Monday, December 15, 2014

Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf

As cozy and snugly the fall & winter seasons are for curling up with a good book - they're also insanely busy!!  I really do want nothing more than to be able to get some more books under my belt before the end of the year and it's just not looking likely that I'll meet my 35 book goal for 2014. *sniff*  I might have been a teensy bit too ambitious this time.  Even still, wrapping up with Little Mercies brought me in at #25 for the year and it's been a great year of reading for me!!

A massive part of why I've had such a wonderful year of reading goes to NetGalley and all that they offer for everyday readers like me to be able to request advance copies of books online. Seriously, when things get slow at work -

I actually finished Little Mercies back earlier this month, but only have a free moment to write a little something of my thoughts on it.

It was so good y'all!!!

I've even passed it on to my Mother-In-Law who also loved it and then on to one of my best friends, Jessica. Intense, moving, heart-breaking, mind-blowing...and you know what's the most sobering aspect about this story?  It happens a lot.  I can't really go into details, I just don't believe in sharing more than what the synopsis already gives you.  But let me say this - I'm not a mom, so I can't relate on a personal level of how tragic and devastating something like Ellen goes through.  But even still, just imaging it is traumatizing enough.

Seriously, pick this one up you won't regret it!  I received my copy compliments of NetGalley and Harlequin.  I bought The Weight of Silence, by Heather Gudenkauf a while back and now am anxious to dig into it even more now!   Little Mercies is already out now, so don't hesitate and grab yourself a copy here!

Veteran social worker Ellen Moore has seen the worst side of humanity; the vilest acts one person can commit against another. She is a fiercely dedicated children's advocate and a devoted mother and wife. But one blistering summer day, a simple moment of distraction will have repercussions that Ellen could never have imagined, threatening to shatter everything she holds dear, and trapping her between the gears of the system she works for.

Meanwhile, ten-year-old Jenny Briard has been living with her well-meaning but irresponsible father since her mother left them, sleeping on friends' couches and moving in and out of cheap motels. When Jenny suddenly finds herself on her own, she is forced to survive with nothing but a few dollars and her street smarts. The last thing she wants is a social worker, but when Ellen's and Jenny's lives collide, little do they know just how much they can help one another.

A powerful and emotionally charged tale about motherhood and justice, Little Mercies is a searing portrait of the tenuous grasp we have on the things we love the most, and of the ties that unexpectedly bring us together.

Rating: *****

Recommend: Yes!  But do keep in mind, if you're a mom to little ones this could be hard to digest.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Stillwater Rising by Steena Holmes

I realize I've been quite MIA for a while now - things got a bit crazy with my sister's wedding last month and I was fairly consumed with all the preparations, travel and all that goes along with it. But I'm back now and ready to pick up where I left off and hopefully able to somewhat achieve my goal of reading 35 books this year!!

Even though I am a massive fan of The Memory Child by Ms. Holmes, I do admit I struggled to get through Stillwater Rising.  I don't know if it's because I had difficulty relating to the subject at hand or what - but I just wasn't all that connected to the characters.  Even still, I thought it was a hugely interesting story and really appreciated the perspective surrounding the shooter's mother.  We hear about these horrible school shootings and tragedies and always sympathize with the victim's families and their losses, but we don't often think about how hard it must be for the shooter's family to deal with the guilt or weight of responsibility that they must feel at being the perpetrator's parent or loved one.  \

This is the first book in the Stillwater Bay series, but I'm not sure if I'm all that interested in continuing on with the following books.  This one was already quite predictable and I'm pretty satisfied with how it all ended. 

There are 2 covers for this book that was printed - the picture above and then this one below.  I seriously can't decide which one I like better, they're just both so beautiful!

NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing (um crazy, back from my hometown Seattle!) graciously allowed me the opportunity to read Stillwater  Rising by Steena Holmes, for which I am still insanely grateful for!  You can pre-order a Kindle copy from Amazon for $5 right now by clicking here!  Stillwater Rising releases on Nov. 11th.

Description: After losing her son in an elementary school shooting that devastates the tight-knit community of Stillwater Bay, Jennifer Crowne finds herself unable to settle back into her role of perfect stay-at-home mom and committee organizer. Meanwhile, her best friend, Mayor Charlotte Stone, struggles to keep the town together, and Charlotte s husband, the school principal, may not be the hero everyone thinks him to be.

As they try to heal from this irrevocable trauma, Jenn and Charlotte find themselves at a crossroads within the town and within their friendship. For Jenn, broken and grieving, there is no going back, and she demands that the school be closed so that she can bury the past. Yet Charlotte is equally desperate to hold the town together, fighting the school closure and helping the shooter s mother regain her place in the community. Jenn and Charlotte s relationship is put to the ultimate test as each weighs her own interests against the bonds of their friendship."

Rating: ***

Recommend:  I still think this is a great read and I for sure recommend!

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

When I started The Good Girl, I thought I was reading an almost identical plot line to Chevy Steven's - Still Missing.  It had a very similar feel and I was getting stuck on the way things were developing along. Chevy Stevens is one of my absolute favorite authors and so unfortunately I was struggling a bit to lose myself entirely in this debut novel of Mary Kubica's.  However, to The Good Girl's credit, it did take some unexpected turns and for that I found that it completely redeemed itself.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the way the chapters jumped between "before" and "after" and alternated character's voices. The further along in the book I got, the more I needed to know what exactly had happened to cause a "before" and "after"!!

I do feel terrible that I have that comparison in the back of my mind to Chevy Steven's book when writing this review and I'm sorry if it doesn't seem fair, but for me that for sure hindered my ability to lose myself within this book.

All that aside - this book is definitely worth reading and I would highly recommend you pick up your own copy here!

A huge thank you to Harlequin and NetGalley for an opportunity to read an e-copy!

Description: "I've been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don't know the color of her eyes or what they look like when she's scared. But I will." 

Born to a prominent Chicago judge and his stifled socialite wife, Mia Dennett moves against the grain as a young inner-city art teacher. One night, Mia enters a bar to meet her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when he doesn't show, she unwisely leaves with an enigmatic stranger. With his smooth moves and modest wit, at first Colin Thatcher seems like a safe one-night stand. But following Colin home will turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia's life. 

Colin's job was to abduct Mia as part of a wild extortion plot and deliver her to his employers. But the plan takes an unexpected turn when Colin suddenly decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota, evading the police and his deadly superiors. Mia's mother, Eve, and detective Gabe Hoffman will stop at nothing to find them, but no one could have predicted the emotional entanglements that eventually cause this family's world to shatter. 

An addictively suspenseful and tautly written thriller, The Good Girl is a compulsive debut that reveals how even in the perfect family, nothing is as it seems….

Rating: ****

Recommend: For fans of suspense & mystery/thrillers - you will very much enjoy this ride!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

Can we just take one second and talk about how beautiful this cover is?  I just love it and after finishing the story, I now understand the fragility implied within.  As for the narrative itself, I've never read one that quite dealt with these types of issues before...hoarding specifically.  That's not really a spoiler, as it's addressed throughout the entirety of the novel - but of course there's other more deep-rooted matters at hand here, as is often the case with unresolved wounds. It was sad - it was moving - it was tragic......AND it was redemptive.

I very much enjoyed The House We Grew Up In and without giving away too much, I think it gives a very real look into today's crumbling family model when pain, selfishness and mental issues are involved.

Thank you to Atria Books and NetGalley for an opportunity to read an Advance Copy!  You can snag your own copy here!

Description: Meet the Bird family. They live in a honey-colored house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together every night. Their father is a sweet gangly man named Colin, who still looks like a teenager with floppy hair and owlish, round-framed glasses. Their mother is a beautiful hippy named Lorelei, who exists entirely in the moment. And she makes every moment sparkle in her children's lives.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy comes to call. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass as the children become adults, find new relationships, and develop their own separate lives. Soon it seems as though they've never been a family at all. But then something happens that calls them back to the house they grew up in -- and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.

Told in gorgeous, insightful prose that delves deeply into the hearts and minds of its characters, The House We Grew Up In is the captivating story of one family's desire to restore long-forgotten peace and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home.

Rating: ****

Recommend: It's definitely a no holds barred type of family drama, but nonetheless I would for sure recommend. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Apparently I'm not the only one!

So it looks as though enjoying the smell of books isn't as rare as I thought!  Check out this soy candle in the fragrance "Old Books" by Frostbeard Studio on Etsy!

Old Books -- Book Lovers' Scented Soy Candle              -- 8oz jar

This candle needs to be in my house like yesterday.  A little pricey at $15 for an 8 oz candle (I typically support my candle addiction with Bath & Body Works when they have a half-off sale).

But seriously, you NEED to visit their shop and see all their fun & unique candle scents!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Virgin by Radhika Sanghani

So.  Uh-hum.  This is one of those books that somehow knows about all the private conversations you've ever had with your closest girlfriends regarding the questions or mysteries involving sex. It was so blatant at times that I was blushing in the privacy of my own room - but so freakin hilarious at other times because I swear we've all wondered the same things or identified with some of the same issues that the main character faces. Well, okay, or maybe it was just me.

I was 26 years old when I married my husband - and yes, I was a virgin, in every sense of the word.  There's not many of us out there that decide to wait, and being as how I was raised in a religious background where sex was NEVER discussed, there was a whole lotta stuff I had NO CLUE about until after I got married.

Though the main character, Ellie is on an outright mission to lose her virginity at the age of 21, I felt that the way this story resolved itself and the lesson she learned at the end of it all was actually quite poignant.  I do not regret one bit saving myself sexually for my husband - there is a HUGE amount of pressure on teens and young adults to be sexually active and unfortunately our culture is so obsessed with sex that it can often easily define us.  I laughed, I winced, I squirmed - I did all the things that I have done with my best girlfriends discussing these very things.  Freakin hilarious book - but definitely not for everybody. Lol, but then again, maybe it should be.

Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Group for the opportunity to read this advance copy to give an honest review.  All opinions are my own.  If you dare, pre-order your copy here!

Description: Okay, I admit it…I didn’t do it.


This is normal, right?  I mean, just because everyone I know has talked like they’ve already done it doesn’t mean that they’re telling the truth…right?

It’s not like I’m asking for that much. I don’t need the perfect guy. I don’t need candlelight or roses. Honestly, I don’t even need a real bed.

The guys I know complain that girls are always looking for Mr. Right—do I have to wear a sign that says I’m only looking for Mr. Right Now?

Sooooo…anyone out there want sex? Anyone? Hello? Just for fun?

I am not going to die a virgin. One way or another I am going to make this happen.

Hey, what have I got to lose? Besides the obvious.

Rating:  ***

Recommend:  This is a tough one - if you're interested in picking it up, you cannot go into it hoping you don't get offended.  It's crass, funny, detailed, crude and ridiculously laugh-out-loud funny.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Since You've Been Gone by Anouska Knight

I'm a sucker for light & romantic reads - especially ones that add in a little baking and snarky British humor.  This book was so fun and I cruised right through it!  Not to mention, the publisher sent me an actual hard copy of the book, which was such a refreshing change of pace, since I've been devouring ebooks left and right.  I know, I feel like a traitor.  I never thought I'd be such a huge ebook fan, but I cruise through them so much faster!

The cover is beyond darling and the writing was just so dang effortlessness.  A perfect beach read - or if you're like me and unable to afford the time or money to get to a beach - a great summer afternoon book curled up on the couch with an iced coffee.

Thank you Harlequin for the Advance Copy, super fun & adorable story!  Since You've Been Gone releases on August 1 - but you can pre-order your copy here!

Description: How do you learn to love again?

In one tragic moment, Holly Jefferson s life as she knows it changes for ever. Now to the external world, at least she s finally getting back on her feet, running her business, Cake. Then she meets Ciaran Argyll.

His rich and charmed life feels a million miles from her own. However, there s more to Ciaran than the superficial world that surrounds him, and he too is wrestling with his own ghosts. Will Holly find the missing ingredient that allows her to live again and embrace an unknown and unexpected tomorrow?

Rating: ****

Recommend:  Yes, but be aware there were for sure a couple of steamy scenes too.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Bridge to Haven by Francine Rivers

Very few things get me quite as excited as seeing that Ms. Francine Rivers has published a new book!!  When I saw that Bridge to Haven was released, it was the only thing I requested on my birthday wish list :-)

I fell in love with her writing in high school - close to 20 years ago. Gah! Has it been that long!?!?!

Ever since then, I've read absolutely everything she's published.  I would say she is for sure one of my top 2 favorite authors.  A large reason for that is she keeps things so real and honest - and without apology brings in God's truth in the most rawest of situations.  I freaking love that.  I've said it before and I'll say it again - it's hard to find good quality Christian fiction without it being preachy or cheeseball.  I never get that from Francine - and I savor every sentence she crafts in her stories.

Bridge to Haven was a bit reminiscent of one of my all time favorite books (which happens to also be her best-selling novel, Redeeming Love). But that was quite alright by me - it was beautiful, heart breaking, redeeming, sobering and convicting.  Loved it (as if you couldn't tell by now).  My only wish is that she published books more frequently. Grab your copy here!

Description: To those who matter in 1950s Hollywood, Lena Scott is the hottest rising star to hit the silver screen since Marilyn Monroe. Few know her real name is Abra. Even fewer know the price she's paid to finally feel like she's somebody.

To Pastor Ezekiel Freeman, Abra will always be the little girl who stole his heart the night he found her, a wailing newborn abandoned under a bridge on the outskirts of Haven. Zeke and his son, Joshua--Abra's closest friend--watch her grow into an exotic beauty. But Zeke knows the circumstances surrounding her birth etched scars deep in her heart, scars that leave her vulnerable to a fast-talking bad boy who proclaims his love and lures her to Tinseltown. 

Hollywood feels like a million miles from Haven, and naive Abra quickly learns what's expected of an ambitious girl with stars in her eyes. But fame comes at an awful price. She has burned every bridge to get exactly what she thought she wanted. Now, all she wants is a way back home.

In this riveting and highly anticipated tale of temptation, grace, and unconditional love, "New York Times" best-selling author Francine Rivers delivers big-canvas storytelling at its very best.

Rating: *****

Recommend: Absolutely!!!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Fever by Megan Abbott

The best word that captures the essence of this book in my opinion is "Eerie".

As a matter of fact when you look the word "Eerie" up, its defined as:

1. Inspiring inexplicable fear, dread or uneasiness; strange or frightening.
2. Suggestive of the supernatural; mysterious.

I mean if you've read this - you know those 2 definitions pretty much sums this novel up.  I couldn't figure out if it was going to turn creepy sci-fi on me or dark and twisty like the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley.  Did you see that movie?  It totally creeped me out much like The Fever did.

I thought it was well told and for sure kept me guessing till the very end.  It was so intense but I also was a bit unsettled by the description of the some of the more intimate scenes.

Overall, a wonderful surprising suspense story filled with twists & turns you won't see coming!

Thank you so much NetGalley and Little, Brown & Company for the opportunity to read and review an advance ebook of The Fever by Megan Abbott.  I seriously am so grateful and blessed to have this opportunity and love every single minute (or page rather!) that I get to enjoy!  If you're interested in pre-ordering your copy of The Fever before it releases on June 17, go here.

Description: "The Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hockey star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie's best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community.

As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town's fragile idea of security.

A chilling story about guilt, family secrets and the lethal power of desire,The Fever affirms Megan Abbot's reputation as "one of the most exciting and original voices of her generation" (Laura Lippman)"

Rating: ****

Recommend: I would say yes - but really only for mature audiences.  If I had a teenager, I think it would be a bit too much.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The All You Can Dream Buffet by Barbara O'Neal

Well I think I've discovered yet another favorite author ALL THANKS TO NETGALLEY!!!!!  Yay!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That and the fact that now I'm obsessed with finding my very own adorable vintage camper trailer.  *sigh*  I mean really.  I now have this ridiculous itch to find a cute trailer to make all our own and travel across the country parking at little lakes and beaches, mountains, rivers and discovering little restaurants and bakeries along the way (with my 3 labs of course!).

This story was SO dang adorable.  It was fun, it was romantic, it was heart-warming, it was emotionally moving - it had everything INCLUDING some mouth-watering recipes (which I'm not usually a fan of in novels), but this totally worked.

If I could change only one teensy-weensy thing - it would be the use of the "F" word.  It was like discovering a sour grape in the midst of a bunch of luscious, juicy, sweet, vine-ripened ones.  Some stories call for it - and it doesn't detract from the mood of the story.  But here - it was just out of place in the midst of such a sweet story about friendship, courage, loss and love.

Regardless of that tiny preference of my own - I am definitely adding other books of Barbara O'Neal's to my ever-expanding list to check out!

Thank you so much to Random House Publishing - Bantam and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review a copy!! If you enjoy Susan Wiggs or Kristin Hannah (much like I do), then you should definitely get your hands on a copy here.

Description: "Popular blogger and foodie queen Lavender Wills reigns over Lavender Honey Farms, a serene slice of organic heaven nestled in Oregon wine country. Lavender is determined to keep her legacy from falling into the profit-driven hands of uncaring relatives, and she wants an heir to sustain her life’s work after she’s gone. So she invites her three closest online friends—fellow food bloggers, women of varied ages and backgrounds—out to her farm. She hopes to choose one of them to inherit it—but who?
There’s Ginny, the freckle-faced Kansas cake baker whose online writing is about to lead her out of a broken marriage and into a world of sensual delights. And Ruby, young, pregnant, devoted to the organic movement, who’s looking for roots—and the perfect recipe to heal a shattered heart. Finally, Val, smart and sophisticated, a wine enthusiast who needs a fresh start for her teenage daughter after tragedy has rocked their lives. Coming together will change the Foodie Four in ways they could never have imagined, uniting them in love and a common purpose. As they realize that life doesn’t always offer a perfect recipe for happiness, they also discover that the moments worth savoring are flavored with some tears, a few surprises, and generous helping of joy."

Rating: ****

Recommend: For sure!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz

I thoroughly enjoyed perusing every once of food porn in my advance copy ebook of My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz.

I mean really, the cover alone will get anyone salivating almost immediately.  My favorite recipe that was a huge hit in our home was the Parisian Gnocchi.  Um hello intense rich creaminess with fluffy gnocchi goodness.  For reals. And the leftovers were just as good the ensuing days after.

I might have also printed out a couple pages of more recipes that I'm DYING to try soon - like the Caramel Pork Ribs (whhaaaat), the Chicken Pot Parmentier (similar to a pot pie), the Butternut Squash Crumble (is fall here yet?), the Salted Butter Caramel-Chocolate Mousse (once I'm no longer dieting of course), the Chocolate-Dulce De Leche Tart (I MEAN COME ON!), the Honey Spice Bread (this has my name all over it) and finally the Apricot Kernel Ice Cream (yes I might have finally pulled the trigger on buying a Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker just because of this one recipe).

I'd like to give proper credit of the extra dimples in my thighs to NetGalley and Ten Speed Press for graciously allowing me an advance glimpse into this amazingness of yummy recipes!

Y'all, what are you waiting for?  Buy.  Here.  Now.

Recommend: Without hesitation.

Rating **** (so why not 5 stars after all the ranting & raving?  I'm not the biggest fan of stories mixed in with all the recipes, it just doesn't do much for me.)

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Memory Child by Steena Holmes

The Memory Child by Steena Holmes had me by PAGE 1!!  Such an incredibly powerful & moving account of one woman's struggle with her past - her present; her fears and her strengths, her genetics and her hope.  I was floored.  This is one that will stay with me for years to come - much like I loved Still Alice by Lisa Genova, The Memory Child ranks right up there with one of my favorites.  I had to leave a few days to let the whole story sink in and process my thoughts before writing a review - cause it's not till the end that you realize the magnitude of what's taken place.  I can't say anything more - because this way this story unfolds layer after layer is truly perfection and I don't want to spoil a single thing.

SO good.  I highly recommend this one to everyone!!!  Thank you so much to NetGalley for the opportunity to receive an advance copy of The Memory Child by Steena Holmes, and you can get your own copy by going here!

Description: When Brian finds out that his wife, Diane, is pregnant, he is elated. He's been patiently waiting for twelve years to become a father. But Diane has always been nervous about having children because of her family's dark past. The timing of the pregnancy also isn't ideal - Diane has just been promoted, and Brian is being called away to open a new London office for his company. 

Fast-forward one year: being a mother has brought Diane a sense of joy that she'd never imagined and she's head over heels for her new baby, Grace. But things are far from perfect: Brian has still not returned from London, and Diane fears leaving the baby for even a moment. As unsettling changes in those around Diane began to emerge, it becomes clear that all is not as it seems. 

A woman's dark past collides head-on with her mysterious present in this surreal and gripping family drama.

Rating: *****

Recommend: Without any hesitation!

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

The premise of The Here and Now by Ann Brashares is quite attractive and very much up my alley - but partway through it started to feel like maybe the genre didn't fit the writer very well.  This is my first time reading Ann Brashares and we all of course know her work from the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.  And it's not that I didn't enjoy this one, it's just that it felt kinda off for me and lacked a certain something.  I guess the best analogy I can give is getting a big ol' juicy burger with just the veggies and condiments and no actual beef.

Just not one of my favorites I guess.  Even still, I'm super grateful to Net Galley and Random House for the opportunity to read an advance copy!  You can get your copy now, by clicking here!

Description: An unforgettable epic romantic thriller about a girl from the future who might be able to save the world . . . if she lets go of the one thing she’s found to hold on to.

Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.

This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins. 

Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth. 

But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves. 

From Ann Brashares, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, The Here and Now is thrilling, exhilarating, haunting, and heartbreaking—and a must-read novel of the year

Rating: ***

Recommend: Um, not really.  It was just ok.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Barefoot Summer and Dancing with Fireflies by Denise Hunter (Chapel Spring Series #1 & #2)

Had it not been for NetGalley approving me for book #2 in the Chapel Spring series, Dancing with Fireflies by Denise Hunter, I might never have discovered Denise Hunter as an author.  I can literally count on one hand how many Christian authors I enjoy reading, and now I can Denise Hunter to that list!  YEAH!

In book #1, Barefoot Summer, the love story of Beckett & Madison is shared in such a sweet & innocent way - filled with love, forgiveness, real-life struggles, loss, anger - and woven evenly throughout is a gentle undertone of Scriptural truths and how that looks like in day-to-day life.  It didn't feel cheesy or hokey as most Christian fiction can, but it was RIGHT up my alley in every way.  I devoured this book in just a short amount of time and then dived into book # 2 of the Chapel Springs Series, Dancing with Fireflies.  I have to say out of the two, I enjoyed Dancing with Fireflies more.  The message of trusting God through a difficult circumstance is so powerful and in this story, even quite controversial.  I don't want to say too much, cause the surprise of it is what makes it so great in the discovery of a good book!

Madison's family, the McKinley's are easy to fall in love with - and I loved that this family is further explored through Book #2 by learning more about Jade and Daniel.  And since it's a fairly large family, I know there are sure to be more books to come, and I can't wait to get my hands on those copies in the future as well! Not to mention, I've already added all her other printed works to my To-Be-Read pile (and there's 20, so it might take me a while) ;-)

'Barefoot Summer' Description: Madison’s heart closed the day her twin brother died.

Since losing her twin, Michael, in a drowning incident, Madison has rejected the faith he lived by. Instead, she’s devoted her life to fulfilling Michael’s dream—winning the River Sail Regatta in their small Indiana town, Chapel Springs.

As she trains for the regatta, Beckett O’Reilly is teaching Madison to swim. But he’s keeping a painful secret from her—and as they grow closer, that secret threatens to upend their lives . . . and the lives of both their families.

'Dancing with Fireflies' Description: Jade returns home to Chapel Springs after years of protecting her fragile heart. Then along comes Daniel, making her long to dance again.

Creative and complicated, Jade McKinley felt like a weed in a rose garden growing up in Chapel Springs. When she left, she thought she'd never look back. But now, pregnant, alone, and broke, she has no other choice but to return.

The mayor of Chapel Springs, Daniel Dawson, has been an honorary member of the McKinley family for years. While his own home life was almost non-existent, Daniel fit right into the boisterous McKinley family. He's loved Jade for years, but she always saw him as a big brother. Now that she's back, his feelings are stronger than ever.

As Jade attempts to settle in, nothing feels right. God seems far away, she's hiding secrets from her family, and she's strangely attracted to the man who's always called her "squirt." Finding her way home may prove more difficult than she imagined.

Ratings: - both ****!!
Recommend - Absolutely! I think anyone would love these books.

*I received a complimentary copy of the e-book version of Dancing with Fireflies by Denise Hunter through NetGalley for an unbiased review from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

The difficult thing for me when it comes to series, is trying to remember what the heck happened in the previous books months or even years ago when I read them.  Ugh.

Thankfully, I stumbled upon this blog where a group of ladies recap the individual books in a series so you can refresh your memory before diving into the next one, while spending half the time trying to remember who is who and what on earth is going on.  Seriously, save yourself some confusion and stress and just visit this site: Recaptains
Nowadays, there's just too many dystopian series out there that somewhat overlap in plots and characters and it's super easy for me to get all tangled up in them.

Back to Allegiant - hmmmmm....I don't know why but the last book in a series always for me seems to be the most disappointing.  I'm grateful to have the closure of what happens in the lives of Tris and Tobias (aka Four), but really?  Ms. Roth really?  I just can't.  It would give too much away.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this series! The premise of different factions and how people think or live according to their strengths and weaknesses, was extremely fascinating to me.  If you haven't given this series a try yet, you won't regret it!  PLUS, the first book in the series, Divergent, will be coming out in theaters in one week!!  I'm so excited, I can't wait to see it!

Description: The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories. 

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love. 

Told from a riveting dual perspective, Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, brings the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent

Rating: ***

Recommend: If you enjoy YA Dystopian fiction, then you have to add this series to your To-Be-Read List!  

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

The Weight of BloodYowzas!! This story is not for the faint of heart! I was swept up from page 1 and so immersed in this terrifying story that I finished it in just a couple of days.  It's intense, scary, gritty, graphic and unfortunately all too realistic.  There's no way I wanted to be caught reading this after the sun had set, cause I'm sure I might have had nightmares.   The writing was fantastic and the story NEVER got slow or boring - major props to Ms. McHugh on her first novel!!  I know my friends Debbie & Brooke at work are going to flip out when they get their hands on this one - it kinda reminded me somewhat of how it felt to read Room by Emma Donoghue.  The kind of story, you have to set down for a minute - catch your breath, clear your head and remind yourself it's not real (though for some, it is real).  Ugh.  What a sick world we live in.   Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing for the opportunity to read an advance copy of The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh.  If this type of suspense thriller is your cup of tea, The Weight of Blood comes out in stores March 11th and you can pre-order your copy here.
Description: The Dane family's roots tangle deep in the Ozark Mountain town of Henbane, but that doesn't keep sixteen-year-old Lucy Dane from being treated like an outsider. Folks still whisper about her mother, a bewitching young stranger who inspired local myths when she vanished years ago. When one of Lucy's few friends, slow-minded Cheri, is found murdered, Lucy feels haunted by the two lost girls-the mother she never knew and the friend she couldn't protect. Everything changes when Lucy stumbles across Cheri's necklace in an abandoned trailer and finds herself drawn into a search for answers. What Lucy discovers makes it impossible to ignore the suspicion cast on her own kin. More alarming, she suspects Cheri's death could be linked to her mother's disappearance, and the connection between the two puts Lucy at risk of losing everything. In a place where the bonds of blood weigh heavy, Lucy must decide where her allegiances lie.

Recommend:  Only if you know you can handle the grit that comes with reading about the sex trade of women.
Rating: ****

Monday, February 24, 2014

Runaway Saint by Lisa Samson

Runaway Saint

So the premise for this book (which you can find below) was a bit misleading as far as what to possibly expect from Aunt Bel's story.  The synopsis says, "But Bel is hiding something. Though she won't talk about it, Sara soon learns that Bel has been through a hellish ordeal. And she has the burn marks to prove it."  But the odd thing is - there were no burn marks mentioned in the story.  I actually kept waiting to learn about these supposed burn marks and at whose hand she was suffering abuse from and it was never even mentioned nor did the story take that direction - kinda weird.  She did suffer an injury that you find out about, but not because of any abuse.  

Had I not read the synopsis I would have been completely content with how the story unfolded - it was really good and I very much enjoyed it a lot!  But I'm bummed that the teaser (if you will) was kinda misleading. 

For what it's worth - great story, great writing and I still highly recommend it.  But don't take the description below too literal, cause it's not exactly the real story.  

Thank you NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for the opportunity to read and review a copy of Runaway Saint by Lisa Samson - I'm so excited to have found another Christian author with whose writing I very much enjoyed!!  Oh and one other thing - did Lisa base the character Finn on my husband?  Because OH MA GOSH.  I swear, every time Finn started a project around the house, I couldn't help but laugh and empathize with Sara so much.  Girl I have been there.  WAY too funny.  

Description:  "When her aunt shows up homeless on her doorstep, Sara suspects anything but a miracle.

Sara's an artist with a supportive husband and a house that folks on her block admire outright. But she's restless and bored with life.

Then her legendary Aunt Bel shows up, wearing a smile after years without a word.

Twenty years ago, fresh out of college, Bel left for a summer missions trip and never returned. Now she's on Sara's doorstep, looking for a place to crash. Sara can't say no to family, even if she hasn't seen Bel since she was a nine-year-old girl. But saying yes to Bel turns Sara's whole precariously-balanced life upside down.

The enigmatic Bel gives Sara's family and their community a jolt of fresh thinking and clarity.

But Bel is hiding something. Though she won't talk about it, Sara soon learns that Bel has been through a hellish ordeal. And she has the burn marks to prove it."

"[Samson's] gift for creating unique, flawed character elevates this book above others. Each line has so much truth, and readers will likely ponder different passages long after finishing." --"Romantic Times Review," TOP PICK! 4 1/2 stars

"Samson's quirky characters will have readers laughing, crying, and shaking their heads in disbelief, sometimes all at the same time. This uplifting read . . . will attract fans of women's fiction and especially works by authors Sarah Jio, Anne Tyler, and Alice Hoffman." --"Library Journal"

Rating: ****

Recommend: For sure!  Good clean writing that flowed so well, with an intriguing story line that will keep you guessing till the very end!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Wake by Anna Hope

Wake: A Novel

I was graciously allowed the opportunity to receive an advance copy of Wake by Anna Hope.  This book is told in 4 person narrative, which can seem confusing, but was actually fairly easy to keep straight.  And the fact that an author can seamlessly transition from the minds of 4 different individuals is absolutely mind-boggling to me.  However, I struggled at times with a few different scenes that I felt were a bit unnecessary (ie Evelyn in the window with the man in the wheelchair - I mean what was that all about? Ick.)  And there were very beautifully, heart-wrenching scenes as well - my heart just broke for Ada and the loss of her son.  

I never like to say too much about a book and give anything away, but I will say this book has me on the fence about where I stand with it.  It was extremely intriguing, but also a bit strange and I wasn't all that impressed with the ending.  I guess I can't recommend it one way or the other - I guess, you'll just to give a try for yourself. ;-)

A huge thank you to NetGalley & Random House for the opportunity to read & review Wake by Anna Hope.  Wake is released in stores today if you want to get your hands on your own copy, go here

Description: Anna Hope’s brilliant debut unfolds over the course of five days, as three women must deal with the aftershocks of World War I and its impact on the men in their lives. 

Wake: 1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep. 2) Ritual for the dead. 3) Consequence or aftermath.

London, 1920. The city prepares to observe the two-year anniversary of Armistice Day with the burial of the unknown soldier. Many are still haunted by the war: Hettie, a dance instructress, lives at home with her mother and her brother, who is mute after his return from combat. One night Hettie meets a wealthy, educated man and finds herself smitten with him. But there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach. . . . Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange, through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, she looks for solace in her adored brother, who has not been the same since he returned from the front. . . . Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door, seemingly with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out-of-work veterans. But when he utters the name of her son, Ada is jolted to the core.
The lives of these three women are braided together, their stories gathering tremendous power as the ties that bind them become clear, and the body of the unknown soldier moves closer and closer to its final resting place.

Rating: ***

Recommend: Really can't say.  If you enjoy historical fiction, I think you would very much enjoy this read, but as a disclosure - there were a couple unnecessary scenes in my opinion of the sexual nature.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks

Every fall my sisters and I eagerly anticipate when Nicholas Sparks will be releasing his newest work of romantic fiction and mark our calendars accordingly.  I fell in love with NS when I first saw Message In A Bottle in theatres back in 1999 with Kevin Costner and Robin Wright (Penn).  I fell in love with the scenery, the writing, the cast, the music, EVERYTHING.  When I saw the movie was based on a book, I had to know right then who would write such a beautiful love story. And ever since, as soon as one of his new releases hits the shelves, I have my copy reserved & all ready to go.

Last year, he released The Best of Me, which I had a difficult time with.  It's hard for me to get behind a love story when it involves a married man/woman - EVEN if it's a bad situation.  I just get this yucky feeling as I'm reading it.  But the one before that was Safe Haven - which I loved! So it was kind of a coin toss for me this year to pick up The Longest Ride and I didn't have a whole lot of expectations.

But seriously, I so loved it!  Yes, NS is back!  I could imagine every little detail and thought it was such a sweet and endearing story, one in which will be added to his long line of successful films as well.  I thought it was so good I told my sister she needs to pick it up asap and passed it off to my mother-in-law immediately!  If you have never read Nicholas Sparks, I couldn't recommend a better one to start with!  (Well, ok, maybe except for Message In A Bottle and The Notebook. And A Walk to Remember.)  Geez, love him.

Description: Ira Levinson is in trouble. At ninety-one years old, in poor health and alone in the world, he finds himself stranded on an isolated embankment after a car crash. Suffering multiple injuries, he struggles to retain consciousness until a blurry image materializes and comes into focus beside him: his beloved wife Ruth, who passed away nine years ago. Urging him to hang on, she forces him to remain alert by recounting the stories of their lifetime together – how they met, the precious paintings they collected together, the dark days of WWII and its effect on them and their families. Ira knows that Ruth can’t possibly be in the car with him, but he clings to her words and his memories, reliving the sorrows and everyday joys that defined their marriage.

A few miles away, at a local rodeo, a Wake Forest College senior’s life is about to change. Recovering from a recent break-up, Sophia Danko meets a young cowboy named Luke, who bears little resemblance to the privileged frat boys she has encountered at school. Through Luke, Sophia is introduced to a world in which the stakes of survival and success, ruin and reward -- even life and death – loom large in everyday life. As she and Luke fall in love, Sophia finds herself imagining a future far removed from her plans -- a future that Luke has the power to rewrite . . . if the secret he’s keeping doesn’t destroy it first.

Ira and Ruth. Sophia and Luke. Two couples who have little in common, and who are separated by years and experience. Yet their lives will converge with unexpected poignancy, reminding us all that even the most difficult decisions can yield extraordinary journeys: beyond despair, beyond death, to the farthest reaches of the human heart.

Rating: *****
Recommend:  Always.  He's been a longtime favorite of mine!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Let's Do This Thang!

It's been a while since I've gotten the bug for reading and I'm happy to say, I've got my mojo back!

I just recently finished Gone With the Wind - soooo not happy with how that all turned out.  I know it's probably blasphemous in the South to say such a thing - but really?!?!?!  I'm tempted to read Scarlett and hopefully feel some closure about the whole thing. *sighhhhhh*

Gone with the Wind

I'm currently in the middle of The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks - does that man know women or what?  I swear NS needs to just host seminars for husbands on how to understand their wives. I mean this man GETS IT.

The Longest Ride 

It's been a tough and distracting season lately.  My best friend here in Nashville was diagnosed with Stage III Metastatic Melanoma and I've been doing all that I can to help her and her family through this difficult time.  To unwind, I've found myself picking up books more rather than the TV remote - so I can't complain about that! 

Here's to a more literary-filled year!