Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"the fine art of insincerity" by angela hunt

Three middle aged sisters--Ginger, Penny, and Rose--gather at their grandmother's cottage one last time to go through her things and prepare the cottage for sale. While the sisters love each other, they don't seem to like each other very much, and they can't wait to finish their task and get back to their own lives. As they spend Memorial Day weekend together, long-buried secrets will be revealed, and each woman will learn that she truly does need the support of her sisters.

The Fine Art of Insincerity is a fantastic book! I was a little hesitant to read it--after all, it's about middle-aged women, and it's not a romance, so it's not exactly in my wheelhouse--but it's written by Angela Hunt, whose other novels I've enjoyed, so I decided to give it a chance. I'm so glad I did!

This book deals with divorce, depression, infertility, infidelity, and other real-life topics women face every day. I thought Hunt did a great job of making this book realistic--I have two sisters myself, and while we are a few decades younger than these sisters, I could see some of "us" in the characters. Give us twenty years, and we could be these women, though I hope we never are! Also, I enjoyed the book's use of first person--each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the sisters. Kudos to the publisher (or whoever made the decision) for giving each woman a specific typeface. That made it very easy to tell which sister was narrating.

After reading about 80 pages, I turned to my mom and said, "This book is fascinating." I gave it to her immediately after I finished and told her to move it to the top of her "to read" pile--it's that good. I highly recommend it!

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."

Sunday, May 29, 2011

something new

It's been a long time in the making, but I finally have two new pages added to my blog.

I'm often asked what books I'd recommend, so I decided to make it easy on both you and me by adding a page of recommended books. These are all books I've personally read and can vouch for, and I'm sure the contents of the page will change as I read more books.

I also decided to add a recommended movies tab just for fun. I watch a ton of movies (and I own a ton ... it's a problem I'm working on!), and I love talking about them. So if you're looking for a movie to watch, click on over to my movies tab and take a look ... and feel free to leave a comment, too!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

reading is fun!

It's a good thing I like reading! These are the nine (yes, nine!) books currently awaiting my review. (And another book is on its way from Amazon Vine.) The top three all have to be reviewed in the next two weeks. My goal was to have all my book review books read prior to family vacation at the beginning of June and only take my Kindle with me. Now, it looks like I'll be carting the books along and leaving the Kindle behind!

Friday, May 27, 2011

surviving yearbook

I have lived and breathed yearbook for the past four days. From Monday morning at 9:30 through Thursday evening at 6:15, I put in 41 hours and 45 minutes. (Yes, I kept a log.) And now ... drum roll, please ... all 84 pages have been submitted! I've discovered that when I need to work so intensively on a project, I need some things to help me out. Here's what got me through this time:

Dance Dance Revolution for Wii--This functioned as a great stress reliever; trust me, when I was fighting with the ridiculousness that passes for text wrap in our design program, I needed a way to work off my frustration!

An excellent, dedicated student editor--I don't know if I would have survived without Michelle. I certainly wouldn't have been able to submit everything a whole 24-hours early. She even spent hours working on the index, which is an incredibly tedious project. Plus, we get along really well, which doesn't always happen with editors and advisers. I wish I could clone her and keep her as editor forever!

Odd working hours--I am so much more productive at night. I've known this for a long time, but when you have to be at work at 8 a.m. or earlier, it's pretty much impossible to stay up late to accomplish anything. Thus the beauty of this week: I set my own hours! Each night, I worked until midnight or later and then slept in the next morning. The first day was rough--I worked 12 hours, which I'm absolutely not used to--but after that, my body adjusted beautifully. I'm not looking forward to going back to a normal schedule next week.

Lots of snacks and drinks--Yeah, I ate all the goldfish pretzels and animal crackers. I didn't drink the whole 12-pack, though!

Music--Upbeat for the sleepy times (this included lots of boy band music--because I still love me some "Bye, Bye, Bye"--"happy" country, Mike Tompkins videos, and a new fav, Anthem Lights), and cinemix for the "I really need to focus" times.

Antacids--Thanks to all the snacks.

Neck wrap--It's amazing how much this helped when I was feeling the stress in my neck and shoulders. (As a bonus, you can see how ancient the computer in my classroom is. I took my laptop in all week because my desk computer was so maddening. Anybody want to make a donation???)

A way to block facebook and other distracting sites--I used LeechBlock, which allows you to set times of the day to block certain websites. I turned off facebook, Google Reader, and ew.com from 8-4. (Remember how I was working odd hours? Well, LeechBlock usually helped for the first 4-6 hours I worked, but after 4, I had to--gasp!--use some self control. I was moderately successful.)

Now that I'm finished for the school year, it doesn't seem so bad, and I'm pretty impressed with everything that Michelle and I accomplished this week. To those of you who are my facebook friends, thanks for putting up with all my frustrated status updates over the last several days. I promise not to talk about yearbook again ... at least until the fall!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

"save the date" by jenny b. jones

Very rarely do I stay up reading until the wee hours of the morning. With Save the Date, I did just that. I simply couldn't put it down, and I can't wait to read another book by Jenny B. Jones!

Lucy runs a non-profit home for girls who have aged out of the foster care system. Alex is a former pro football player running for Congress. Lucy needs funding for her home; Alex needs a girlfriend to help the voters see he's not the playboy he once was. When they enter into an agreement--Lucy will pose as Alex's fiancée in exchange for the cash necessary to keep her non-profit's doors open--sparks fly, and they begin to wonder if there's some truth in the lie.

While completely implausible (as is just about every romantic comedy ever filmed and every romance novel ever written), Save the Date is witty, endearing, and humorous. Yes, some lines are incredibly cheesy ("He conquered her lips, just as he had conquered her heart."), but I could skim by that cheese because the story had so completely sucked me in. The Parks & Rec fan in me also enjoyed that one of the minor characters was the literary version of Tom Haverford. And yes, the premise does seem eerily similar to ABC Family's My Fake Fiancé, but that just added to my enjoyment of the book.

In summary, Save the Date fits perfectly within the Christian chick lit genre, and I highly recommend it!

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

Sunday, May 8, 2011

single thoughts on mother's day

"Happy Mother's Day!" the elderly greeter exclaimed as I walked through the church doors.

Inwardly I cringed; outwardly I smiled as I shook his hand. I continued into the sanctuary and approached the usher.

"Happy Mother's Day," he said as he handed me a bulletin.

I'm not sure I even mustered a smile before walking away.

Several years ago, my mom told me that my uncle, who has never been married, doesn't attend church on Father's Day. The focus on something he doesn't have--and probably never will--is too painful. I got a small glimpse of that pain today.

Still, the sting that I felt at being confused for a mother pales in comparison to the pain many women are going through today. Yes, I want to be a mother, but my greater yearning is to be a wife. (If "Wife's Day" existed, I promise I would not be attending church that day!) As I slipped into my pew this morning, I couldn't help but think about the women I know who are experiencing infertility. On a day that celebrates what they most long to be, how do they handle the pain? How do they react to the well-meaning yet insensitive people around them?

My pensive mood continued throughout the worship time, and I wondered if I'd even hear a word my pastor said once he began preaching. Then the sermon title flashed up on the screen--a continuation of the series Pastor Mike began last week--and I almost burst out laughing. The title? "The Dungeon of Disappointment." I had no trouble paying attention.

This afternoon, I came across a blog post by Wendy Alsup (via Carolyn McCulley) entitled "For Moms, Former Moms, and Wannabe Moms." The whole thing is excellent, but here's the part that especially spoke to me:
God said children are a blessing. But after the fall, we do not all get to experience that blessing. The gospel makes up the difference. While you are disappointed in deep ways and that disappointment is real, you will one day sit with Jesus in heaven profoundly content with his work in you through this disappointment. In heaven, you will have no longing for something you missed. You will not be disappointed. May confidence in that hope sustain you.
You will not be disappointed. Those words are a balm to my soul. Whatever dreams are not coming true for you, whatever pain and disappointment you face in this life, cling to the hope of what is to come!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

"another dawn" by kathryn cushman

Grace Graham is a single mother raising her four-year-old son in California. When she returns home to Tennessee to help care for her father after knee surgery, she is forced to face her anger at her father, who she believes is responsible for her mother's death. When her son becomes ill, Grace must come to terms with the danger her choices have placed her son--and several other children--in, and she discovers she's not as different from her father as she'd like to believe.

Another Dawn is not your normal Christian romantic fiction. It deals with an incredibly controversial and weighty issue--vaccinations. Honestly, had I known what the topic of the book would be (the back cover copy only alludes to Grace's choices and doesn't mention vaccines), I probably wouldn't have read it. I'm glad I did, though. As a single, childless woman, I've never given much thought to vaccines, though I know a handful of parents who have chosen not to vaccinate their children, and I have heard of the theorized autism-vaccine connection. Another Dawn presents both sides of the debate--to vaccinate or not to vaccinate--in compelling fashion, and Cushman wonderfully describes Grace's agony as she comes to terms with the cost of her decision.

After finishing the book, I still don't know where I stand in regard to vaccinations, but I do know it's something I'll have to spend much time researching and praying about when I have my own children.

I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for more than a light beach read--this book is emotionally tough to read, but it's worth 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."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"holy guacamole" by dan and denise harmer

Trace is a washed-up sports writer turned chef who enrolls in cooking queen Bonnie's culinary boot camp. Though he and Bonnie get off to a rough start, they soon find themselves forced to work together to escape a Mexican drug lord, and before long, they begin falling in love. But can Bonnie trust Trace with the secrets of her past?

Holy Guacamole is Dan & Denise Harmer's debut novel, and while the plot had potential, I just couldn't connect with the story. I did appreciate the descriptions of food (I'd certainly like to taste Trace's tortillas, and somehow escamole--ant larvae--actually came out sounding delicious), and I enjoyed some of the supporting characters. I also didn't anticipate the twist near the end, and I can usually ferret those things out. But as for Trace and Bonnie, I just didn't care what happened to them or whether they ended up together. I also found Bonnie's habit of using spices in place of swear words annoying, not endearing as I assume was the intent.

If the Harmers do write a sequel, I hope they write about Kelp (Bonnie's produce guy) and Sunshine (Bonnie's sous chef), 'cause I'd certainly enjoy watching those two fall in love! I'm reviewing this book, though, and I just can't recommend you run out and buy it.

Side note: A portion of the proceeds from this book will go to the ministry Outside the Bowl. It appears to be an organization that's doing a lot of good, and I urge you to check it out.

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."