Saturday, June 30, 2012

"tarnished" by daniel & christina morrison

About the book (from the back cover): A journey to find purpose is about to entangle Garyn in a fight for the survival of the entire Human Race!

Leaving the isolated Sylvanwood to enter the diversely populated city of the Tarns sounded like a grand adventure. But Garyn Stelifar never envisioned a world where a lack of magical power would incite fear and prejudice; where simply being Human is a liability.

Stumbling upon unlikely allies, he’ll need every friend as he squares off with Orkyn, an evil wizard who harbors a festering hatred for all humans. This battle will tax more than Garyn’s friends, but also his own resolve to follow the path laid out for him by the One who sent him on the journey. Dealing with dragons, goblins and a vile wizard while discovering other Humans will prove harrowing. Even if Garyn manages to survive, how will he keep from becoming tarnished?

My take: Tarnished is based on a classic story, which I knew before beginning the book, but I forgot until about chapter three. Then I realized, "Hey, this sounds just like __________!" (Sorry, I'm not going to tell you which story—part of the fun is in the discovery!)

Tarnished could have read like a retelling of the classic Bible story (see, I'll give you a hint!) with fantasy elements thrown in, but instead it took twists and turns I wasn't expecting, and the main character, Garyn, doesn't have a biblical counterpart (at least as far as I could tell). This added interest to the story and kept me guessing. Especially satisfying was a major twist at the end revealing a relationship between certain characters that gave the book an emotional punch ... and gave me goosebumps!

Tarnished isn't a perfect work—a few descriptive words are used in odd, nontraditional ways, and I wanted to add more than a few commas as I read. (Note to ... everyone, as I see this often: two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction [and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet] should have a comma before the conjunction. Grammar lesson over.) I also would have benefited greatly from a glossary, as the book features a myriad of creatures—gryphons, tarns, ogres, sylvans, dragons, and more. While each creature is described well, I found myself forgetting what they were supposed to look like and having to flip back to find the descriptions again. A glossary would have saved me a lot of time!

While Tarnished is geared towards ages 12 and up, I think younger kids would enjoy it, too. Basically, a child who can enjoy The Chronicles of Narnia is old enough for Tarnished. I liked it a lot, and I look forward to hearing the audio book once the Morrisons finish it! 4 stars.

About the authors: Christina Morrison grew up in Northern California as a voracious reader and avid outdoors woman. She graduated with a degree in education and was a teacher for a number of years before she met Daniel Morrison and was married soon after. Daniel grew up in the Bay Area and gravitated to filmmaking at an early age. He graduated with a film degree and established Remnant Studios a few years before marrying Christina. They now have two children and reside in the Denver, Colorado, area.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the authors. 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."

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"five miles south of peculiar" by angela hunt

About the book (provided by Glass Road): Darlene Caldwell has spent a lifetime tending Sycamores, an estate located five miles south of a small town called Peculiar. She raised a family in the spacious home that was her grandfather's legacy and she enjoys being a pillar of the community . . . until her limelight-stealing twin sister unexpectedly returns.

Carlene Caldwell, veteran of the Broadway stage, is devastated when she realizes that a botched throat surgery has spelled the end of her musical career. Searching for a new purpose in life, she retreats to Sycamores, her childhood home.

Haunted by a tragic romance, Magnolia Caldwell is the youngest of the Caldwell girls. Nolie spends her days caring for her dogs and the magnificent gardens she's created, but when she meets a man haunted by tragedy, she must find the courage to either deny her heart or cut the apron strings that tie her to a dear and familiar place.

My take: I don't know Angela Hunt's background, but she certainly knows sisters! As in last year's The Fine Art of Insincerity (which I reviewed here), she has created sisters who seem real—so real that some of the hurts and misunderstandings are ones that I could see myself having with my own two sisters.

As the book unfolds, it becomes obvious that each sister is harboring a secret of some sort. As I began piecing things together, I couldn't wait for Darlene's big reveal—and it was certainly worth the wait! I also enjoyed Nolie's transformation and Carlene's cluelessness when it came to her sisters. When you throw in the small town charm, a couple of romantic interests, and a two very large dogs, you have an excellent summer read! 4-1/2 stars.

About the author: With nearly 4 million copies of her books sold worldwide, Angela Hunt is the bestselling author of more than one hundred books, including The Tale of Three Trees, Don't Bet Against Me, The Note, and The Nativity Story. Her nonfiction book Don't Bet Against Me, written with Deanna Favre, spent several weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. She and her husband make their home in Florida with their dogs. Learn more about Angela at AngelaElwellHunt.com.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from Glass Road Media & Management. 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, June 27, 2012

june media roundup

I've done a few of these media roundups before, and it's time for another one! Sometimes I feel like all I do is read (some of you probably feel like all I do is read, too—after all, that's mainly what I write about!), but in between reading all of those books, I have been listening to some music and watching some TV and movies. Here are a few of the things I'm enjoying—or eagerly anticipating—right now:

"Forever Reign" by One Sonic Society
Every so often, I come across a song that gets completely stuck in my head. This is one such song! We sing it in church sometimes, and I recently downloaded it. Right before my gallbladder surgery, I was pretty nervous, and I was singing this song in my head to try to calm myself as they put me under. When I woke up, it was still running through my head ... and it's been there on-and-off ever since!



Tyler Perry movies
These two movies could not be more different—except that they both star Perry! I'm looking forward to both of them.

Madea's Witness Protection

I have a soft spot for Tyler Perry movies. Especially Madea movies. Madea is an acquired taste—the first time I saw Diary of a Mad Black Woman, I thought Madea was completely over the top and ridiculous—but once you grasp the humor, you're in for hours of laughter. My sisters and I are eagerly anticipating Madea's Witness Protection, which comes out this Friday. Does it look stupid? Yes. But it also promises two hours of Madea goodness. Hallelujer!

Alex Cross
I'm not going to embed this trailer because it's a bit graphic, so if you want to watch it, go here. So at first I wondered if Tyler Perry could really pull off the role of Alex Cross—made famous by Morgan Freeman in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. Well, 38 seconds into the trailer, I forgot all about my concerns ... because I was screaming "Matthew Fox!" at my screen. Matthew Fox is the villain, and not in the seems-like-a-good-guy-but-is-really-kinda-bad way that he was in Vantage Point. He completely CREEPED. ME. OUT. And made me really want to watch this movie. Come October, I'll be in the theater.

"Beautiful Things" by Gungor
In yearbook class, we always listened to music. Oftentimes, it was Michael BublĂ© or One Direction ... and Joey, the editor, got far too many song picks. On one of the last days of school (after Joey had already graduated and gone back to China), Tori picked this song. It was the first time I'd ever heard it—at least that I can recall. I fell completely in love. It's definitely my favorite song of the moment!


Dawson's Creek
I'm halfway ashamed to even admit to watching Dawson's Creek. I realize I'm 14 years late to the party, and I really wasn't even interested in watching it when it originally aired. Then it showed up on Netflix, and I watched the first episode. And the second. And the third. As Blendy says, it's like crack—so addictive! In the week following my surgery, I watched the first three seasons. Since I've been back at work, I've been watching the episodes at a more reasonable pace, and I'm currently at the beginning of the fifth season. And let me just say, I'm totally in the Pacey-Joey fan club. Dawson ... is just annoying.

Drop Dead Diva
Could you ask for a more ridiculous concept? I'm not sure: Deb is a model who gets into a car accident, and Jane is a lawyer who gets shot ... both on the same day. Through a mixup, Deb dies, and her soul is placed in Jane's body. So Jane is really Deb, but no one knows except Deb's best friend Stacy and her guardian angel Fred (who has now been replaced by guardian angel Luke). Here's the kicker—Jane works at the same law firm as Grayson, Deb's fiance. The longer Deb remains in Jane's body, the more like Jane she becomes.

Drop Dead Diva is simply a fun summer show! It's currently in its fourth season on Lifetime, and while it's not a show I can't miss an episode of (like, say, Fringe), it's a fun way to pass an hour. The cases are never super-serious, the cast has chemistry, and the characters are multi-dimensional. The first three seasons are streaming on Netflix. Check it out!

The Bachelorette
I blame my sister for my Bachelor/ette addiction. I thought the franchise was incredibly stupid and a waste of time ... until one evening when I showed up at my parents' house while Val was watching DeAnna's season. I was hooked. Do I "believe in this process"? No. But it's sure entertaining to watch! We have weekly Bachelorette parties at my parents' house ... sometimes Dad even joins in the fun! 

This season may be my favorite ever—current Bachelorette Emily isn't messing around, and she's not afraid to send guys home when she knows they're not right for her, even in the middle of a date or before the rose ceremony. And the guys are so fun! She's down to her final four guys, and I'm fairly certain I know which one will be going home next week. Of the three that will remain, all seem to be great guys. Of course,
I'd rather have Sean than see Emily have him, but that's not very realistic, is it? Check out his Twitter bio. This guy's not going to have any trouble finding a woman if Emily lets him go! (Speaking of Twitter bios, Arie's absolutely cracks me up. So true!)
So that's what I'm watching/listening to/anticipating. What about you? Any movies, music, or TV shows I should check out?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"nobody" by creston mapes

About the book (provided by Litfuse): They said, "He's a nobody." They were dead wrong.

When reporter Hudson Ambrose hears an early morning call on his police scanner about an injured person at a bus stop on Las Vegas Boulevard, he rushes to the scene to get the scoop.

His world is blown off its axis when he discovers a murdered homeless man with a bankbook in his pocket showing a balance of almost one million dollars. Should he wait for the police, knowing the case will get lost in reams of red tape, or swipe the bankbook and take the investigation—and perhaps a chunk of the money—into his own hands?

With sirens bearing down on the scene, Hudson makes an impulse decision that whisks him on a frantic search for answers, not only about the mysterious man in the black Converse high-tops, but about the lost soul lurking within himself.

My take: Nobody is the third Creston Mapes book I read for the Litfuse tour. (You can see my reviews of Dark Star and Full Tilt here and here.) I wish he had a fourth book for me to read. What I've learned is that Mapes is a compelling writer, no matter what or how he's writing.

In a nutshell, Nobody is the story of how one man—Chester, the murdered homeless man—lived his life completely sold out for Christ. He impacted everyone with whom he came in contact as he showed them love.

Hud is the main character in the novel, and while the reader follows him most closely, the point of view shifts for each chapter. I can see how this might be annoying, but I liked it—it was like a game to discover who was talking as I began each chapter.

While I didn't find Nobody to be quite as gripping as Dark Star and Full Tilt, I did think it was more suspenseful. And, once again, the gospel comes out loud and clear! 4 stars.

You can buy a print copy of Nobody here or the Kindle version here. If you're an Amazon Prime member, you can read Nobody free for a limited time!

About the author: A proud native of northeast Ohio, Creston has been writing professionally for almost 30 years. He earned his degree in Magazine Journalism from Bowling Green State University in 1983. 

After working as a reporter and photographer for newspapers in Florida and Ohio, Creston became a corporate copywriter, then a creative director, before starting his own freelance writing business 20 years ago. Since then, he has written marketing and magazine copy for fine organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Coca-Cola, The Weather Channel, ABC-TV, Oracle Corporation, TNT Sports, BellSouth, Focus on the Family, Hockey News, and Random House. 


Creston has edited and ghost-written a growing list of non-fiction books, and has penned three contemporary suspense novels for Waterbrook-Multnomah, a divison of Random House. All three of Creston's novels are available in e-Book format and have been printed in Dutch. He has finished a fourth novel and is working on a fifth. Find out more at crestonmapes.com.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group. 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."

"full tilt" by creston mapes

About the book (provided by Litfuse): 

I ONCE SOWED DESTRUCTION.


Now those I love are reaping pain.

The media hype is fading and my life is no longer that of a glamorous celebrity. I'm Everett Lester, former lead singer of DeathStroke, acquitted last year of first-degree murder, now married, a Christian, and ready to take my story to the masses through music. Problem is, the turmoil of my past didn't end when the reporters left.

My wife Karen and I have received news that has rocked our world. My brother Eddie's gambling is so far out of control that the mob practically owns him. And Eddie's son, Wesley--who blames me for his brother's death--is mixed up with meth, a psychotic named Tony Badino, and a satanic voice that's urging him to take me out.

Will my Living Water tour ever hit the road? Will former fans stop hissing long enough to hear about the transforming power of Christ's love? Satan once used me for evil--only through God's power can I be used for good. The question is: will my loved ones and I be able to survive the aftermath of a rock star's life?

Everett Lester faces enemies both human and supernatural. Satan won't give up his hold on Everett, his family, or his fans without a vicious fight. God's victory is certain in the supernatural realm, but will Everett survive the earthly battle that's threatening to obliterate him?

My take: Full Tilt picks up one year after the events chronicled in Dark Star. Everett and Karen are married and living in New York, close to Everett's brother's family. They are preparing to embark on the Living Water tour, a free Christian concert/evangelistic tour with Everett's new band. But Satan will do anything to stop Everett from sharing the gospel on such a public stage.

Full Tilt is an excellent continuation of the Rock Star Chronicles, which began with Dark Star. Whereas Dark Star solely followed Everett—and read like his memoirs—Full Tilt is written in third person and follows several people. While this allowed more of the story to be told—and it is a fascinating story—it doesn't feel as intimate as Dark Star and not quite so compelling.

However, Mapes is a master storyteller, so even though Full Tilt isn't quite as spectacular as Dark Star, it's still better than 90% of what I read. It also offers powerful warnings against meth and gambling and shows the hope and peace that can only be found in Christ. 4-1/2 stars.

Full Tilt is one of three Mapes books I'm reviewing for the Litfuse tour. You can buy it in print here or for the Kindle here. (Amazon Prime members can borrow the Kindle file for free.) See my reviews of Dark Star and Nobody, the other two books being toured, here and here.

About the author: A proud native of northeast Ohio, Creston has been writing professionally for almost 30 years. He earned his degree in Magazine Journalism from Bowling Green State University in 1983.

After working as a reporter and photographer for newspapers in Florida and Ohio, Creston became a corporate copywriter, then a creative director, before starting his own freelance writing business 20 years ago. Since then, he has written marketing and magazine copy for fine organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Coca-Cola, The Weather Channel, ABC-TV, Oracle Corporation, TNT Sports, BellSouth, Focus on the Family, Hockey News, and Random House. 

Creston has edited and ghost-written a growing list of non-fiction books, and has penned three contemporary suspense novels for Waterbrook-Multnomah, a divison of Random House. All three of Creston's novels are available in e-Book format and have been printed in Dutch. He has finished a fourth novel and is working on a fifth. Learn more at crestonmapes.com.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group. 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."

"dark star" by creston mapes

About the book (provided by Litfuse): Can Fame, Wealth, and Power Buy Happiness?

Everett Lester and his band, DeathStroke, ride the crest of a wave to superstardom. But the deeper they become immersed in fame, wealth, and power, the more likely they are to be swallowed alive by the drugs, alcohol, and discontentment that have become their only friends. Everett is headed down a perilous road of no apparent return when he's charged with the murder of his personal psychic. The only hope he can cling to comes from Topeka, Kansas, and the letters written by a prayerful young lady who lives there. Consistent and persistent, the notes cut straight to Everett 's empty heart, offering a fulfillment he's never grasped before. But what if he's found guilty of murder? Will he recognize the spiritual battle that's raging for his soul?

Endora Crystal was my rock...

As I staggered through the chaos of rock 'n' roll fame-the drugs and alcohol, the selfishness and turmoil-Endora was the gentle voice in my ear telling me I was special. Telling me I was adored. She was my personal psychic, and she said I had a unique purpose, a calling to give my fans happiness. To be their god.

My band, DeathStroke, dominated the world of rock. Yet strife ruled our inner circle. My family didn't know me. I loved no one but myself.

And yet Karen Bayliss was praying for me, that I would come to know the love of God and the lordship of Jesus Christ. She was not a fan. Didn't care for my music. Karen just wanted me to know peace.

Now Endora is dead, and I've been charged with first-degree murder.


Everett Lester is headed down a perilous road of no apparent return. Will he recognize the spiritual battle that's raging for his soul?

My take: Rarely do I read a book that captivates me as much as Dark Star did. I felt like I was really reading a rock star's autobiography—it was like an E! True Hollywood Story in book form. I literally could not stop reading—I had to know what would happen next!

While I would not recommend this book for younger teens, I think that anyone who pretends that music is "just music" should read this book. While I know the story is fictional, there has to be some truth—and probably more than we'd like—to what Mapes writes. The Satan worship, the hypnosis, the drugs, the psychic readings ... it's all real, and Mapes clearly juxtaposes evil with good. And the presentation of the gospel is so clear but not heavy handed. This is a fantastic book, and I'm so glad I got to read it. 5 out of 5 stars.

Dark Star is one of three Mapes books being given the Litfuse tour treatment. You can see my reviews of Full Tilt and Nobody here and here. You can buy a print copy of Dark Star here. You can get the Kindle edition here—Amazon Prime members can read it for free!

About the author: A proud native of northeast Ohio, Creston has been writing professionally for almost 30 years. He earned his degree in Magazine Journalism from Bowling Green State University in 1983.

After working as a reporter and photographer for newspapers in Florida and Ohio, Creston became a corporate copywriter, then a creative director, before starting his own freelance writing business 20 years ago. Since then, he has written marketing and magazine copy for fine organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Coca-Cola, The Weather Channel, ABC-TV, Oracle Corporation, TNT Sports, BellSouth, Focus on the Family, Hockey News, and Random House. 

Creston has edited and ghost-written a growing list of non-fiction books, and has penned three contemporary suspense novels for Waterbrook-Multnomah, a divison of Random House. All three of Creston's novels are available in e-Book format and have been printed in Dutch. He has finished a fourth novel and is working on a fifth. Find out more at crestonmapes.com.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group. 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."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"prize of my heart" by lisa norato

About the book: Captain Brogan Talvis has spent three years searching for his son—the son his now-deceased wife hid from him out of spite. He finally tracked Ben—now known as Drew—to Duxboro, Massachusetts, where prominent shipbuilder Nathaniel Huntley is raising Drew as his own. At first, the only thing on Brogan’s mind is reclaiming his son—but he soon realizes that if he wishes to spend time with Drew, he will need to win the trust of Huntley’s beautiful daughter, Lorena, who harbors a secret of her own.

My take: Prize of My Heart is a pleasant historical romance. It’s set in the early 1800’s, which is a time period with which I’m not overly familiar, so I enjoyed reading about it. I wouldn’t say I was completely sucked into the book, but it was a pleasant way to pass an afternoon. I did long anticipate the book’s major twist (maybe I was supposed to?), so it didn’t carry the emotional impact it otherwise would have.

I didn't find anything wrong with Prize of My Heart (no major grammar issues or horrible dialogue); it just wasn't a book that I really connected with, and thus my "It's OK" rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

You can read an excerpt below: 

Prize of My Heart


About the author:
Lisa Norato first discovered a love of writing when assigned to write and illustrate a children's book at the art college she attended. She also enjoys walks with her Yorkie-poo, the New England seacoast and changing seasons, good friends, Italian food, historical dramas, and British comedy. A lifelong New Englander, Lisa lives in a historic village with homes and churches dating as far back as the eighteenth century. Currently she works as a legal assistant in the corporate department of a Rhode Island law firm.

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."

Sunday, June 17, 2012

crafting with blendy & becky: book page flowers

For our May craft, Blendy and I decided to make these book page flowers. I wasn't sure at first if I could make them—we've already established that I'm not naturally very crafty!—but they were surprisingly simple. I couldn't believe how quickly I picked it up, and soon I could form the petals without really thinking.

Rather than give you step-by-step instructions, I'm just going to point you to the site I used. Their pictures make following the directions incredibly easy.

Before we could start making the flowers, I had to decide which book I was willing to tear apart ... not an easy task for someone like me who loves her books! Then I remembered this book. I got it through Vine, and their rules stipulate that reviewers can't give possession of the products received to anyone else, though they can dispose of the product after a certain amount of time. Well, I still had the book on my shelf, and there was no chance I'd ever read it again ... so making book page flowers out of it seemed perfect!

Like I said before, you should go to this origami instruction website for directions, but here are a couple things I learned from making my flowers:
Make a template, then trace as many as you can onto a piece of paper. I found that when I was just measuring (say 4" x 4"), I often wasn't quite accurate ... so each petal of my flower was a slightly different size. Tracing a template eliminated that problem.

Also, use pencil, not pen (as I did), to trace the template. If I didn't fold the petal perfectly, I often had a little black showing through.

At first, the flower making was slow going, but soon I could complete a flower in about 15 minutes. It's perfect busy work while watching a movie or chatting!

Here are my completed flowers on top of the book I "sacrificed" for this project. (Side note: I helped with VBS at my church this week, and one of the daily lessons was on sacrifice—how Jesus sacrificed his life to save us. The teacher did an illustration using q-tips and money showing that not everything we are asked to give up is a sacrifice ... and I think this book would fall under that category!)

I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do with the flowers—I guess I'll put them out as decoration somewhere. Aren't they cute?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

"the anniversary waltz" by darrel nelson

About the book (from the back cover): At their sixtieth anniversary party, Adam Carlson asks his wife, Elizabeth, for their customary waltz. After the dance they gather the family and share their story—a story of love and courage overcoming adversity and thriving in the face of overwhelming odds.

It's the summer of 1946, and Adam has just returned from the war to his home in Reunion, Montana. At a town festival he meets Elizabeth Baxter, a young woman going steady with his former high school rival and now influential banker, Nathan Roberts.

When Adam and Elizabeth share a waltz in a deserted pavilion one evening, their feelings begin to grow and they embark on a journey, and a dance, that will last a lifetime.

My take: The Anniversary Waltz is a gentle tale of love, heartache, and family. It also packs an emotional punch that I wasn't expecting. Of course, the relationship between Adam and Elizabeth is the heart of the story, but other relationships—between Adam and his father, Elizabeth and her aunt, and Adam and his cousin Ty—are equally compelling. I also was surprised by the emphasis on sacrifice, which is woven throughout the novel and gave me cause to examine my own life.

I do wish the mutual dislike between Adam's father and Elizabeth's aunt had been further discussed—I feel like there has to be more to that story! Also, one scene in particular featured so many point of view shifts that it was hard to keep up. But those are both minor quibbles. The story itself is completely entertaining, and I expect Nelson's writing will only improve with his next novel, due next spring. (There's a preview at the end of The Anniversary Waltz, and Nelson's next book looks to be quite the departure from this one, dealing with domestic violence. It also looks like I book I want to read!) I give The Anniversary Waltz 4 out of 5 stars.


About the author: Darrel Nelson is a graduate of the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, with bachelor's degrees in English and education. He is a schoolteacher by profession, with thirty-three years of teaching experience, and currently teaches fourth grade at Raymond Elementary School. Nelson has had an article published in Lethbridge Magazine and has written several dramatic plays, two of which won provincial recognition and were showcased at a drama festival. He won the CJOC radio songwriting contest two years running and has had one song receive international airplay. Writing has always been a passion, and over the years he has written four novels intended for the juvenile market. They are unpublished as yet, but he reads them annually to his fourth-grade students. The Anniversary Waltz is his first novel intended for the adult market.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from Glass Road Media & Management. 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."

what's in the mail? 6-14-12 edition

Yes, I realize it's not a Thursday, my usual "What's in the mail?" post day ... but my week has been completely swamped with yearbook, VBS, frantic reading, and meeting up with old high school friends. So here are the items I'd received by Thursday:


illy issimo Coffee Drink, Caffè
I got this from Vine. I'd previously reviewed illy issimo's similar cappuccino drink, and I really liked that one, so I had high hopes for this. I was sorely disappointed—it was bitter with a terrible aftertaste. Here's my review.

CLEAR SCALP & HAIR BEAUTY Damage & Color Repair Nourishing Shampoo and Conditioner
Thanks again, Vine! Honestly, I'm not too picky about my shampoo and conditioner. I really just want something that smells good and doesn't leave my hair weighed down. (And if I'm being honest, the smell is by far the most important factor—I once paid $22 at the salon for the shampoo my stylist uses when she washes my hair because I fell in love with the smell.) Well, I'm happy to report that this shampoo/conditioner has an amazing scent! Plus, it's cheap—especially if you use the Amazon coupon. My reviews are here and here.

Five Miles South of Peculiar by Angela Hunt
I haven't cracked this book open yet—the review isn't due until the 28th, and we've certainly established the fact that I'm a procrastinator! I have enjoyed all of the other Angela Hunt books I've read (especially The Fine Art of Insincerity, which I reviewed last year and put on my Best Books of 2011 list), and I'm sure I'll like this one, too.

Treasures of Healthy Living by Annette Reeder
When this arrived in the mail, it took me by surprise. I signed up for the Glass Road tour back in March, and the tour kept getting pushed back because there was a holdup with shipping the books. So by the time the book arrived, I'd completely forgotten about it! This is a Bible study. Basically, it looks at what the Bible says about food and eating. It wasn't really my thing ... but you're welcome to check out my review!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received these products free in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review and received no monetary compensation. The opinions 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."

Friday, June 15, 2012

"angel eyes" by shannon dittemore

About the book (from the back cover): Once you've seen, you can't unsee.

Brielle went to the city to chase her dreams and found tragedy instead. She's come home to shabby little Stratus, Oregon, to live with her grief and her guilt . . . and the incredible, numbing cold she can't seem to shake.

Jake's the new guy at school. The boy next door with burning hands and an unbelievable gift that targets him for corruption.

Something more than fate has brought them together. An evil bigger than both of them lurks in the shadows nearby, hiding in plain sight. Two angels stand guard, unsure what's going to happen. And a beauty brighter than Jake or Brielle has ever seen is calling them to join the battle in a realm where all human choices start.

A realm that only angels and demons—and Brielle—can perceive.

My take: Twilight meets This Present Darkness. That's what I kept thinking as I read Angel Eyes, and I mean it in the most positive way. After I read Twilight, I made no secret of the fact that I had some serious issues with it. But I also couldn't deny that it was completely engaging, and I understood how teen girls could become obsessed with the story. Angel Eyes has enough similarities to Twilight that I think teens who enjoyed the vampire series will also enjoy Angel Eyes.

Don't get me wrong—I'm not calling Angel Eyes a rip-off of Twilight. But the similarities on the surface will help sell Angel Eyes to the Twilight crowd. For example, Brielle moves to a small town in the Northwest to live with her single father. She immediately catches the eye of Jake, who is handsome and mysterious. Jake always seems to show up just when Brielle needs him, and he has some sort of ... powers. That's pretty much where the similarities end, and this book is so much better than Twilight. But when I'm trying to sell my teen friends on this book, "It's kinda like Twilight" is going to be my opening line!

The This Present Darkness connection comes in because Angel Eyes deals with the Terrestrial (Earth) and Celestial (spiritual) realms. Brielle is able to see into the Celestial realm, and she and Jake together must fight evil, both human and demonic. (I don't want to give away any more of the plot than what's revealed in the summary, so just take my word for it: the supernatural element is completely engaging and handled expertly. And it's miles away from anything even remotely Twilightish.)

Shannon Dittemore has written a fabulous book that is at turns witty, thought provoking, intense, and sweet. It's also self-aware, as Dittemore directly references Twilight on a few occasions. (I also appreciated that one of the first things Brielle noticed about Jake was how incredibly tan he was—which is just the opposite of Edward Cullen!)

I was completely sucked in from the very beginning—I read the entire book in one evening because I couldn't put it down! A twist at the end threw me for a complete loop, and I can't wait to read the next book to find out just what will happen to Brielle and Jake. I give Angel Eyes an enthusiastic 5 out of 5 stars.

See what other bloggers are saying here.

About the author: Shannon is a wife and mother. A sister. A daughter. A friend. She was raised in Northern California by her parents—pastors of their local church and constant figures of inspiration.

As a youth, Shannon traveled with an award-winning performing arts team, excelling on stage and in the classroom. As a young adult, she attended Portland Bible College, continued acting, and worked with an outreach team targeting inner-city kids in the Portland-Metropolitan area.

It was in Portland that she met her husband, Matt. They were married in 2002. Soon after, they took the reins of the youth ministry at Living Way Community Church in Roseville, California where they continue to serve in that capacity. In October of 2004, their son Justus was born, followed by their daughter Jazlyn, born in 2008.

Find out more at www.shannondittemore.com.

About the giveaway: Win a Nook Color from Shannon Dittemore (@ShanDitty)! "Angel Eyes" Giveaway and Facebook Party {6/26}


Celebrate with Shannon by entering her "Angel Eyes" Giveaway and connecting with her during the Author Chat Party on 6/26!

Find out what readers are saying here.


One "angelic" winner will receive:
  • A Brand New Nook Color
  • A copy of Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends at noon on June 25th. Winner will be announced at the "Angel Eyes" Author Chat Facebook Party on 6/26. Shannon will be hosting a book chat, testing your trivia skills and giving away some great prizes!

So grab your copy of Angel Eyes and join Shannon on the evening of the June 26th for a chance to meet Shannon and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book - don't let that stop you from coming!)

Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter

Don't miss a moment of the fun! RSVP today. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 26th!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group. 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."

"treasures of healthy living" by annette reeder & dr. richard couey

About the book (from the back cover): Did you know you can find the answers to many health problems in the pages of Scripture? Think of God's Word as a treasure map that leads straight to the healthy life you've always dreamed of. It reveals how you can move from a sick, lackluster life to one that is full of energy and hope. This practical Bible study will reveal the truth about the foods you eat and provide simple tools to begin improving your physical, emotional, and spiritual health. You won't believe how much your life can change when you grab hold of the treasures God has provided for you.

In this Bible study, you will:

  • Discover the basics of nutrition to build a firm foundation for your health
  • Obtain the tools you need to evaluate and improve your health
  • Examine the harmful effects of altered food and household products
  • Find healthy alternatives to unwholesome foods
  • Learn how diet, exercise, and your spiritual life go hand-in-hand
  • Lay the groundwork for a lifetime of positive health

My take: Thanks to some health problems in the last few years, I've been on a quest to become healthier, so when I had the opportunity to review this book, I jumped at it.

I should have paid more attention to the book description, as I missed the "practical Bible study" part. In the short time that I've had the book, I haven't had time to really dig into the Bible study portion, but I have read through the book. The authors' insights are interesting, and I have a feeling I'd learn a lot if I took time to dig into the suggested scriptures. However, the book often references two other books: Healthy Treasures Cookbook and Treasures of Health Nutrition Manual. Obviously, you can get by without buying a special cookbook, and I'm sure you can find plenty of similar healthy recipes online. But the Nutrition Manual is a different story. So often, the authors will be discussing a topic, and then there's a little "Digging Deeper" box that says something like, "For more information on _______, read about it in the Nutrition Manual." I really want to know that information, but without spending $17 to buy the book, I won't.

It boils down to this: If you're looking for a nutrition-based Bible study, this is probably perfect for your needs. But if you're looking for nutrition advice, you'd be better off with the Nutrition Manual or another nutrition book. 3 out of 5 stars.

About the authors: Annette Reeder, a Biblical Nutrition Consultant, is leading people all around the country on an adventure with the power of food to change lives one meal and prayer at a time. Annette is a graduate of Liberty University and Huntington College Health Sciences and the founder of Designed Healthy Living a nutrition consulting ministry.

Dr. Richard "Dick" Couey is Professor Emeritus of Health Sciences at Baylor University. Dr. Couey has spent nearly fifty years studying the physiology of the cell. He has especially studied how nutrition, exercise, and stress affect the cell's biochemistry and physiology. Dr. Couey's students praise how Dr. Couey can make the complexities of the cell seem understandable.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from Glass Road Public Relations. 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, June 11, 2012

i'm free!

This blog has been woefully quiet for the last several days, and if you follow me on Facebook, you know why: yearbook. It has completely consumed my life ... to the point where I spent TWELVE hours working on it yesterday. But today at 6 p.m., I submitted the final page ... so I'm free! It seems crazy to not have to think about yearbook anymore. After work, my evenings will be mine again! So what will I do with them?
  • Clean my house. I went straight from a week of lying on the couch after surgery into two weeks of intensive yearbooking. I did manage to do the dishes a couple of times, but that's it. My house is a complete wreck—it's bad enough that even I am getting sick of it! (And if you know me well, you know I have a high tolerance for "clutter" ... I think it's in my genes!)
  • Mow my lawn. It's been two weeks since Blendy was kind enough to mow for me, and I'm sure my neighbor—the elderly man who lives in Grand Island and keeps a house here as a weekend getaway—would appreciate it if my lawn was a respectable height, rather than the jungle it resembles now.
  • Finish up the posts I've started. I still have to tell you about my May craft project (it's super cute!) and finish writing my April & May goals update. I also have a fabulous recipe to share!
  • Read. I know: I'm always reading ... but I've gotten way behind. I did manage to read and review Glamorous Illusions on time, but for the first time ever, I missed a tour deadline! The review was due yesterday (a Sunday ... really?), and I haven't even cracked open the book yet. I have another two reviews due on Friday. So I guess I'll be doing a lot of reading for the remainder of the week.
  •  Exercise. It's really amazing how out of shape you can get in just three weeks! I went for a walk and bike ride on Saturday—my first exercise of any type since surgery. When I got home, I was exhausted and totally winded. So I really need to get back out there!
  • Check out Saving Hope. All I know about it is this: it stars Michael Shanks and Erica Durance. And that's all I need to know to give it a shot. (Actually, it had me at Shanks ... Lois Lane is just the icing on the cake!)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

"glamorous illusions" by lisa t. bergren

About the book (provided by Litfuse): It's the summer of 1913, and Cora Kensington's life on the family farm has taken a dark turn. Not only are the crops failing, so is her father's health. Cora is carrying on, helping her mother run their Montana farm until a stranger comes to call, and everything changes. Cora then learns a secret that will radically change her future: she is the illegitimate daughter of a copper king who has come to claim her.

Cora is invited to take the "Grand Tour" of Europe, a journey intended to finish a person's education, to solidify an understanding of ancient culture and contemporary refinement. As she travels from England to France with half-siblings she's never known, Cora encounters the blessings of the Kensington family name, as well as the curses. But when an unbidden love begins to form, she realizes the journey is only beginning.

Faced with the challenge of accepting her father, new family, and the identity that comes with it, Cora also struggles to accept that she is also the daughter of the one true King—a Father who is the only One who can truly heal.

My take: Glamorous Illusions is one of those stories that ends precisely when you don't want it to ... for good reason, as it is the beginning of a series! The beginning of the book is rather slow; it's not boring, but it's not gripping in an "I can't put this book down!" kind of way. But once Cora and her companions arrived in Europe, the pace picked up, and I couldn't wait to see what would happen next.

One thing that I found so interesting about this story was that Cora's parentage was a nearly insurmountable obstacle. Today, we're so used to children being born out of wedlock that we don't even bat an eye when another celebrity lovechild is revealed. But in the early 1900's, being illegitimate was the kiss of death in polite society—as Cora discovers in a most cruel way upon her arrival in England. Her journey to accept who she really is—no matter who her parents are—and to connect with those who see her as an interloper is fascinating.

The book ends just as the story is really getting good, and I can't wait to read book two ... I especially need to know what will happen with the men interested in Cora—Pierre, the dashing Frenchman, and Will, one of the tour guides. Plus, there's the matter of the men who may be trying to kidnap Cora ... I hope book two arrives before too long! 4 out of 5 stars.

See what other reviewers are saying here!

About the author: Lisa Tawn Bergren is the best-selling, award-winning author of over 30 books, with more than 1.5 million copies sold. She just finished writing a Colorado historical trilogy (Breathe, Sing and Claim), and has begun a teen series called River of Time.

Lisa's time is split between managing home base, writing (including a fair amount of travel writing), consulting and freelance editing (with a little speaking here and there). She's married to Tim, a liturgical sculptor, graphic designer and musician. They have three kids—Olivia (15), Emma (12) and Jack (7). All five of the Bergrens make their home in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

For more information on Lisa and to view other books written, please visit her website: http://lisatawnbergren.com

About the giveaway: Win a $350 “Glam” Visa Card Prize Pack from @LisaTBegren & RSVP for 6/27 Facebook party!


What is our "true" identity? Join the conversation at Lisa Tawn Begren's Glamorous Illusions Author Chat Facebook Event Page. On the evening of 6/27 we'll gather to talk about our spiritual journey, share our stories and a few laughs.

In the meantime, celebrate with Lisa by entering her Glamorous Illusions Giveaway!


One "glamorous" winner will receive a "Glam Prize Pack":

  • A $350 Visa Cash Card (Oh ... think of what you could do: treat yourself to a mani/pedi, a fabulous new dress, dinner for two, or even a two-night escape in a lovely hotel - you're only limited by your imagination!)
  • Glamorous Illusions (by Lisa Tawn Begren)

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends 6/26/12. Winner will be announced at Lisa's "Glamorous Illusions" Facebook Party on  6/27 {Fun begins at 5pm PDT / 8pm EDT}. Lisa will be hosting an evening of meaningful chat, fun trivia, laughter, and encouragement - bring your friends! She'll also be giving away some GREAT prizes: gift certificates, books, and a Book Club Prize Pack! (Ten copies of the book for your small group or book club and a live chat with Lisa via video or phone.)

So grab a few of your friends and your copy of Glamorous Illusions and join Lisa on the evening of June 27th for an evening of fun.

Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter
Don't miss a moment of the fun. RSVP TODAY and tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 27th!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group. 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, June 4, 2012

free book: "glamorous illusions" by lisa t. bergren

Lisa T. Bergren's new release, Glamorous Illusions, is free for Kindle through Friday! I'm currently reading it for the Litfuse tour, and I'm greatly enjoying it. It's the story of a young woman who suddenly learns she's not who she always thought she was, and she gets swept off on a Grand Tour of Europe with relatives who can barely stand her.

Get your copy here! Following the promotional free period, the book will be on sale for two weeks—$2.99 from June 9-15, and $4.99 from June 16-22. So be sure to grab your copy soon!