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Friday, September 27, 2013

Blackmoore...Review

About the book:
Kate Worthington knows her heart and she knows she will never marry. Her plan is to travel to India instead—if only to find peace for her restless spirit and to escape the family she abhors. But Kate’s meddlesome mother has other plans. She makes a bargain with Kate: India, yes, but only after Kate has secured—and rejected—three marriage proposals.

Kate journeys to the stately manor of Blackmoore determined to fulfill her end of the bargain and enlists the help of her dearest childhood friend, Henry Delafield. But when it comes to matters of love, bargains are meaningless and plans are changeable. There on the wild lands of Blackmoore, Kate must face the truth that has kept her heart captive. Will the proposal she is determined to reject actually be the one thing that will set her heart free?

Set in Northern England in 1820, Blackmoore is a Regency romance that tells the story of a young woman struggling to learn how to follow her heart. It is Wuthering Heights meets Little Women with a delicious must-read twist.

I read Julianne's first novel, Edenbrooke, and thought it a nice debut and so I was curious to read this new story.  The setting is Regency and a dark castle on the moors.  Kate has always longed to visit Blackmoore, the manor home of Henry, her closest friend.  When her opportunity finally arrives, there are selfish meddlesome mothers and unwelcome new friends who stand in the way of her enjoyment of visiting Blackmoore and who may inhibit Kate's future chance for happiness.

I didn't like Kate at first, but she grew on me.  I adored Henry.  But, the rest of the characters?  Wow, not a likeable one in the bunch.  Both mothers were extreme caricatures and odious.  I believe her mother's inappropriate behavior would have had her shunned from polite society and Kate really needed to find her backbone sooner than she did.

The novel alternates between Kate's current story and flashbacks which are necessary to explain the history and experiences that have brought her to this point in time.  I thought the ending was abrupt and there were some unanswered questions.  I wanted closure and to know what happened with some of these horrible people as well as the fall out from Kate and Henry's decisions.

Like Edenbrooke, howeverthis is a sweet, clean romance; entertaining and a nice diversion.  Fans of Regency romance will enjoy it.

Thanks to Shadow Mountain for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Julianne Donaldson here.  You can see other review and tour stops here. You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 9/13

* * *
3/5 Stars

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking...Review

About the book:
A celebrated food writer captures the flavors of the Soviet experience in a sweeping, tragicomic, multi-generational memoir that brilliantly illuminates the history and culture of a vanished empire.

Proust had his madeleine; Narnia's Edmund had his Turkish delight. Anya von Bremzen has vobla-rock-hard, salt-cured dried Caspian roach fish. Lovers of vobla risk breaking a tooth or puncturing a gum on the once-popular snack, but for Anya it's transporting. Like kotleti (Soviet burgers) or the festive Salat Olivier, it summons up the complex, bittersweet flavors of life in that vanished Atlantis called the USSR. There, born in 1963 in a Kafkaesque communal apartment where eighteen families shared one kitchen, Anya grew up singing odes to Lenin, black-marketeering Juicy Fruit gum at her school, and, like most Soviet citizens, longing for a taste of the mythical West. It was a life by turns absurd, drab, naively joyous, melancholy-and, finally, intolerable to her anti-Soviet mother. When she was ten, the two of them fled the political repression of Brezhnev-era Russia, arriving in Philadelphia with no winter coats and no right of return.

These days Anya lives in two parallel food universes: one in which she writes about four-star restaurants, the other in which a simple banana-a once a year treat back in the USSR-still holds an almost talismanic sway over her psyche. To make sense of that past, she and her mother decided to eat and cook their way through seven decades of the Soviet experience. Through the meals she and her mother re-create, Anya tells the story of three generations-her grandparents', her mother's, and her own. Her family's stories are embedded in a larger historical epic: of Lenin's bloody grain requisitioning, World War II hunger and survival, Stalin's table manners, Khrushchev's kitchen debates, Gorbachev's anti-alcohol policies, and the ultimate collapse of the USSR. And all of it is bound together by Anya's sardonic wit, passionate nostalgia, and piercing observations.

This is that rare book that stirs our souls and our senses.

I have always had a fascination with Russia.  The Russia I grew up with was Soviet, communist and forbidden.  The Cold War was in full swing and there was a mystique about the country that simply captivated me.  Glimpses of icons like St. Basil's Cathedral seemed so stark in contrast to what we viewed as the dreary, monotone gray of every day Soviet life.

In her memoir, food writer, Anya von Bremzen blends the politics of the time with her family experiences as she recounts her life in Soviet Russia before she and her mother immigrated to America.  As with many who emigrated from oppressed cultures, Anya's family stories aren't all happy. But, they are thought-provoking and honest.

I wasn't a big fan of her writing as it tried too hard to be literary and it wasn't a book that I could read quickly. I would have liked to see the recipes included in each chapter, rather than at the end of the book. Unfortunately, few sounded very appetizing, but I may still try one or two.

Memories and life experiences revolve around food and the enjoyment of it as well as the lack of it and Anya's story brings that concept to life.

Thanks to Amazon Vine for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Anya von Bremzen here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 9/13

* * *
3/5

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Love's Awakening...Review

About the book: 
The path to true love lies somewhere between two feuding families.

In the spring of 1822, Ellie Ballantyne leaves finishing school and returns to the family home in Pittsburgh only to find that her parents are away on a long journey and her siblings don't seem to want her to stay. Determined to stand her ground and find her place in the world, Ellie fills her time by opening a day school for young ladies.

But when one of her students turns out to be an incorrigible young member of the Turlock family, Ellie knows she must walk a fine line. Slaveholders and whiskey magnates, the Turlocks are envious of the powerful Ballantynes and suspicious of their abolitionist leanings. As Ellie becomes increasingly entangled with the rival clan--particularly the handsome Jack Turlock--she finds herself falling in love with an impossible future. Will she betray her family and side with the enemy?

Laura Frantz is one of my favorite storytellers.  I anxiously look forward to each of her books.  When the first book in the Ballantyne series came out however, I was a bit disappointed.  I liked it, I didn't love it. However, I knew that there was more to the Ballantyne family and I wanted to see what happened to them. In Love's Awakening, I was happily encouraged to discover just that.

The youngest of Silas and Eden's children, Ellie Ballantyne is the favored child.  When she returns home from finishing school, she wants to find her place.  Her older siblings are involved in their lives and in their efforts to protect her, leave her feeling unwanted.  However, Ellie is determined.  As she starts her own school, she finds herself teaching the wild youngest Turlock child.  Ignoring the longstanding disagreements between the two families, Ellie is determined to teach Chloe and drawing closer to the girl also brings her closer to Jack Turlock.

Historically, I loved the inclusion of the Underground Railroad. And, Ellie is a fantastic heroine, right on par with Laura's other heroines, Morrow and Roxanna.  I adored her and she and Jack are fantastic together.  Getting to know Silas and Eden as parents and seeing how much they were still in love was enjoyable. And, as she does in Love's Reckoning, Laura shows the reader that love rises from the ashes of suffering and hurt and that forgiveness is a beautiful thing.

Thanks to Lanette from Baker Publishing for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Laura Frantz here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 9/13

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Invention of Sarah Cummings...Review

About the book:
Sarah Cummings has one goal in life--to break into Chicago's high society. Desperate to stop serving dinner and to start eating at society tables, Sarah alters cast-off gowns from the wealthy Banning women to create lustrous, flattering dresses of her own. On a whim at a chance meeting, she presents herself as Serena Cuthbert, weaving a fictitious past to go with her fictitious name. But as she gets closer to Simon Tewell, the director of St. Andrew's Orphanage, Sarah finds that she must choose between the life she has and the life she dreams of. Will she sacrifice love to continue her pretense? Or can Simon show her that sometimes you don't have to pretend for dreams to come true?

Olivia Newport brings us back to Prairie Avenue to explore the place where class, social expectations, and romance come together. Readers will enjoy following the intrepid Sarah as she searches for true love in a world of illusions.

Olivia Newport is a fantastic storyteller. Her grasp of the historical and blending fact with fiction is terrific. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this series. The Pursuit of Lucy Banning and The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow. Lucy and Charlotte were terrific characters and both of them return to this story.  I never liked Sarah in the other books.  Seriously, she had no redeeming qualities and I was concerned about her being the center of this book.  Her resolve to better herself is noble and her ability to create beauty from cast offs was admirable.  Her pretenses and lies however, weren't.

And while Sarah still isn't my favorite, she did redeem herself to a point and I appreciated that she grew up and recognized what was good and right in her life.

For me, it was the supporting characters that made this book enjoyable.  Lillie was fantastic.  I'd love to see her story.  And I loved getting to know Simon better. Not my favorite of the series, but still a heartwarming story.

Thanks to Lanette at Baker Publishing for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Olivia Newport here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 9/13

* * *
3/5 Stars

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Old Rectory: Escape to a Country Kitchen...Review

About the book:
When author Julia Ibbotson and her husband first saw the old Victorian rectory in dire need of renovation, a mile out of the nearest village in the midst of the English moorlands, they fell in love with it and the lifestyle it represented, with its farmhouse kitchen range at its heart. This delightful memoir describes the trials and tribulations of their quest to make their vision come true.

They hoped they could make the sad, neglected house glow again and that they could integrate themselves into the small traditional village, with its cottages, hall and outlying farms. The Old Rectory focuses on the centrality of the kitchen as the pulse of the family and home, and shows the importance of food and cooking throughout the changing seasons, history and moods of the countryside as the couple strive to live the dream.

An engaging book that evokes similar feelings to Under the Tuscan Sun.  Like Frances Mayes in Italy, Julia Ibbotson and her husband purchase an English property that needs serious restoration. As they begin that restoration, they discover the rectory's rich history, as well as a delightful village and neighbors.  In researching the home's history, Julia also researches and discovers new Victorian era recipes that become part of her cooking repertoire as she imagines they could have been prepared years past in the old rectory's kitchen.

As the author and her husband became part of the community, the tales of the villagers, both past and present were charming.  The book follows the natural progression of the renovation and the author has divided it into seasons, with the recipes corresponding.

I loved the Englishness of the book; the language, the descriptions, the recipes.  I appreciate that the recipes contain U.S. measurement conversions. While the book contains some lovely sketches, I found myself longing to see what the house itself looks like.  There are no photos in the book or on the author's website and I would love to see a before and after.

A lovely memoir and quick enjoyable read.  Perfect for curling up in front of your fireplace with a cup of cocoa or tea!

Thanks to Pump Up Your Book Promotion for the opportunity to read this book.  You can learn more about Julia Ibbotson here.  You can purchase your own copy here.  You can see other reviews and tour stops here.

Read 9/13

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Warm Up Your Winter...Review

About the book:
Snuggle up next to the fire!

While winter rages outside, nothing beats a steaming mug of hot chocolate or cider. Warm up Your Winter includes delightful recipes for Classic Hot Cocoa, Pumpkin Pie, White Hot Chocolate, and Hot Caramel Apple Cider. Don’t just survive the winter—warm it up!

For many people, hot chocolate is a cold weather drink.  For me, it's a daily occurrence.  I have a daily cup of cocoa like many people have their daily cup of coffee.

I've enjoyed the cooking blog Real Mom Kitchen and so I was happy to see that Laura has put out this booklet full of hot chocolate and cider recipes.  I love the idea of adding caramel syrup to hot cider!

Laura rightfully explains that hot chocolate is usually made with actual chocolate and hot cocoa is made with cocoa powder. I believe that hot cocoa made with prepared packets is sacrilege. In my experience, most commercial hot cocoa mixes contain more sugar and powdered milk than they do actual cocoa.  Even those brands that are labeled Gourmet. And to make hot chocolate with water instead of milk is blasphemy. Complete and utter blasphemy.

I was glad to see that only one of these recipes actually calls for using hot cocoa packets. I don't buy prepared packets.  My preference, if I'm not using actual chocolate, is Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa. Ghirardelli is one of my favorite brands of chocolate and this cocoa mix does not include powdered milk. Thank goodness, because powdered milk doesn't make cocoa creamier, it makes it weaker.  If I use cocoa mix, I often add chocolate to my cocoa, such as a Ghirardelli square, or some shaved unsweetened chocolate and a peppermint candy or candy cane.

Most of these recipes are made for 4+ servings, but the ideas for add-ins are terrific and it's easy to adapt many to make an individual cup.  This recipe is included in the book and is one of my favorite recipes.  (I would add Ghirardelli squares to it!)  I don't put marshmallows in mine and I don't put canned whipped cream on it either.

Classic Hot Cocoa

1/2 cup sugar
1/4-1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup half and half
4 cups whole milk
Whipped Cream or Mini Marshmallows

Stir together sugar, cocoa and salt in medium saucepan; add half and half. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Simmer 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add milk; stirring constantly, heat to desired serving temperature. Do Not Boil. Remove cocoa from heat; whisk or beat until frothy. Top with whipped cream or marshmallows.

Serves 4
-----------------------------

The quality of your drink is only as good as the quality of your chocolate.  Use real chocolate or real cocoa whenever you can and always use half and half along with real whipping cream.

Thanks to Cedar Fort for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Laura Powell here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 9/13

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Friday, September 13, 2013

Rebellious Heart...Review

About the book:
Because she's a woman, higher learning was always closed to Susanna Smith. But her quick mind and quicker tongue never back down from a challenge. And she's determined to marry well, so she'll be able to continue her work with the less fortunate.

Growing up with little to his name, poor country lawyer Benjamin Ross dreams of impacting the world for the better. When introduced to the Smiths he's taken by Susanna's intelligence and independent spirit, but her parents refuse to see him as a suitor for their daughter.

When the life of a runaway indentured servant is threatened, Susanna is forced to choose between justice and mercy, and Ben becomes her unlikely advisor. But drawing closer to this man of principle and intellect lands her in a dangerous, secret world of rebellion and revolution against everything she once held dear.

I love strong heroines.  I love reading about women who stand up for their beliefs, their rights and others. Susanna was just that.  Inherently good, she helps the poor and the widowed and educates their daughters even when she herself can't attend school because she's a woman.  When an abused indentured girl comes across her path, Susanna knows she must help her. The redcoats who patrol their community however, are vicious and mean and will not even stop at death to punish those they see as bad.

The historical setting was fascinating: colonial, pre-revolution when resentment and rebellion toward England was brewing among the colonists.  I loved these characters.  They were strong, intelligent and unafraid to stand up for themselves and others  even at danger to their own lives.  The romance is passionate, but clean and the story Christian, but non-preachy.  I'd love a sequel.

Jody drew inspiration from the courtship and history of John and Abigail Adams and fictionalized their story here.  If they were at all like Ben and Susanna, I'm curious to read more about them.

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

Read 9/13

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Depression and Your Child: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers...Review

About the book:
Seeing your child suffer in any way is a harrowing experience for any parent. Mental illness in children can be particularly draining due to the mystery surrounding it, and the issue of diagnosis at such a tender age. Depression and Your Child gives parents and caregivers a uniquely textured understanding of pediatric depression, its causes, its symptoms, and its treatments. Author Deborah Serani weaves her own personal experiences of being a depressed child along with her clinical experiences as a psychologist treating depressed children.

Current research, treatments and trends are presented in easy to understand language and tough subjects like self-harm, suicide and recovery plans are addressed with supportive direction. Parents will learn tips on how to discipline a depressed child, what to expect from traditional treatments like psychotherapy and medication, how to use holistic methods to address depression, how to avoid caregiver burnout, and how to move through the trauma of diagnosis and plan for the future.

Real life cases highlight the issues addressed in each chapter and resources and a glossary help to further understanding for those seeking additional information. Parents and caregivers are sure to find here a reassuring approach to childhood depression that highlights the needs of the child even while it emphasizes the need for caregivers to care for themselves and other family members as well.

I have a child who has Asperger's Syndrome and suffers from anxiety.  While we haven't seen signs of depression in him, that is still a possibility as he goes through his life.  As I went through this book, I was brought back to the early days of realizing that my son had some issues.  Our first diagnosis was Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and speech and language delays.  As our son was put into an early intervention program, The Doctor and I set out to educate ourselves and to learn about everything we could on SPD. The more we learned about the disorder, the more we filled our "toolbox" with techniques and knowledge and coping mechanisms and things we could do to help our son.  For instance, we learned that spinning helped to calm him down, we learned about how loud noises and crowds affected him, as well as other things.

As our son has grown older, we have seen his diagnosis finally evolve into Asperger's and he is quite a classic definition of it, although mild.  Again, we educated ourselves and we have continued to fill that toolbox as we learn about him and how he reacts to situations, how he learns, and somewhat how he thinks. We have a team of doctors and teachers who work with our son and together we do what we can to help give him the best possible situation in life.  When we started to see the signs of anxiety, we talked with his doctor and he began seeing a counselor who he loves.

As I read this book, I had the thought that this is a perfect book for those parents who are wanting to learn and educate themselves about depression.  It's a book full of resources, and is written in a straightforward manner. It's not full of big, undefined medical terms.  I liked the case studies that made things more relatable. The myth section was eye-opening and I loved the chapter on holistic approaches to depression.  Being married to a chiropractor, I have a firm opinion that all medicine should work together.  I have a couple of prescriptions I need to take regularly but I complement those with some homeopathic supplements.  I have a son who needed open heart surgery at birth and nothing else would have saved his life. So, my belief is that medicine, whether allopathic or homeopathic can and should all work together.  Here, Deborah talks about the importance of vitamins, touch, movement, music and more as well as explaining and addressing the use of traditional treatments like anti-depressants which are also effective in managing depression.

Overall, a great resource for parents who want to know and understand what their child is going through and how to help.

Thanks to Dorothy at Pump Up Your Book! for the opportunity to review this book.. You can learn more about Deborah Serani here.  You can purchase your own copy here.  You can see other reviews and tour stops here.

Read 9/13

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Promise...Review

About the book:
For the last five months, Tom Anderson has been without a job, a fact he's been hiding from his wife Jean--and everyone else. He leaves each morning, pretending nothing has changed, and spends his disheartening day rotating through coffee shops and the library, using their wifi to search job listings online. The stress of keeping this secret is beginning to put serious strain on his marriage.

But Tom's not the only one hiding something. Jean Anderson has a secret of her own--one that will seriously complicate their situation. Will the promises they made on their wedding day hold firm?


Combining the literary talents of Dan Walsh and the relationship expertise of Gary Smalley, The Restoration Series pulls back the curtain of a family that has laid their foundation on shifting sand, but is slowly rediscovering genuine love and the power of forgiveness.

When I was offered this book to review, it was not clearly pitched to me as being part of a series.  I wish it had been. It's the second in The Restoration Series and I think it picks up right after the first book, which I have not read. I think the books should be read in order.

The formula for The Promise seems to be very similar, as near as I can tell, to the first book, The Dance.   That formula includes a difficult marriage, reconciliation and renewed faith in God.  While this book picked up towards the end, I just didn't like the characters.  Perhaps if I had connected with them in The Dance, it would have been better.  I did appreciate that the story addressed the idea that we carry our childhood issues with us and that unless a conscious decision is made to change, we tend to parent the way we were parented and we treat our marriages the way we observed in our own parents, family, etc.  I appreciated that the Anderson men learned to make those determined changes.

I have loved the previous Dan Walsh books I've read.  This one, however, was disappointing. My opinion is only one, though and there are many other more positive reviews and you can see some at Book Critiques, Radiant Light, and Found a Christian by His Grace.

Available August 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Thanks to Lanette at Baker Publishing for the opportunity to review this book. You can learn more about Dan Walsh here.  You can learn more about Gary Smalley here. You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 9/13

* *
2/5 Stars

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Trapped...Review

About the book:
When Laura Griffith's sixteen-year-old sister disappears on a frigid February day, leaving only a brief note behind, Laura resolves to do whatever it takes to track down the runaway teen. That includes recruiting ATF agent turned private investigator James Devlin to help. Dev knows time is of the essence with runaways--just forty-eight hours can mean the difference between recovery and ruin.

But the deeper he and Laura dig, the more Dev begins to suspect that something sinister is at work in the girl's disappearance. And in the icy winter weather, the trail is going cold...

In her latest thrilling read, queen of romantic suspense Irene Hannon outdoes herself with a fast-paced tale of fear, deception, and just the right dose of romance.

When the police aren't the most cooperative after her teenaged sister disappeared, Laura turns to a PI for help.  As Dev and Laura follow leads and search out people , they discover that she was kidnapped and just didn't run away. Finding her, however, proves challenging and a bit dangerous.

Irene Hannon delivers again.  Her books, while somewhat formulaic, contain the perfect combination of romance, faith and clean suspense.  I think she's outdone herself with this story's villain.  He was truly chilling and her exploration of Darcy's kidnapping was well done with some twists I didn't exactly see coming.

Second in the Private Justice series, the story stands alone just fine. A terrific read.

Available August 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Thanks to Lanette at Baker Publishing for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Irene Hannon here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 9/13

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Survival Guide to Life...Review by the Boy

About the book:
From the world-famous survival expert,learn how to make everyday an unforgettable adventure.

Life in the outdoors teaches us invaluable lessons. Encountering the wild forces us to plan and execute goals, face danger, push our "limits," and sharpen our instincts. But our most important adventures don't always happen in nature's extremes. Living a purpose-driven, meaningful life can often be an even greater challenge. 

In A Survival Guide for Life, Bear Grylls, globally renowned adventurer and television host, shares the hard-earned wisdom he's gained in the harshest environments on earth, from the summit of Mt. Everest to the boot camps of the British Special Forces:
What are the most important skills to learn if you really want to achieve your maximum potential?
How do you keep going when all the odds are stacked against you? 
How can you motivate a team to follow you in spite of apparent risks?

Filled with exclusive, never-before-told tales from Bear's globe-trekking expeditions, A Survival Guide for Life teaches every reader—no matter your age or experience—that we're all capable of living life more boldly, of achieving our most daring dreams, and of having more fun along the way. Here's to your own great adventure!

My brother and I loved watching Man vs. Wild and I love the outdoors and camping, hiking and survival. So when my mom asked if I wanted to review Bear's book for her, I said, yes. Rather than just write another book about surviving in the wilderness, Bear Grylls wrote one about how to live your life better.  Each chapter is a different tip or life suggestion and includes examples from Bear's life and things he has done. I liked that he's not afraid to talk about his faith.

One of my favorites was that he talked about the fact that you don't always succeed right away, sometimes you need to have some failures first.  You also always have to keep going. You can't quit just because it's hard.  I did a 50 mile hike last summer and and 30 mile hike this summer and I definitely understand about when he talks about how you need to keep going even when you're tired and exhausted.  It's the same way with life; whether it's school or work or relationships.  You keep going.

It doesn't matter if you are an outdoors person or not, this is a book that will help anyone in their life.

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

Read 8/13

* * * *
4/5 Stars