Everyday Tidbits...

Be Kind. Do Good. Love is a Verb.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Heart Most Worthy...Review

About the book:
The elegance of Madame Forza's gown shop is a far cry from the downtrodden North End of Boston. Yet each day Julietta, Annamaria, and Luciana enter the world of the upper class, working on finery for the elite in society.

The three beauties each long to break free of their obligations and embrace the American dream—and their chance for love. But the ways of the heart are difficult to discern at times. Julietta is drawn to the swarthy, mysterious Angelo. Annamaria has a star-crossed encounter with the grocer's son, a man from the entirely wrong family. And through no intent of her own, Luciana catches the eye of Billy Quinn, the son of Madame Forza's most important client. 

Their destinies intertwined, each harboring a secret from their families and each other, will they be found worthy of the love they seek?

A lovely novel that follows three young women working for a dressmaker.  Italians, they are immigrants in New York and each has her own story and each dream of a better life and falling in love.  Luciana has her secrets, Annamaria is oppressed by her family and yearns for a life of her own.  Julietta finds herself drawn to the forbidden bad boy and ignoring the proper, good doctor.

As these three stories unfold and intertwine we see the girls learn about love, friendship and the role God can play in their lives.  As each learns to stand up for herself, she blossoms and is able to find the future she desires.

I enjoyed the book, although I found the omniscient narrator a bit odd.  It worked well enough and perhaps it was a better way to tell three stories. Siri Mitchell includes an informative author's note which explains a bit about the Great Italian Emigration and was fascinating.  Stories of immigrants who came to America in the nineteenth and early twentieth century interest me.  These experiences are as rich and compelling as they are often tragic.

I read She Walks in Beauty and absolutely loved it.  Of the two, it is still my favorite.  This one, however, is an enjoyable story and one I can easily recommend.

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

Read 6/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ellis Island...Review and Giveaway

About the book:
Sweethearts since childhood, Ellie Hogan and her husband, John, are content on their farm in Ireland—until John, a soldier for the Irish Republican Army, receives an injury that leaves him unable to work. Forced to take drastic measures in order to survive, Ellie does what so many Irish women in the 1920s have done and sails across a vast ocean to New York City to work as a maid for a wealthy socialite. 

Once there, Ellie is introduced to a world of opulence and sophistication, tempted by the allure of grand parties and fine clothes, money and mansions . . . and by the attentions of a charming suitor who can give her everything. Yet her heart remains with her husband back home. And now she faces the most difficult choice she will ever have to make: a new life in a new country full of hope and promise, or return to a life of cruel poverty . . . and love.

I love Irish history and the Irish immigration to America has always fascinated me.  Kate Kerrigan addresses it from a perspective I was not familiar with.  When Eileen Hogan's husband is injured and unable to work, she travels to New York to work as a maid for a wealthy woman.  In New York, she is introduced to a life that is drastically different than her own in poor rural Ireland.  She becomes accustomed to running water and electricity, nice clothes and earning her own money.  Missing her husband desperately, she is torn with wanting to stay in comfortable America or return to poverty stricken Ireland and the man she loves.

I appreciated the contrast of life in Ireland and life in America.  Granted, it was life in rich New York and not poor immigrant New York, but nevertheless, the contrast was stark.  I liked the characters.  I would have liked a little more development, especially among some of the supporting cast.  I felt like we really only skimmed the surface of the potential many of these characters have, including John and his family. However, I also understand that this is the first book in a trilogy, so I hope that we will see more of these people soon.

There is incidental profanity, used in context. 

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review this book. You can learn more about Kate Kerrigan here.  You can purchase your own copy here.  You can see other reviews and tour stops here.

Tuesday, June 28th: 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews
Wednesday, June 29th: Life In Review
Tuesday, July 5th: Dolce Bellezza
Wednesday, July 6th: Rundpinne
Thursday, July 7th: Reviews from the Heart
Monday, July 11th: Book Addiction
Tuesday, July 12th: Tina’s Book Reviews
Wednesday, July 13th: Colloquium
Tuesday, July 19th: Raging Bibliomania
Thursday, July 21st: A Cozy Reader’s Corner
Wednesday, July 27th: Peeking Between the Pages


Because I loved Ellis Island so much, thanks to the publisher, I'm offering a giveaway. It really bugs me when you have to jump through tons of hoops in order to enter giveaways, so a comment with your email address will suffice.

If you change your profile to have your email address visible, if it isn't already, you will gain an additional entry.

I ask this because it's so annoying to have someone leave a comment you would like to respond to, but can't, because their email is hidden. This is especially annoying if a question is asked in said comment.

If you choose to become a follower or tell me you already are, you can gain an additional entry too.

If you wanted to blog or tweet about it, that's great too, and you'd get an extra entry for that.

Just tell me in your comment if you've done any of the extras. You don't need to leave separate comments for each thing (too annoying!). Seriously though, just commenting is enough for me.

U.S. or Canada addresses only and no P.O. Boxes. Sorry!

This giveaway ends July 21st.

This giveaway is now closed.

Read 6/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Final Note...Preview

About the book:
In this brand-new novel from bestselling author Kevin Milne, readers will be inspired yet again by the themes of love, loss, and renewal. Ethan met and fell in love with Anna while studying music abroad in college. He married her, and fully expected to grow old with her. After all, they were young, life was good, and faith in each other came easily, as evidenced by the Love Notes Anna periodically left between the strings of his guitar.

On their wedding day, Ethan promised to love, honor, and cherish his wife...and to write a song for her. Fast forward to the present day. Despite his grand promises, reality has proven to be much harder than he anticipated. Instead of composing hit songs, he's working long hours to provide for his family, and still promising to finish Anna's song. His formerly hopeful spirit is almost too heavy to carry, weighed down as it is by regret.

His grandfather, a veteran of World War II, knows a thing or two about regret and bitterness, and has his own stories to tell. One in particular, has the potential to change Ethan's attitude and help him put the past to rest, if he can open his heart to the truth of it.

Can an old soldier's tales of war help Ethan relinquish his anger? Is it too late to finish the song he began for Anna on their wedding day? Will he be able to remember why he fell in love so many years ago? In this tale of loss and heartbreak, love and forgiveness, Ethan is about to discover that the final note has yet to be written.

About the author:
Kevin Milne was born in 1973 and grew up in Sherwood, Oregon, a quiet country town south of Portland. He earned a diploma from Sherwood High school in 1991, in a graduating class of fewer than one hundred students.

In college, after studying such varied fields as film, journalism, communications, pre-dentistry, pre-law, and German, Milne eventually earned a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from Brigham Young University. One of the few things he didn’t study as an undergrad was business, which, ironically, is what he chose to pursue in graduate school, earning an MBA at Penn State University in 2000.

Today, Kevin is a business professional by day, an author by night, and a husband and father around the clock. He and his wife, Rebecca, were married in Washington DC in 1995. They have five children: Mikayla, Kamry, Mary, Emma, & Kyler (aka "the boy").

Thanks to Sarah Reck of Faithwords for the opportunity to preview this novel.  You can learn more about Kevin Alan Milne here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Look for my actual review at a later date.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

To Win Her Heart...Review

About the book:
Having completed his sentence for the unintentional crime that derailed his youthful plans for fame and fortune, Levi Grant looks to start over in the town of Spencer, Texas. Spencer needs a blacksmith, a trade he learned at his father's knee, and he needs a place where no one knows his past. But small towns leave little room for secrets...

Eden Spencer has sworn off men, choosing instead to devote her time to the lending library she runs. When a mountain-sized stranger walks through her door and asks to borrow a book, she steels herself against the attraction he provokes. His halting speech and hesitant manner leave her doubting his intelligence. Yet as the mysteries of the town's new blacksmith unfold, Eden discovers hidden depths in him that tempt her heart.

Levi's renewed commitment to his faith leads Eden to believe she's finally found a man of honor and integrity, a man worthy of her love. But when the truth about his prodigal past comes to light, can this tarnished hero find a way to win back the librarian's affections?

Levi wants a new start and Eden wants to run the library in her hometown and avoid the amorous sheriff who seems to have a claim on her.  Neither is looking for love, but they find kindred spirits in each other and discover a mutual love of literature.  Levi wants to keep his secrets and when the time comes to reveal his past to Eden, he worries that she won't love and accept him.

This is another entertaining story from Karen Witemeyer.  Eden and Levi are great characters. The supporting cast is fantastic too with Chloe and Duncan and others.  Sheriff Pratt is appropriately villainous.  I love the literary references and the fact that the heroine is a librarian.

Like Head in the Clouds  the story is light, but not light-hearted.  The plot covers some serious subjects without being preachy at all.  These characters go to church, believe in God and allow Him to work in their lives and on their hearts.

While I think Head in the Clouds is my favorite Witemeyer book, this one comes a close second.  A delightful read and one that is easily recommended.

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

Read 6/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Friday, June 24, 2011

Double Take...Review

About the book:
It's spring break of her senior year and Madison Van Buren is fed up. Stressed over Ivy League pressure, her parents' marital problems, and her boyfriend's neglect, Madison gets in her car and drives west.

Meanwhile, eighteen-year-old Anna Fisher wants to escape the so-called simple life--which for her consists of caring for younger siblings, sewing, cooking, and gardening--and she's well aware that her future will simply be more of the same with a man she doesn't love.

Suddenly, worlds collide when Madison and Anna meet in a small town, realize they look uncannily similar, and decide the grass is definitely greener on the other side.

Readers will love this funny and provocative tale of switching places from bestselling author Melody Carlson. As they get a glimpse into two very different worlds, they may find themselves happy to be just who they are, where they are.

After a chance meeting, spoiled rich girl Madison trades places with sweet Amish Anna.  Each girl is frustrated with her life and situation and on a whim, they trade lives for a week.  Anna finds herself in a New York penthouse and Madison finds herself washing dishes and hanging laundry on an Amish farm.  Anna searches out her boyfriend Jacob who left the Amish world for the English world of New York.  Madison discovers that there is more to life than money and shoes and that real friendship is important.

The premise is completely implausible, the girls adapted far too easily to their new lives and their lessons learned were too convenient.  Still, this is a light, enjoyable story with likeable characters.  The story is sweet and clean and one that is easily recommended to teens.

Available June 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Thanks to Donna Hausler of Baker Publishing for the opportunity to review this book. You can learn more about Melody Carlson here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 5/11

* * *
3/5 Stars

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Art of Forgetting...Review and Giveaway

About the book:
A moving and insightful debut novel of great friendship interrupted. Can the relationship survive when the memories are gone?

Marissa Rogers never wanted to be an alpha; beta suited her just fine. Taking charge without taking credit had always paid off: vaulting her to senior editor at a glossy magazine; keeping the peace with her critical, weight-obsessed mother; and enjoying the benefits of being best friends with gorgeous, charismatic, absolutely alpha Julia Ferrar.

And then Julia gets hit by a cab. She survives with minor obvious injuries, but brain damage steals her memory and alters her personality, possibly forever. Suddenly, Marissa is thrown into the role of alpha friend. As Julia struggles to regain her memory- dredging up issues Marissa would rather forget, including the fact that Julia asked her to abandon the love of her life ten years ago- Marissa's own equilibrium is shaken.

With the help of a dozen girls, she reluctantly agrees to coach in an after-school running program. There, Marissa uncovers her inner confidence and finds the courage to reexamine her past and take control of her future.

The Art of Forgetting is a story about the power of friendship, the memories and myths that hold us back, and the delicate balance between forgiving and forgetting.

Julia and Marissa have been best friends since high school.  As is often the case in friendships there is an alpha personality who drives things and Julia always took this role.  Marissa rode along in her wake, letting herself be defined by other people.  When Julia suffers a traumatic brain injury in a car accident, the parameters of this friendship change.  As Marissa comes to terms with this change, she also begins to discover herself and who she is and what she ultimately wants out of life.

This is a fascinating look at friendship. It took me a bit to get into it, but ultimately I enjoyed it.

I really came to like Marissa.  In many ways, I could relate to Marissa and her insecurities.  I loved the truthfulness of how she viewed herself as unworthy and incapable, when those around her saw her as smart, beautiful and successful.   As she comes to discover her own self-worth I found myself cheering.  Especially when she stood up to her mother.

There is mild, unnecessary profanity.  There is also a great deal of information about traumatic brain injury explained throughout the story and references at the end of the book.  The explanations were very much a natural part of the narrative and very informative.

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

You can see other stops on the tour here:
Monday, June 6th:  Luxury Reading
Tuesday, June 7th:  Book Club Classics!
Wednesday, June 8th:  Book Addiction
Thursday, June 9th:  That’s What She Read
Friday, June 10th:  Life in the Thumb
Monday, June 13th:  Rundpinne
Tuesday, June 14th:  The Brain Lair
Wednesday, June 15th:  Book Hooked Blog
Thursday, June 16th:  Library of Clean Reads
Friday, June 17th:  Dolce Bellezza
Monday, June 20th:  Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, June 21st:  BookNAround
Wednesday, June 22nd:  Books, Movies, and Chinese Food
Thursday, June 23rd:  2 Kids and Tired
Monday, June 27th:  Stiletto Storytime
Tuesday, June 28th:  The Well-Read Wife
Wednesday, June 29th:  Bookworm with a View
Thursday, June 30th:  Unabridged Chick

Because I loved The Art of Forgetting so much, thanks to the publisher, I'm offering a giveaway.

It really bugs me when you have to jump through tons of hoops in order to enter giveaways, so a comment with your email address will suffice.

If you change your profile to have your email address visible, if it isn't already, you will gain an additional entry.

I ask this because it's so annoying to have someone leave a comment you would like to respond to, but can't, because their email is hidden. This is especially annoying if a question is asked in said comment.

If you choose to become a follower or tell me you already are, you can gain an additional entry too.

If you wanted to blog or tweet about it, that's great too, and you'd get an extra entry for that.

Just tell me in your comment if you've done any of the extras. You don't need to leave separate comments for each thing (too annoying!).  Seriously though, just commenting is enough for me.

U.S. or Canada addresses only and no P.O. Boxes. Sorry!

This giveaway ends July 14th.

This giveaway is now closed.

Read  3/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Blackberry Bush...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:

Summerside Press (June 1, 2011)
***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***


David Housholder is a philosophical-spiritual influencer, a sponsored snowboarder and a surfing instructor who dreams of making this world a better place. As the senior pastor at Robinwood Church, an indie warehouse church near the beach in California, he can often be found preaching verse by verse in his bare feet. With his increasing desire to change the world around him, he is the director for several non-profit organizations. Housholder loves to travel and is an international conference speaker. He has spoken to groups in Ethiopia, Malaysia, Canada and London and has also been involved with mission trips. He is especially energized by evangelistic work among Muslims.

Housholder is an avid reader and carries an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. He received his undergraduate degree from Pacific Lutheran University and went on to receive his Master of Divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. Then he spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar at the Universität-Bonn in Germany. Housholder fluently speaks three languages, English, Dutch and German, and enjoys reading biblical Greek and Hebrew.

Housholder and his wife, Wendy, have one grown son, Lars. They reside in Huntington Beach, California. Some of his hobbies include photography and tinkering on his 1971 VW bug.

Visit the author's website.


The Blackberry Bush begins with two babies, Kati and Josh, who are born on opposite sides of the world at the very moment the Berlin Wall falls. You would think that such a potent freedom metaphor would become the soundtrack for their lives, but nothing could be further from the truth. They will follow a parallel path connected by a mistake their great grandparents made years before.

Despite his flawless image, Josh, an artistic and gifted Californian skateboarder and surfer, struggles to find his true role in the world. He fears that his growing aggression will eventually break him if he can’t find a way to accept his talent and the competition that comes along with it. Kati, a German with a penchant for classic Swiss watches and attic treasure-hunting, is crushed with the disappointment of never being “enough” for anyone—especially her mother. She wonders whether she will ever find the acceptance and love she craves and become comfortable in her own skin.

Craving liberation, Kati and Josh seem destined to claim their birthright of freedom together. With the help of their loving grandparents, they will unlock the secrets of their pasts and find freedom and joy in their futures. Today, like Katie and Josh, our youth often fall into two different cultures. Josh is part of the “bro” culture which is outdoor-oriented, with sports as a focus, and generally more conservative. Whereas Kati is part of the “scene” culture which is more liberal and indoor-oriented, focusing on music. These cultures are apparent in the novel and can aid in a better understanding of the issues today’s 21st century youth are facing as well as the struggles they have in coming to faith.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Summerside Press (June 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1609361164
ISBN-13: 978-1609361167


~ Behind the Story ~


Think for a moment. Isn’t there a splendid randomness to the way your day is coming together today?

After all, it’s not the big, dramatic things we foresee and expect that make all the difference in our lives. It’s the chance, random encounters—the subtle things that surprise us…and change the very course of our individual destinies.

The Blackberry Bush is a story about awakening to the fullness of this reality.

And you will never want to go back to sleep.

You can call me Angelo. I’ll be the one telling this story. As you and I travel together across generations and continents in a journey that will take just a few hours, you’ll discover not only the gripping stories of Kati, Josh, Walter, Nellie, and Janine but also uncover your own compelling back-story that will change you in ways you can never imagine.

And you’ll never be the same again….



Berlin, Germany

Occasionally, out of nowhere, history turns on a dime in a way no one sees coming. Listen…do you hear the sound of jackhammers on dirty concrete?

“Wir sind ein Volk (We are one people)!” A large European outdoor crowd chants this over and over into the chilly November night. “Wir sind ein Volk!”

Thousands of hands hold candles high in the darkening night of Berlin. Throngs of young people with brightly colored scarves crowd the open spaces between concrete buildings. !ere are parties—with exuberant celebrants of all ages—even along the actual top of the wall. Flowers are stuffed into once-lethal Kalashnikov rises. Hope is contagious.

It’s November 9, 1989. The first sections of the Berlin Wall are removed, to mass cheers, with heavy machinery. It seems incomprehensible that a small weekly Monday prayer meeting in Pastor Magerius’s Leipzig, Germany, study grew into the pews of the Nicolai Church and eventually out into the Leipzig city square. !en today, this “Peace Prayer,” figuratively speaking, traveled up the Autobahn to Berlin and converged as an army of liberation on that iconic concrete symbol of Cold War division—with world-news cameras whirring.

Little things can make a big difference. Subtle potency. Gentle power.

“Wir sind ein Volk,” the crowd chants as one. The Berlin Wall—a filthy, gravity-based ring of rebar and concrete, tangled with barbed wire and patrolled by German shepherd attack dogs–has encircled and separated West from East for twenty-eight years. Now it is irreparably pierced.

Unthinkable. No one saw this coming.

Walls are real, you see, yet they always come down. Creation and nature never favor walls. They start to crumble, even before the mortar dries.


Elisabeth Hospital

Bonn, Germany

A day’s Autobahn drive from the festivities in Berlin

That same instant, a severely pregnant woman’s water breaks in the tall-windowed birthing room of the Elisabeth Hospital in Bonn, Germany.

Hours later: “Ein Mädchen (a girl)!” Een meisje, translates the exhausted mother with silently moving lips into her native Dutch. Linda, a sojourner in Germany, was born a generation ago in Holland.

Mere blocks away from the birth scene, the mighty Rhine River flows past Bonn on its way downstream to the massive industrial port city of Rotterdam, Linda’s hometown. Only a few hours away by river barge, Rotterdam, Holland, couldn’t be farther from Germany—on so many levels.

The labor has been long and brutally hard. !e father, Konrad, takes little newborn, black-haired Katarina up the elevator to the nursery. On the way up, an old woman in a wheelchair spontaneously

pronounces God’s blessing over baby “Kati” (pronounced “KAH-tee,” in the German way) with the sign of the cross. Kati focuses her glassy little eyes on the woman’s wristwatch.

Konrad is concerned about how pale Katarina is. Was her older sister, Johanna, this porcelain-skinned at birth? Perhaps it’s the thick shock of black hair that sharpens the contrast with her complexion. How will Kati and Johanna get along? he wonders. I guess that will all

start to unfold soon, when they meet each other for the first time.

I won’t be able to protect her, thinks Konrad. Parental anxiety starts creeping up his spine in ways it never did when Johanna, now two, was born.

Perhaps little Kati will need that elevator blessing, he muses uncomfortably.


Zarzamora, California


Another Woman With Rotterdam Bloodlines, across the planet in sunny Zarzamora, California, is giving birth at the very same moment (although earlier in the day because of the time difference) to a boy. !e tiny $at-roofed hospital up in the mountains of the Los Padres forest is the port of entry for little baby Joshua.

Janine smiles up at husband, Michael, and takes a first look at Josh, expecting, for whatever reason, to see a pale baby girl. Genuinely surprised—after all, this is in the days before ultrasound was universal—to see a vibrant, reddish-hued boy, she suppresses a giggle of delight, a catharsis of joy after so many miscarriages. What fun they will have together! Will he lighten up her melancholy

disposition, perhaps?

Janine sighs in relief as she confirms to herself, We’re not going to have to take care of him much. He’s going to be okay. I’m sure of it. I can tell.

The trumpets of the practicing local high school marching band waft through the open windows as German-born father Michael washes his son off in the sink of the delivery room. The piercing eyes of baby Josh, almost white-blue, glisten in the overhead lights. They stop to focus on Michael for a fleeting minute, then zero in on some yet unseen reality behind his father’s shoulder.

Shouldn’t I be saying some ancient German words, a blessing or something, while I’m doing this? Michael asks himself.

But he can’t think of any. He is adrift in the flowing current of this new experience.

The marching band plays on outside. Are they really circling the hospital, or does it just sound like that? the new father thinks… .

~ Behind the Story ~

I can watch both births as I pick and eat blackberries from the thicket back in rainy Bonn. I smile. Joshua looks so happy to be here. He radiates physical warmth and doesn’t seem to need his blanket. He welcomes the new climate.

But Kati doesn’t like the cold. There’s almost a 30-degree (Fahrenheit) difference in ambient temperature from the womb to the room, and I see her struggle.

And then there’s the brand-new “breathing” thing. How can breathing go from unnecessary to essential in a few seconds? Yet some days we don’t even think about breathing, not even once. Amazing. Joshua’s American birth certificate reads 11-09-1989. Kati’s European one reads 09-11-1989.

How much of their lives are preprogrammed? How much of their minds will be stamped with the thoughts of others? Is life a roll of the dice, or is it a script we just read out to the end? Don’t we all

wonder that same thing sometimes?

As Kati and Joshua start to adjust to life outside the womb, the Berlin Wall continues to crumble to shouts of joy.

I write the names Linda and Konrad in Germany, Janine and Michael in California on the inside of the book cover I’m holding. I always do that, so I don’t get confused about who’s who as I travel

through their stories.

Both fathers, Konrad and Michael, have roots in the Germany that was rebuilding after World War II. Both are self-doubting, somewhat weak Rheinlanders married to practical, sober, very Protestant Dutch women.

Katarina and Joshua are on parallel paths. But only perfectly parallel paths never meet as they stretch into infinity. And since these paths, like ours, aren’t perfect…well, you can guess what might happen in this story.

Kati and Josh, born on one of the greatest days of freedom for all human kind, will grow up snared in the blackberry bush…like you.

But if you dare to engage their story at a heart level, a fresh new freedom might just be birthed in you.

So why not listen to that subtle twitter of conception inside your soul? !e one that says, !is year something exciting is going to happen that I can’t anticipate. And I’ll never be the same….


Oberwinter am Rhein, Germany

Just south of Bonn


I love looking out our back picture window at the rolling farms. I’m watching for Opa, my dear grandfather Harald, who said he’d be home by 4 p.m. We live at the top of the road that winds uphill from the ancient Rhine River town of Oberwinter, just upstream from Bonn. That’s how everybody here writes it, but they say “Ova-venta.” I walk up and down the sidewalk along the switchback road almost every day.

Our home is perched at the top of the hill with the front of the house facing the street that skirts the skyline of the ridge and the back looking away from the river, out at the plateau of peaceful farms, which Opa says the ancient Romans probably worked.

Opa knows a lot of secrets. If he told me what he knows every day for the rest of my life, he’d never run out of things to say. But sometimes he gets sad. He never likes to talk about how things were when he was my age. His voice starts to sound shaky, and that makes me sad too. I stopped asking him about his wartime childhood a long time ago.

My watch says it’s another hour to wait. Really, it’s his watch, big on my wrist. The leather band smells like Opa. I’m very careful with it since it’s a Glashütte, which is infinitely special.

Sometimes Opa shows me his watch collection from the big mahogany box that’s a lot like Mutti’s (that’s what I call my mother) silverware holder. But the Glashütte was always my favorite, and one day he gave it to me. I’ve worn it ever since.

Mutti was angry at Opa for giving it to me. “It’s worth as much as a car!” she said. But Opa simply smiled. He never minds when people are upset with him.

Opa’s study is a magical place. In the corner is the totem pole he brought home from Alaska. !e wooden desk is covered with a sheet hands with people in suits and, right in the middle, a recent picture of me. !e books on his shelves are in English and German. He has me read aloud from the chair across the desk from his and tells me that I speak English without an accent, just as they speak it in Seattle, Washington, where he worked for a few years. We’re on our second time through Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Opa says it’s a very important book, so I believe him.

Opa is the only one who doesn’t seem worried about me. He never seems worried about anything. I can’t remember seeing him angry. Ever.

I hope he takes me out to his workshop in the shed this evening. It’s my favorite place. My big sister, Johanna, says it’s not fun for girls, but she’s wrong. Opa has hand tools and power tools, and all of them are perfectly hung and positioned. !e shed is as clean as Mutti’s kitchen.

Opa tells me that the Bible says all people have “gifts” from God and that all the gifts are open to girls as well as boys. He tells me I have the gifts of craftsmanship and interpretation. Those are big words, but they make me feel good.

We’ve made and fixed so many things together there. I have my own safety glasses. He lets me run the band saw all by myself. I can tell by looking at his eyes that he knows I’ll be safe. Mutti doesn’t have the same look in her eyes, no matter what I’m doing.

Mutti cuts my hair really short because she’s afraid it’s going to get caught in one of the power tools. I hate how it looks. She also tries, continually, to get me to eat more. She doesn’t like how skinny I am.

Papa works in Berlin. He got transferred there when the German government moved from Bonn after the Wall fell, when I was little. He comes home on the train most weekends. He works for the foreign

diplomatic service, and he told me this month that he might get transferred again soon, and that we might have to move to America. He and Mutti have been arguing a lot about it while I try to get to sleep at night.

I can tell the arguments are bad, because Mutti slips back into Dutch when she gets angry and also when she talks to me and Johanna. Anger and parenting seem to come out of the same place inside her.

Mutti, unlike Opa, loves to talk about growing up, and how wonderful everything was then. It’s fun to hear the stories—and to see her smile while she tells them. We take the train to visit her Dutch parents often. It takes only a few hours to reach Rotterdam. I love riding through Cologne, past the blackened dual-spired cathedral. I have another grandfather in Holland who is kind of funny and crabby at the same time. I only have one grandmother, because my German Oma died of cancer before I was born.

I love Rotterdam. My Dutch grandfather (my other Opa) takes me on bike rides through the tunnel, under the big river, and to my favorite place—the Hotel New York in the heart of the port. He buys

me a chocolate milk every time, and we watch the big ships come and go. He doesn’t like to talk about Germans, even though he reminds me that they built the bike tunnel and highway under the river. Every now and then someone mentions the War. I’ve always known my Dutch grandparents don’t like my father. They say it’s not because Papa’s German, but I think it is. He never comes along on our visits to Rotterdam.

Now I’m looking out the farm-facing window, still waiting for Opa. At the end of our backyard, the blackberry bushes start and wander off into the countryside in lots of directions. I could swear

they get bigger every year. I love to play back there—especially with Johanna. I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t have a few scrapes on my arms and legs from the thorns. !e farmers in the fields work so hard to raise crops, but blackberry bushes grow all by themselves without any help.

I’m getting impatient, so I enter Opa’s study to wait there. In his le" second drawer is his drawing kit. Precise instruments to make perfect circles and angles. Papa tells me Opa designed this house with that kit.

Opa lets me play with everything in his desk. Using the compass, I draw a perfect circle. !en I draw myself in it. I’ve done this so many times. But I’m older in the picture than in real life. And my hair isn’t short. But I can’t stop drawing circles with slightly different sizes. Once I caught myself drawing dozens of overlapping circles around the picture of me. I’m not smiling in any of these pictures. I think a lot when I’m drawing the circles.

To me, getting older just means harder jobs. Johanna works harder than I do, and I know I’ll have to be like her soon. She evenmakes dinner sometimes. Math problems get harder. Books lose their pictures and are more challenging to read. I learn so much better with Opa, because there’s no pressure.

My parents fight about me when they think I’m asleep. Papa was angry with Mutti because she yelled at me about my school grades. Mutti shot back with, “She has to get good grades because she’s not pretty.” My whole body froze in bed when I heard that. I’m not really sure what grades have to do with being pretty, but it’s very bad somehow. I think Papa would like to be more like Opa, but he can’t make it happen.

They don’t know how good I am at English. I speak it a lot better than they do. I have to keep from laughing when they try. There’s an American couple down in the village with a new baby, living in an

old, crooked apartment. I heard them speaking English and jumped in to their conversation. They asked me where in America I was from.

I fibbed and said, “Seattle.”

I think about America a lot. Maybe I could be a different person there.

Johanna’s pretty; even I can see that. It makes people, all kinds of people, happy to look at her, and they look at her longer than they mean to. I, on the other hand, make people nervous. Except for Opa, people don’t like to look right at me.

And everyone always wants me to do better than I am doing. They say it’s because they want the best for me. But it doesn’t feel good. The older I get, the further behind I am. I don’t have enough

friends. I haven’t finished enough homework. My room is not clean enough. I wasn’t polite enough to my parents’ guests. And the hardest of all: people don’t like me enough. It’s really hard work to get people to like you. Or maybe I’m especially easy to dislike.

Opa’s study has a big mirror on the door. Standing in front of it, I’m surprised by how white my skin is. My hair is black, and I have a big nose. Opa says that’s because most of the families in town have Roman heritage, and that I must have ended up with the local hair and nose. Opa tells me this town has been around for at least a hundred generations. We go for walks in the hills around the village, and he shows me where the Roman roads, walls, and vineyards were. How can anyone know so much?

Even better, Opa is the one person who knows me. Last week he brought me a present from Bonn. I opened up the long, little box and removed a black, elegant Pelikan fountain pen. It came with a bottle of ink.

He then pulled out a fresh new ledger. I had to laugh. Opa knows how much I hate math at school. It doesn’t feel real—like somebody got paid to think up a bunch of problems to drive kids like me crazy.

But Opa keeps telling me how important math is for real life, even if I don’t think so now.

For the rest of that afternoon, Opa taught me double-entry bookkeeping in ink. Real-life stuff I can actually use even now, when I’m nine years old, to keep track of the little money I earn and spend. He told me that reckoning in German marks was only for practice, because they were going to disappear in a few years, replaced by the euro.

He also taught me that money is magic, and that if you give a lot of it away to improve the world, you’ll always have more left over than you started with. That’s not what my teacher says about

subtraction, but I know, without a doubt, that Opa is right, as usual. He showed me his accounting books, going back to the 1940s. The numbers got bigger and bigger over the years.

“How does that work?” I asked


He showed me the number in a special column telling how much he gave away last year. I gasped, and my hand came to my mouth.

“That’s how,” he answered.

I asked him what I would do if I made a bookkeeping mistake with the pen.

“You won’t,” he said and smiled.

Opa believes in God. My parents are not so sure. !is confusesme all the time. Opa takes me to church on Sundays. We walk down the hill together. He and I are evangelisch—Protestant or Evangelical. It’s hard to translate the term into English. Most of our neighbors in Oberwinter are Catholic. Our stone Protestant church is very small, very old, and musty smelling. !e temperature is always cooler inside than outside. I sometimes fall asleep there on Opa’s shoulder, and he likes that.

The organist is amazing. She plays on national radio. And the organ is very old: 1722 is painted on the pipes. For the rest of my life, I’m going to make sure I can listen to organ music. My imagination

can go almost anywhere when she’s playing. After every Sunday service, the organist gives a little concert from the rear balcony where she sits. We stand, lean on the pews behind us, and watch her. We always clap when she’s done.

Johanna comes with us sometimes, but Opa says it’s important to go to church only when you want to. For whatever reason, Opa and I always want to. Maybe it’s just so we can spend Sundays together, but I know Opa would go even if I didn’t exist. It seems to help him be happy all the time and everywhere. I hope he’ll teach me this magic when I’m old enough.

I don’t understand much about what goes on in church, but I love it when they read the Bible stories for children’s worship, and the littler kids come and plop right down on my lap, as if they belong there. !is Sunday was the story about Joshua and the walls of Jericho. The German Bible says the Israelites were blowing trombones, and Opa’s English Bible says trumpets. Things like that make me think.

I hear the door.

Opa’s home.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Game of Character...Review and Giveaway

About the book:
The eagerly anticipated inspirational memoir from Michelle Obama's brother, celebrating the extraordinary family members and mentors who have shaped his life.

When he stepped into history's spotlight at the National Democratic Convention, Craig Robinson recalls that nothing could have been more gratifying than introducing his sister, Michelle Obama, to millions of Americans. Within minutes, he won the hearts of the nation by sharing highlights of growing up in the modest Robinson household, where the two were raised by devoted parents who taught them the values of education, hard work, and the importance of reaching far beyond what even seemed possible.

Those lessons of character were fundamentals in shaping Craig Robinson's own remarkable journey: from his days playing street basketball on Chicago's Southside, while excelling academically, to admission at Princeton University, where he was later named Ivy League Player of the Year, twice. After playing professionally in Europe, Robinson made an about-face, entering the competitive field of finance. With his MBA from the University of Chicago, his meteoric rise landed him a partnership in a promising new venture. But another dream beckoned and Craig made the unusual decision to forego the trappings of money and status in the business world in order to become a basketball coach. He soon helped transform three struggling teams - as an assistant coach at Northwestern, then as head coach at Brown and now at Oregon State University. In his first season at OSU, he navigated what was declared to be one of the nation's best single season turnarounds.

In A Game of Character, Robinson takes readers behind the scenes to meet his most important influences in his understanding of the winning traits that are part of his playbook for success. Central to his story are his parents, Marian and Fraser, two indefatigable individuals who showed their children how to believe in themselves and live their lives with conviction through love, discipline and respect. With insights into this exemplary family, we relive memories of how Marian sacrificed a career to be a full-time mom, how Fraser got up and went to work every day while confronting the challenges of multiple sclerosis, how Craig and Michelle strengthened their bond as they journeyed out of the Southside to Princeton University and eventually, the national stage.

Heartwarming, inspiring, and even transformational, A Game of Character comes just at the right time in an era of change, reminding readers of our opportunity to work together and embrace the character of our nation, to make a difference in the lives of others and to pave the way for the next generation.

I am, admittedly, not a fan of our current president.  I did not vote for him.  I do not hold him in high esteem and I don't agree with most of his politics and ideals.  So, when I was approached with the request to review a memoir written by the President's brother-in-law, I was a bit apprehensive that it would be an Obama love fest.  I do like memoirs, however, so I agreed to review A Game of Character and I'm really glad I did.

Craig shares the story of his beloved parents, Fraser and Marian Robinson, and the manner in which they raised Craig and his sister Michelle.  Fraser and Marian sound like ordinary, everyday people who managed to do extraordinary things.  They weren't prosperous or wealthy, but they instilled family values and the importance of hard work into their children. They managed to send their children to Ivy League schools and supported and encouraged them in every activity.  Fraser Robinson believed in the importance of a person's character and he passed that on to his children. 

The Robinson/Obama family has a high opinion of itself, which is something that many highly successful people have.  Understandably, Craig is very proud of his sister and brother-in-law.  I appreciated that the political tones were simply because Barack Obama is part of his family and, therefore, the election and his being President of the United States is simply a part of their family life.  Craig can't help that and he didn't use this book to preach about his brother-in-law's policies, which was refreshing.

Craig likens everything in the book to basketball. His writing style is very conversational and easy to read. The analogies, the lessons learned and the jargon are all basketball related.  I like basketball and have a more than rudimentary understanding of it, but where the endless basketball analogies might annoy a non-sports fan, I think the lessons learned will resonate with everyone.

Thanks to Lisa at TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review this book. You can learn more about Craig Robinson here. You can purchase your own copy here.  You can see other reviews and tour stops here.

Wednesday, May 18th:  Gunfighter
Monday, May 23rd:  The Cinco Mom
Wednesday, May 25th:  Books Like Breathing
Monday, May 30th:  Knowing the Difference
Wednesday, June 1st:  My Book Retreat
Friday, June 3rd: Suko’s Notebook
Monday, June 6th:  Book Club Classics!
Wednesday, June 8th:  Book Dads
Friday, June 10th:  Bibliosue
Monday, June 13th:  The Brain Lair
Tuesday, June 14th: Silver and Grace
Wednesday, June 15th:  The Loop 21
Thursday, June 16th:  Chefdruk Musings
Monday, June 20th:  2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews
Wednesday, June 22nd:  The Black Bar

Because I enjoyed A Game of Character so much, thanks to the publisher, I'm offering a giveaway.

It really bugs me when you have to jump through tons of hoops in order to enter giveaways, so a comment with your email address will suffice.

If you change your profile to have your email address visible, if it isn't already, you will gain an additional entry.

I ask this because it's so annoying to have someone leave a comment you would like to respond to, but can't, because their email is hidden. This is especially annoying if a question is asked in said comment.

If you choose to become a follower or tell me you already are, you can gain an additional entry too.

If you wanted to blog or tweet about it, that's great too, and you'd get an extra entry for that.

Just tell me in your comment if you've done any of the extras. You don't need to leave separate comments for each thing (too annoying!).  Seriously though, just commenting is enough for me.

U.S. or Canada addresses only and no P.O. Boxes. Sorry!

This giveaway ends July 9th.

This giveaway is now closed.

Read 6/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Friday, June 17, 2011

Area 51...Review by the Doctor

About the book:
Area 51: It is the most famous military installation in the world. And it doesn't exist. Located a mere seventy-five miles outside of Las Vegas in Nevada's desert, the base has never been acknowledged by the U.S. government-but Area 51 has captivated imaginations for decades.

Myths and hypotheses about Area 51 have long abounded, thanks to the intense secrecy enveloping it. Some claim it is home to aliens, underground tunnel systems, and nuclear facilities. Others believe that the lunar landing itself was filmed there. The prevalence of these rumors stems from the fact that no credible insider has ever divulged the truth about his time inside the base. Until now.

Annie Jacobsen had exclusive access to nineteen men who served the base proudly and secretly for decades and are now aged 75-92, and unprecedented access to fifty-five additional military and intelligence personnel, scientists, pilots, and engineers linked to the secret base, thirty-two of whom lived and worked there for extended periods. In Area 51, Jacobsen shows us what has really gone on in the Nevada desert, from testing nuclear weapons to building super-secret, supersonic jets to pursuing the War on Terror.

This is the first book based on interviews with eye witnesses to Area 51 history, which makes it the seminal work on the subject. Filled with formerly classified information that has never been accurately decoded for the public, Area 51 weaves the mysterious activities of the top-secret base into a gripping narrative, showing that facts are often more fantastic than fiction, especially when the distinction is almost impossible to make.

I think the best way that I can write this review is to do it in two parts, because for me this book is really two books in one book.

The bulk of the book is a review of the history of Area 51, and its association with the U2 project, the A-12 Oxcart project and the UAV/Predator projects. As someone who loves the history of "black ops" America, I found this incredibly fascinating. I was very blessed in my life to have met somebody who worked in that kind of field and who, to his deathbed, never told me a damn thing about it, even though he knew I was chomping at the bit to learn more.

I loved the technical specifications, and the descriptions of the lonely life of the scientist living in a place which still to this day is not recognized as officially existing. The photos in the book were phenomenal, especially when detailing the A-12 Oxcart project, and its eventual “bastard stepchild”, the SR 71 Blackbird, which I still think is the most beautiful airframe to ever get off the ground. I found the bulk of this book fascinating, and well researched. A wonderful story told in a wonderful narrative.

The second "part" of this book, although it is a theme that runs through the book, details the Roswell crash, and the multitude of theories that have grown up around the remnants of whatever it was that crashed. Anyone familiar with the Roswell incident will tell you that the number of different stories out there about this supposed "UFO" crash, and subsequent cleanup by the military, are legend, and grow more fantastic with each telling. I'm not going to spoil the book by telling you the author’s theory, because I honestly do think this book is worth buying just for the historical aspect alone. I'll just say that I disagree with her eventual conclusions, even though I have nothing concrete to disprove it. Does this make me a Roswell "believer"? I don't know, other than the fact that every time someone has used the theory of Occam's razor (look it up if you don't know it) to try and explain something to me, invariably it turned out to be an attempt to cover up something more.

In summary, I think Mulder and Scully would give this two thumbs up, and then Mulder would go on to explain why the author is wrong about Roswell, while Scully rolls her eyes skyward in sheer frustration.

My recommendation is to buy this book, because it's a great read, well researched and good fun. It will remind you of the time when America lead the world, and created some really interesting technology while doing it.

Thanks to Anna Balasi from Hatchette Books for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Annie Jacobsen here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 6/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Chasing Sunsets...Review

About the book:
Kimberly Tucker's life hasn't turned out the way she thought it would. A divorced mother of two, Kim resents her ex-husband for moving on with his life and living it up while she struggles to understand what went wrong. When her sons end up spending five weeks of summer vacation with their father, Kim's own father suggests a respite in the family vacation home on tiny Cedar Key Island. As Kim revisits her childhood memories and loves, she soon discovers that treasures in life are often buried, and mistakes--both past and present--become redeemable in God's hand.

Readers will be swept away to an island retreat where they walk alongside Kim as she discovers that God's answers may not come easily, but they do come.

Still reeling from a divorce, Kimberly struggles when her ex-husband manipulates a judge into allowing him a longer summer vacation with their boys.  At a loss for what to do, Kim finds herself back in Cedar Key, Florida at her family's vacation home.  Yearning to recover from the emotional upheavals in her life, she also learns secrets about her own family and finds herself reacquainted with an old friend and an old flame.   As she rediscovers past memories and experiences, she also reacquaints herself with God and his role in her life.

Chasing Sunsets deals with serious topics of divorce and alcoholism, but it's not a heavy book. It's also not a light-hearted beach read, but a terrific combination of both.  Eva Marie Everson tackles these topics well and her characters are likeable, real people with strengths and weaknesses.  I liked Kimberly and Steve.  I can't wait for more of Patsy's story to be revealed in the next book.

This is the first in a new series and I look forward to more Cedar Key novels.

Available June 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.   You can learn more about Eva Marie Everson here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

 Read 6/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Last Letter...Review

About the book:
Katherine wouldn’t have believed it if she hadn’t found the last letter…

Katherine Arthur’s dying mother arrives on her doorstep, forcing her to relive a past she wanted to forget. When Katherine was young, the Arthur family had been affluent city dwellers until shame sent them running for the prairie, into the unknown. Taking her family, including young Katherine, to live off the land was the last thing Jeanie Arthur had wanted, but she would do her best to make a go of it. For Jeanie’s husband Frank it had been a world of opportunity. Dreaming, lazy Frank. But, it was a society of uncertainty — a domain of natural disasters, temptation, hatred, even death.

Ten-year-old Katherine had loved her mother fiercely, put her trust in her completely, but when there was no other choice, and Jeanie resorted to extreme measures on the prairie to save her family, she tore Katherine’s world apart. Now, seventeen years later, Katherine has found the truth — she has discovered the last letter. After years of anger, can Katherine find it in her heart to understand why her mother made the decisions that changed them all? Can she forgive and finally begin to heal before it’s too late?

I've seen so many good reviews of this book and I tried.  I really tried. 

Fiction but inspired by letters and the lives of the authors great-great grandparents, the story has a lot of potential, but ultimately it's just tragic.  Jeanie was a strong woman who did the best she could with what she was given and the consequences of her choices affected her family forever.  Unfortunately, like the other characters in the book, she wasn't at all likeable. I never felt any connection or sympathy for her or Katherine.

I know that life on the frontier was difficult and full of harsh realities.  The famous blizzard of 1888 is well known and horrific in its aftermath.  Yet, with so many stories of the pioneers and those who came west, there is hope amidst trials along with love and joy in family.  In this story, there was never any hope.  These characters had difficult, horrible lives and experiences that left them bitter and angry.  The mother/daughter relationship didn't inspire me, it frustrated me. 

Some will find it inspiring that forgiveness and understanding come almost when its too late, but I just found it sad and depressing. 

Thanks to Jessica at BookSparks PR for the opportunity to review this book. You can learn more about Kathleen Shoop here. You can purchase your own copy here

You can find other perspectives and positive reviews at 5 Minutes for Books, Life in the Thumb, Manic Mommy, Bless Their Hearts Mom, and Hanging Off the Wire.

Read 6/11

1/5 Stars

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Joy for Beginners...Review and Giveaway

About the book:
At an intimate, festive dinner party in Seattle, six women gather to celebrate their friend Kate's recovery from cancer. Wineglass in hand, Kate strikes a bargain with them. To celebrate her new lease on life, she'll do the one thing that's always terrified her: white-water rafting. But if she goes, all of them will also do something they always swore they'd never do-and Kate is going to choose their adventures.

Shimmering with warmth, wit, and insight,
Joy for Beginners is a celebration of life: unexpected, lyrical, and deeply satisfying.

Normally I would peg a book like this as cliched and predictable.  Instead, it's warm and inspiring.  Kate has overcome breast cancer and at a celebratory dinner, decides to go white-water rafting down the Colorado river with her daughter.  Her friends are thrilled for her until she tells them that they each must also do something new or something that scares them and that she is going to choose what challenge or adventure they have.

Each chapter is one woman's story, yet they all intertwine together nicely.  We learn how such a disparate group of women came to be such close, intimate friends.  Some of their challenges seem simple: learn to bake bread, take a trip by yourself or get rid of the books.  What makes this novel wonderful, however, is discovering the why behind each challenge and learning the history or event that lead Kate to give specific, unique challenges to her friends.

Joy for Beginners is beautifully written.  Erica Bauermeister has a wonderful way with words and her descriptions and narrative are simply captivating.  I know that this is a book I will read again and the next time I do, I will probably have a high-lighter handy.  This novel was a delight to read and when I finished it, I was reflective and grateful anew for girlfriends who love and support and encourage me.

Thanks to Lisa at TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Erica Bauermeister here.  You can purchase your own copy here.  You can see other reviews and tour stops here.

Monday, June 6th:  Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, June 7th:  Raging Bibliomania
Wednesday, June 8th:  Books, Movies, and Chinese Food
Thursday, June 9th:  Jenny Loves to Read
Friday, June 10th:  Amusing Reviews
Monday, June 13th:  Book Club Classics!
Tuesday, June 14th:  2 Kids and Tired
Wednesday, June 15th:  Books and Movies
Thursday, June 16th:  Joyfully Retired
Friday, June 17th:  Redlady’s Reading Room
Monday, June 20th:  Luxury Reading
Tuesday, June 21st:  Teresa’s Reading Corner
Wednesday, June 22nd:  Rundpinne
Thursday, June 23rd:  Lit and Life
Friday, June 24th:  Lori’s Reading Corner
Monday, June 27th:  The Brain Lair
Tuesday,June 28th:  Library of Clean Reads
Wednesday, June 29th:  Life in Review
Thursday, June 30th:  POOF.. books
Date TBD:  Bookish Ruth

Because I loved Joy for Beginners so much, thanks to the publisher, I'm offering a giveaway.

It really bugs me when you have to jump through tons of hoops in order to enter giveaways, so a comment with your email address will suffice.

If you change your profile to have your email address visible, if it isn't already, you will gain an additional entry.

I ask this because it's so annoying to have someone leave a comment you would like to respond to, but can't, because their email is hidden. This is especially annoying if a question is asked in said comment.

If you choose to become a follower or tell me you already are, you can gain an additional entry too.

Just tell me in your comment if you've done any of the extras. You don't need to leave separate comments for each thing (too annoying!).

U.S. or Canada addresses only and no P.O. Boxes. Sorry!

This giveaway is now closed.

Read 6/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck...Review

Unlikely romance is sometimes just an inconvenient marriage away

Charlotte Beck may be entering adulthood, but she can’t seem to keep to her stubborn, independent spirit from bucking social protocol. Fed up with her behavior, Charlotte’s father Daniel pressures her to settle into a nice marriage despite knowing she is set on going to college. Then Daniel sees Charlotte with the handsome but annoying English astronomer Alex Hambly, and everything changes.

Though Alex and Charlotte can barely stand one another, Daniel offers them a deal they can’t refuse: if they agree to marry, he will save Alex’s family from financial ruin and grant Charlotte the freedom to go to college. Reluctantly the couple agrees, but in private they plot to annul the marriage as soon as possible.

But when Alex’s feelings change and he refuses to dissolve their contract, will Charlotte find a way out of her vows? Or will she discover that maybe this marriage isn’t so inconvenient after all?

Charlotte is a spoiled little rich girl who wants to go to college and entertains ideas of running her father's business.  Alex is a titled second son whose family finances are running dry.  Neither is happy with Charlotte's father's offer of marriage.  If they marry, Charlotte can go to college and Alex will have the money he needs to revive his family's financial situation.

I liked it as a light escape read, nothing more.  Charlotte annoyed me so much with her over the top antics that I nearly put the book down a couple of times.  Yes, there was humorous repartee and I liked Alex, but the whole premise was a stretch for me. The Christian elements are light and while prayer is discussed as important, no one ever actually prays or attends church. 

I wish that publishers would indicate when a book is part of a series.  This one, apparently, is the third in a trilogy and there were times when I felt lost and didn't understand some references and that was most likely because I haven't read the first two books.

This is one of those novels that ardent fans of historical Christian fiction will love.  They will praise it and adore it for the humor and the banter.  For me, it was an entertaining diversion, nothing stellar.

Thanks to Waterbrook Multnomah for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Kathleen Y'Barbo here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 6/11

* * *
3/5 Stars

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Sweetest Thing...Review

About the book:
The Singleton family's fortunes seem unaffected by the Great Depression, and Perri--along with the other girls at Atlanta's elite Washington Seminary--lives a carefree life of tea dances with college boys, matinees at the cinema, and debut parties. But when tragedies strike, Perri is confronted with a world far different from the one she has always known.

At the insistence of her parents, Mary "Dobbs" Dillard, the daughter of an itinerant preacher, is sent from inner-city Chicago to live with her aunt and attend Washington Seminary, bringing confrontation and radical ideas. Her arrival intersects at the point of Perri's ultimate crisis, and the tragedy forges an unlikely friendship.

The Sweetest Thing tells the story of two remarkable young women--opposites in every way--fighting for the same goal: surviving tumultuous change.

When I think of the great depression, I think of every single person in America being affected financially.  For many in the upper echelons of affluent society, however, the depression never touched them directly. All were aware of the significant impact to the country and many helped those in need.  In The Sweetest Thing, Perri Singleton never anticipated that her family's financial situation was dire until tragedy struck.  Dobbs Dillard rarely had enough food on the table, let alone fancy dresses and servants. So when she was sent to Atlanta to live with a wealthy aunt, she entered a new world.

As the depression overtakes the country, the two girls form an unlikely, yet strong friendship. Through Dobbs, Perri discovers a talent for photography and a belief in God.  And when Dobbs finds her faith wavering, it's through Perri that she ultimately learns about what is important to her.

This is a compelling, rich novel.  The secondary characters add as much color and richness to the story as the primary ones.  With the alternating first-person perspectives of Dobbs and Perri we learn about friendship and love; misunderstandings and making up; and loss and grief and anger.  Most importantly, we learn how life changing a bosom friendship can be.

This is a beautiful story for anyone who values friendship.

Thanks to Bethany House for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Elizabeth Musser here.  You can purchase your own copy here.  

Read 6/11

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Spring for Susannah...Review

When Susannah goes to Dakota territory as a mail-order bride she finds something she never dreamed she would-true love.

With no prospects for marriage and her parents recently deceased, Susannah Underhill agrees to go west to the Dakota territory to marry her minister's homesteading brother, Jesse. But Susannah is painfully shy, doesn't see herself as worthy of love from either a husband or from God, and lives in constant fear that Jesse is going to ship her back to Detroit.

In spite of her petite size and the fact that Susannah doesn't look like she could survive on the prairie, Jesse quickly discovers that his new wife is a greater blessing than he even hoped for. The years she spent as her father's veterinary assistant allow her to save Jesse's ox and twin calves and to help neighboring farmers with their animals.

But Susannah's feelings of unworthiness are deeply rooted, and she can't believe that Jesse's praise-or the tenderness and love he shows-could possibly last. The thawing of her heart seems almost as distant as Spring in the midst of the winter blanketing the Dakota prairie.

I've seen all kinds of rave reviews about Spring for Susannah and I had terrific hopes for it.  This is not quite your typical mail-order bride scenario.  Shy Susannah isn't sure what to expect when she accepts the offer to marry Jesse Mason and join him in Dakota territory.  Raised to believe a woman should keep her thoughts and opinions to herself, she is unprepared to fall in love with a man who encourages her to be strong and to think for herself.  Through trials and tragedies Susannah begins to blossom and it's wonderful to see her become a strong, independent woman.

I thought it refreshing that the story had a more intimate, romantic element that isn't usually found in historical Christian novels.  There was nothing overtly graphic or inappropriate, but there is clear indication that Jesse and Susannah are a  married couple who are attracted to each other and who enjoy marital relations.

I did struggle with the story when Jesse suddenly leaves in search of work.  Susannah comes into her own but the story kinds of shuffles along and I found the ending somewhat abrupt.  Still, overall, an enjoyable, easy read and a good debut novel from an author who I think will only get better. 

Thanks to Amy at Litfuse Publicity for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Catherine Richmond here.  You can purchase your own copy here.  You can see other tour stops and reviews here.

Read 6/11

* * *
3/5 Stars