Friday, April 29, 2011

my grandma and me

My parents, sister, aunt, cousin, and I spent last weekend going through the things at my grandma's house. It brought up some sweet (and bittersweet) memories, which I'll have more to say about later. For now, I want to share this picture with you. It's from Christmas 1987, and seeing it makes me remember how much I adored my grandma.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"a heart most worthy" by siri mitchell

Italian immigrants Julietta, Annamaria, and Luciana spend their days working in Madame Fortier's gown shop, and they spend their evenings falling for the wrong men. Feisty Julietta is pursued by a family friend, yet she is drawn to recent immigrant--and anarchist--Angelo. Dutiful Annamaria has always known that, as the oldest daughter, she must forgo her desires for a husband and family until after her parents' death, yet when she meets Rafaello, a Sicilian grocer's son, she longs to buck tradition and live a life full of love. Secretive Luciana, daughter of the assassinated Count of Roma, lives in fear that her father's murderer will find and kill her as he promised. When she meets wealthy Billy Quinn, son of Madame Fortier's most important (and most difficult) client, she longs to begin a life with him but fears her presence will put him in danger.

Intertwined with the women's stories, Siri Mitchell's A Heart Most Worthy also sheds light on two events long forgotten in American history--the Spanish Influenza epidemic and the Great Italian Emigration. I'm sure I knew about the influenza at one point, but I had no idea the Italians were so reviled when they first came to America. I greatly enjoyed this look into a time I knew little about. I also enjoyed the women's stories. These are not static characters; Mitchell created women who grow and change throughout the book, and each woman's story is compelling.

My one criticism is in the point of view Mitchell employed when writing this book. While reading, I couldn't quite put my finger on what was wrong; I just knew the narrative was difficult to follow at times. In the acknowledgements, Mitchell says she used an omniscient point of view--she was in various characters' heads at various times, and she even addressed the audience directly from time to time. I'm not used to reading things from that point of view (though apparently it was quite popular in the 19th century), and I found it jarring to leap from one person's thoughts to another's. After about four chapters, I got used to it and just enjoyed the novel.

A Heart Most Worthy is an enjoyable read, especially if you like historical romance. Don't let the point of view get in the way of experiencing this book--just keep reading, and I'm sure you'll like it!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from Bethany House Publishers through their book reviewer program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

" dating" by les & leslie parrott

Confession time: I've tried online dating. As I'm still single, it obviously hasn't worked out that well for me--but that's a post for another day! Still, I believe it can work, and I don't have to look any further than my college roomie Jen for proof. She and her husband Josh should be e-Harmony's poster children--they really are the "perfect match"!

When Tyndale offered me the chance to read dating, I was eager to see what it was all about. Would I learn something, or would it be a rehashing of all that I'd learned from my previous forays into the world of internet dating?

The answer leans heavily toward the latter. Now, I'm not saying the Parrotts don't give good advice--they do--but most of what they cover I already knew. Still, they offer a good reminder: It's not "weird" or "desperate" to utilize online dating sites. In fact, it makes sense, especially if you live somewhere somewhat remote (as I do). Also, they stress the importance of keeping friends and family in the loop as far as your online dating experience goes--that's something I didn't do well the first time around because I was embarrassed to let people know, fearing they'd think I was desperate.

I don't think someone who has experience in the world of online dating needs to read this book. However, I would recommend it for the person who wants to try online dating but is hesitant, or for the friends and family members of people who are trying online dating--because in my experience, those are the people who still question the validity of looking for love online.

One more thing--if you're looking to buy this book, you should know that the Parrotts have just started their own online dating site, Knowing that, this book can read like one long commercial for their site, and in a way it is--but that doesn't invalidate the advice they give. Also, if you sign up now, you get a free copy of this book. Obviously, I already have the book, but I'm thinking about signing up. If I do, I'll let you know!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from Tyndale House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, April 18, 2011

a new blog and a giveaway

You may have noticed (but more likely, you haven't) that I've recently begun following a new blog: Forsaken Kingdom. It's written by my college roomie Jodi's husband, Peter. Peter has written a couple Christian fantasy novels, one of which is available on Amazon. While I haven't read it yet, I did read the little free snippet Amazon provides, and it sounds intriguing.

Peter's blog is a mix of writing advice and thoughts on life--so even if you're not a writer or you're not into fantasy, you still will likely find something you enjoy. And if that isn't enough incentive for you to click on through, maybe this will be: he currently has a contest going on where you can win a copy of his book and a $15 Amazon gift card. (I don't know why I'm telling you this! Right now, I have a 1 in 7 chance of winning!) All you have to do is leave a comment telling him your favorite book ... and if I can publicly admit that Lori Wick's Sophie's Heart is still my favorite book, I'm sure you can find the courage to reveal yours, too!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

ain't no party like a speech party!

We officially, officially wrapped up the speech season last night with a party at my house. We started out with lots of food.

I think they were fighting about who could look fatter. All I know is Duy ended up looking pregnant!

Then we segued into The Paper Plate Awards. We did this at a speech party three years ago when none of these kids were in speech. Ruth and I remembered how much fun they were then, so we revived them!  We ended up with at least one award for each student. Some were more serious, like "Made Miss Becky Cry," but most were a bit silly.

Jane won the "Miss Becky doesn't know how to pronounce my last name" award because at one speech meet, she was going to get a medal, and the person who would be announcing asked me how to pronounce her last name. I blanked, said something stupid, and he butchered it from the podium!
Joey won the "Miss Becky can't watch me because she's going to laugh" award because by the end of the season, I couldn't listen to either of his speeches without cracking up. And neither speech was funny. So we decided I wouldn't go watch him at state, just in case I got the giggles!
After that, it was game time--some people played "Funglish," this word game where you have to get someone to guess a word by only using the adjectives provided (it's the one pictured below); others played "Swap," a very violent card game; some played Super Mario; and others played "Blurt!", one of my favorite word games.

Then it was time for more food--brownie sundaes--while Jessica "played" the keyboard for us.

We wrapped up with a sing-along and a massive game of "Swap." All in all, it was a great night!
They're all choir kids, and they burst into a rendition of "Rejoice," one of their favorite numbers. After that, we had a Les Miz sing-along.

I'd be remiss if I didn't post a picture of my partner-in-crime, Ruth. We coached together for seven years! (Too bad we weren't looking at the same camera!)

I'm so grateful my house hasn't sold yet and I could have this party. We had a blast!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"a billion reasons why" by kristin billerbeck

It's been a long time since I've written a less-than-positive review. (If you're curious, it was The Topkapi Secret on December 13, 2010.) That's probably due to the fact that I only choose books to review that interest me. Well, it's time for another negative review ...

Luc broke Katie's heart and publicly humiliated her when he refused her marriage proposal. Eight years later, Katie is almost engaged to Dexter when Luc flies back into her life. Now she must decide if she wants the sensible, practical, safe man or the man who makes her heart race. I think you can guess what the answer is.

I wanted to like A Billion Reasons Why. I was super-excited when it showed up in my Amazon Vine newsletter--Amazon has been recommending it to me for weeks now, and while I didn't want to spend money on it, I wanted the chance to read it. Now, I wish I hadn't spent my time on it.

My main complaint with the book is the characters. I didn't find any of them particularly likeable, and Katie had zero chemistry with either Luc or Dexter. (I know it's odd to describe book characters as having chemistry, but if you've read anything by Denise Hunter or Karen Kingsbury, you'll know what I mean.) At one point, Katie's mother says she thinks Luc's brother Jem has always been half in love with Katie, and I thought, That's it! I don't care about Luc or Dex because Katie belongs with Jem! Wrong. Jem hardly factors into the plot. And then there's Eileen, Katie's best friend. Eileen (understandably) hates Luc because of what he did to Katie. But the girl seriously can't make up her mind! She tells Katie to marry Dex; she tells Katie not to marry Dex; she tells Katie to marry Dex; she tells Katie to marry Luc. Why would anyone listen to her? I kept waiting for Katie to tell her to shut up. I'm still waiting.

The book also has some continuity problems. For example, at the end of one chapter, Katie says she doesn't have any tears to cry over Dex. At the beginning of the next, Katie is a mess because of all her crying. At the end of the same chapter, Katie muses about her lack of an emotional response to what happened with Dex.

My last criticism (at least the last one I'll air publicly) can't be blamed on the author--it's about the cover. Katie is repeatedly described as being a redhead; on the cover, she's a brunette. (She does look like Ashley Judd, so that's a plus ... but still, how difficult is it to get the right hair color?)

Lest you think I hated the book, you should know that I did enjoy two things: each chapter's title is a song title, and Billerbeck throws in several pop culture references that I enjoyed. I especially appreciated the reference to Robby, the poor Bachelorette contestant who was dumped in the middle of a train trip across Canada. They actually stopped the train and kicked him off! See, I didn't hate everything!

A better title for this book would be "A Billion Reasons Why Not." Don't waste your money on this book. If you're dying to read it, I'd be happy to lend you my copy.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this product free for review from through it's Vine reviewer program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, April 4, 2011

things that made me smile

I had a great weekend. Seriously, I can't remember when I last had so much fun in one weekend (probably because most of my recent weekends have been consumed by speech ... but we won't go there!). So here's what made me smile:
  • Saw my words in print--in a place other than my blogs, the NC Advance, or Amazon! On Friday, I got author Denise Hunter's newest e-newsletter, and in it ... she quoted my review of A Cowboy's Touch! Granted, she didn't say it was me, so no one else knows, but oh, the thrill of seeing my words in her newsletter! I work hard on my reviews, so to have an author say she liked it, well, that pretty much made my day!
  • Spent Saturday "babysitting" in the girls' dorm. I was there from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and while I will get paid for my time, it didn't even feel like work. (Isn't that the best kind of job?) While there, I ...
  • Finished reading Heart of Ice. It's a good one--check out my review (which probably won't get quoted by the author ...)
  •  Watched My Fake Fiance with some of the girls. I'm probably too old for it, but can you go wrong with Blossom's Joey and Sabrina the Teenage Witch? I don't think so!
  • Went on an Easter Egg hunt! I'm pretty sure the last time I hunted eggs was eight (?) years ago when cousins Kate and Beth and sister Val came out to visit me at Grace. By the way, my team "won" by collecting the least amount of eggs, and we got all the leftover candy! I ate far too many Starburst jelly beans and then left the rest of my share at the dorm.
The winning (or losing, depending on how you look at it) team: Lindsey, Jessica, and me. We collected a whopping TEN eggs (out of 200)!
  • Found a movie music station on the dorm parents' DirecTV. I love movie music, and it provided the perfect accompaniment to my reading!
  • Played DDR ... and possibly became addicted! I bought the game from Amazon because I thought I would enjoy it (plus, it was over 50% off), but after playing it once decided it really wasn't for me. I'm not incredibly coordinated ... Then Janet (the girl who spent the last two Christmases with me) asked me to bring it Saturday. She played for hours, and she finally convinced me to try it. It's so fun! I've played four times in the last three days :-)
  • Chatted on the phone with college roomie Jen. It had been far too long since we'd spoken, and it was great to catch up! (Note to self: Do a better job of keeping in touch with friends.)
  • Took a nice ... windy ... walk with Blendy. We need to do that more often! (Dear Blendy--I'm linking to your blog, so you should probably update it!)
  • Went to the dentist this morning. (I can see those questions now: Yes, Monday is still sort-of the weekend because we don't usually have school on Mondays. No, dentist appointments don't usually make me smile.) No new cavities is exactly what I wanted to hear! (Plus, I didn't get the flossing lecture. So either my mouth looks better than it should, or my dentist is giving up ... )
  • Had lunch with Jo, a girl I've known basically since she was born nearly 18 years ago. We're going to be starting a Bible study if we can ever get our schedules to mesh ... but for now, it was nice just to spend a 30-minute lunch with her!

"heart of ice" by lis wiehl with april henry

Exactly a year ago, I reviewed Hand of Fate, the second book in Lis Wiehl's Triple Threat series. I really enjoyed that book, so I jumped at the opportunity to read and review book three: Heart of Ice.

Heart of Ice picks up not long after the events in Hand of Fate. The women--federal prosecutor Allison, FBI agent Nicole, and TV crime reporter Cassidy--are seeking to bring the Want Ad Killer (reminiscent of the Craigslist Killer) to justice. This case, however, doesn't have much to do with the plot. Instead, the story centers around Elizabeth, the titular Heart of Ice. She is Cassidy's trainer, and in Cassidy sees someone she can manipulate, just as she manipulates everyone she has a relationship with. What she doesn't count on is the bond between Cassidy, Allison, and Nicole, or on their penchant for solving crimes ... crimes she herself has committed.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. Because I knew from page one (actually from the book jacket description) that Elizabeth was this story's "Big Bad," instead of wondering who the killer was, I wondered how everything would come together for Elizabeth to be caught. I actually think the author's choice to let the reader in on the identity of the bad guy at the beginning allowed for the book to become more suspenseful, as I worried about certain characters' safety when they became closer to Elizabeth.

I also enjoyed the deeper looks into Allison's and Nicole's lives. Though their stories seem to move slowly, each saw significant change in their lives during this book, and I'm excited to learn what will happen to them next!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.