Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas One and All

I'll be taking a few days off from blogging to enjoy time with family and friends, overdo it on pecan pie and have some much-needed time to read. I hope you and your loved ones have a very merry Christmas and always remember, in the words of my favorite Christmas movie, than "no man is a failure who has friends."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Review: The Betrayal of the Blood Lily by Lauren Willig

I just found a review I had written a few months ago of Lauren Willig's sixth installment in the Pink Carnation series, The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, which was released last January. If you haven't read the previous books you need to start with the first (The Secret History of the Pink Carnation), as Willig builds on the characters' relationships and the relationship between the modern day heroine Eloise and Colin Selwick. While I always love Willig's writing and have devoured the previous books, I must admit this is tied for my least favorite with The Seduction of the Crimson Rose.

Like Mary Alsworthy, Penelope Staines (nee' Devereaux) is a difficult heroine, and though you come to admire her strength and wit as love softens her, she is not easy to love. Also, (BIG SPOILER ALERT) I was really bothered by the adultery that took place between the still-married Penelope and Captain Alex Reid. In her previous books Willig has pretty much confined the sex scenes to when the characters were (however reluctantly) married, so I came into Blood Lily expecting the same. I know it contributed to the image of Penelope as more of a rebel, but it cheapened their relationship to me. On the positive side, Willig's writing is as witty and fun as ever, and it was nice to see a feisty woman match wits with a handsome, kind and honorable hero. Willig's descriptions of India are very evocative and obviously very well-researched.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Wanted to love it, just couldn't really identify with Penelope as I had with previous heroines Henrietta, Letty and Charlotte. However, I did enjoy it and loved The Mischief of the Mistletoe (see review here), so I'm looking forward to reading Willig's next book, The Orchid Affair..

source: personal copy

Monday, December 20, 2010

Victorian Literature Challenge- Sign-Up Post

I've decided to join one more challenge for 2011- the Victorian Literature Challenge at Words, Words, Words. I tend to really enjoy Victorian literature, and have most of these books either in my possession or available for free through Amazon. I'm only committing to two challenges for the year (this one and Sheila at Book Journey's Where Are You Reading? Challenge) because I tend to overcommit myself!

I'm joining at the "Great Expectations" level, which requires reading 6-9 books written in the Victorian era (considered the reign of Britain's Queen Victoria, from 1837-1901) between January 1 and December 31.

Books I will be reading for the challenge:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Somehow I never read Jane Eyre during high school or college. With a new movie adaption coming out in March this is the perfect excuse to finally read it! Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
I've read another mystery by Collins, The Moonstone, and this psychological mystery sounds really intriguing.

The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green I've been wanting to read this mystery for a while (it's considered a predecessor to the Sherlock Holmes series) so this is a great opportunity. and South by Elizabeth Gasskell
The BBC version of this was absolutely fantastic (hello Richard Armitage!) so I'm looking forward to reading Gasskell's novel about Margaret Hale, a young woman who moves from the pastoral south of England to the more industrial North.

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope've never read Trollope, but the description of this satire on greed and dishonesty sounds really relevant to our current financial climate. Expectations by Charles Dickens
Like Jane Eyre, this is another classic I haven't read yet. The fact that it's one of Oprah's newest book club choices is purely coincidental :)

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson sounds like an interesting coming-of-age novel set in 18th century Scotland. Also, it's free for Kindle.
                                  Sonnets From the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
I've always found Elizabeth Barrett Browning's life story really interesting, and I fell in love with the 1934 Norma Shearer movie based on her life, The Barretts of Wimpole Street. I'm looking forward to reading this collection of her poems dedicated to Robert Browning.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

It's Monday- What Are You Reading?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. This is where we share what we've read the previous week and what we're planning to read this week. It's a great way to see what others are reading (and add more books to the TBR pile!)

Finished and Reviewed:
This week I was able to finish and review Deanna Raybourn's Silent in the Sanctuary, which I loved! I immediately bought the next book in the series, Silent on the Moor (oh the joys/danger of being able to buy a book instantly on Kindle).

Currently Reading:
Silent on the Moor and Miss Dimple Disappears, a mystery set in WWII era Georgia that I've heard good things about.


Did Not Finish:
I couldn't really get into Hank Steuver's Tinsel, a look at the spectacle of modern-day American Christmas as celebrated by the people in Frisco, Texas. His condescending, "I'm from the big city" attitude towards the people of Frisco was really wearing, and I felt like the people he profiled were more caricatures than actual people.

Steuver ended the introduction with a warning of sorts, saying
"In this search (escapade? immersion?) I came upon one word over and over, emblazoned on various plaques, ornaments, and other bric-a-brac. It was at every holiday crafts bazaar I went to, or somewhere in the holiday decor of every house I visited--soldered in pewter, or sewn to Christmas stockings, or decoupaged onto wood. The word was believe. Snowmen held signs with it. A team of reindeer pulled it, B-E-L-I-E-V-E, across a front lawn... Believe, people kept telling me.
I told them I wasn't that kind of believer.
I told them this is probably not that kind of Christmas book.
I want you to know that. Caveat emptor, and so forth."

 I guess I wasn't really in the mood for that type of book this year!

Up Next:
I'm hoping to spend my Christmas break reading some of the classics I somehow missed during my high school and college education, like Jane Eyre and To Kill A Mockingbird (I know, the horror!). I may be the only person who doesn't know the plot of Jane Eyre so I want to read it before the movie is released in March. However, I've found I've been very fickle with my book choices lately so we'll see what I actually read next.


What are your reading plans for the week before Christmas?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Review: Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn

Fresh from a six-month sojourn in Italy, Lady Julia returns home to Sussex to find her father's estate crowded with family and friends— but dark deeds are afoot at the deconsecrated abbey, and a murderer roams the ancient cloisters. Certain of her cousin's innocence, Lady Julia resumes her unlikely and deliciously intriguing partnership with Nicholas Brisbane, setting out to unravel a tangle of deceit before the killer can strike again. When a sudden snowstorm blankets the abbey like a shroud, it falls to Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane to answer the shriek of murder most foul (summary from goodreads).

 The second installment in Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey mystery series was even better than the first, Silent in the Grave. I was eager to see more of Julia and Nicholas Brisbane's passionate but unsettled romance and enjoyed Julia's witty narrative voice and the coloful cast of secondary characters. Similar to the first book, the murderer was unmasked and the mystery solved by the last pages, but not fully. Like real life, there is never a perfect ending or justice entirely served, and the loose ends and unanswered questions made the story more realistic. I felt like the characters were fully formed and multi-dimensional, with their own quirks and unique qualities that made them seem like flesh-and-blood people.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. This book held my attention with the descriptive writing and mix of Victorian mystery, humor, and romance. I've already started the third book in the series, Silent on the Moor.

Source: personal copy

Monday, December 13, 2010

It's Monday-What Are You Reading?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. This is where we share what we've read the previous week and what we're planning to read this week. It's a great way to see what others are reading (and add more books to the TBR pile!)

Finished and Reviewed:
I finished and reviewed one book this week, Dan Walsh's The Unfinished Gift. This was one of my selections for All About {n}'s Holiday Reading Challenge. This wasn't my favorite book (I thought the writing was very choppy and occasionally awkward) but it was a sweet story about the power of God and Christmas.

Currently Reading:
I'm about halfway through Silent in the Sanctuary, the second book in the Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn, and am loving it! I'm hoping to finish that book this week along with Tinsel by Hank Steuver, another challenge selection. A busy holiday season has meant I'm a little behind on my reading for that- I have 2 books finished and 3 more to read by December 31!

Up Next:
Santa Clawed, a holiday mystery set in Virginia by Rita Mae Brown, and either Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn or Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup (author of Slumdog Millionaire).

What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Review: The Unfinished Gift by Dan Walsh

Ian Collins is an old man without his son. Patrick Collins is a young boy without his father. On his Christmas list are only three items. He wants the army to find his father. He wants to leave his grandfather's house. And he wants the dusty wooden soldier in Grandfather's attic--the one he is forbidden to touch.
Set in December of 1943, The Unfinished Gift is the engaging story of a family in need of forgiveness. With simple grace, it reminds us of the small things that affect powerful change in our hearts--a young boy's prayers, a shoe box of love letters, and even a half-carved soldier, long forgotten (summary from cover).

The writing and dialogue is a little choppy, and sometimes I felt like the story was developing at the speed of molasses. But once I become invested in the characters, especially the adorable 8-year-old Patrick, I found I really enjoyed The Unfinished Gift. My heart broke for Patrick as he was confronted with the death of his mother, his grandfather Ian's coldness and his father's absence at Christmastime. Like Katharine Townsend, the young social worker assigned to Patrick's case, I wanted to shake his grandfather and make him see what a special kid Patrick was. But as a stack of letters and an old wooden soldier slowly bring a change to Ian's heart, we see the loneliness and pain behind his cranky facade begin to lessen.

Each character in the book is marked by the loss of a family member, be it mother, wife, or son, but God is still able to bring about healing and reconciliation. This was a message that really resonated with me and made the story more moving. I wish the ending had been a little less simplistic, and some of the characters more fully formed, but I enjoyed reading this and am looking forward to starting the sequel, The Homecoming. I can't say I was moved to tears like the book jacket promised, but it did get me into the Christmas spirit.

Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars. If you're in the mood to curl up with a simply written and uplifting Christmas novel, this is the book for you. It's not flashy or action-packed but it is a sweet story about second chances.

This book was one of my selections for All About {n}'s Holiday Reading Challenge.
Source: personal copy

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Masterpiece Classic Schedule!

PBS just released highlights from its Masterpiece Classic schedule for 2011, and all three series look fabulous! I'm especially looking forward to Upstairs Downstairs, and I love Matthew MacFadyen so I'm interested to see Any Human Heart as well.

January 9, 16, 23 & 30, 2011 at 9pm
Downton Abbey
A stately country house, a noble family and a succession crisis are the backdrop for this epic drama by Oscar-winning writer Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) about the lives of aristocrats and servants in the years before World War I. Downton Abbey stars Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern and others.

February 13, 20 & 27, 2011 at 9pm
Any Human Heart
William Boyd adapts his acclaimed 2002 novel about a man — at various times a writer, lover, prisoner of war, and spy — making his often precarious way through the 20th century. Matthew MacFadyen, Gillian Anderson, Hayley Atwell, Kim Cattrall and Jim Broadbent star.

Matthew MacFadyen and Hayley Atwell

Tom Hollander and Gillian Anderson as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor

April 10, 17 & 24, 2011 at 9pm
Upstairs Downstairs
Upstairs Downstairs is an updated version of one of the most-loved and most-honored series in television history. The series has a new cast of characters and Jean Marsh reprising her Emmy-winning role as Rose. The cast also includes the original series co-creator Eileen Atkins (Cranford), Keeley Hawes (MI-5), Ed Stoppard, and Art Malik (The Jewel in the Crown) with a script by Emmy-nominee Heidi Thomas (Cranford).

Keeley Hawkes and Ed Stoppard as Lady Agnes and Sir Hallam Holland

Claire Foy as Lady Persephone

Some of the staff

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

2011 Where Are You Reading? Challenge

I'm signing up for a rather ambitious challenge for 2011-- Sheila at Book Journey's Where Are You Reading? Challenge. You can click here for the full details on how to participate, but the basic goal is to read a book set in each of the fifty states by next December, with bonus points awarded for reading areas beyond those fifty. I'm looking forward to the challenge of finding books set in the less popular states (anyone have a suggestion for a book featuring North Dakota?) and seeing "where" everyone is reading!

When the challenge starts you'll be able to see my map with completed books here or on the sidebar under the challenge button. Each participant in the challenge will have a map so we can see where everyone has been. I hope you'll consider joining what seems like a really fun challenge (and for incentive, one person out of those who've completed it will be randomly chosen to win a $50 gift card to Amazon or Barnes & Noble!)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Free Inspirational Fiction for Kindle!

Here's some of the free inspirational fiction that caught my eye this week (all were no cost as of Tuesday morning, but these promotions sometimes end suddenly so check before you buy!) If you don't have a Kindle, you can download the software from Amazon to read on a computer or smartphone.

The Judge Who Stole Christmas by Randy Singer (Tyndale House)

 Stuck in the Middle by Virginia Smith (Revell)  

Fireflies in December by Jennifer Erin Valent (Tyndale House)- I've heard great things about this writer and her books set in the Depression-era South so I'm looking forward to reading this one!

Lonestar Sanctuary by Colleen Coble (Thomas Nelson)

Troublesome Creek by Jan Watson (Tyndale House)- gorgeous cover! This historical set in 1800s Kentucky looks really interesting.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Review: The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig

Reginald “Turnip” Fitzhugh—often mistaken for the elusive spy known as the Pink Carnation—has blundered into danger before. But when he blunders into Miss Arabella Dempsey, it never occurs to him that she might be trouble. When Turnip and Arabella stumble upon a beautifully wrapped Christmas pudding with a cryptic message written in French, “Meet me at Farley Castle”, the unlikely vehicle for intrigue launches the pair on a Yuletide adventure that ranges from the Austens’ modest drawing room to the awe-inspiring estate of the Dukes of Dovedale, where the Dowager Duchess is hosting the most anticipated event of the year: an elaborate 12-day Christmas celebration. Will they find poinsettias or peril, dancing or danger? And is it possible that the fate of the British Empire rests in Arabella and Turnip’s hands, in the form of a festive Christmas pudding? (summary from book cover)

The Mischief of the Mistletoe: A Pink Carnation Christmas
I have been a big fan of Lauren Willig's historical romance for a while and the release of The Mischief of the Mistletoe happened to fit in nicely with All About {n}'s Holiday Reading Challenge. While this can be read as a stand-alone Christmas novel, it's much more fun when you have read the previous entries in the Pink Carnation series (six in all, starting with the Secret History of the Pink Carnation). I loved seeing the reappearance of some of my favorite characters from earlier books, like Lord and Lady Pinchingdale and the fearsome Dowager Duchess of Dovedale.

I had never found Turnip Fitzhugh to be a particularly romantic character, but Willig creates a depth that makes him very appealing by the end of the story. As Arabella and Turnip romp through various adventures I was caught up in their story and the setting of Regency era Bath, England. I also enjoyed seeing an appearance by the famous Jane Austen (as an old family friend of Arabella's) and how Willig seemed to capture her smart and comedic take on society.

Rating 5 out of 5 stars. This book reaffirmed Willig's place on my list of favorite authors. Witty and fun, with plenty of chemistry between the two main characters, this was the perfect start to the holiday season! I would highly recommend this for Jane Austen fans or anyone who enjoys a blend of historical romance and comedy.
source: personal copy

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It's Monday-What Are You Reading?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. This is where we share what we've read the previous week and what we're planning to read this week. It's a great way to see what others are reading (and add more books to the TBR pile!)

Finished Last Week:

I was able to get a fair amount of reading done over the holiday weekend, including finishing The Mischief of the Mistletoe, one of my choices for All About {n}'s Holiday Reading Challenge. It was delightful- review coming soon!

Currently Reading:
I started the second Lady Julia Grey novel Silent in the Sanctuary and my next reading challenge selection, The Unfinished Gift. I'm hoping to finish at least one of these this week.  

Didn't Finish:
I couldn't really get into Raymond Khoury's follow up to The Last Templar, The Templar Salvation.
I don't know if it was because I had more appealing books in my TBR pile or it's been too long since I read the first one, but I'm going to have to attempt a re-read later.

Did you get any reading done over the holiday weekend? What are you reading this week?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm at my parents' house gearing up for a day of family, football, and of course food! I hope you have a wonderful and relaxing Thanksgiving and are able to give thanks for the blessings in your life. I'm so grateful for my relationship with Jesus, my family, wonderful friends and living in the best city in the world (in my opinion)! I'm also grateful for the wonderful community of bloggers and readers online--thank you for taking a chance and being so supportive to a new blogger!

 "I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving." Psalm 69:30

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's Monday-What Are You Reading?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. This is where we share what we've read the previous week and what we're planning to read this week. It's a great way to see what others are reading (and add more books to the TBR pile!)

Last week was hectic so I wasn't able to finish any books, but I'll be doing some traveling this week and hope to get some reading done in between football, pecan pie and sitting in airports (the only upside to delays is more time to read)!

Currently Reading:
I still have my nose in The Templar Salvation by Raymond Khoury and The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig (one of my selections for All About {n}'s Holiday Reading Challenge). Two very different books but I'm really enjoying both of them.
Up Next:
I'm really excited to start the next Lady Julia Grey mystery Silent in the Sanctuary and begin The Unfinished Gift by Dan Walsh (my next holiday reading challenge selection). I've heard the latter is a tearjerker so I'm getting the tissues ready!

What are your Thanksgiving week reading plans?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Review: The Healer's Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson

Rose has been appointed as a healer's apprentice at Hagenheim Castle, a rare opportunity for a woodcutter's daughter like her. While she often feels uneasy at the sight of blood, Rose is determined to prove herself capable. Failure will mean returning home to marry the aging bachelor her mother has chosen for her.When Lord Hamlin, the future duke, is injured, it is Rose who must tend to him. As she works to heal his wound, she begins to understand emotions she's never felt before and wonders if he feels the same. But falling in love is forbidden, as Lord Hamlin is betrothed to a mysterious young woman in hiding. As Rose's life spins toward confusion, she must take the first steps on a journey to discover her own destiny (summary from goodreads).

I had read lots of great reviews about this retelling of Sleeping Beauty and decided to check it out when it became available at the library. While The Healer's Apprentice is technically inspirational YA, that shouldn't deter adults from reading this updated fairy tale that comes complete with a handsome hero, evil villain and mysterious secret. Dickerson's writing transports you to medieval Saxony and I was soon completely involved in the story and the period details. Though I figured out the big secret by around Chapter 5, it was still very entertaining to read how the characters come to rely on God for assurance and direction on their way to a happy ending.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars for adults, 5 out of 5 for YA. Though I found Rose to be a little too passive and Lord Hamlin a little too perfect, that didn't spoil my enjoyment of an otherwise wonderful and engaging tale. I would have raved about this book when I was 15 and as a twenty-something I still really enjoyed it.

Source: library copy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How Do We Get Boys to Read?

Twice a month I get BookPage XTRA in my inbox, which features previews of upcoming releases, reviews and author interviews. This morning an interview with Jon Scieszka, author of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, caught my eye. Called "Connecting Boys With Books," the article detailed how Scieska has started a website called Guys Read  to address the literacy issue in young boys and
"help guys become readers by helping them find texts they want to read." He argues that "the key to getting boys to to 'show them a reason to want to be a reader, and support them in their interests.'
Another obstacle in getting boys to read is the instantly accessible entertainment available online and on television. That entertainment is more reachable than ever as younger kids have cell phones or even iPads, which Scieszka calls 'just like crack or candy—some combination of both.'"

I was reminded of a Wall Street Journal article from earlier this fall, called "How to Raise Boys That Read." Though I don't have kids, I definitely think about how I will make reading a priority for them when and if I do. The author, Thomas Pence, argues that "meeting boys where they are" by offering them books about farts or Captain Underpants doesn't serve them well now or for their future. Like Scieszka, he believes the phenomenon of boys not reading is in large part due to their exposure to video games (I know there are exceptions, but how many girls do you see huddled around an XBox playing Halo for hours on end?)

"People who think that a book—even R.L. Stine's grossest masterpiece—can compete with the powerful stimulation of an electronic screen are kidding themselves. But on the level playing field of a quiet den or bedroom, a good book like "Treasure Island" will hold a boy's attention quite as well as "Zombie Butts from Uranus." Who knows—a boy deprived of electronic stimulation might even become desperate enough to read Jane Austen.
Most importantly, a boy raised on great literature is more likely to grow up to think, to speak, and to write like a civilized man. Whom would you prefer to have shaped the boyhood imagination of your daughter's husband—Raymond Bean [author of the SweetFarts series] or Robert Louis Stevenson?"

Yes, boys and girls are created differently and have different learning styles. But when we limit boys to reading graphic novels and potty humor we're doing them a disservice and underestimating their capacity to read and enjoy actual literature. As Pence says, "if you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn't go very far."

What do you think? Does what boys are reading matter or is it just important that they are reading, period?

Read the interview with Scieszka here.
Read "How to Raise Boys Who Read" here

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It's Monday-What Are You Reading?

It's Monday, What Are you Reading is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. This is where we share what we've been reading the previous week and what we plan to read this week.

This week I finished two great novels, Silent in the Grave (review here) and The Healer's Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson (review to come).

Currently Reading:

Currently Reading
The Templar Salvation by Raymond Khoury. I've already gotten sucked into this story of the Knights Templar and the modern-day CIA agent trying to unearth an ancient secret so he can save his love!