Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cherry Blossom Capers: A Review

In Cherry Blossom Capers, four authors share the novellas of four different women who find themselves in the middle of a mystery and love.
State Secrets by Lynette Sowell: Tara Whitley, chef at the White House, can't believe when her old boyfriend Jack Courtland shows up at the White House to work a case. Not only does he want to take her out to dinner, but he also wants her to help him on his case.
I like the FBI aspect of the story and the character of Jack. However, Tara was a pushover. Jack walked away from her, but she the one to keep trying to make it work, telling him she loves him (and he has to take time to think about it). I found that annoying, which made this my least favorite of the four novellas.
Dying for Love by Cara. C. Putnam: There was a time when Ciara Turner thought she had a future with Daniel Evans, the guy she clerked with in law school. After a few years of being on opposite sides of the courtroom, Ciara sees they have no future. When the two discover the body of a judge, they are forced to work together instead of against each other. Will they find they still have sparks?
I liked this story, but it felt like Daniel and Ciara's chemistry was a little bland until the end. Still, overall good read.
Buried Deception by Gina Conroy: Samantha Steel, archaeology intern and widow, is desperate to survive and support her children on her own. When her rambunctious son breaks an artifact in a museum on the first day of internship, Samantha has to deal with Nick Porter, the reserved and cold security guard who lost his own family. When they discover the broken artifact is a forgery and the thief begins trying to kill Samantha, they must work together to find the one responsible.
This one may have been my favorite, particularly because Samantha is such a strong character. I liked her spunk and felt she was the best developed heroine in the collection.
Coffee, Tea, and Danger by Frances Devine: Susan Holland loves owning a small coffee and dessert shop, but when she becomes the owner of a mansion, her dreams start to expand. Vince Martini is in charge of renovating the house and becomes Susan's protector as her life is in danger from someone who wants secrets hidden in the house.
I loved that the author gave us a heroine who is older. Most Christian fiction stories deal with women in their 20s or maybe 30s. We need more independent women in their 40s as lead characters.
I read this collection a plane ride, and the short, fast-paced stories made the time fly by. (Pun intended.) I liked the added mystery to the romances.
Fans of Christian fiction who are looking for a beach or plane read, this is the book for you.
I received this book in exchange for my review. My thoughts are my own.

The Next Best Thing: A Review

Anyone who has read a People magazine knows Hollywood is not what it seems, and Jennifer Weiner's newest novel gives readers a peek at what TV is all about. At the age of 23, Ruth Saunders takes off to Hollywood with her 70 year old grandma and a story to tell. No one is more surprised than Ruth when she lands the big one: a chance to be the showrunner for her own sitcom, The Next Best Thing. As the show takes off, she realizes that to get ahead in Hollywood, you have to leave part of yourself behind.

I have heard good things about Weiner's books for years, but this is the first one I have picked up to read. I must admit I wasn't hooked on chapter one or even two because the book jumped around from the present to the past and Ruth seemed like a wimp for the first few chapters.

After getting a feel for the rhythm of the book, I enjoyed Ruth's story...mainly because she is a flawed character, both physically and emotionally. As a young girl, she lost her parents and her physical "beauty" in a car accident. Multiple surgeries couldn't correct the disfigurement, and Ruth bears scars on her body and her heart. I loved seeing her take on the perfect/fake beauties in Hollywood. I love to root for the underdog, and Weiner created a character readers will love and want to succeed. Her sidekick grandma is hilarious and could have her own book. Her steadfast support and lively personality balanced out the often shy Ruth.

The second thing I loved was that the ending wasn't a Hollywood ending. There was no happily ever after ending with Ruth getting the top ratings for her show, the actors' adoration, and the accolades. Instead, the ending was realistic and showed great character growth.

Fans of character-driven fiction will love this next best book by Jennifer, and I know I will check out her other books.

I was given this book in exchange for my review. My thoughts are my own.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Sound Among the Trees: A Review

When Marielle  marries Carson, she doesn't just move across the country to live with him and his two children, she moves into the house where he lived with his first wife, who passed away several years prior. Holly Oak, a beautiful manor from the Civil War era, is known as a mysterious home, where there once lived a Civil War spy, where the parlor was used as an emergency hospital, and where the ghost of supposed spy Susannah is said to roam. Will Marielle be able to find out the truth about the past into order to be happy in her present?

Though a slow read at times, A Sound Among the Trees is a beautiful tale of the consequences of one generation upon another. Alternating between Adelaide and Marielle's views, the reader is given glimpses into the secrets the house holds and what future it may give. While Adelaide holds onto a bitter past in which her daughter ran off and left her with an infant child, Marielle awkwardly tries to find a niche in a house that isn't hers.

The story picks up about halfway through when Marielle is given the letters Susannah wrote to her cousin. These letters show her role in the Civil War. (I don't want to give away too much of the surprise.) Meissner could have written a book about Susannah. In fact, while the letters add to the story, they give the reader a much more interesting character than Marielle, which in turn, made me care little about whether Marielle ended up happy or not.

The author also touched on depression and hinted at it being in the family tree. I wish she would have delved more into that. I also wish we would have seen Carson and Marielle interact more. I think that would have given Marielle a reason to move and perhaps would have made her a more interesting character.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and the journey of a house's occupants. 

I received this book in exchange for my reviews. My thoughts and opinions are my own.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Finder's Fee: A Review

Rich and powerful, Judith Find has it all until she gets a phone call. The mysterious voice tells her the world will know the past she has kept hidden unless she helps rescue a kidnapped boy. Determined to keep her secret, she teams up with Luke, who was also threatened. Together they must find the boy before their past is revealed, ruining their future.

This is the first book I've read by Alton Gansky, and I enjoyed it. Judith and Luke are flawed but likeable characters, and the plot moves at a brisk pace, moving from one dramatic event to another as the two race across the country to find a little boy. The author does a great job of keeping the reader surprised at what happens next.

I also like the side story of fertility treatments and a possible repercussion of toying with genetics. Gansky played with the what ifs of genetic tampering, and a little more into that part of the story would have been interesting.

After reading this book, I plan to check out others by this author.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bluebonnet List Part 1: Reviews

Every year, students in grades 3-6 across the state of Texas read the Bluebonnet List. Then in January, they vote for their favorites. My students love voting and seeing what book won for our school and then the state.

I started reading the books on the list for the upcoming school year, so I thought I would record my thoughts.

I LOVE this book. At first, I was leery of how my 3rd and 4th graders would take this book about a woman who is "old," but the timeless theme of being comfortable with yourself, especially in a look obsessed Hollywood culture, will appeal to kids, in particular the girls. This is a fabulous read for people of all ages.

What a great book! The pictures are amazing. The facts are presented in a kid-friendly format and reading level. Kids will love the layout and the fold out pages that bring the birds to life. Readers will walk away with an appreciation for these birds as well as a little more knowledge about the majestic predators.

When Jack is invited to the party for the princess, he doesn't know what to bring the girl who has everything. Deciding to bake her a cake, he's off to present his gift. Along the way, Jack encounters adversity and loses his cake bit by bit. Finally making it to the party, he is empty handed. Will he still have something to give the princess?

I love the theme of the book, and the story is cute. The pictures are a little too dark for me, especially for a children's book. While it's a great read, I am a little surprised it's on the Texas Bluebonnet List for grades 3-6 since it seems geared towards younger kids.

I could not get into this book. I'm not a big fan of graphic novels for my personal reading, but this storyline was boring to me. I see it has gotten great reviews, so perhaps I just don't get its appeal. I'm sure the kids will like it because it's a graphic novel, but I am not a fan.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Coming Home: A Review

I have read the entire Baxter series (all 22  books) and consider the family members some of my all-time favorite characters. After being very disappointed with the Bailey series, I was nervous to read this book and anxious to see if it would follow the trend of the Bailey series or return to the life-changing tales fans have come to appreciate from Karen. This book did not disappoint.

The first part of the book is a walk down memory lane for fans of the Baxters (and can catch up a new reader) as the various kids and their families travel to Indiana to celebrate John Baxters' 70th birthday. When tragedy strikes, the family must rely on each other and Jesus as they face the unthinkable. 

It's hard to say what I thought about the book without giving away what the tragedy is, but through the horrible events, the common theme from all of the Baxter series shines through: total dependence and faith in Jesus no matter the circumstances. I loved the various chapters being told through the eyes of the siblings, giving one last glimpse into these characters' lives. I loved the hope despite the hurt. I loved seeing the kids who I read about when they were born as teens and preteens with their own story to tell. (I can see Karen doing a book about Cole in the future.) And most of all, I loved seeing a book by Karen that went back to the storytelling that made us all fans.

Fans of the Baxter family will enjoy this one last journey with an amazing family that endured some of life's most bitter circumstances with faith and even joy.

I received this book in exchange for my review. My thoughts and opinions are my own.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Perfectly Invisible: A Review

Daisy is ready for graduation and finally finding her freedom from her over-bearing parents at college. But when she loses her job, her parents tell her she needs to go to community college, and her best friend makes her sell tacky senior rings and starts hanging out with the guy Daisy thought was into her, Daisy finds the last few months before graduation may be anything but fun.

After being disappointed with book one in this series, I was happy to find Kristin Billerbeck found her normal, quirky voice in this novel. The fast quips and funny characters are what I like best about Billerbeck, and these are all over the first half of the book--when suddenly we have about 20 pages of nothing but lectures. Daisy is lectured on what's wrong with her by just about everyone, including some guy wanting to hire her. It was tedious(and teens may find it enough to stop reading), but thankfully, after the lecture break, the story went back to a funny book about high school drama and a girl's journey to finding herself.

Fans of Kristin Billerbeck will enjoy this book and look forward to book three in the series.

Larkspur Cove: A Review

When Andrea and her son flee to Moses Lake after a bitter and public divorce, she is determined to rebuild her life...on her own. Game Warden Mart judges Andrea too quickly to be an uninterested parent when her son Dustin is picked up with some other teens for driving illegally on the water.

The two continue to run into each other in the small town, particularly when they both become involved in a case of a little girl who suddenly showed up to live with an outcast of a man in a shack deep in the woods. As they work together to figure out who the girl is and what is best for her, they find that first impressions aren't always lasting ones.

Lisa Wingate has quickly become on of my favorite Christian authors. The characters are well-developed and show true growth. While romance is a part of the book, it's not the driving force. The plot keeps a slow but steady pace, building to the climatic and satisfying ending.

What I liked most was the community members of Moses Lake. From the pastor to the restaurant owner Shirley who tries to slip in healthy food into the main menu, the residents are quirky and have their own story to tell as well.

My only complaint was the book ended before I wanted it to. Although Mart finally comes to grips with his brother's death, I wanted him to reconnect with the sister-in-law and nephew. I also wanted to see more of what happens with Dustin, particularly his relationship with his dad. Perhaps that will happen in another Moses Lake book.

Fans of Christian fiction will enjoy this tale by Lisa Wingate and quickly become a fan of hers if they aren't already.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Shadow of Your Smile: A Review

When Noelle wakes up in the hospital, she can't remember her life--the accident that caused her memory loss, the man she calls husband, her boys, or her daughter Kelsey who was brutally murdered.
Emma can do nothing but remember Kelsey--and the guilt she feels for living when her best friend died. Will the two women be able to find a bright future or remain stuck in the memories of yesterday?

I usually enjoy Susan May Warren's books, and this one was no exception. I like the darker topic of a struggling marriage, an inappropriate friendship that crosses a line, and the forgiveness that lasting love requires. These harder topics may make for a tough read for some, especially those who want a beach happy love story, but they are real issues that Christians face. Warren did a fantastic job with the character of Noelle. She often seemed cold and unfeeling in the book, which was perfect for a woman who didn't even know these people. The depth and honesty of the characters will make this a book readers don't just enjoy but remember.

My only complaint was it was resolved a little too easily at the end. Each character had so many major issues, the book could have easily been stretched to two books and thus made the ending a little more realistic.   

**I would love to read another book about Emma. I think she has a lot of story left to tell. Hint, hint, Mrs. Warren. :)
 I received this book in exchange for my review. My thoughts and opinions are my own.


Congrats to Liz R. for winning Loving. I almost picked another winner since Liz wrote that she was loving the weather, and you know it's a miserable hot down here. If I wouldn't miss my family like crazy, I would move up north for some cooler weather.

This week, I'm giving away Finder's Fee. To enter to win, leave a comment about the coolest thing you ever found. To get a second entry, leave a second comment letting me know you follow the blog.
I'll pick a winner next week.

Please leave an email address. I'll pick another winner if there is no email address.

I can only ship to the US.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Dying to Know You: A Review

When Karl's girlfriend wants him to tell her how he feels, he can't find the words. Desperate to please the girl he can't believe likes him, he finds her favorite author and begs him for help. What happens next is the development of a friendship between an awkward teen and a lonely elderly author.

I've read a lot of YA literature, but I don't think I've ever read a book quite like this one. The development is slow  but meaningful. As the author helps Karl by writing letters for him, he finds something to fill the hole that has been growing since the death of his wife. As Karl tries to express how he feels for Fiorella, he begins to deal with his repressed emotions from his father's death. The unlikely duo find they need each other to find themselves.

This book is missing the action, romance, and "glitter" that so many YA books have, but it makes up for it in a deep look at life and its heartache and triumph.

I am not sure how teens will react to the book, but those who ride out the slow ride will walk away with some food for thought.

I received this book in exchange for my review. My thoughts are my own.

The Baker's Wife: A Review

What happens when the police find a large amount of blood at the scene of a wreck but no body?

Audrey and her husband have always enjoyed baking bread and sharing it with the hurting in their town, so when they are forced out of their position as pastors of a church, they open a bakery, where they can continue to share bread. On a foggy morning, Audrey hits a scooter on the way to work. The police arrive to find a large amount of blood but no body, and Audrey becomes a suspect.

Tensions rise as the police identify the blood. It belongs to Julie, the wife of Jack, who cost Audrey's husband his role as pastor. When Audrey begins to "feel" the hurt and anguish Julie is experiencing, she knows it's up to her to find Julie and thus clearing her name. Will she be able to find Julie before Jack takes justice into his own hands?

I love the theme of this book: Christians should bear one another burdens. While we may not literally feel the pain of others like Audrey does in the book, we should minister to the hurting.

The mystery was interesting enough, but the plot was very detailed and a little too far-reaching for me to be swept away with the characters. There was  plenty of action, but it was at time a little too unbelievable.

While I wasn't crazy about this book, I enjoyed it for the most part and will check out other books by Erin Healy.

I was given this book in exchange for my review. My thoughts are my own.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Messenger: A Review

In January of 1778, Philadelphia is ravaged by war. When Hannah finds out her brother is in jail because he sided with the Rebels, she can no longer stand by idly like her Quaker beliefs require. Angry after losing an arm fighting for the British, Jeremiah is now a Colonial spy. The two team up to rescue the men before they die in prison. Will they be too late to save Hannah's brother or even their own lives?

I love the Revolutionary War time period and found this book to be an engaging read. Instead of just a love story, this book explores religion's influence on political views, slavery, and the line between doing what's right and what's expected. The book had twists and turns that I didn't expect and gave a story that was deeper than the typical happily ever after. Hannah and Jeremiah are great characters, and I hope there's a second book that tells us what happens next.

I highly recommend this book to fans of Christian fiction. Even those who aren't usually historical fiction fans will enjoy this tale of heroic deeds by common people.

I received this book in exchange for my review. My thoughts and opinions are my own.

Monday, June 4, 2012


Congrats to Karen for winning Larkspur Cove!

I thought I already gave this book away, but I'm giving away a copy of Karen Kingsbury's Loving.
To enter to win, let me know what you are loving. Right now, I'm loving summer. YAY! It's what makes the rough days in education worth it.

To get a second entry, follow the blog and leave a second comment letting me know you follow.
I'll pick a winner next Monday.
I can only ship to the US.
Remember to leave your email address. I'll pick another winner if there isn't an email address.