Friday, April 30, 2010

Fiona Friday

Miss Fi got a tunnel and a fishing pole. She looks a little rabid in this pic, but we were having a great time playing. The pink, yellow and blue things are little felt fishes that dangle from the end of her pole; she took the entire pole away from me and dragged it into the tunnel. Funny girl.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell

Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell
Copyright 2010
Sourcebooks - Romantic Comedy (my opinion -- it's classified as general fiction)
404 pages

Tilly Cole's live-in boyfriend has just moved out without a word of warning, but Tilly knows the real reason. She has let the relationship die. To get her mind off her return to being a single woman, she goes for a visit with her best friend, Erin, who lives in a small English village in the Cotswolds and lives over her own shop. Erin used to think she'd leave Roxborough, but now she knows better. It's lovely living in a town where everyone knows everyone, even if sometimes it can be annoying.

While in town, Tilly has a good time, but she's anxious to get back to London. That is, until she sees an advertisement for a "girl Friday". Suddenly, the idea of staying somewhere different is appealing -- especially after she gets a glimpse of the irresistible Jack Lucas, an almost-widower (his bride having died in a terrible accident just prior to the wedding) with a terrible reputation but a charmer, nonetheless. Maybe there's something for Tilly in this tiny village. It's worth a try, after all.

Tilly finds herself blown into the whirlwind of her new boss's life and enjoys it immensely, but there's something very odd going on whenever she's around Jack. Is he interested in her? And, could it be that she's just the slightest bit attracted to him? Of course not. If there's one thing Tilly knows, it's that she is not going to become a notch on the bedpost of a man known to have slept with everyone in the village. But, there is something utterly charming about him and he's hiding a secret Tilly must uncover. While she keeps Jack at a distance, they become fast friends. But, someday, she is going to find out the truth. And, what will happen then?

I totally adore Jill Mansell's playful, romantic books. I got an ARC of Rumor Has It from Sourcebooks, but I own the vast majority of Mansell's books written before about 2005 and the truth is that I'll always, always read whatever she writes -- she's one of my all-time favorite writers. It's just rather nice that I no longer have to pay overseas postage. Like her other books, Rumor Has It is blessed with lovely characters, interesting twists, several relationship stories going on at once. There's always a lot happening in a book by Jill Mansell.

You could classify Jill Mansell's books as "chick lit" but I honestly think that would be rather rude. They're romantic and funny but not brainless fluff, so I like to think of them as "romantic comedy" but they're mostly fun, light relationship stories. They take place in the U.K. because Jill Mansell is from Great Britain, so if you're a hopeless Anglophile, there's an excellent excuse to read her books.

5/5 - Extremely entertaining, lively and romantic fun with a few serious undercurrents (Jack's loss, Tilly's inability to let anyone stay close, a terrible town busybody and a couple sneaking around because his wife exhausted him and then he just happened to fall in love with her, etc.) . The characters are realistic if a bit more light-hearted and lovable than most.

I think of all of the Jill Mansell books I've read, only one didn't thrill me. And, I still enjoyed it; I just wouldn't have given it a perfect score. Bear in mind that I'm a gushy fan and tend to rate her books very high because they totally sweep me away and always, always make me smile.

In other news:

Pardon the onslaught of reviews. I'm trying to punch a good hole in that nasty list of unreviewed reads. Catching up is going well, today. I'm happy. Hope you're happy, too!

Storylines by Andy Croft & Mike Pilavachi

Storylines: Your Map to Understanding the Bible
by Andy Croft and Mike Pilavachi
Copyright 2008
David C. Cook - Christian/Bible/Nonfiction
207 pages

If the old covenant was based on a peace treaty and the picture of marriage, and it didn't work because the people could never meet the obligations, what would be the basis of the new covenant? Would God take some of the obligations away to make it easier? Maybe under the new agreement the Ten Commandments would be swapped for the Ten Polite Suggestions? Maybe God would soften the penalty clause--perhaps only community service as punishment?

Many of us have been Christians for years--we've read the Bible and heard the talks--yet we can still forget the amazing terms of the new covenant. In this covenant God did not water down the obligations, he did not abolish the penalty clause--he would cease to be holy and just if he did. He knew that whatever he did we would never be able to meet the obligations and so, when it came to the new covenant, God didn't make it with us, he made it with himself! Father and son shook hands on the deal. The nature of this covenant is spelled out in the book of Hebrews:

Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. (Heb. 9:15-17)

The picture that the New Testament gives of this covenant is the picture of the will. The basis of the new covenant is the last will and testament of Jesus Christ.

Whew! Heady stuff. When I opened Storylines, I think what I expected was a book-by-book summary of the Bible, but that isn't the case at all with this book. Instead, it's more of a graceful but humorous analysis of the interconnections within the Bible. For example, the authors talk a lot about the prophets of the Old Testament and how their prophecies tie in with the actual events in the New Testament.

You can look at the book and say, "All this says is that the Jesus Dude knew his stuff and set out to do exactly what the prophets said the Savior would do." Maybe some people look at the New Testament and the entire Jesus thing that way. I have, at times. But, I think that's the lazy way out. The Bible is utterly fascinating and it's in those connections that the story and meaning of Christianity and where it came from is most revealing.

Admittedly, I was disappointed because I didn't understand that, "Your map to understanding the Bible" meant something different than what I was hoping for. But, I enjoyed Storylines. It's very basic. Much of what's in the book has probably been read before by Christians who enjoy reading about the Bible and digging in a little deeper. The best thing about Storylines is the writing. Somebody -- or both of the authors -- has a great sense of humor. They're British; maybe that has something to do with the dry wit. Needless to say, I enjoyed the reading in spite of the fact that the book was not quite what I'd anticipated.

3.5/5 - Very general information about the connections between the Old and New Testaments and what they mean to us, written with humor but occasionally a tiny bit dull because it was rehashing things I've already read (which may not be the case for everyone, so bear that in mind when you look at my rating). I liked the book and consider the writing clear and enjoyable. I'd especially recommend this to people who are just getting started really digging into the Bible.

Belated Earth Day Post - Ecomazes by Roxie Munro & some other things

I missed Earth Day because of things going on in our lives, none of which seem likely to be resolved any time soon. So, today's post is a delayed Earth Day post. The first book I have read and will review thoroughly. The second is a book I'd hoped to read by the end of April but have not, so I'll just tell you about it. And, the third little bit is about a DVD you've all heard of, which I just acquired -- and why I'm interested in watching it.

EcoMazes by Roxie Munro
Copyright 2010
Sterling - Children's (ages 7 and up)
Roxie Munro's website

The promotional material for Roxie Munro's EcoMazes says, "Embark on an incredible odyssey through planet Earth's most exotic ecosystems." And, of course, the title makes it obvious that it's a book of mazes, but they're not the kind of mazes you do with a crayon, once, and then throw away. EcoMazes is a gorgeous picture book, first and foremost. Roxie Munro's mazes are set in various ecosystems, with an introduction advising children to trace the paths using a finger, so that they can be enjoyed over and over, again.

Each maze is a gorgeous, two-page spread. At times, I found I had to hold the book away in order to figure out where the path goes across the center fold, but I don't know if youngsters would have that issue. My eyes are getting old, after all, and I don't have a youngster around to ask. There's a tiny blurb and then a list of creatures to search for (à la "Where's Waldo?"). For example, the Tropical Rainforest maze says,

You're a biologist checking on the monkeys--find your way from the pier to the beach (and watch out for the jaguars!).

This is followed by a list of animals to find in the Tropical Rainforest and how many of each are hidden. Personally, I think it would be helpful if a few things were labeled. I had to search to find the pier in order to begin, for example, and if you plunked a child in the back of a car with this book, it very well could be a problem. "What's a pier, Mom?" would likely be the first question, followed by, "What's a roseate spoonbill? What's a macaw look like?" and so forth. The problem is that absolutely nothing is labeled and there is no key showing each of the animals. If you don't know what a roseate spoonbill looks like (yes, they're pretty obvious if you know them, but if you don't . . . ) you'll need to look them up or cheat by looking at the solutions in the back of the book.

This is where the good part comes in. EcoMazes would be excellent for homeschoolers. I homeschooled my eldest son for a single year and we enjoyed books that forced us to look up new information. You could do a climate per day, have the children look up roseate spoonbills, jaguars, toucans, etc., and draw pictures of them. Then, send them through the maze, have them look for the animals, and read the information beside each solution in the back of the book because the solution section is the part of the book that contains the most information about each of the ecosystems shown.

The artwork in this book is eye-popping. I particularly recommend it for parents who would like to get involved with their children in learning about a variety of our world's ecosystems and the animals that live in them. EcoMazes is not only a great jumping-off point for learning, but also a book that is so beautiful and fun that children will likely spend hours returning to it. Even smaller children who aren't ready for the information involved will undoubtedly enjoy looking at the pictures.

4/5 - Beautiful artwork, a great teaching tool. Point off for not including a key or labeling the start and finish points of the mazes. If you're not willing to spend time with children, looking up information about the animals, I'd skip it. But I think the book is a terrific starting point for a learning adventure.

Partnering with Nature by Catriona MacGregor
Copyright 2010
Atria - Nonfiction/Nature/Mind-Body-Spirit
291 pages

I really wanted to dive right into this book when I received it, but it had to go into the queue and I haven't gotten to it, yet. I will, however, do a full review when I've read the book. For now, I'll just tell you what it's about.

Partnering with Nature is subtitled: The Wild Path to Reconnecting with the Earth and the author leads "vision quests and youth quests" that actually lead people into nature, so they can get in touch with the earth and learn why it's worth caring about. The author asserts that it's a lack of contact with nature that has led to a lot of the ills of our population (and I'm assuming she's referring to the United States, but I won't know that till I read the book), such as stress, depression, obesity, attention disorders and apathy.

I think there's a lot of truth in those words and I'm quite curious what she has to say. I've currently got two other nonfiction books that I need to read before Partnering with Nature, so hopefully it will be no longer than 2 weeks before I get to this book. A quote:

In this age of scientific triumph, our daily connection with the Earth has diminished alarmingly. We are cut off from nature, and separate from the animals and plants that surround us, making us strangers in our own home. We miss the subtle changes in the wind, the calls of the birds, the smell of the fragrant Earth beneath our feet.

At this point, I thought, "But we're still sneezing over the pollen, even inside the house." Hahaha. Okay, spring joke. I don't know about the rest of you, but I love that quote and, yep, I've been sneezing my head off. Bottom line: I'm really looking forward to this book and I already agree with her to a certain extent. Nature is a bit of a pain in Mississippi (the heat, humidity, poison ivy, stinging and biting insects) but we used to go out of our way to find places to take nature walks -- our favorite being Rocky Springs on the Natchez Trace -- when our children were smaller. As adults, we could definitely stand to get out and enjoy nature a bit more.

An Inconvient Truth: A Global Warning
(on DVD)

Here's the point at which about 25-50% of the Americans roll their eyes. Why on earth would I want to watch a politician babble about climate change and how it's effecting our earth? Well, quite simply because I live on the planet and I think it would be nice if humans and animals continued to live on Earth for a milennia or two or . . . you know, a long time. I do have kids, after all.

I don't think of climate change as a political issue, in spite of the fact that there's a fellow by the name of Al Gore who is deeply involved in the environmental cause. In fact, I admire Mr. Gore for refusing to give up his passion. It lost him the presidency, after all -- well, that and the fact that he was a wee bit on the stiff side. I think he's improved since the 80's. I found a copy of An Inconvenient Truth at our Big Lots for $3. It's got a minimum of packaging and this is the inside of the case:

I love the fact that there's a list of things you can do to help stop global warming -- a simple list, right inside the case. I'm going to have to take my youngest son by the collar and sit him down because he is one of those people who have listened to the chatter about global warming being a "farce" and thinks, like many, that there is no actual evidence to show that humans have impacted the earth's climate. I had many questions about climate change but I'm thoroughly convinced that there's ample evidence that human's have caused a dangerous upward trend in temperatures throughout the globe after reading A Climate for Change (<---Link to my review. The giveaway associated with that review has ended, by the way.) and I'm looking forward to watching An Inconvenient Truth.

What else is new?

Not much. I've been sick most of the week, so the housework has backed up a bit. Huzzybuns did not make it to Anchorage, this week, thanks to the fact that one leg of his journey was cancelled, so he's taken off the afternoon to take advantage of the sunny weather and help me with cleaning and gardening. We're expecting some more bad weather, this weekend, but hopefully nothing as dramatic as last week's 149-mile tornado path that came within about 10 miles of us (eeks). My thoughts and prayers are still with the people of Eagle Lake and Yazoo City who lost homes and loved ones.

Wahoo for Earth!

Bookfool, surrounded by lush greenery and noisy birds

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mini reviews - because I really don't feel much like writing (or anything else, for that matter)

The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs
Copyright 1973 (my edition: printed 1993)
Puffin Books - Children, ages 8 and up
179 pages

Kailana and I planned to buddy read this book, but we got our wires crossed and I read it two weeks before she did, then neither of us felt like we had that much to say about it, so The House with a Clock in its Walls seems like a good candidate for a quickie review. Recently orphaned, Lewis goes to live with his uncle Jonathan. He hears bumps in the night and becomes curious. Why is Uncle Jonathan walking around in his own house with a flashlight, tapping on the walls in the middle of the night?

When Lewis confronts his uncle, he finds that Jonathan is searching for the source of a ticking sound that can be heard within all of the walls of the house. There's a clock somewhere in the mansion -- a house that Uncle Jonathan bought after the deaths of the two wizards who used to live there. Both Jonathan and his neighbor, Mrs. Zimmerman, have special magical powers, as well. But, when chubby Lewis borrows one of Jonathan's magic books and casts a spell to keep from losing his only friend, he accidentally resurrects one of the evil wizards who used to live in his home. If they're to survive, the clock must be found and the evil stopped.

I think I would have really loved The House with a Clock in its Walls as a child but as an adult it struck me as just a little too far-fetched. One thing I did like was the fact that Uncle Jonathan is a nice guy. I think the evil relation thing has been overdone and it was a pleasant change to read about an orphan moving in with a kind uncle rather than a cruel one. I had Mrs. Zimmerman mentally cast as Maggie Smith, an actress I find tremendously likable even in her bitchiest roles, so obviously I also liked Mrs. Zimmerman. In general, I considered the book an average read.

The Return by Daoma Winston
Copyright 1972
Avon Books - Suspense
219 pages

Gabriella Tysson leads a quiet life working at an insurance company. She's shy and friendless, having spent several years as caregiver to her dying mother. When Jessie from Human Resources comes up to chat with Gaby and invites her to lunch, Gaby's happy to find a new friend. After a few weeks, Jessie offers to host a party in honor of Gaby's upcoming 21st birthday and it's there that Gaby meets Benjamin Haley, a distant cousin she vaguely remembers from her childhood. It's love at first sight and Ben proposes almost immediately, encouraging Gaby to quit her job and rush off to the home she and her mother hurriedly left in the middle of the night after her father's funeral, 11 years ago.

Cornell House sits on the edge of the rocky California coast. Little has changed since she and her mother left, but a mystery remains. Why did her mother steal away in such a rush? Could the string of "accidents" before and after her arrival have anything to do with the sudden appearance of another distant cousin, William? After a mysterious death and several close calls, Gaby begins to unravel the mystery with the help of an elderly family friend. But, her 21st birthday is looming and her life is in danger. Can Gaby figure out who is trying to kill her before it's too late?

My mother bought The Return in the Seventies and I've read it too many times to count, from junior high onward. It's one of my comfort reads. Gaby is a bit of a dim-bulb heroine (it's almost immediately obvious that she should have trusted her mother's judgment and stayed away from Cornell House), but I still love the story and it will always remain on my good shelves. I've carried it around for my entire married life. The Return is suspenseful, if predictable, and there's a nice little romance on the side. I read it to clear my palate, so to speak, after this book left a bad taste in my mouth:

Rhymes with Witches by Lauren Myracle
Copyright 2006
Amulet Books - Young Adult/Paranormal
237 pages

Jane wants to be popular and the most popular girls in her high school are known as "the Bitches". Each year, one of them graduates and a new girl is recruited -- the group of four consists of one girl from each class year. Jane's stunned when one of the Bitches approaches her with an invitation and thrilled when she finds that she's been chosen as the new recruit. But, there's a catch. The Bitches use black magic to keep their popularity . . . and someone has to fall in popularity for another to rise. Each week, Jane must do something really bad to remain popular. And, her best friend is an easy target.

If this book didn't happen to be really short and I hadn't actually spent perfectly good money on it, I would have ditched it the moment Jane made the choice to hurt her closest friend. Rhymes with Witches is full of nasty characters, dark magic and bad, bad language. I think it's appalling that adults write and publish this kind of nonsense. That is, of course, merely my personal opinion. I just think our kids are exposed to enough yuck on television and at school; the language could have been tamed and the cruelty level was beyond tolerable.

Jane eventually makes the right decision but she hurts a lot of people before she does and when she finally chooses to save someone from a terrible prank, the black magic is turned against her. I can't recommend this book to anyone at all. It's definitely not for me.

In other news:

I may do several combined posts in order to facilitate the "catching-up" process because I have fallen so far behind on book reviews. We'll see. I'm rather unpredictable, you know.

Recently walked into the house:

Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs by Heather Lende - A very exciting surprise arrival because I loved Lende's first book, If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name . . . and so did my mother; it was actually one of the last books I loaned her. (from Algonquin Books)

Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr (from PBS)

That's it. Nothing else wonderful is happening, but I'll let you know the moment excitement breaks out and the party begins.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fiona Friday

Playing with knit scarves would not be such a problem if the humans in the household actually cared about whether or not things got snagged. Winter is such a vague concept in the Deep South, after all. Go ahead, Fi. Have at 'em. But, please don't snag the beach towel.

Live Big! by Katie Brazelton

Live Big! 10 Life Coaching Tips for Living Large, Passionate Dreams
by Katie Brazelton
Copyright 2001
Howard Books - Personal Growth/Christian
141 pages - DNF

Unfortunately, this is another Did Not Finish, but I will tell you right up front that there's absolutely nothing about Live Big! that I disliked or that turned me off. I simply have been very moody about my reading, lately, and it was another case of wrong book for the moment.

The title basically says it all. Live Big! is about pursuing your dreams. In general, I love positive-thinking books, but it's possible that I'm getting a little too old for this kind of book. I'm more at the "squeeze in what you can of the old dreams before it's too late" stage. Mid-life crisis, maybe. Anyway, I read 18 pages and actually enjoyed those 18 pages but just couldn't seem to go on and I think it's just me. If you're looking for encouragement and particularly if you like to be encouraged from a biblical perspective (i.e., "God is on your side," encouragement), this may be the book for you and it's a quick bite of a book at a mere 141 pages. I'm pretty disappointed with myself for not managing to get very far, but I will definitely give it another go when the time is right.

I'm typing this at 12:39 a.m. on Friday morning, unfortunately, because Thursday was One of Those Days. Earth Day is technically over and I had plans to post about some books that I thought particularly fitting for Earth Day, so . . . wait, it's Earth Month, right? Every April is Earth Month, isn't it? If it's not, I just made it so. I will plan to get around to commenting about my Earthy books before the end of April. If I don't, you can strip me of Official Tree Hugger status, which would actually save me from the poison ivy but let's just keep that bit hush-hush, okay?

I didn't say that. Seriously. One of Those Days. In the end, it was Craig Ferguson (the late-night talk-show host, not that other guy you went to school with who used to pull your pigtails and tie your shoe strings together . . . although it seems likely that the famous Craig did that) who saved me from using an entire box of Kleenex for no other reason than I just felt like sobbing because it was One of Those Days. Thank you, Mr. Ferguson, sir. The only trouble is that Mr. Ferguson had me laughing till tears streamed down my face. I'm going to have really dry eyes, tomorrow.

Finished today, in spite of all the snuffling: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by Green & Levithan

Live Big! is a tour book (my thanks to Howard Books for the review copy), so Fiona Friday has been delayed till evening but I do plan on posting a photo. Not to worry. Happy Friday!

Live Big! by Katie Brazelton (sneak peek)

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:

Live Big! 10 Life Coaching Tips for Living Large, Passionate Dreams

Howard Books; Original edition (February 2, 2010)

***Special thanks to Blythe Daniel of The Blythe Daniel Agency, Inc. for sending me a review copy.***


Katie Brazelton, Ph.D., M.Div., M.A., is a life coach and bestselling author. She is the founder of Life Purpose Coaching Centers International, which trains Christians worldwide to become Life Purpose Coach professionals and assist others to discover and fulfill God’s plan for their lives. Dr. Brazelton was formerly a licensed minister and director of women’s Bible studies at Saddleback Church and now is a professor at Rockbridge Seminary. She lives in Southern California and has two children and two grandchildren. She is the author of the bestselling series Pathway to Purpose for Women and Character Makeover: 40 Days with a Life Coach to Create the Best You.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Howard Books; Original edition (February 2, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1439135606
ISBN-13: 978-1439135600



Imagine that you and I are being pampered in first class, relaxing comfortably on an afternoon flight to your favorite world-class resort. As we gaze out the airplane window, it seems as though we're floating through an endless sea of marshmallow clouds, soaring together through the heavens. Up here, dreams somehow seem crystal clear. I think it's because we can pretend we've risen above the rough, mountainous terrain of life and can look down on our hills and valleys, seeing events from a fresh perspective.

From this bird's-eye view, glance down at what is below: your daily routine, closest relationships, untapped potential, and countless opportunities. Let this vantage point help you set your sights on a passionate megadream and an inspiring hope for the future!

I would not dare to author a book on such an important topic as Living Big without practicing what I preach. So, as I write this, I am on a flight to Hawaii (I wish it were first class) for an extended stay to consider living there indefinitely. I was raised in Hawaii and the Marshall Islands in a navy family, so the tropical breeze has always been alluring to me. Might this be where I will plant another Life Purpose Coaching Center...or find the time to launch my long-dreamed-of radio show...or finish this book? I don't know the answers to those questions, but I do know that I can't fail, because this is simply an experiment, with memories waiting to be made. I'm not going to rush the process or force a decision, only enjoy the journey to yea or nay. There is no right or wrong way to dream.

Well, actually, I do believe there's one wrong way, and that is to let the dream stagnate without taking any action!

I am embarking on this time of exploration because I am in a new season of my life, formally ending two decades of single parenting. My son recently accepted an out-of-state job promotion, taking his sweet wife and my two young grandsons with him. Shortly thereafter, my daughter announced her engagement, which means she, too, will be moving away from our home area. In the blink of an eye, without my permission, I have been thrust into a new chapter of my life. On one hand, I am sad and fearful. On the other hand, now I have no more excuses for not doing whatever I want, which is another way of saying "whatever I feel God is calling me to do next."

I am operating in a spirit of supersized living right now, and not just because I may soon be draped in large muumuus, walking barefoot to the local market to buy macadamia-nut chocolates, and blatantly enticing my family with extended holiday vacations in paradise.

Dreaming in high definition and surround sound -- and then taking appropriate steps to live those dreams -- is what this book is all about. You may not have a burning desire to move to a distant land, but what do you want out of life? Are you a student anxiously finishing college? A young mom who's busy raising twins? An overseas missionary on a brand-new assignment? A career woman vying for an enviable position? A widow with only a few pressing obligations? Regardless of your role in life, you and I have a few things in common:

- We love to dream.

- God designed us to dream.

- And there's no day like today to start discovering God's best!

I need you to know that I'm not so far up in the clouds that I am unaware of your everyday realities. Life has prepared me well to be your Life Coach. I have a testimony of brokenness, and I'm honored to help you dream. Check out what I call "My 7 Big D's" -- events that shaped me for nearly twenty years.

My 7 Big D's

1982 Barely survived a serious, four-month depression.

1986 Devastated by a totally unexpected divorce.

1988 Confused about having to rewrite my doctoral dissertation.

1990 Deeply saddened by the death of my exhusband.

1991 Angered by a corporate downsizing, which left me laid off just days after buying a home.

1993 Terrified by a dating incident.

2001 Shocked by the death of my dream when my first book contract was canceled due to budget cuts after 9/11.

What does this list tell you, other than that I must have built up a lot of stamina by now? It says that you can trust me to understand what you're going through and to tell it like it is when I coach you -- without skirting around the issues. I care deeply about making sure you don't get stuck in the quagmire of life, as I did too many times.

These chapters will take you on a journey to find what you're really jazzed about -- what makes you smile, laugh, play, sing, and dance. It's time to daydream about the adventure God has in store for you!

Amos 4:13 tells us that God reveals His thoughts to us: "He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals his thoughts to mortals, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth -- the Lord God Almighty is his name." We want to do whatever it takes to be ready for that revelation.

As your Life Coach, I will come alongside you like a Barnabas (a name that Acts 4:36 tells us means "son of encouragement"). We will enjoy life-changing chats about you, stealing precious moments within your hectic schedule. I know how hard it is for you to find time for a conversation about your legacy, your destiny, your divine urge. As you are able to sneak away from your daily routine, it will be my job and my joy to sit with you and draw out of you the distinct calling God laid on your heart eons ago, before you were ever born. And then, equally important, we will put baby steps in place to help you live out your exciting, God-designed purpose, which has long been the desire in your soul even if it has lain dormant.

This book is loaded with modern, true stories of everyday saints, Bible character parallels, inspirational quotes, some of my favorite Scripture verses, heartfelt prayers, ten coaching tips, forty action steps, reflection questions, and practical exercises with sample answers from my own life to trigger your thinking. (Don't miss the Web downloads, too, which are my special gift to you!) You will hear from real women -- students, wives, mothers, a widow, career women, church staff members -- who all have tremendous testimonies to share. I urge you to break all of the normal book-reading rules and jump into the chapters in any sequence you please. Did you know that doing the unexpected can change your perspective, which will then cause you to see your world through new eyes?

I've chosen these particular topics for us to explore in detail as we discover what it takes to Live Big!

1. Face Your Fears

2. Learn to Exhale

3. Honor Your Deepest Longings

4. Don't Ever Give Up

5. Use Your Past for Good

6. Expect Miracles

7. Forgive Someone

8. Eat Dessert First

9. Ask Jesus for Vision

10. Capture Your Live Big! Dream

I can't help but think: If only someone had told me that! or Why didn't I learn that in school? Frankly, I feel there ought to be a law mandating that schools teach us to be tenacious, forgiving, and courageous. We need classes at church that help us reach for our dreams, expect miracles, focus forward, and breathe calmly through adversity. But most important, we must learn how to play and to stop taking ourselves so seriously and to start cherishing God's incredibly specific plan for our lives. In this way, we address the habits that help us attract or sabotage God's boldest wishes for us.

Each of the ten coaching tips will give you a broader, richer understanding of how to run and finish the race well.

You probably picked up this book because you want to travel boldly down the path to purpose and fulfillment, yet perhaps you've lost sight of your dreams, hopes, and longings -- possibly because of regrets, exhaustion, stubbornness, fears, sins, and so on. We're all burdened with something. You want to bring glory to God with your life, but you may be carrying such a heavy weight of boredom, loneliness, doubt, pride, and/or hopelessness that you've forgotten how to unleash your creativity. The biblical perspective in this book will help you hear God's promptings more clearly and act on them with pure joy.

I encourage you to dream big dreams during this eyeopening, heart-pounding quest. Let me share with you forty proven, incremental steps that I personally have used for years and have coached my clients through -- action steps that will help you to live a significance-filled life. God will be honored, and you will be blessed. You will find yourself empowered beyond your wildest imagination as you Live Big!

Will you take your first small step today?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Three DNF's and Why Bookfool Abandoned Them

Sometimes a book will grab you and sometimes the timing is just wrong or the book is not right for you; that's a fact of life for readers. I wouldn't want anyone to assume a book is awful and avoid it merely because Bookfool chose to set the book aside, hence the occasional DNF post. I'll tell you why these books didn't work for me, whether or not I'll give them a second chance and who I think might enjoy them.

Stormy Weather by Paulette Jiles

Kailana and I were planning to buddy read Stormy Weather, but she misplaced her book and by the time she came to the conclusion that it was hopelessly lost (or at least lost enough that she wasn't going to catch up with me), I was about 100 pages into the book and vaguely bored.

Stormy Weather

is historical fiction set during the Great Depression. Elizabeth Stoddard and her three girls are forced into an itinerant lifestyle as husband Jack drifts from town to town working the oil wells, driving trucks, drinking and gambling. Wherever they go, Elizabeth does her best to make even the worst hovels livable and young Jeanine, the toughest of the three girls, makes sure her drunken father arrives home safely . . . until tragedy strikes.

Forced to move home to the family farm, Elizabeth and the girls find the land dried up and the house a wreck. They are already well acquainted with sacrifice and creative economy (that's one thing I loved -- Jeanine has a dress made from flour sacks . . . or maybe it's sugar sacks, but the point is that they're very creative about survival).

Shortly after their return to the farm, I stopped reading. There were more challenges ahead for the Stoddard girls as the dust storms had not yet arrived. Yes, I had trouble getting into the book; but, I managed to read about 100 pages and I think at another time I might really enjoy this story. In fact, just picking it up to remind myself what it's about, I felt a little tempted to open it back up; but, I've got three books going so I'll wait. I liked the characters, the setting and the storyline. I'm not sure why the book didn't grab me but I will definitely give it a second go and I'd recommend it especially to people who like more recent historical fiction and don't mind a bit of Texas dailect. I speak Texan just fine, so I had no problem with the dialogue.

Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther by Ginger Garrett

As the title indicates, Chosen is written in diary format, complete with news articles to make it look as if the biblical Esther's diaries are the big news story of the decade, discovered and translated to great excitement. I love the story of Esther, a young Jewish woman who was chosen to marry a Persian king because of her beauty and risked her life to prevent genocide. So I was really looking forward to a fictional account of her life.

I only made it to page 58 and had to push myself to get that far. From the beginning, I felt uncomfortable with the the fake news articles and the style of Esther's diary entries, which is very modern. The author has chosen to portray Esther as a young girl in love with a boy named Cyrus and therefore it's part of her "Lost Loves" series; obviously, Esther won't end up with Cyrus. We already know she'll marry King Xerxes.

What did I expect?

Gosh, no idea. I guess I thought Esther (also known as Hadassah, her given Jewish name) would be a typical young girl, keeping house for her cousin, Mordecai, who kindly took her in after she was orphaned. I expected her to be hard-working and quietly faithful to the Jewish religion and then frightened when forced to become one of the king's wives. I presumed she would slowly grow in courage and strength with the help of Mordecai.

Instead, Esther worked at a booth in the market and had, I thought, a bit of modern sensibility. She bemoaned her place in society as a female, longed for Cyrus, stole kisses without worrying about the possibility of being publicly stoned. The story was just too far removed from my own personal image of Esther. I can't say other people would feel that way, so if you enjoy a tale told in diary format and don't mind a story from the Bible (which obviously must be heavily fictionalized to be expanded to novel length) told in a very modern style, this might be the book for you.

I do not plan to give it a second chance. Chosen simply didn't work for me. Had it been written in a slightly more formal style and without the frequent comments about being a girl in a man's world, I might have been okay with the book. The promotional info does call it a "contemporary account" but Chosen is much more modern than I anticipated.

Holly of Two Kids and Tired Book Reviews liked Chosen. See Holly's book review of Chosen, here. Thanks to Audra Jennings and B & B Media for my review copy. I will pass it on to my church family.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

WWII is one of my favorite time periods in both fiction and non-fiction reading. I was extremely excited about The Postmistress and jumped at a chance to review the book. I only made it to about page 18. From the beginning I disliked the writing, which is a bit dreamy and overwrought, in my humble opinion. But, honestly? I don't think I gave it a decent chance. A single sentence stopped me in my tracks:

The bus churtled past the stark lines of the shingled roofs triangling into the September evening.

Seriously, that's a crappy sentence. I was stumped, though. You never know -- a book that starts off badly can improve. Just in case, I asked for opinions on Twitter. The reviews were mixed. Several folks said they either couldn't finish or regretted wasting their time, but others loved The Postmistress and one gave me a link to her review. The quote she used for her review was the kind of "you were there" quote (with terrific action as bombs were falling) that I love.

I think WWII and, again, historical fiction fans who are fine with a more recent time period are the most likely to enjoy this book but it sounds like The Postmistress has gotten very polarized reviews. I'd advise those who are interested to flip through a copy at the store or library and read some passages to get an idea whether or not it's a good fit before buying. I am definitely going to give this book a second chance. If it still doesn't work for me, I won't say anything further, but if I enjoy it on the next try I will write a full review.

The other book I mentioned not finishing, in a recent post (Live Big!), is a FirstWild tour book and the preview chapter is scheduled for Friday. I'll write my DNF post and schedule it for the same day to coincide with the sneak peek post.

What else is new in the (very small, heavily rural, extremely green) city besides that lush, jungle look?

Fiona got her second round of shots, today, and she did very well. She's feeling fine, active as ever, but she did try to climb up over my shoulder and down my back to get away from that mean man who kept sticking her with needles. The vet said it's the feline leukemia shot that tends to really flatten some kitties and that was one of last week's shots. Wahoo for that!

On a personal level, we have had some interesting challenges within our family and we're still dealing with trouble with the water pipe backing up in the utility area. But, we're all feeling rather zen at the moment. Husband has removed a chunk of wall board (molded, ugh) and is trying one last method to clear the lines. If it doesn't work, I guess we'll go for a plumber or a roto-rooter guy. The washing machine does seem to be working, though. That's another wahoo.

What's up in your world?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Founding by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The Founding by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Copyright 2010 - Sourcebooks
Originally Published in 1980
Historical Fiction - 539 pages

Eleanor Courtney is a ward of the influential Beaufort family when The Founding opens. She's beyond the normal marrying age and has assumed that she'll likely never marry, although if she had her choice she would marry the dashing Richard, Duke of York, with whom she's shared a single kiss.

When a marriage is arranged between Eleanor and the son of a wealthy Yorkshire sheep farmer, Eleanor is horrified but sets about making a decent home for herself and Robert Morland. They are dreadfully ill-matched and her father-in-law is a headstrong, sometimes bullying man; the wealth he has accumulated gives him a great deal of power over everyone, including his meek son. Eleanor grimly prepares to do her duty as a wife, to bear an heir and do as she's told. Yorkshire is foreign land to her and she longs for home.

Yet, with the help of her two faithful servants, Job and Gaby, she's able to build a beautiful garden retreat where music and quiet friendship help her to bear her new world. As she settles in, Eleanor shows herself to be a woman of unexpected strength, powerful influence and business savvy. Throughout bloody battles that force the Morlands to take sides and arguments over land with dangerous neighbors, through plague and prosperity, love and loss, Eleanor and her family become the cornerstone of a dynasty.

The Founding, set in the 15th century but written in an accessible modern style, was originally intended to be a single, stand-alone novel but was so well accepted that the author chose to make it the beginning of a series and has continued to write over 20 novels spanning hundreds of years. The Founding covers Eleanor's lifetime and reminds me of a comment that a romance writer once made about why Danielle Steel's novels sell, even though most people agree she's not a very good writer: "Stuff happens." That's certainly true of The Founding, although Harrod-Eagles is a writer of depth and style. The characterization and plotting are stunning.

Eleanor is an indomitable character, fiercely protective of her family and determined to continue expanding their wealth both through the sheep trade, which eventually expands by several levels, and through carefully-chosen marriage partners for her children. She doesn't always win. At times, the family must shift its allegiance and the children don't necessarily cooperate when it comes to the marriage game. There are tragic deaths and exciting moments with kings and queens, battles and romance. The Morlands are a fictional family but their story is seamlessly blended with events of the time so the reader gets a firm sense of time and place.

4.5/5 - Honestly, I probably shouldn't take off a half point because there is nothing I can criticize at all about this book. The characterization, historical setting, plot and action are amazing. I got so caught up with the family that I cried when two of my favorite characters died. The only reason I'm not giving it a 5/5 is that The Founding is not necessarily a book I would call an all-time favorite, wonderful as it is.

I'm thrilled to know that the series goes on practically forever. There are 28 more titles listed and I've been told the series continues up to 1917 -- hundreds of years of expansion from this family's crude beginnings as sheep farmers. I will definitely continue reading this series, although it'll probably take me at least a dozen years to get through them.

I'm not planning to review that long list of books I mentioned on Sunday in any specific order, but I found another DNF, so I'll do a DNF post with three books (balance!) and plan to have a children's day, soon, and post about a couple of books that relate to Earth Day on Thursday. Don't hold me to any of that. My life is crazy. There are men putting together an entertainment center in my den, as I write. Would you believe, we've never had an actual entertainment center, before? We've had TV stands and a crude wooden contraption that I'm pretty sure was made from a set of bunk beds (not attractive, but definitely functional). At this point, I'm looking at the thing and thinking, "Um. Will it fit?" Big pieces, small house.

Fiona is supervising. Go Fiona. I'd better check to make sure she's not getting in the way. Happy Tuesday!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Mississippi Mud Pie - Sort of a messy thing, actually

I'd take a photo of the Mississippi mud pie in my fridge but it's half-eaten and kind of gooey-looking, so you get the closest thing I could find:

Just try looking for images of that stuff. No two seem to look alike. Wild.

So . . . how on earth does Mississippi mud pie relate to reading? Well . . . maybe not so much reading as life. It's been a messy couple of weeks for us. But, first, let's talk books.

I've fallen way behind on reviews and DNF posts, lately, and I love the way Brittanie regularly updates her blog with a list of books she's read but still needs to review, etc. Hopefully, she won't mind if I do something similar.

Recently abandoned:

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther by Ginger Garrett

Live Big!: 10 Life Coaching Tips for Living Large, Passionate Dreams by Katie Brazelton

Do not ask me why the spacing gods have messed with this section -- I just don't get it. I will write separate DNF posts on these three books, primarily because one is a tour book and if I write a post with an even number of book reviews, it'll throw off your inner balance. I wouldn't want to do that to you. No, no. Not me. Not ever.

Finished and need to review:

The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs
The Founding by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
She's So Dead to Us by Kieran Scott (I'll review this one at the first of May)
I'll Mature When I'm Dead by Dave BarBoldry (also a May release)
Storylines by Croft & Pilavachi
Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell
Winging It by Jenny Gardiner
College in a Nutskull by Anders Hendriksson

Wow, that's a big list. Very seldom do I fall more than 2 book reviews behind, so that kind of shows you how crazy my life has been, lately. I'll do my best to catch up. Remind me to work on brevity. That should help.

Currently reading:

The Lunatic Express by Carl Hoffman - I am really enjoying this book! It's a travelogue written by a man who regularly works as a travel writer. After mulling what he could do to shake himself out a mid-life crisis, he decided to visit places where people use really dangerous modes of transportation because they have no choice in order to experience travel the way most of the world does it -- not for fun, but by necessity. I love to read about people doing things I'm too chicken to attempt, myself.

Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden - I took this out of the sidebar because I'm focusing on The Lunatic Express and realized I don't need to have Dead-End Gene Pool finished till mid-May (oops, calendar faux pas). Whenever I get the chance, though, I will continue to pick it up and read a little. Another memoir, this time by a descendant of the Vanderbilts with a great sense of humor.

The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy - Yes, again! 4th time. I will tease you a bit, here. I picked up The Secret Lives of People in Love and began reading it after finishing a book that made me very, very angry. I knew Simon would help me recover, so to speak. I'll be reviewing the unnamed book, this week (don't want you to just see "angry" with "Bookfool" and a title, without an explanation included).

I've had to spend some time pondering how to review the unnamed book without jumping all over the author because I just don't think any author deserves the full force of my wrath -- and, I'm sure there are people who would enjoy reading the book. But, when I closed it, I was so upset that I couldn't think of a single positive thing to say. Former blogger Kookie has helped me to gain some perspective. The review will be generally negative but I'll mention who I think might enjoy it. Simon's writing, of course, has also helped me to calm down and see reason (and think of soothing things like rolling hills with sheep).

About to start reading:

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan - for a buddy review with Kailana! John Green!!! Buddy review!!! Squeeeee!

Just purchased:

Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev - because I felt like it.

And, why has Bookfool's life been like a Mississippi Mud Pie?

Everything in this blankety-blank house seems to be breaking. First, the dryer kicked the bucket -- abruptly, so that we had no warning and were left without a dryer for two weeks. Our gorgeous, cherry-red dryer arrived and we began washing . . . and the pipes started to back up. So, we've literally had to stand beside the washer and turn it off when the glug-glug noise begins and the water starts bubbling up. So far, husband has attempted three different pipe-clearing options. And, the washer has also been kind of acting funny so we're not sure but there may have to be a cherry-red washer in our future. What the heck. It's just money. Who needs to eat? Oh, and did I mention that we were in the process of repainting the kitchen to prepare for reflooring it (because the last flooring was a disaster) when the dryer sidelined us? And, the garbage disposal seems to have a broken tooth? [silent scream]

Whining ceases, here.

Enough about my life. I will try very diligently to remain focused, get some reviews and DNF posts written and not weigh you down with my whining for the rest of the week. Slap me down if I fail, please. Hope everyone has had a great weekend!!!! I mean it!!! Tell me what's wonderful in your life. I could use an upper.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fiona Friday

This was a hard week for Little Fi, as she had 2 out of 4 of her booster shots (guess what's in store for next week?). She had a bad reaction the first time she got shots so this time she got the painkiller chaser. It's been a slightly lazy week and I didn't like this week's photos. I've chosen an "older" one. Not that we go very far back. My little girl is up to 7.1 pounds! She's growing so fast!!

The kitty in the new header is neighborhood cat Slim (aka "Vampire Kitty"), the same boy who stars at the bottom of my blog. I may change that footer pic, soon. He's been down there for at least 2 years.

Power Praise Moves DVD - Sneak Peek & Review

My review of this DVD is at the bottom of the post. I think you can get the best idea of what the DVD is like by watching the excerpt included. This is a "Christian alternative to yoga", which sounds a little bizarre but the idea is to avoid doing Hindu poses. My opinion on that is below.

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Power PraiseMoves™ DVD

December 1, 2009

***Special thanks to David P. Bartlett - Print & Internet Publicist - Harvest House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***


Laurette Willis, the founder of PraiseMoves®, is a Women’s Fitness Specialist and certified personal trainer, as well as a popular keynote speaker and an award-winning actor and playwright. She has produced the videos PraiseMoves™ and 20-Minute PraiseMoves™ and written BASIC Steps to Godly Fitness.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $16.99
Actors: Laurette Willis
Directors: Josh Atkinson
Format: NTSC
Region: All Regions
Number of discs: 1
Studio: CT Videography
DVD Release Date: December 1, 2009
Run Time: 120 minutes
ASIN: 0736928456


I always watch exercise videos through before actually trying them out, so I sat and watched the DVD after two days of working out on my treadmill and actually haven't done the workout, yet. While I think it's best to watch the excerpt to formulate your own opinion, the basic idea is that yoga is based on Hindu moves and Laurette Willis created a Christian version that gives you the same benefits but renames the moves (it's been a while since I've done yoga; I can't say if any of the moves are altered), with piano music that sounds very much like soft church music and occasional Bible verses.

My opinion: Parts of this video are a little slow, but there are some moves that definitely look difficult. I tend to enjoy really pushing myself; I've done Power Yoga and liked the fact that it doesn't put me to sleep. There have been times that I've had a problem with a bad hip or a stiff neck and have had to switch my exercise program to easier, stretchier workouts (I actually have a workout video for "people in pain"). I think there's a little of both in this workout -- something gentle but strengthening and very, very relaxing and some parts where you can really push yourself. As with yoga, the workout instructor talks about breathing and posture.

The sensation that you're using your exercise time to praise God is really pretty cool. It gave me the same "refreshed" feeling, just watching the video, that you can get from attending church services. Do I think regular yoga is "spiritually dangerous" because it uses Hindu poses? No, I do not. If you're just doing yoga to exercise, I simply don't see the harm in it unless the instructor is guiding you to worship Hindu gods, which is not something I've ever seen. While I don't necessarily agree that doing ancient poses is spiritually dangerous to non-Hindus, I will say I really like the idea of the double-whammy involved -- spending time focusing on God and scripture while getting a workout.

The instructor has a really soft, soothing voice. If there's one thing I can't stand it's having someone bark at you on a workout video, so that's also nice. I did find the pose names a little odd ("Flapping Tent", "Pulling up the Flaps", " The Altar") but let's face it . . . "Downward-facing Dog" and "Half Lord of the Fishes" are kind of weird, too.

Although I haven't done the workout yet, I do plan to use the video. If there's anything I find worth mentioning after using the workout tape, I'll come back and mention it at the blog. In the meantime, I like what I saw and particularly recommend it to Christians who like the idea of getting a varied yoga-type workout with the extra benefit of having some quiet time with God.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Secret Holocaust Diaries by Nonna Bannister (review)

The Secret Holocaust Diaries
by Nonna Bannister with D. George & C. Tomlin
Copyright 2009
Tyndale - Nonfiction/Memoir, incl. photos, documents and glossary
298 pages

The Secret Holocaust Diaries is a book in that contains the diaries of a young woman who was taken from Russia to Germany to work in a labor camp during WWII. But, in addition to the diaries that Nonna kept hidden away for decades as she kept her past secret, even from her husband, there are poems that she wrote and a lengthy history about her family and early experiences that give the reader a depth of understanding that's often abbreviated or lacking in personal accounts of the Holocaust. It's such a deeply personal diary that the introduction had me in tears!

The book opens up with the train trip to Germany. Nonna and her mother Anna were packed into cattle cars but, unlike the Jews who were also transported in that manner, they were fed and allowed to go into the woods for bathroom breaks. During their trip to Germany, several horrifying experiences gave Nonna a hint of what was in store for them and one particular tragedy eventually led to the death of her mother, Anna, years later. That's a spoiler, so I won't tell you the details but I will say The Secret Holocaust Diaries is an amazing book.

After the description of their train ride, Nonna goes backward in time and describes her family history. She came from a wealthy family with mills, workers and large houses spread across Russia (I think the correct number is seven mills, but don't quote me on that). Her mother and mother's siblings were accustomed to moving from house to house and because of their frequent moves they were born in different cities. Nonna's grandfather was in the Tsar's Imperial Guard and was brutally murdered at the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution. For the family's safety, Nonna's grandmother moved with her 6 children to their Ukrainian mill and its large house, which was farthest from Moscow and, she hoped, safe from the violence.

It was a good move. The family grew up happy but kept their beliefs quiet -- both political beliefs during the revolution and religious beliefs after the churches were closed. Nonna's mother married a Polish man who also kept his origins secret and they lived in various homes near the Black Sea. Even during the Depression and as WWII broke out, they lived very well. But eventually their situation deteriorated and they moved back to her grandmother's Ukrainian home. Not long after, the Nazis arrived.

Most Russians were evacuated by train as the Nazis approached, but Nonna's family refused to leave and they lived in tremendous hardship during the occupation, knowing that they'd be equally abused by returning Russians and thought traitors if the war turned in their favor. It was during this time that Nonna's family began to crumble. Again, I think that's a bit of a spoiler, but in the end, Nonna was the only survivor.

Nonna's father was a linguist who began to teach her languages when she was quite young and it was her knowledge of a variety of languages coupled with the fact that she'd learned to keep certain information quiet that eventually saved her.

I couldn't put this book down till I finished it, which meant an all-nighter. I always find the stories of Holocaust survival amazing, but The Secret Holocaust Diaries is a little unusual in that Nonna lived in work camps at times, but she was never in a concentration camp -- and yet she still suffered terribly. It's quite a bit different from most of the Holocaust tales I've read. I was particularly amazed at the ingenuity of Nonna's mother and grandmother.

For example, during a time when they lived in occupied territory, there were no mills in operation because the Russians had blown up all the mills to keep the Nazis from using them. Nonna's mother created her own miniature mill using two buckets, one inside the other. Nails poked through the buckets served as the grinder when the buckets were twisted with wheat between them. The wheat and chaff were separated by hand prior to grinding and then the ground wheat was boiled for hours to make a kind of creamed wheat cereal. This is the kind of thing I think we've lost in modern days, the ingenuity to survive on basics if necessary.

5/5 - An utterly fascinating true tale of a young lady who grew up privileged, only to see everything and everone she loved eventually taken away. The writing is a tiny bit awkward at times, simply because English was the last of the 7 languages Nonna learned but it's rounded out and clarified with occasional notes inserted by the two women who helped put the book into readable form: Denise George and Carolyn Tomlin. Highly recommended.

In other news:

We had quite a wild week, last week, as we're painting walls in preparation for flooring our kitchen and utility area . . . and in the midst of this mess, our dryer died. So, we had kitchen things (the breakfast table and some free-standing cabinets, plus the contents of the shelves) crammed into our tiny living/dining area and dirty laundry piled anywhere we could find space to sort. We have no basement in which to toss things during upheavals, thanks to our clay soil.

What a mess! The new dryer will arrive Friday. In the meantime, Traveling Huzzybuns keeps leaving town. So, the week I expected us to paint and put down flooring in lieu of a family vacation was interrupted by 3 days without the muscle man and a bunch of time tripping over dirty clothing.

I reacted as any good reader does. I holed up in a corner and read, when I wasn't hanging out with the kiddo. It's awfully hard to get much else done when you have no room to manuever. Fortunately, things are improving. Huz cleaned up his mess in the kitchen as much as possible and ran some clothing to the laundromat to dry, then I folded while watching episodes of Burn Notice. Kiddo is back at school, so the job of the day will be clearing off the dining table -- also known as "Kiddo's work table" because that's where he does his school work.

Fortunately, our Little Fi has kept us in stitches. She is by far the most active, funniest, feistiest and smartest kitty I've ever met. If she has trouble licking up those last few bites of canned food in her bowl, she just sticks her paw into the bowl and uses it like a fork, snatching up a bite and eating it off her paw. Someday, I've got to try to get a picture of her eating with her paw.

Just walked in:

Georgette Heyer's Regency World by Jennifer Kloester

Recent purchases that I bought mostly because I could not bear living without the new album by NewWorldSon (look up "In Your Arms" on YouTube -- their homage to the 60s -- if you're looking for a fun, upbeat song that's great for dancing or running):

Solar by Ian McEwan - because I heard it's funny (always good, in my opinion) and about global warming (yes, I believe in climate change)

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan - John Green. 'Nuff said.

How was your weekend?

The Secret Holocaust Diaries by Nonna Bannister (sneak peek)

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:

The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister

Tyndale House Publishers (March 4, 2010)

***Special thanks to Vicky Lynch of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. for sending me a review copy.***


Nonna Bannister was a young girl when World War II broke into her happy life. She went from an idyllic early-twentieth-century Russian childhood, full of love and comforts, to the life of a prisoner working in labor camps—though she was not a Jew—eventually bereft of her entire family. But she survived the war armed with the faith in God her grandmother taught her and a readiness to start a new life. She immigrated to America, married, and started a family, keeping her past secret from everyone. Though she had carried from Germany the scraps of a diary and various photographs and other memorabilia, she kept it all hidden and would only take it out, years later, to translate and expand her writings. After decades of marriage, Nonna finally shared her secret with her husband . . . and now he is sharing it with the world. Nonna died on August 15, 2004.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (March 4, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414325479
ISBN-13: 978-1414325477


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Anastasia's Secret by Susanne Dunlap

Anastasia's Secret by Susanne Dunlap
Copyright 2010
Bloomsbury Books for Young Readers
Historical Fiction/YA
333 pages
Susanne Dunlap's website

Anastasia is used to being a little bit invisible. Her younger brother, the heir to the throne, is ill and the focus of her parents' attention. The youngest Romanov daughter and Grand Duchess, she has lived a privileged but sheltered life. But, when WWI breaks out and the Bolsheviks threaten her family's 300-year rule, things change dramatically.

During a walk around the palace grounds, Anastasia meets a young guard named Sasha. Throughout the Romanov family's exile in Siberia and the downward spiral of the monarchy, Anastasia grows up while her secret friendship slowly changes from infatuation to true love.

Last year I read Susanne Dunlap's first young adult novel, The Musician's Daughter, and enjoyed it (I did not get around to reviewing -- long story) so I've been looking forward to reading more by the author. The fact that Anastasia's Secret is a book about the legendary Anastasia whom many thought to have escaped from the hideous murder of the Romanovs was a bonus. I've read very little about the Romanovs and the Bolshevik Revolution but I've desired to read more.

I think the author did an amazing job of sticking as close to the facts as humanly possible and I also think the story proposed an excellent "What if?" scenario. Anastasia's Secret is what I'd call a "quiet" book; the pace is fairly slow, for good reason. Careful pacing gives the reader an excellent sense of the timing as the Romanovs' world slowly crumbled. Occasionally, the meetings between Anastasia and Sasha became repetitive and the romance was definitely a bit of a stretch, but I enjoyed the historical setting so much that I wasn't particularly bothered by the implausibility.

There is some explanatory material that rounds the book out very nicely. In the introduction, the author describes the cast of characters, Russian naming and the necessity to limit the cast to certain key characters plus the fictional romantic interest. An epilogue and author's notes detail what happened to the family after the story ended, the most recently unearthed information concerning the Romanovs and why she chose to write about Anastasia.

Anastasia's Secret is a Young Adult novel told in first person, from Anastasia's point of view. In one of the other reviews I've linked to, below, you may note that the author says it's for ages 14 and up. That's because the romance becomes less innocent and a little more graphically described as Anastasia ages.

4/5 - Well researched and vividly imagined, an excellent peek into the final years of the Romanov rule overlaid with a sweet, if implausible, fictional tale of teen romance

The historical information that I gleaned from reading Anastasia's Secret came in very handy, last week, when I read The Secret Holocaust Diaries by Nonna Bannister. Nonna Bannister was a Russian whose grandfather was in the Tsar's Imperial Guard. The two books complemented each other surprisingly well and I'm eager to read more about the Romanovs and the Russian experience during WWII.

If you follow me on Twitter you've probably already seen this photo, but I'm such a big fan of wisteria that I thought it was worth sharing on the blog, as well. We've driven around in search of wisteria to photograph twice, this week. Isn't it beautiful?

I thought it fit the purple Anastasia's Secret cover theme well.

Other reviews:

Fantasy Book Critic

Novel Novice

Books at Midnight - I like the way this blogger rated the writing, plot, romance, characters and cover separately.

I received my copy of Anastasia's Secret directly from the author, who chose to bypass the usual route and inscribe the book to me. How cool is that? Thank you, Susanne! I've got another of Susanne Dunlap's books, which I'm really looking forward to reading (and bought with my very own money): Lizst's Kiss.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Taking a Blogging Break + Fiona Friday

Still taking a break, but . . .
I figure you guys need your Fiona fix. So, here you go.

That orange thing is the toy we call her "milk carton tab". It's one of her favorites.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Disaster Status by Candace Calvert (review)

Disaster Status by Candace Calvert
Copyright 2010
Tyndale - Fiction/Romance
340 pages, incl. discussion guide
Candace Calvert's website

Erin Quinn has just begun her much-needed day off from her job as charge nurse in the ER at Pacific Mercy Hospital. But, when a plane crash causes the spread of toxic chemicals, sickening field workers and nearby residents, her day off turns into a stressful disaster status. Called in to the ER, she finds herself in conflict with a handsome incident commander from the fire department, who wants things done "by the book" -- his book, no exceptions.

Fire captain Scott McKenna is no stranger to tragedy. After the deaths of his father and sister and the hospitalization of his nephew with a crushed leg, he has thrown himself into his work; even his off hours are punishing. But, he may have met his match in Erin Quinn. Equally determined and stung by past hurts, the two can't help but clash when their tightly-controlled worlds collide.

While Erin and Scott face off over the handling of the disaster their paths keep crossing outside of work, as well. But, Scott plans to move away to escape bad memories and advance his career. Can Erin help Scott finally find the peace he seeks? Or will he be just one more big mistake in Erin's long history of problem men?

Character-driven, action-packed and romantic, Disaster Status is the second book in Candace Calvert's "Mercy Hospital" series. I haven't read the first, although it's on my wish list. I found the characters very likable. Erin is a Christian who leads a morning prayer session at the hospital while Scott has let go of his faith and no longer prays, since the death of his beloved sister. His young nephew, still hospitalized after several surgeries, may lose his leg.

Erin and Scott each have their inner demons to battle. Scott needs to deal with his grief and Erin is angered and confused by her wayward father's attempts to communicate with her. Both take out their anger and frustrations in physical ways: scrubbing mold, swimming in the ocean, boxing, running, working long hours. They guzzle caffeine to fight fatigue and the coffee and bait shop is one of the places their paths oddly cross.

There are several secondary storylines. An ER doctor whose husband cheated on her takes her greatest comfort from riding her horse. A janitor who served in Desert Storm and wears a prosthetic leg goes off his medication and thinks he's on a mission to save the child who might lose his leg. And, Erin's grandmother spends time comforting patients as a volunteer, in spite of Erin's concern that volunteering at the hospital will only bring back bad memories of her husband's final days.

I thought the main storyline was great. Character-driven romance is not necessarily what I'd call "my thing", but I like it now and then, if done well. Calvert's writing is clear and her characters are well-defined. I enjoyed "hanging out with them", so to speak, and Disaster Status turned out to be one of those rare books that I read in a single day.

Most of the secondary storylines fed nicely into the plot (one was a little weak and could easily have been cut, but it wasn't annoying -- just unnecessary). There were also some lovely little quirks that I enjoyed, like the story of how Erin's grandmother acquired her elderly goldfish and the names of the coffee flavors: Sea Dog black (Scott's favorite) and Starfish Latte extra cinnamon (Erin's coffee of choice). I found myself craving a latte with cinnamon and smiling every time they ordered the same old coffee.

4/5 - Excellent characterization; a plot-driven novel with plenty of action, some fun quirks and a sweet romance with mild Christian elements. In spite of the fact that my preference is plot-driven novels, I found the book entertaining and fairly fast-paced.