcard for the opportunity to review this book.  You can read the first chapter here. You can learn more about Liz Curtis Higgs here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 3/11

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Mine is the Night...Wildcard!

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

WaterBrook Press (March 15, 2011)
***Special thanks to Cindy Brovsky of Random House Inc. for sending me a review copy.***


Liz Curtis Higgs is the author of 28 books with three million copies in print, including: her best-selling historical novels, Here Burns My Candle, Thorn in My Heart, Fair Is the Rose, Christy Award-winner Whence Came a Prince, Grace in Thine Eyes, a Christy Award finalist, and Here Burns My Candle, a RT Book Reviews Award finalist; My Heart’s in the Lowlands: Ten Days in Bonny Scotland, an armchair travel guide to Galloway; and her contemporary novels, Mixed Signals, a Rita Award finalist, and Bookends, a Christy Award finalist.

Visit the author's website. You’ll also find her on Facebook and Twitter.


The emotional and spiritual journey that began with Here Burns My Candle (WaterBrook Press, 2010) soars to a triumphant finish in Mine Is the Night (WaterBrook Press, March 15, 2011) a dramatic and decidedly Scottish retelling of the biblical love story of Boaz and Ruth. A compelling tale of redemption and restoration, the latest novel from best-selling author Liz Curtis Higgs transports both story and reader to 18th century Scotland, where two widows are forced to begin anew.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (March 15, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1400070023
ISBN-13: 978-1400070022


Foul whisperings are abroad.



26 April 1746

The distant hoofbeats were growing louder.

Elisabeth Kerr quickly pushed aside the curtain and leaned out the carriage window. A cool spring rain, borne on a blustery wind, stung her cheeks. She could not see the riders on horseback, hidden by the steep hill behind her. But she could hear them galloping hard, closing the gap.

Her mother-in-law seemed unconcerned, her attention drawn to the puddle forming at their feet. A frown creased her brow. “Do you mean for us to arrive in Selkirk even more disheveled than we already are?” Three long days of being jostled about in a cramped and dirty coach had left Marjory Kerr in a mood as foul as the weather.

“’Tis not the rain that concerns me.” Elisabeth resumed her seat, feeling a bit unsteady. “No ordinary traveling party would ride with such haste.”

Marjory’s breath caught. “Surely you do not think—”

“I do.”

Had they not heard the rumors at every inn and coaching halt? King George’s men were scouring the countryside for anyone who’d aided bonny Prince Charlie in his disastrous bid to reclaim the British throne for the long-deposed Stuarts. Each whispered account was worse than the last. Wounded rebel soldiers clubbed to death. Houses burned with entire families inside. Wives and daughters ravished by British dragoons.

Help us, Lord. Please. Elisabeth slipped her arm round her mother-in-law’s shoulders as she heard the riders crest the hill and bear down on them.

“We were almost home,” Marjory fretted.

“The Lord will rescue us,” Elisabeth said firmly, and then they were overtaken. A male voice cut through the rain-soaked air, and the carriage jarred to a halt.

Mr. Dewar, their round-bellied coachman, dropped from his perch and landed by the window with a grunt. He rocked back on his heels until he found his balance, then yanked open the carriage door without ceremony. “Beg yer pardon, leddies. The captain here would have a wird with ye.”

Marjory’s temper flared. “He cannot expect us to stand in the rain.”

“On the contrary, madam.” A British dragoon dismounted and rolled into view like a loaded cannon. His shoulders were broad, his legs short, his neck invisible. “I insist upon it. At once, if you please.”

With a silent prayer for strength, Elisabeth gathered her hoops and maneuvered through the narrow carriage doorway. She was grateful for Mr. Dewar’s hand as she stepped down, trying not to drag her skirts through the mud. Despite the evening gloom, her eyes traced the outline of a hillside town not far south. Almost home.

The captain, whom Elisabeth guessed to be about five-and-forty years, watched in stony silence as Marjory disembarked. His scarlet coat was drenched, his cuffed, black boots were covered with filth, and the soggy brim of his cocked hat bore a noticeable wave.

He was also shorter than Elisabeth had first imagined. When she lifted her head, making the most of her long neck, she was fully two inches taller than he. Some days she bemoaned her height but not this day.

By the time Marjory joined her on the roadside, a half-dozen uniformed men had crowded round. Broadswords hung at their sides, yet their scowls were far more menacing.

“Come now,” Mr. Dewar said gruffly. “Ye’ve nae need to frighten my passengers. State yer business, and be done with it. We’ve little daylight left and less than a mile to travel.”

“Selkirk is your destination?” The captain seemed disappointed. “Not many Highland rebels to be found there.”

“’Tis a royal burgh,” Marjory told him, her irritation showing. “Our townsfolk have been loyal to the crown for centuries.”

Elisabeth shot her a guarded look. Have a care, dear Marjory.

The captain ignored her mother-in-law’s comments, all the while studying their plain black gowns, a curious light in his eyes. “In mourning, are we? For husbands, I’ll wager.” He took a brazen step toward Elisabeth, standing entirely too close. “Tell me, lass. Did your men give their lives in service to King George? At Falkirk perhaps? Or Culloden?”

She could not risk a lie. Yet she could not speak the truth.

Please, Lord, give me the right words.

Elisabeth took a long, slow breath, then spoke from her heart. “Our brave men died at Falkirk honoring the King who has no equal.”

He cocked one eyebrow. “Did they now?”

“Aye.” She met the captain’s gaze without flinching, well aware of which sovereign she had in mind. I am God, and there is none like me. She’d not lied. Nor had the dragoon grasped the truth behind her words: by divine right the crown belonged to Prince Charlie.

“No one compares to His Royal Highness, King George,” he said expansively. “Though I am sorry for your loss. No doubt your men died heroes.”

Elisabeth merely nodded, praying he’d not ask their names. A list of royalist soldiers killed at Falkirk had circulated round Edinburgh for weeks. The captain might recall that Lord Donald and Andrew Kerr were not named among the British casualties. Instead, her handsome husband and his younger brother were counted among the fallen rebels on that stormy January evening.

My sweet Donald. However grievous his sins, however much he’d wounded her, she’d loved him once and mourned him still.

Her courage bolstered by the thought of Donald in his dark blue uniform, Elisabeth squared her shoulders and ignored the rain sluicing down her neck. “My mother-in-law and I are eager to resume our journey. If we are done here—”

“We are not.” Still lingering too near, the captain inclined his head, measuring her. “A shame your husband left such a bonny widow. Though if you fancy another soldier in your bed, one of my men will gladly oblige—”

“Sir!” Marjory protested. “How dare you address a lady in so coarse a manner.”

His dragoons quickly closed ranks. “A lady?” one of them grumbled. “She sounds more like a Highlander to my ear.”

The captain’s expression darkened. “Aye, so she does.” Without warning he grasped the belled cuff of Elisabeth’s sleeve and turned back the fabric. “Where is it, lass? Where is your silk Jacobite rose?”

“You’ve no need to look.” Elisabeth tried to wrest free of him. “I haven’t one.”

Ignoring her objections, he roughly examined the other cuff, nearly tearing apart the seam. “The white rose of Scotland was Prince Charlie’s favorite, was it not? I’ve plucked them off many a Highland rebel.”

“I imagine you have.” Elisabeth freed her sleeve from his grasp. “Are you quite satisfied?”

“Far from it, lass.” The captain eyed the neckline of her gown, his mouth twisting into an ugly sneer. “It seems your flower is well hidden. Nevertheless, I mean to have it.”

Monday, April 25, 2011

When Did I Get Like This?...Preview

About the book:
When Did I Get Like This? is the hilarious story of one mother’s struggle to shrug off the ridiculous standards of modern parenting, and remember how to enjoy her children

Over the last seven years of long days with little children, I have had many moments of joy, calm, and peaceful reverie.

This book is about the other moments.

Before I became a mother, failing at something did not shake my fundamental belief in my capabilities as a human being. But now that I am the mother of three children under the age of seven, I have one overriding daily thought: I suck at this.

What kind of mother feeds her kids dinosaur chicken nuggets? Three times a week? What kind of mother lets hand washing after using the toilet slide, as long as it was just Number One? And then I wonder: When did I get like this? Why do I doubt my parenting abilities, day after day? Why does motherhood, a job as old as Eve, have me teetering daily on the edge of sanity?

With each new stage of motherhood, I tell myself I will never again be suckered by the question, “Don’t you want what’s best for your children?” And yet, time after time, I am. Sometimes, I am right to obsess. Other times, the record will show, it has been distinctly counterproductive.

I’m working on it...

About the author:
Amy Wilson is the author and performer of the one-woman show Mother Load, which started off-Broadway, and has been touring the country ever since. She made her Broadway debut in the Tony-Award-winning play The Last Night of Ballyhoo, and has appeared in dozens of other plays in New York City. On television, she was a series regular on Norm and Daddio, and appeared on Felicity, Ed, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Deadline, Boston Common, and All My Children. Her film credits include Kinsey, Kissing Jessica Stein, Keeping the Faith, and Ira and Abby.

Her writing appears regularly in Babytalk magazine, on parenting.com, and on CNN.com’s “Living” page. Her favorite productions are her three young children, whom she raises with her husband in New York City.
Thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to preview this book.  You can learn more about Amy Wilson here.  You can purchase your own copy here.  You can see other reviews on the book tour here:

Wednesday, April 20th: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Thursday, April 21st: Book Reviews by Molly
Monday, April 25th: 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews
Wednesday, April 27th: Overstuffed
Tuesday, May 3rd: BookNAround
Wednesday, May 4th: Teresa’s Reading Corner
Thursday, May 5th: Busy Moms Who Love to Read
Monday, May 9th: Rundpinne
Thursday, May 12th: StephTheBookworm
Thursday, May 19th: Laura’s Reviews
Wednesday, May 18th: Proud Book Nerd

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Coming Home to Myself...Review

About the book:
The no-holds-barred memoir from the beloved music superstar.

From the heart of one of the most beloved performers in music comes a candid memoir of professional triumph, private heartbreak, and personal victory-a coming-of-age account of a very private search for harmony and a very public rise to fame.

Coming Home to Myself is the result of that emotional journey-a song of personal discovery that taught Wynonna Judd to love not just what she does, but who she is. From a truly exceptional woman comes an unexpected memoir of survival, strength, hope, and forgiveness, filled with an exultant and empowering message certain to resonate with those who have dreamed of finding themselves, and who only needed the courage and inspiration to begin their own journey.

I remember when the Judds first appeared on the country music scene.  I owned their albums.  Albums, not CDs, not mp3 files but vinyl albums!  I enjoyed their music and there was a certain mystique to the Judd mythology:  single mom overcomes all and becomes a mega star.

Of course, nothing is as it appears to be and every family has its secrets and struggles.  Wynonna's book is fairly straight-forward and her writing style is very conversational.  She's open about the conflicts with her mother, her struggles with food addictions and her insecurities.  I think some parts of her life were glossed over, but it's her right to decide what to share. 

Wynonna speaks a great deal about the importance of counseling and therapy, both of which have helped her (and continue to help her) come to terms with many of her childhood issues. There is a lot of self-help talk and 12-step jargon.

I think we all have issues.  Family conflicts aren't relegated to the rich and famous.  There truly is no normal family or normal life and the consequences of single choices have far reaching effects.

This was a quick read and one that was interesting and enlightening.  Fans of Wynonna and the Judds will enjoy it.

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

Read 4/11

* * *
3/5 Stars

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Aloha Quilt...Review

About the book:
Another season of Elm Creek Quilt Camp has come to a close, and Bonnie Markham faces a bleak and lonely winter ahead, with her quilt shop out of business and her divorce looming. A welcome escape comes when Claire, a beloved college friend, unexpectedly invites her to Maui to help launch an exciting new business: a quilter’s retreat set at a bed and breakfast amid the vibrant colors and balmy breezes of the Hawaiian Islands. Soon Bonnie finds herself looking out on sparkling waters and banyan trees, planning quilting courses, and learning the history and intricacies of Hawaiian quilting, all the while helping Claire run the inn.

As Bonnie’s adventure unfolds, it quickly becomes clear that Claire’s new business isn’t the only excitement in store for her. Her cheating, soon-to-be ex-husband decides he wants her stake in Elm Creek Quilts, which threatens not only her financial well-being but her dearest friendships as well. Luckily she has the artistic challenge of creating her own unique Hawaiian quilt pattern to distract her—and new friends like Hinano Paoa, owner of the Nä Mele Hawai‘i Music Shop, who introduces Bonnie to the fascinating traditions of Hawaiian culture and reminds her that love can be found when and where you least expect it.

I hadn't planned on reading any more Elm Creek Quilter books. However, this one was sitting alone on a shelf at the library and I went ahead and picked it up.  If nothing else, I thought it would prove entertaining.  I was surprised at how original it actually was.  This one is number 16 in the series and several of the books have been rehashes of previous books which is rather annoying.  The Aloha Quilt wasn't a rehash, which was refreshing.

In the Chiaverini tradition of giving every single character her own story, this time around we learn about Bonnie's life and experiences.  In the midst of an acrimonious divorce from a philandering husband, Bonnie travels to Hawaii to assist her friend, Claire, with the launch of a new quilt camp.  Bonnie's adventures include new friends, new quilts, frustrations, betrayals and irritating ex-spouses.  But, as she learns the Hawaiian style of quilting, she also learns about herself. 

The author includes quite a bit of Hawaiian history as well as the history of quilting in Hawaii.  I found the quilting history fascinating.  An easy read.  A nice diversion.  Fans of the Elm Creek series will definitely enjoy it.

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

Read 4/11

* * *
3/5 Stars

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes...Review by the Doctor

About the book:
Have you ever gone to the "dark place" after a fight about who does the dishes more often? Do you worry that your job is destroying your marriage? Have you ever sat up at night, remembering how much more fun married life used to be?

Spousonomics, a book that offers a brilliant, fresh twist to standard relationship advice by showing how economics-yes, economics-is the key to a happy marriage.

Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, journalists from
The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, present a radical new idea: Every marriage is its own little economy, a business of two with a finite number of resources that need to be allocated efficiently. With great wit, insight, and compelling stories from real-life couples, Szuchman and Anderson apply bedrock economic principles to some of the most common conflicts in domestic life.

Having taken an economics class in high school and, rather strangely, found it interesting, I figured this book, a combination of economics and marriage, would either be thoroughly entertaining and informative, or the literary equivalent of sodium pentathol.

Happily, I am able to report that this is a fun, intriguing, informative, entertaining and highly enjoyable book. How the authors manage to mix the two topics and make it work is truly remarkable and commendable. As someone who is been married for almost 15 years, I was able to recognize some of the situations and problems they discuss in the book. I can honestly say that I have a wonderful wife and, I think, a great marriage, but even so there were things I learned from this book. I think this is a book that you need to read as a couple, because it will stimulate some very interesting and thought-provoking discussions. What makes it really fun is that sometimes you will read a situation and feel like you are in the right, and then a few pages later read something and realize that in that situation you might be in the wrong, and often you are both--somewhere in the middle.

I highly recommend this book. If you are single, it will give you a good laugh at us married folk, and if you are married, you'll laugh at yourself and each other, and maybe along the way you'll pick up an idea or two about how to make your marriage better.

Thanks to Eric at Planned Television Arts for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Spousonomics here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 4/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted...Review

About the book:
“Every good love story has another love hiding within it.”

Brokenhearted and still mourning the loss of her husband, Heidi travels with Abbott, her obsessive-compulsive seven-year-old son, and Charlotte, her jaded sixteen-year-old niece, to the small village of Puyloubier in the south of France, where a crumbling stone house may be responsible for mending hearts since before World War II.

There, Charlotte confesses a shocking secret, and Heidi learns the truth about her mother’s “lost summer” when Heidi was a child. As three generations collide with one another, with the neighbor who seems to know all of their family skeletons, and with an enigmatic Frenchman, Heidi, Charlotte, and Abbot journey through love, loss, and healing amid the vineyards, warm winds and delicious food of Provence. Can the magic of the house heal Heidi’s heart, too?

I love the premise that a home or a place can have healing powers.  Heidi's family home in Provence, France has always had the power to do just that.   Heidi's mother escaped there one summer after a heartbreak and came back whole.  Heidi's sister escaped to Provence with her boyfriend and came back engaged.  When Heidi finds herself in Provence with her son and niece, she isn't so sure that the house will work its magic on her.

Bridget Asher captured a wonderful character in Heidi's voice.  I could relate to her in so many ways.  I enjoyed her way of flashbacking to her life with Henry.  It was such a natural part of her voice and narrative.  And, I adored Charlotte. 

The setting is magical.  The descriptions are lyrical.  Family secrets, broken hearts, friendship, food and laughter make this a fantastic story.

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

Read 4/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Surrender Bay...Review

About the book:
On the beautiful island of Nantucket, salt and roses scent the air, waves sparkle over hidden currents, and a storm-tossed soul seeks safe harbor.

When Samantha Owen's estranged stepfather dies, she inherits his cottage in Nantucket--a place she left years ago, never planning to return. As a single mom, Sam can't afford to pass up on a financial windfall like ocean-front property. So she travels home to fix up the house and sell it...never suspecting that Landon Reed still lives two doors down. As their long-dormant romance begins to bud again, Sam must face the fact that Landon still doesn't know why she left the island. Will the secrets she's hidden all these years tear them apart...or is Landon's love really as unconditional as he claims?

Denise Hunter weaves a heart-tugging tale of shattered trust and enduring love...all in a romantic seaside setting.

At the end of A Cowboy's Touch, there was an excerpt from Surrender Bay and it sounded good, so I checked my library and found it.  I liked it, but I don't think it quite lived up to the compelling first chapter I read.

Sam left Nantucket under difficult circumstances and finds that returning to her hometown isn't easy after 11 years away.  Her childhood best friend and first, unrequited love, still lives in Nantucket and he still loves Sam.  She's a woman of secrets that we know will finally come out.  The question is when and what will happen when they do. 

The story is somewhat compelling, but predictable.  My problem is that I never really liked Sam.  She annoyed me.  Oh sure, I know that her childhood was horrible and that her secrets are deep, but even allowing for that, she wasn't overly likeable.  Her issues naturally affected her daughter Caden, who wasn't very likeable either.  None of the characters is particularly well developed.  The story is light on the Christian.  I never really felt like anyone was particularly religious or close to God, nor did they try to be.

Fans of Denise Hunter will most likely enjoy the story and those who want a nice, easy diversion will too.  I love the setting of Nantucket and it's a place I've always wanted to visit.

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

Read 4/11

* * *
3/5 Stars

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fatal Judgment...Review

About the book:
U.S. Marshal Jake Taylor has seen plenty of action during his years in law enforcement. But he'd rather go back to Iraq than face his next assignment: protection detail for federal judge Liz Michaels. His feelings toward the coldhearted workaholic haven't warmed in the five years since she drove her husband--and Jake's best friend--to despair...and possible suicide.

As the danger mounts and Jake gets to know Liz better, he's forced to revise his opinion of her. And when it becomes clear that an unknown enemy may want her dead, the stakes are raised. Because now both her life--and his heart--are in danger.

Full of suspense and romance,
Fatal Judgment is a thrilling story that will keep you turning the pages late into the night.

I like Irene Hannon.  I've enjoyed everything I've read by her.  Like her Heroes of Quantico series, this one is fast-paced and exciting with the right amount of suspense and the right amount of romance.  The characters are well developed and likeable.  The premise is one that could be taken from headlines today:  disgruntled people with a grudge against the government who attack politicians and government representatives.

Liz has her faith tested when her sister is murdered and she finds herself under federal protection.  As they are drawn together, Liz is able to help Jake rediscover his faith after the loss of his wife.  Together, they must then figure out who is out to kill her.

I read the book in an afternoon.  I didn't want to put it down.  Obviously we know which characters will finally get together in the end, but it's the trip that is an exhilarating ride.  Irene Hannon has a terrific gift with conversation and character development. 

This is the first in the Guardians of Justice series and I eagerly anticipate the next book.  Recurring characters from The Heroes of Quantico series show up here in minor roles and it's nice seeing Mark and Nick again.

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

Read 4/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Changing Shoes...Preview

About the book:
You might be wondering what a soap opera actress, dispatched from the land of outrageous and hilarious plots, has to say about a difficult, painful, and emotional real-life issue like aging. Well, aging is at times both outrageous and hilarious, and no one knows more about reinvention and perseverance than an actress who began her career as the star of a show -- and then became the mother of the star, and then the grandmother of the star. Getting older keeps you on your toes -- you have to fight to remain visible, or risk being pushed to exit stage left.

In Changing Shoes, Tina Sloan addresses the issues and feelings most women eventually have to deal with, using humorous personal anecdotes from her personal life (starting with her first pair of Chanel pumps) and her twenty-six years on Guiding Light (where she started out in a pair of white high heels and a fitted nurse's uniform and finished off in sneakers and modern nurse's scrubs). Changes in her looks, love life, career, and family are managed with footwear to match: broken-in black flats when taking care of her aging parents, lavender "Cinderella" shoes to seduce her husband, and pink snow boots to hike Mount Kilimanjaro.

Tina's commitment to live life to the fullest is inspiring and filled with advice on everything from retaining the spark and zest of younger days, staying "forever frisky," expanding your world, and, as Tina puts it, "staying in the game." Women of all ages will identify with Tina's personal stories and appreciate her sincerity, honesty, inspiring words, and endearing sense of humor.

Tina Sloan, author of Changing Shoes: Getting Older - Not Old- with Style, Humor, and Grace, played the role of Nurse Lillian Raines on Guiding Light, which aired its final episode in 2009 after a seventy-two year run on radio and television.  She has appeared on many other television shows, including Third Watch, and Law & Order: SVU, and in a variety of feature films, including The Brave One and Changing Lanes.  She is currently shooting two feature films and touring nationally in her acclaimed one-woman show, Changing Shoes.  She lives in New York with her husband, Steve McPherson.  They have one son, Renny. For more information please visit http://www.changingshoes.com/ and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter

Tina's Tips for Looking Fabulous at Any Age
By Tina Sloan

Author of Changing Shoes: Getting Older -Not Old- with Style, Humor, and Grace

Find a Hairdresser Who Likes You. You want to go to someone who genuinely wants you to be beautiful. A good hairdresser will keep you up-to-date, but knows you well enough not to give you a Duck's Ass or some other cut that doesn't suit your personality.

Avoid Snow White Syndrome. Women who keep coloring their hair dark tend to look ridiculous after a certain age. Your skin tone changes and lightens as you get older, and suddenly your former hair color becomes too harsh for your complexion. Recognize that if you have always been a brunette, you likely need to go lighter now, or at least get some highlights to frame your face (like Diane Keaton's in Something's Gotta Give).

ALWAYS Wear Makeup. Remember the story about bumping into an old boyfriend and trying to hide in the cantaloupes. Lauren Hutton makes wonderful beauty products for aging women; they are available online and come with an instructional DVD that provides some great anti-aging techniques and tricks. I also like Chantecaille and Bobbi Brown. I once met Bobbi Brown and she told me, "I make my products for your kind of woman."

. . . But Don't Overdo It. Nothing is less attractive than an older woman with bright pink cheeks. Plus, heavy makeup makes you look years older (and I think this is true as early as your thirties). At our age, less is more, so realize that you probably need to simplify your routine and start using more natural tones. If you're not sure how to do this, get a makeup professional to help you.

Avoid Powder on Your Face. Powder makes you look dry and settles in the creases in your skin, making wrinkles more prominent and you look older. Foundation or base is great since we need to even our skin tone out (like I do). And today there are so many good products available for older skin. Many of them multitask, providing anti-aging ingredients along with an even skin tone and dewier skin.

Learn the Art of Contouring. With contouring, you're putting a darker color on the places where you want to create more definition, such as your jaw line. A makeup professional, or Lauren Hutton's instructional DVDs, can teach you how to do this.

Use White Around Your Eyes. The skin around the eyes thins as you get older, leaving you vulnerable to shadows and dark circles. Using white concealer on the inside corners and under your eyes will brighten your entire face and make you eyes look younger. Just make sure to blend it -- mixing it with moisturizer if necessary -- so you don't look like startled jackrabbit.

Use an Eyelash Curler. Everyone should have an eyelash curler as there is no better way to open up your eyes and brighten your entire face, especially since the skin of the eyelid tends to thicken and droop over time. You can buy one for a few dollars at the drugstore. It will work best if you heat it before using it -- simply run it under hot water or heat it with your blow-dryer. The words thicken and droop really upset me, but opening your eyes is kind of like a mini-face-lift!

Lighten Your Eyebrows. Much like your overall hair color, lighter brows are better as we age. You can lighten them with bleach and toner. To find the right shade of toner for your skin type, seek the advice of a professional, probably someone at your salon.

Get Your Teeth Whitened. When our teeth get yellowed, they age us tremendously, and coffee, tea, and red wine are all the culprits. You can get your teeth whitened by your dentist or use the at-home strips sold in drugstores, which do work, although not as well (but you can't beat the price).

Accessorize. A pretty colored scarf or earrings or necklace can be a terrific way to liven up any outfit and announce to the world that you care about how you look. Accessories also work to camouflage our flaws: People will say, "Oh, what a pretty scarf!" and not, "Oh, she's put on a few pounds."

Find a Few "Uniforms" that Work for You. If you tend to just give in and throw on whatever shapeless, comfortable clothing is sitting on the chair, you are putting yourself at a disadvantage. You can avoid this and be chic anywhere, anytime by finding a few "looks" or combinations that work for you and wearing them often. For me, one uniform is beige or black slacks with a white shirt open, a blue blazer, a gorgeous chunky necklace, and big earrings -- and pretty shoes, of course. You work it out and just keep wearing it, even when you are tempted to reach for the sweatpants and slippers. I find that when I'm dressed nicely, even if I'm just sitting at home, chances are I will find something exciting to do to make that outfit worthwhile.

The above is an excerpt from the book Changing Shoes: Getting Older -Not Old- with Style, Humor, and Grace by Tina Sloan. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2011 Tina Sloan, author of Changing Shoes: Getting Older -Not Old- with Style, Humor, and Grace.

Thanks to Leyane at FSB Associates for the opportunity to preview this book.  Look for a real review at a later time.   You can learn more about Tina Sloan here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The DMZ..Review

About the book:
More than a decade after the end of the cold war has chilled the Marxist rebel movements around the world, one hot spot remains: Colombia. Why a democratic country with a growing economy should still feel the brushfires of a civil war is a mystery to U.S. analysts, but not to certain parties on the other side of the world.

The inexplicable loss of three major U.S. assets draws the attention of the world to the Colombian demilitarized zone. Are the local Colombian rebels responsible? Or is a deadly Middle Eastern secret cloaked by the jungle canopy of the DMZ?

Among the contingent of politicians and media headed for the DMZ seeking answers is reporter Julie Baker, whose parents had been missionaries in Colombia. Old hurts and terrors surge as she revisits the place of her birth... and her parents' deaths. When Julie's own abduction by guerrillas triggers a time bomb that has been ticking under the feet of the U.S. for a decade, she is left with more questions than answers.

While this is not my usual choice of book subject, I enjoyed Veiled Freedom and I was anxious to read something else by Jeanette Windle.  The book starts slowly and, honestly, I was ready to be done with it after 50 pages.  I saw a couple of reviewers who said to stick with it and I'm so glad I did.

Once Julie enters the story, it really picks up and becomes an enthralling read.  Julie is a strong, independent woman and I love stories with strong, independent women.  Julie has determination and drive and is not only anxious for a story worthy of winning a Pulitzer Prize, but also has ghosts she needs to lay to rest.  She believes that returning to the country of her childhood will allow her to do both.  When her curiosity results in kidnapping, she has no idea what lies in store for her in the Colombian rain forest. 

The book is fairly long and you will learn everything you ever wanted to know and more about the Colombian/American drug war, most of which I did not know.  The politics and relationships are fascinating.  You also meet Julie and Rick and join them on their adventure as they attempt to flee the guerrillas and discover the secrets hidden in the rain forest.  With suspense, spies and handsome guerrillas, this is a compelling story about courage and faith and one that is difficult to set down.

Thanks to Amy at Litfuse Publicity for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Jeanette Windle here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 4/11

 * * * *
4/5 Stars

Thursday, April 14, 2011

An Apple A Day...Review

About the book:
Discover why proverbs have stood the test of time.

Proverbs--those colorful time-honored truths--have become part of our everyday language. But how often do we think about their origins or meanings?

This unique collection of words to live by reveals the source of these timeworm expressions, which are as relevant today as they were when first coined generations ago.

An Apple a Day provides the fun facts behind 200 proverbs, including...

The darkest hour is before the dawn.
You can't teach an old dog new tricks.
In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

But enough said. Sit back and enjoy the read--there's no time like the present!

We all quote proverbs and thoughts freely, with little interest in why.  While many proverbs are self-explanatory, others aren't.  I often find my self saying things and wondering where that particular phrase came from and why I even know it.  This little gem is the perfect book if you want to know or understand a particular proverb or phrase.

Like the other books in the Reader's Digest series, An Apple A Day is just a fun book to read.  It's one that you can read in a sitting or just a chapter at a time.  It would make a great gift for that friend who loves words, books and proverbs.

Thanks to Ruby at FSB Associates for the opportunity to review this book.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 3/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Meeting Brandon Mull

One of the Boy's favorite authors is Brandon Mull who wrote the Fablehaven series.  The Boy devoured those books and has been eagerly working through the first book of the new Beyonders series.  My good friend let us know that Brandon was going to be at the Boise Barnes & Noble on Tuesday and the Boy has been beside himself with excitement for a week. 

Yesterday, I took him out of school early and we headed over to B&N.  The signing started at 4:00, but not knowing what to expect, we decided to arrive early.  We got there about 2:00 and were the first ones in line.

The Boy brought his entire Fablehaven series as well as his Beyonders book.  When Brandon arrived, he spoke to the group (probably about 60 people) for 20 minutes and then took some questions.  When he sat down to sign books, he said that he would stay until the last person left.  He signed every book the Boy had, as well as a bookmark for him and a bookmark for his good friend who couldn't be there.  We were able to visit as he signed and he engaged the Boy completely.  He was so personable, friendly and real.

It was a fun afternoon spent with my remarkable son who got to meet someone he looked up to: a remarkable man who exceeded every expectation we had of the event.  Thanks Brandon Mull for being the kind of person a boy can look up to!