Monday, April 30, 2012

i'm not a momma, but i sure love my kids

This post is mainly a reminder to myself—I think everyone is more than ready for school to get out for the summer, and I've sensed it in myself more this year than ever before. At times, I hear my tone of voice when speaking to a student and inwardly cringe. So this look back at the kids I love will hopefully help me remember again why I do what I do!

I know I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again: The reason I continue to work at NC, year after year, is because I've fallen in love ... with a bunch of Asian kids. I distinctly remember the first time I realized just how much I cared about these kids who came from across the globe to learn English. It was in the spring of my second year working full time at NC. I was walking across the lawn from my office in the boys' dorm to the administration building. I don't know what exactly was on my mind, but suddenly the realization that I loved "my" internationals hit me like a ton of bricks. I even teared up, which is unusual for me. In all the years since that day, as students come and go, there's always a special place in my heart for our international students.

Here are a few of this year's special students:

Part of my Reading II class with The Light Across the River, our first book of the year. It's the sequel to Across the Wide River, which I reviewed for Kregel last summer. I have so much fun with this class! Left to right: Hannah, Mia, Rae, Natalie, Kyle. Poor Kyle was the only boy in the class for the first semester!

One of the advantages of being assistant speech coach this year (as opposed to head coach, which I was for the previous seven years) was that I had more time to work with the international students on the team. This was a good thing, as we had 30 kids on the team, and 10 of them were internationals! I can't help but admire the students who will go out for speech—daunting for any student—when they'll be speaking in a language they're just learning! One of my favorite moments of the speech season was when Yena (front row, center, red dress and black shoes) won serious prose at our conference meet. I was so proud! Above are the junior and senior speech team members at Honor, the spring formal.

Some of my favorite times of the year are when the kids need to find homestays (American families to stay with over breaks). I love opening my home to one or two girls. This Easter, I had two girls stay with me: Mina and Lindsey. We had so much fun together, and we talked about some serious stuff, too. Here we are at the Advance Dessert the week after Easter: Mina, me, Lindsey.

These aren't the only students special to me. I could talk about Janet, a girl I'd been praying for ever since I met her, who called me one Saturday morning with exciting news: "Miss Becky, you'll never believe it, but I am a Christian now!" Or Joey, the boy who fell in love with speech and qualified for state each of his three years on the team. Or Elaine, the girl who learned she really could get good grades and who went from F's to B's in my class in less than a semester. Or Wai, or Jay, or Ency, or any of the other 35 international students we have this year. 

They have my heart.

Friday, April 27, 2012

"eyes of justice" by lis wiehl with april henry

About the book: The members of the Triple Threat Club—crime reporter Cassidy, FBI agent Nicole, and federal prosecutor Allison—have solved multiple crimes together. When one of their own is murdered, the other two must scramble to uncover the truth behind her death ... or they could be the murderer's next targets.

My take: It's hard to review this book because I don't want to give away which of the Triple Threat is murdered ... so it becomes difficult to discuss much of the plot! I guess I'll leave it at this: Eyes of Justice was my favorite of all the Triple Threat novels so far. Big things—some good, some bad—happened to each character, and, while I wish no one had to die, I am "happy" Wiehl chose to kill the character she did. Also, the addition of technology-whiz Ophelia to the team inserts a nice quirkiness into the group, and I think she'll be very fun to read about in future novels.

This is an edge-of-your-seat suspense novel, and I highly recommend it! 5 stars.

(Eyes of Justice is book four in the Triple Threat series. You could jump in here without getting lost, but to have an emotional connection with the characters, I'd recommend you read the others first. I reviewed book two, Hand of Fate, here and book three, Heart of Ice, here.)

About the authors: Lis Wiehl is a New York Times best-selling author, Harvard Law School graduate, and former federal prosecutor. A popular legal analyst and commentator for the Fox News Channel, Wiehl appears on The O'Reilly Factor and was co-host will Bill O'Reilly on the radio for seven years.

April Henry is the New York Times best-selling author of mysteries and thrillers. Her books have been short-listed for the Agatha Award, the Anthony Award, and the Oregon Book Award. April lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and daughter.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneezebook review bloggers 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."

thank you, fox!

I am super pumped about this!

Fringe's pickup also virtually guarantees that Hulu Plus will have my business for the months that Fringe is airing ...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

what's in the mail? 4-26-12 edition

A few weeks ago, I saw a "What's in the mail?" post on another blog. (If I could remember where I saw it, I'd give the blogger credit ...) The idea behind this blogger's post is that she receives so many books to review that she can't possibly get to all of them, so each week she creates a post on everything that came in the mail that week. Now, I don't have her problem of being inundated by books, and I've never received unsolicited review copies, so I review everything I get. However, I don't post all my reviews on this blog—Amazon's Vine program doesn't require reviewers to post on their own blogs, just on Amazon, so there are some books/products you'll never see unless you go to my Amazon profile.

Thus, the debut of this feature. I'm going to try to do one of these posts every other Thursday because I sometimes go a few weeks without receiving any review products. I've also decided not to limit this to products I've received in exchange for a review; I also want to include any books I purchase. (Believe it or not, I actually do still buy books!)

So here we go: "What's in the Mail?" 4-26-12

Finally & Forever by Robin Jones Gunn
This is the fourth book in Gunn's Katie Weldon series. I didn't even know there was a fourth book (I thought the third wrapped things up nicely) until I saw something on Twitter about it. No question—I had to buy it. Not often do I cry from joy when I read, but that's exactly what happened as I finished up Coming Attractions. I even listed the Katie series on my "Books to Read" recommendation page. I have high hopes for this book, and I may have squealed in delight as I opened the package from Amazon!

(I just discovered the first three books in the series—Peculiar TreasuresOn a Whim, and Coming Attractions—are each currently $1.99 for Kindle. You need to read these books!)

The Chase by DiAnn Mills
The Chase is one of my Vine books. On the last Vine newsletter, I was offered several Christian books, and The Chase is one of the few I hadn't already read and reviewed! I knew I'd heard of DiAnn Mills before, but I couldn't quite place her until I looked up her author page on Amazon. She wrote Nebraska Legacy, a collection of novellas that I bought a few years ago solely because the stories took place in my beloved home state. (I don't think I ever actually read the book. I wonder if I still have it somewhere?) Anyway, The Chase appears to be about as far removed from a historical romance on the Nebraska plains as you can get. I've lately really been enjoying reading suspense, so I'm looking forward to this book!

Crazy Dangerous by Andrew Klavan
When I got the review invite e-mail from Litfuse for this one, I practically fell over myself in my rush to sign up. Why? Because it's suspense and YA. In the last 18 months or so, I've gone crazy for young adult fiction. Kinda funny, since I never read YA as an actual teenager—I thought I was "too adult" for it. Ha! When I got the book, I found out that Crazy Dangerous's author Klavan also wrote Don't Say a Word. I haven't read that novel, but I'll never forget Brittany Murphy's line from the movie: "I'll never tell!" Now I'm even more anxious to read Crazy Dangerous ... and I think I need to watch Don't Say a Word again! (Success! I just remembered that my cousin/former roommate left her movies behind when she moved—and Don't Say a Word is one of them. I know what I'm doing this weekend!)

The Ishbane Conspiracy by Angela, Karina & Randy Alcorn
Recently, longtime blog reader Cari recommended the Alcorns' Ishbane Conspiracy. Cari and I have a similar enough taste in books that I knew if she recommended it, I'd probably like it. So I went to Amazon and found a dirt cheap used copy, which arrived today. It will probably sit on my shelf for a while—I seem to have a backlog of non-review books!

T-fal FZ700251 ActiFry Low-Fat Healthy Dishwasher Safe Multi-Cooker, Black This is my big Vine "get" of the year (so far). It arrived yesterday, so today I took it for a test spin. I used it to make potato wedges, and they turned out pretty well. The ActiFry's advantage is that it cooks with minimal oil. I followed one of the recipes in the booklet that came with the appliance, and I honestly wasn't too impressed—but I think that's more the recipe's fault than the ActiFry's. Supposedly you can cook plenty of things besides potatoes—meat, veggies, even fruit compote. I'll be trying out several things in the weeks to come, and I look forward to the delicious research!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received some of these products free in exchange for my honest review. Other products I purchased myself. Regardless, 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."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"the corruptible" by mark mynheir

About the book: Private Investigator Ray Quinn is struggling to make ends meet when the "perfect" case falls into his lap. All he has to do is track down a former colleague and get him to return his client's stolen information, and he will receive the largest paycheck he's ever seen. But when the man winds up dead, and the information is nowhere to be found, Ray realizes he's stumbled onto something much bigger than he imagined. With the help of his assistant Crevis, Ray tries to recover the information, catch a killer, and discover what is really going on at his client's company.

My take: I enjoyed The Corruptible. It is book two in Mark Mynheir's Ray Quinn Mystery series, but I had no trouble jumping in without having read the first book. The plot is fairly slow moving, but it's also constantly engaging. I also really liked the subplot involving e-mail scams.

I enjoyed watching Ray grapple with his problems throughout the novel—especially as he dealt with his alcohol addiction. And while this case wrapped up satisfactorily, when the book ended, Ray still had a long way to go toward getting his life together. I could see the Ray Quinn series stretching on through several books, and I would enjoy reading each one of them. 4 stars.

Interested? You can read the first chapter here.

About the author: Mark Mynheir is the author of the Christy Award nominated The Night Watchman, the first Ray Quinn mystery. He has worked undercover as a narcotics agent, as a SWAT team member, and now investigates violent crimes as a detective with the Criminal Investigations Unit in central Florida, where he lives with his wife and three children.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

free fiction: "unleavened"

Last fall, I had the privilege of being one of the first people to read a draft of Peter Dudek's new novel, Unleavened. Peter has just released it as an eBook via Amazon, and you can get it free through tomorrow, April 22. After that, it will be $3.99—still a pretty good deal for a book!

Here's the synopsis of the book from Peter's website:
A widowed father. 
A homosexual son. 
Brad Miller, small-town newspaper writer, is numb to the sensation of love. Since his wife died, his once thriving relationship with God has degraded to a distant acquaintance. The only solace he finds is writing anonymously at his blog, a place where invisible readers offer him a safe sounding board to express his detached emotions. 
But after he finds out his son is homosexual, he is forced to ask himself, and his readers, how can homosexuality be reconciled within the Christian faith? Mixed advice from two very distinct church cultures makes him a central point for division among his Christian brothers and sisters. Confusion and distrust abound. 
To save his relationship with his son, Brad must surface his long hidden wounds and emotions and make himself vulnerable to both his church family, and to God.
Here's a bit of what Dudek has to say about his subject matter (for more, see his blog):
Homosexuality is one of the primary “sins” preached against in the Christian church. It is a very taboo topic, but it is not one that should be considered through one-dimensional glasses. Any issue of sexuality is deeply complex and emotional. Christians should realize that even people with whom they hold disagreements are still real people with real hurts, wounds, fears, needs and joys.
I think we can agree that those of us who claim to be Christ followers are often adept at "hating the sin" but struggle with "loving the sinner," and Dudek does a great job of addressing this topic through fiction.

 will push some buttons. You probably won't agree with every point Dudek makes. (I didn't.) You might even squirm a little. (I did.) This is not an easy, fun read like most of the books I talk about on this blog. But one thing this book will do is force you to think—I finished the book four months ago, and I still find myself thinking about it from time to time.

If you'd like to read it, you can get it here. (And remember, you can also get Dudek's fantasy novel City of Prophecywhich I loved—for just $2.99.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"titanic: the ship of dreams" by robert plant

About the book: In April 1912, evangelist John Harper and his daughter Nana set sail on the Titanic. A man with a true passion for the lost, Harper took every opportunity to share the gospel with those he encountered on board, even as it became apparent he would go down with the Titanic.

My take: At first, I struggled with this book. I felt like it was taking way to long to get to the main event—the sinking of the Titanic—and I didn't find the dialog to be particularly engaging.

Then I realized my problem—I was reading this book as I read all the other books I review, with my critical adult hat firmly in place. So I stopped about halfway through the book and asked myself if I would have enjoyed this book as a child, and the answer was an unequivocal "yes." I would have loved Nana's adventures exploring the ship with her friends Eva and Charlie. I would have worried about everyone's safety. And I would have cried as John breathed his last, still proclaiming the truth of the gospel. (OK, I cried at that part as an adult!)

While Titanic: The Ship of Dreams is not a book that will interest many older children or adults, I think six- to ten-year-olds will enjoy it quite a bit. At the end of the book, five "Take Five Minutes" discussions and Bible studies are included, which parents should find helpful in discussing the story with their children. 3-1/2 stars.

About the author: Robert Plant is from a Christian Brethren (Gospel Hall) background and works as a Christian Evangelist. He has strong links with John Ritchie Ltd. He conducts about 20 series of children’s meetings each year.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from Christian Focus Publications. I was not required to write a positive review. 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."

Monday, April 16, 2012

"accused" by janice cantore

About the book (from the publisher): Detective Carly Edwards hates working in juvenile—where the brass put her after an officer-involved shooting—and longs to be back on patrol. So when a troubled youth, Londy Atkins, is arrested for the murder of the mayor and Carly is summoned to the crime scene, she's eager for some action. Carly presses Londy for a confession but he swears his innocence, and despite her better judgment, Carly is inclined to believe him. Yet homicide is convinced of his guilt and is determined to convict him.

Carly's ex-husband and fellow police officer, Nick, appears to be on her side. He's determined to show Carly that he's a changed man and win her back, but she isn't convinced he won't betray her again. As the investigation progresses, Carly suspects a cover-up and strikes out on her own, uncertain whom she can trust. But when danger mounts, she begins to wonder if she made the right choice.

My take: Accused is an engaging suspense novel that kept me guessing throughout. Each time I had to put the book down, I wanted to keep reading, and the pages seemed to fly by, especially as I got into the second half of the book.

Unfortunately, as much as I enjoyed the plot, I can't give this book five stars. Basically, the story is excellent, but it needed firmer editing. Cantore tends to tell rather than show, especially when emotion is involved. And Carly's thoughts—which are written in first person to get the reader inside her head—sound too scripted. This might work if the entire book was written in first person, but since it's not, jumping into Carly's thoughts only served to draw my attention away from what had been happening.

Still, I enjoyed reading the book (I just stopped to roll my eyes at the writing a few times), and I will probably continue reading this series. 3 stars.

About the author: A former Long Beach, California, police officer of twenty-two years, Janice Cantore worked a variety of assignments, including patrol, administration, juvenile investigations, and training. She's always enjoyed writing and published two short articles on faith at work for Cop and Christ and Today's Christian Woman before tackling novels. A few years ago, she retired to a house in the mountains of Southern California, where she lives with two Labrador retrievers, Jake and Maggie.

Janice writes suspense novels designed to keep readers engrossed and leave them inspired. Accused is the first book in the Pacific Coast Justice series, featuring Carly Edwards. Janice also authored the Brinna's Heart series, which includes The Kevlar Heart and The Heart of Justice.

Visit Janice's website at and connect with her on Facebook.

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."

Friday, April 13, 2012

"top of the rock" by warren littlefield with t.r. pearson

About the book (from the back cover): Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier, ER, Cheers, Law & Order, Will & Grace…Here is the funny, splashy, irresistible insiders’ account of the greatest era in television history — told by the actors, writers, directors, producers, and the network executives who made it happen…and watched it all fall apart.

Warren Littlefield was the NBC President of Entertainment who oversaw the Peacock Network’s rise from also-ran to a division that generated a billion dollars in profits. In this fast-paced and exceptionally entertaining oral history, Littlefield and NBC luminaries including Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Kelsey Grammer, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, Julianna Marguiles, Anthony Edwards, Noah Wylie, Debra Messing, Jack Welch, Jimmy Burrows, Helen Hunt, and Dick Wolf vividly recapture the incredible era of Must See TV.

From 1993 through 1998, NBC exploded every conventional notion of what a broadcast network could accomplish with the greatest prime-time line-up in television history. On Thursday nights, a cavalcade of groundbreaking comedies and dramas streamed into homes, attracting a staggering 75 million viewers and generating more revenue than all other six nights of programming combined. The road to success, however, was a rocky one. How do you turn a show like Seinfeld, one of the lowest testing pilots of all time, into a hit when the network overlords are constantly warring, or worse, drowning in a bottle of vodka?

Top of the Rock is an addictively readable account of the risky business decisions, creative passion, and leaps of faith that made Must See TV possible. Chock full of delicious behind-the-scenes anecdotes that run the gamut from hilarious casting and programming ploys to petty jealousies and drug interventions, you’re in for a juicy, unputdownable read.

My take: As someone who grew up watching nearly all of the "Must See TV" shows (even the truly terrible ones like Veronica's Closet), I couldn't wait to get my hands on former NBC President of Entertainment Warren Littlefield's new book. And for the most part, this book lived up to my (admittedly high) expectations.

Though the book is "written" by Littlefield and T.R. Pearson, it really is made up of interviews with producers, writers, actors, and NBC executives. I think this format works quite well, as it gives multiple perspectives, rather than just Littlefield's. I especially enjoyed the chapters on Mad About You, Friends, Frasier, and ER—because those were "my" shows.

The very end of the book falters a bit, though. The last chapter talks about what happened to NBC following Littlefield's firing, but it really just devolves into a giant Jeff Zucker bash session. Obviously, Zucker made some questionable (OK, downright laughable) programming decisions, but to end the book on that note overshadowed a bit of the enjoyment I gained from reading the rest of the book. I also wish some of the missing NBC stars—like Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, and George Clooney—would have been involved, but the number of power players who were part of the book is pretty impressive. This book is a must-read for pop culture junkies like me, and I definitely recommend it! 4 stars.

Note: There is quite a bit of foul language in this book—since this isn't the type of book I normally review, I thought I should give fair warning.

About the authors: Warren Littlefield is the former NBC president of entertainment. Previous to that, he was the NBC comedy executive who developed such hit shows as The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He currently runs his own television production company.

T. R. Pearson is the author of fourteen novels, including A Short History of a Small Place and Warwolf. This is his fifth nonfiction book.

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

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"the wedding dress" by rachel hauck

About the book (provided by Litfuse): One dress. Four women. An amazing destiny.

Charlotte Malone is getting married. Yet all is not settled in the heart of Birmingham's chic bridal boutique owner. Charlotte can dress any bride to perfection—except herself. When she discovers a vintage mint-condition wedding gown in a battered old trunk, Charlotte embarks on a passionate journey to discover the women who wore the gown before her.

Emily in 1912. Mary in 1939. And Hillary in 1968. Each woman teaches Charlotte something about love in her own unique way. Woven within the threads of the beautiful hundred-year-old gown is the truth about Charlotte's heritage, the power of faith, and the beauty of finding true love.

My take: This book turned out to be nothing like I expected ... and I loved it! After reading the back of the book (when will I learn not to do that?), I assumed that Charlotte would break up with her fiancé and end up with a wonderful new man. I was way off in my assumptions, though I won't go into specifics and spoil it for anyone reading.

I loved the characters of Charlotte and her fiancé Tim. And while I didn't like her, I did understand Katherine, Tim's sister-in-law who believed Tim could do better for himself that Charlotte. (As a big sister, it's very easy to convince myself that I know what's best for my siblings, when in actuality, I don't know as much as I think I do!)

Most of the story flips back and forth between Charlotte in the present and Emily in 1912. For me, the Emily story line wasn't quite as good as everything else. It was written well, but I simply could not connect with Emily or understand her choices. For example (SPOILER ALERT!) Emily sees—with her own two eyes—that her fiancé is cheating. Then he kisses her, and she convinces herself that what she saw must not be real and continues planning the wedding. I could understand a weaker woman just going with it. But Emily? The woman is having a black seamstress make her wedding dress on the sly! She's not a weakling, so her actions (or really non-action) toward her fiancé just don't ring true.

In the end, though, Emily's story is satisfying enough—and the way Hauck weaves Emily's story into Charlotte's is pretty masterful. Despite my qualms about Emily, I really did enjoy reading the book, and I definitely recommend it! 4-1/2 out of 5 stars.

Click here to see what other bloggers are saying, and you can buy the book here.

About the author: Rachel Hauck is the bestselling author of Carol Award winner Sweet Caroline, RITA Finalist Love Starts With Elle, and of the critically acclaimed fiction collaboration with multi-platinum country artist Sara Evans, The Songbird Novels. She lives in sunny, though sometimes hurricane plagued, central Florida with her husband and their ornery pets.

Rachel earned a degree in Journalism form Ohio State University and is a huge Buckeyes football fan. She is the past President of American Christian Fiction Writers and now sits on the board as an Advisor. Visit her web site at to read her blog and to follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

About the giveaway: 
What is "true" beauty? Join the conversation at Rachel's Author Chat Party Event Page. On the eventing of 4/19 we'll gather to talk about inner and outer beauty and share moments of beauty in our lives.

In the meantime, celebrate with Rachel by entering her True Beauty Giveaway!

One "beautiful" winner will receive:
  • A $200 Visa Cash Card (Treat yourself to a spa day or weekend get-away!)
  • The Wedding Dress (by Rachel Hauck)
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends 4/18/12. Winner will be announced at Rachel's "True Beuaty" Author Chat Facebook Party on 4/19. Rachel will be hosting an evening of beauty (inner/outer) 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 Rachel via Skype.)

So grab a few of your friends and your copy of The Wedding Dress and join Rachel on the evening of April 19th 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 19th!

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, April 9, 2012

"the night she disappeared" by april henry

About the book (from the back cover): Gabie drives a Mini Cooper. She also delivers pizzas part time. One night Kayla, another delivery girl at Pete's Pizza, goes out with an order and never comes back. To Gabie's horror, she learns that the man who called in the fake pizza order had asked if the girl in the Mini Cooper was working that night. Was Kayla's fate really meant for Gabie? Obsessed with finding Kayla, Gabie teams up with Drew, who also works at Pete's. Together they set out to prove that Kayla isn't dead—and to find her before she is.

My take: The Night She Disappeared is incredibly engaging and suspenseful. I picked it up on a day off work and didn't put it down until I finished it a few hours later. April Henry does a great job of slowly building the suspense until the climax, and I could definitely see this as a movie (Lifetime, are you listening?).

Written in first person from the perspectives of all four main characters (Gabie, Drew, Kayla, and the abductor), the book sucks you into each person's thoughts. The only place the narrative falters is when Henry goes into third person to give information the main characters wouldn't have. Those passages just don't have the same impact as the ones written in first person. Also, a few threads aren't wrapped up to my liking (a clearly-faking "psychic" and borderline abusive cop never get their comeuppance), but it doesn't really detract from the story—I just wondered what would happen to them.

I expect teens—as well as adults—will greatly enjoy this book. I know I did! 4 stars.

Note: This book contains a few mild curse words, teen alcohol use, and a few discussions about drug use.

About the author: April Henry is the author of many acclaimed mysteries for adults and young adults, including Girl, Stolen, a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adult book and a YALSA Quick Pick. She also co-wrote the New York Times bestseller Face of Betrayal with Lis Wiehl. She lives in Oregon. For more information, visit

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

Saturday, April 7, 2012

goals for 2012: march update

"Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act." Psalm 37:5

No, that verse doesn't really have anything to do with this post. But when I read it this morning, God used it to speak to my heart, so I wanted to share it!

In the month of March, I feel like I just kind of ... maintained. Made some strides in some areas, slipped back in others. It definitely was a better month goal wise than February, but not as good as January.
  1. Read through the Bible. Well, I'm still "on track"—meaning I still have two months of catch-up days I can use! I pretty much maintained in March—I definitely didn't read every day, but I did read more than in February. So far, April is going better!
  2. Exercise four times per week. The Ja-La-Sta Walking Challenge ran through March 31, and I averaged 5,406 steps per day in March. I stopped marking my exercise time on my calendar a long time ago, but I think I exercised about four times per week. Here's to an even stronger April!
  3. Lose 30 pounds. My diet went really well for the first three weeks. Then I went on a trip. Then I went on another trip. I've found that it's virtually impossible to follow this diet while traveling ... or else I just don't have the willpower to make it happen! Still, I'm down four pounds, so just six to go until I can start watching Monarch of the Glen :-) Also, I can tell that my clothes are fitting better!
  4. Travel somewhere new. It depends how technical we want to get here. For Blendy's birthday, we went to Wichita, a city I've visited many, many times. But the purpose of our trip was to visit the Warren's balcony theater, a place we'd never been. Still, I want to travel to a completely new city or state this year ... right now, I'm thinking maybe Wisconsin or Arizona. (I don't know why, and I'm still open to suggestions!)
  5. Complete one crafting project a month. I failed. Completely. The end of the month just snuck up on me, and I didn't even get one picked out, let alone completed! Maybe I'll double up in April ...
  6. Learn to say "no." Yes! About a week ago, I had the following conversation with our Activities Director:
    AD: Do you have a minute? I need to ask you something.
    Me: Does this have to do with coaching drama? 'Cause the answer is no.
    AD: Good meeting! 
    In the end, we talked a bit more, and I agreed to help with drama—but I made it very clear that I would not be the coach!
My goals have definitely suffered a bit in the last two months. How are yours? Are you still going strong? Have you given up? Or, like me, are you just maintaining?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Thursday, April 5, 2012

"by the light of the silvery moon" by tricia goyer

About the book: Passage on the Titanic offers Amelia Gladstone a chance for a new life in America. Mr. Chapman, a man she has been corresponding with, paid for her ticket, and Amelia hopes that when they finally meet, he will be everything she has been looking for in a man.

Amelia didn't count on meeting Quentin Walpole, though. Quentin, a man who fell from grace to live on the streets, is stunned when Amelia offers him a ticket. He finds himself drawn to her, yet he knows he is unworthy of her love.

When Amelia discovers Quentin's father and brother also sail the Titanic, she wonders if perhaps God led her to Quentin in order to reunite him with his family. Things become complicated, however, when both brothers pursue her. Should she give her heart to one of them, or should she begin a relationship with Mr. Chapman?

My take:
 By the Light of the Silvery Moon is basically the parable of the prodigal son, set on the Titanic. And that's a good thing! In the past, I have always sympathized with the older brother—because, let's face it, I do have "older brother" tendencies—but when viewed through Tricia Goyer's eyes, I could understand the younger brother much better.

I loved this story. Once I picked up the book, I could barely put it down. The characters jumped off the pages, and the Titanic itself came to life in my mind's eye. So far this year, I've read a lot of books that I've greatly enjoyed, but this has to be one of my favorites. 5 out of 5 stars!

You can buy the book here or see what others are saying about it here.

Video Trailer:

About the author: 
Tricia Goyer is the award winning author of thirty-two books including Beside Still Waters, Remembering You, and the mommy memoir, Blue Like Play Dough. Tricia is a regular speaker at conventions and conferences and is the host of Living Inspired. She and her family make their home in Little Rock, Arkansas, where they are part of the ministry of FamilyLife.

More info: Living Inspired ( and

About the giveaway: Win an Flip HD Camcorder during @TriciaGoyer's Unsinkable Titanic Giveaway and RSVP for 4/10 Titanic Party!
Celebrate the release of By the Light of the Silvery Moon with Tricia by entering her giveaway and RSVPing to her Titanic party.

One "unsinkable" winner will receive:
  • Flip HD video Camera (Make your own dramatic saga!)
  • Titanic movies from the ages {Titanic (1953) Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), Titanic (1997)}
  • Secrets of the Titanic (Get the facts from National Geographic.)
  • And the Band Played On (Music Played on the Titanic.)
  • By the Light of the Silvery Moon by Tricia Goyer (Be swept away in this tale of love and courage.)
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on April 9th. Winner will be announced at "Silvery Moon" Titanic Facebook Party on 4/10. Tricia will be hosting an author chat (on Facebook and Live from her website) and giving away books, gift certificates and a book club prize pack! (Ten copies of the book for your small group or book club). During the live chat Tricia will have a *special guest* join her. More details coming soon!

So grab your copy of By the Light of the Silvery Moon and join Tricia on the evening of the April 10th for a fun chat, trivia contest (How much do you know about the Titanic?) and lots of giveaways. 

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 10th!

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."  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"in too deep" by mary connealy

About the book: When young widow Audra Gilliland fears she and her two young children are a burden to her newly-married step-daughter Julia, she contemplates moving back east, but her new son-in-law Rafe Kincaid will hear nothing of it. Instead, he proposes marriage ... to his younger brother, Ethan.

Ethan isn't sure he wants a wife, and Audra certainly has a mind of her own, but he also longs to protect her and her babies. When evil men seeking a treasure Audra's first husband stole show up at the Kincaid ranch, Ethan realizes he will have to face some of his deepest fears if he wants to keep his new family safe.

My take: In Too Deep is the first book I've read by Nebraska (!) author Mary Connealy, but it certainly won't be the last. (In fact, The Husband Tree has been sitting on my "to be read" shelf for months now—someday I'll find the time to actually pick it up.) While I enjoyed the book, I had two fairly sizable problems with it—one was completely my own doing, and the other, well, was something I just didn't enjoy about the plot.
  1. If you want to make sense of this book, you must read book one, Out of Control, first! I didn't, and when the action jumped right in with Ethan and Audra frantically searching a cave for his brother and her daughter, I was completely lost. It took most of the book before I felt like I truly understood all of the story's background. So take my advice here—read Out of Control, and then read In Too Deep!
  2. I am a huge fan of marriage of convenience plotlines. But this particular marriage of convenience story was just a bit to ... convenient! One of the reasons I read romance is because I love the tension between the hero and heroine—the witty banter, the lead-up to the first kiss, the gradual falling in love. It's possible that some of this tension was present in Out of Control, but it certainly wasn't there in In too Deep. Ethan and Audra married at the beginning of the book, started kissing immediately (even though neither one wanted to be married), and then continued kissing practically any time they were alone. I felt cheated out of the build-up of their relationship because it happened so quickly.
Although I had my issues with the book, I still liked it quite a bit. It ends abruptly with multiple loose threads, and I eagerly anticipate the next book, which will tell Ethan's brother Seth's love story ... and hopefully wrap some things up! I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Update 4-8-12: For a limited time, Out of Control, book one in the Kincaid Brides, is available as a free e-book from Amazon. Since you'll want to read it before you read In Too Deep, you should get it here.
In Too Deep

About the author: Mary Connealy writes fun and lively "romantic comedy with cowboys" for the inspirational market. She is the author of the successful Lassoed in Texas, Montana Marriages, and Sophie's Daughters series, and her novel Calico Canyon was nominated for a Christy Award. She lives on a ranch in eastern Nebraska with her husband, Ivan, and has four grown daughters.

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."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

blendy's birthday bash

You only turn 21 once.

To celebrate her 21st birthday, Blendy and I spent a fabulous weekend in Wichita. This was supposed to be a surprise, but she guessed it months ago when I said, "You'll never guess what I have planned for your birthday!" She proved me wrong with the very next words out of her mouth: "You're taking me to the Warren to the balcony theater."

I hate when my sisters guess their gifts! I suppose I could have changed it to something else, but I was anticipating it as much as she was, so I just went with it.

Due to our crazy schedules (work and speech), we couldn't actually go for her birthday, so we went a month later. And it was the perfect weekend to travel—temps in the 80's the entire time!

We left on Saturday morning and arrived in Wichita around 3. Our first stop? Chick-fil-A, of course!
Forgot to take the camera or phone inside the restaurant ... and apparently we don't know how to turn our cups to show the Chick-fil-A logo, either. You'll just have to take my word for it that we stopped there!
Then we checked into our hotel—The Hampton Inn & Suites on Greenwich. Nice hotel. It was also the site of a wedding reception on Saturday, and when we arrived, several guests were well on their way to getting wasted. Fortunately, we had our own plans on Saturday night, so they didn't bother us at all!

We met up with cousins Jon & Lauren for shopping, a movie, dinner, and drinks. (Never fear, Mom—Blendy and I drank Diet Coke!) It had been a long time since we'd spent any real time with them, so it was nice that they wanted to come hang out with us!
We saw Mirror Mirror at the Warren ... it had a decidedly Ella Enchanted vibe to it,
thus ensuring cousin Jon's enjoyment!
We had supper at Il Vicino Wood-Oven Pizza. It was excellent pizza. And the cannoli? To die for! 
We went back to Oscar's Lounge at the Warren to hang out a bit longer. The paintings on the wall are of movie stars, and there's one that I swear looks like Chris Harrison ... I didn't snap a picture, but if you follow this link and scroll to the last picture, the painting of "Chris" is on the left. If you know who it's really supposed to be, please tell me!
On Sunday, we got down to business—the business we went to Wichita for—we saw The Hunger Games in the Warren's balcony theater! Ever since we started going to the Warren several years ago (I think Pride & Prejudice is the first movie we saw there, so it's been a while), Blendy has wanted to go to the balcony theater. Since you have to be 21 to get in, we had to wait. Until now.
Trying to decide what to order. She ended up with a pizza; I got a grilled chicken sandwich.
I think it was everything Blendy was hoping it would be—huge screen, food & drink service at your seat, and a great view. However, she didn't get carded, which I think was slightly disappointing!

Then, we went shopping at Bradley Fair. Following a fair amount of window shopping, we ended up at Cocoa Dolce, a local chocolate shop, where we each purchased three $2 chocolates. They were really good, but I'm not sure I'd pay $2 for a tiny chocolate again!
Left to right: Sinful Mint, Lemon, and Mocha.
Then we made my favorite food stop of the weekend—Marble Slab Creamery, where I got a scoop of lemon frozen yogurt. It tasted exactly like the lemon ice cream my grandma used to buy me at Braum's. Speaking of Braum's, why on earth didn't we stop there on the way home?
Given a choice between lemon and chocolate, I'd choose lemon nine times out of ten.
Why isn't there more lemon ice cream in this world?
Next, we started the serious shopping—Barnes & Noble, World Market, and Target ... with another movie thrown in for good measure! After spending more money than either of us intended, we headed back to the hotel to relax and snack on the insane amount of food we bought at Target. (If you're wondering, I took a complete break from my diet over the weekend. As if you hadn't gathered that already!)
Time for snacks, Battleground, and toenail painting!
On Monday, we slept in, hit Chick-fil-A once more, and headed home. We stopped at the visitor's center in Belleville (the last town before the Nebraska border), where I picked up some Jayhawk earrings to match the ones Blendy bought on our way down. I had high hopes for the championship game ...

All in all, it was a fabulous weekend ... and I'm pretty sure Blendy will always remember how she celebrated her 21st birthday!