Friday, December 2, 2011

Review: Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin

Yikes! I'm afraid I've been somewhat remiss in posting reviews lately. I fear things won't get less busy until after Christmas, so this may be my last post of the year. If it is, be assured that I'll be back next year with plenty more reviews! ;) And now, on to Wonderland Creek....

My rating: 4 stars
When book-lover Alice Ripley was let go from her library job, she never would've guessed she was about to be pulled into an adventure of novel proportions!

Up to this point Alice has lead a safe but mostly boring life, keeping her nose in a book most of the time. When her boyfriend dumps her and she loses her job, Alice feels a need to get away and ponder the direction of her life. Hitching a ride with her Aunt and Uncle, they drop her off in the little mountain town of Acorn, Kentucky, with a promise to return for her in two weeks.

Alice has been corresponding with the librarian in Acorn; after hearing of the mountain people's desperate need for books Alice started a book-drive and has collected 5 boxes full. This roadtrip offers her the chance to deliver the books in person, and while she's there she plans to volunteer at the library for the two weeks until her Aunt and Uncle return for her. There's no time to write and ask if this is okay, but Alice assumes it will be. After all, Alice is bringing 5 boxes of donated books; she will be openly welcomed, right? Amusingly, Alice is shocked to find things in Kentucky are not at all what she expected, and that's where this story really takes off.

Wonderland Creek was really a unique read for me, the story isn't like anything I've read before. The amount of things packed into this story is amazing: mystery, intrigue, attempted shootings, faked deaths, a 60 year old feud between two mountain clans, romance, packhorse librarians!, and the list goes on and on, but if I said anything else it would be too spoiler-ish.

Initially I had a smidge of trouble really latching on to the story, but eventually I got sucked in and really wanted to see what would happen next, and how things would end up. This is definitely a unique and well-done story, and you know, I think it has something for just about everyone! Check it out, I think you'll be happy!

One more thing I want to say:
Back cover art of Wonderland Creek.
The cover art on this book is simply gorgeous! Sometimes I'd just stare at it before I started reading, and I could just about imagine walking down that dirt road with the dreamy clouds hanging above. The back is just as stunning, showing Alice on a white horse (Belle), again done in that sort of dreamy coloring. Absolutely marvelous!

My rating: 4 stars 

(I received this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, a positive review was not required.)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review: Lilies in Moonlight by Allison Pittman

My rating: 4.5 stars!
It's the 1920's, and Lily Margolis is what people call "that kind of girl." With her bobbed hair and forward ways, she fits the term "flapper" to a tee. Translation for us in the 21st century: She's a major flirt and party crasher. ;) 

It's Lily's forward and modern ways that land her in the Burnside's flowerbed with a hangover and a sprained ankle. Cullen Burnside disapproves and wants nothing to do with Lily, but his dementia-afflicted mother, Betty Ruth, takes an immediate liking to the modern girl and wants Lily to stay on until her ankle heals. Cullen goes along with the idea since Lily is an amusing distraction for the confused Betty Ruth, temporary though it may be. Cullen is all too aware, and painfully so, of how temporary and fragile Betty Ruth's mind and memories are.

Lilies in Moonlight is really a unique and surprising story. Initially I had trouble getting pulled in as Lily's flirtatious attitude didn't amuse me at all; however after several chapters the plot really got going and I suddenly found myself quite hooked!

At times it reminded me ever so slightly of Beauty and the Beast... Cullen's scarred face and the way people look (or don't look) at him is heart-breaking, you just can't help but feel sorry for him. Then there's his mother: she can't see his scars through her clouded mind, doesn't even realize he went to war. Though Cullen is 30 years old and is running his late fathers giant corporation, his mother still sees him as a young boy, late to school or perhaps with homework that needs finishing.

Lily doesn't let the scars affect the way she sees Cullen, but she's just a temporary guest, soon to be gone; it's what the circumstances demand. If Cullen didn't want her to leave, it wouldn't matter, and even if Lily herself didn't want to leave, it still wouldn't matter. It's not up to either one of them...

This is really a gorgeous and complex story; there's so much more to it than what I've written, but I don't want to give too much away. I highly recommend Lilies in Moonlight, I very much enjoyed it and was sorry to see it end. This one is a keeper! It's the first book by Allison Pittman that I've read, and now I'm definitely interested in finding out what other books she has available.
So, bottom line: Lilies in Moonlight, check it out, you won't be sorry! 

My rating: 4.5 stars! 
(I received this book courtesy of Waterbrook Multonomah Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, a positive review was not required.) 

If you're interested in the book, here is an excerpt from chapter one:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Review: The Doctor's Lady by Jody Hedlund

My rating: 4 stars!
Priscilla has felt the call to mission work for years, and the pull was only strengthened when she learned of her infertility. Determined to never marry because of her disgraceful state, she applies to the Missions Board to fulfill her missions call with work overseas in India.

She learns of the board's rejection to her application just as Eli Ernest comes into town seeking support for his start-up mission in Oregon territory, ministering to the Nez Perce tribe. But the board has denied Eli’s application as well. The reason for both denials: Unmarried missionaries are no longer being sent out.

Both yearning to fulfill God’s call to the mission field, Eli and Priscilla enter into a marriage of convenience and in name only. The mission board readily accepts them, and they set off on the treacherous 7 month journey to Oregon territory to start up the mission. It’s an unheard of trip for a lady, and if they succeed Priscilla will become the first white woman to ever cross the continental divide.

Covered Wagons were used for part of the journey.


The Doctor’s Lady is an entertaining and thoughtful look at traveling across the country in the early 19th century. It’s much more than just the average historical fiction, it really pulled me in and brought the experience to life.

Upon reaching the end of the book and reading the author’s note, I was surprised to learn that this book was actually inspired by the lives of real-life Narcissa and Marcus Whitman. Some of the basic outline for the story is taken from Narcissa’s personal diaries; learning this brought the story to life even more for me. The things these people endured to fulfill God’s call are truly inspiring.

I very much recommend The Doctor’s Lady, especially to fans of historical fiction. It’s a wonderful glimpse into the life and hardship that people endured, and a great example of never giving up your dreams or calling, no matter what the circumstances may be.

My rating: 4 stars
(I received this book courtesy of Bethany House in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, a positive review was not required.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Review: Shadows on the Sand by Gayle Roper

At the age of 16, Carrie Carter ran from an abusive home, taking her little sister Lindsay with her. Though underage, Carrie managed to provide for them both by working at a seaside cafe, which 17 years later she is now leasing from the owner. Though neither sister has heard from or spoken to their mother since they ran, Carrie still struggles to forgive and forget her tormented past.

Despite her distrust of men, Carrie can't stop her heart from doing the "Snoopy dance" every time she sees Greg Barnes walk into the cafe. But Greg lives in an emotional shell, having lost his family 3 years ago in a horrific tragedy. Carrie's crush may be evident to everyone around her, but Greg barely even notices her.

Carrie and Greg are about to find themselves drawn together by a multilayered mystery... but the past has a way of catching up with you. Can they overcome the baggage of their painful pasts and figure out the mystery before things spin out of control?

Snoopy's Happy Dance
My thoughts: 
I enjoyed Shadows on the Sand. While I can't relate to Carrie's past, she's written in a way that still allowed me to sympathize with her. The description of her heart doing the "Snoopy Dance" made me smile every time, I could picture Snoopy exactly! The regulars in the cafe are entertaining and always keep things hopping, and the supporting characters' obsessions with social networking was humorous. I'm not usually a fan of stories that spend time from the villains point of view, which is common in mysteries, so I was very glad it was kept to a minimum of just a page here and there.

I really liked how Carrie's point of view was written in first person, and everyone else was written in third-person. I very much enjoy first person writing, but it usually only allows a book to have one persons point of view. Switching back and forth was interesting and allowed the best of both worlds. I'd like to see this done more often in books.

While I did like the author's previous book (Fatal Deduction) better, Shadows on the Sand was still an enjoyable read and one that I would recommend. Gayle Roper has a voice that's just a bit different from the average author, her books aren't just "one of the crowd". If you're looking for a mystery with a bit of romance (and twitter!) thrown in, check this one out.

My rating: 4 stars
(I received this book courtesy of Waterbrook Multonomah Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, a positive review was not required.)
If you're interested in the book, here is an excerpt from chapter one:

Friday, September 16, 2011

Review: A Most Unsuitable Match by Stephanie Grace Whitson

After the deaths of her father and mother, 18 year-old Fannie is left with a floundering company, dwindling finances, and a large deteriorating house. The family's estate manager insists that Fannie's only option is to marry wealthy, and to marry fast, before her true financial state is fully revealed. Fannie is vehemently against the suitor that is offered as an option, so when she finds evidence of her mother's sister living in Montana, she spontaneously jumps at the chance to travel across the country in search of the aunt she never knew existed. Why did her mother never mention her sister? Why did no one ever tell Fannie she had another living relative?

Travel in the late 19th century was very different from today, and excruciatingly slow. It takes Fannie over two months to reach her destination, and she encounters many ups and downs along the way. Through a series of unforeseen circumstances she finds herself traveling with two men she met along the way, one of which is Samuel Beck, who is searching for his sister. 

A Most Unsuitable Match was rather different from the normal Christian Historical Fiction book. The way of traveling cross country on the "Old Misery" river was unique and something I'd never read about before... it's amazing to think about what people used to have to endure to travel cross country. I liked Fannie as a main character, she is certainly spontaneous in some of her decisions, and that made for some unpredictable plot turns! I was a bit disappointed though, towards the end of the book things seemed to slow down and start to drag on a bit. I can't put my finger on exactly what it was, but one thing that bugged me was how Fanny and her love-interest were both so extremely stubborn in how they continually tried to be so self-sacrificing... it got just a smidge annoying. I realize this turn in a story is fairly normal, to a certain degree anyway, but it seemed a bit excessive here.

Overall, I did enjoy the story, although I find that I'm not sad to be moving on to something else. The story was definitely unique and not the normal run-of-the-mill historical. My slight irritations were certainly not big enough to stop me from recommending it. If you generally like historical fictions then it's a good bet you'll like A Most Unsuitable Match. I enjoyed it for the most part, and I'm sure I'll read more of the author's works in the future.

I received this book compliments of Bethany House in exchange for my honest opinion, which is what I have given in this review.

My rating: 3.5 stars

If you are interested, here is a sample of A Most Unsuitable Match from scrib.com, it's the first couple chapters of the book.
A Most Unsuitable Match

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Review: Fatal Deduction by Gayle Roper

(I read Fatal Deduction late last year and reviewed it at Amazon, that was before I started this blog. Anyway, the story-line and details still stick with me, and I just enjoyed it sooo much! So I've decided to post my review here as well, because it's just such an awesome book. If you haven't read it, you should definitely check it out!)

I started reading this book thinking that it would be just an average mystery, but boy was I wrong! This book is so much more than that, and I ended up loving it!

When Libby's wealthy aunt dies, her will stipulates that Libby and her estranged twin sister Tori should live together in their aunt's house for 6 months before they can receive their inheritance. They both agree, though Libby knows it won't be an easy 6 months as Tori is often critical of Libby's life and always has ulterior motives for everything she does. When a dead body shows up on their doorstep the first morning of their 6-month stay, along with a crossword puzzle, Libby starts to worry about who or what her sister has gotten involved with....

I loved the sweet blossoming friendship/romance between Libby and Drew, they are both so likable you just can't help but root for them! They both have baggage and pain from the past that rears it's ugly head in different ways, but it's encouraging to see how they handle it and encourage each other. Tori tries many times to come between Libby and her daughter, Chloe, basically trying to buy Chloe's affection with toys and gadgets, but Chloe has a good head on her shoulders and it was nice to see that at her impressionable age of 13 she could sort of see through what Tori was trying to do.

Fatal Deduction has just about everything: ex-cons, family dynamics, friendship, romance, mystery, crossword puzzles, and even some action and a big twist at the end! I very highly recommend this book!

My rating: 5 stars!!!

If you have a kindle, you can download the first chapter of Fatal Deduction for free at Amazon.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Review: Piece de Resistance by Sandra Byrd

Well, we've come to the end of my reviews on the French Twist series by Sandra Byrd. I've finished Piece de Resistance, the third and last book, and here is my review of it:

Lexi is back in Seattle after spending the last 6 months in Paris at a prestigious French baking school. She's got her chef's diploma in hand, and a job at a brand new French-style bakery all lined up. Lexi Stuart, assistant manager at Bijoux bakery--uh, wait, assistant manager? That's not quite what Lexi had in mind...

After a miscommunication of sorts, Lexi finds herself not only the head-chef, but also the assistant manager at the brand new Bijoux (translation from French: Jewel) bakery. Now she's suddenly in the position of having to manage the books, drum up business for the struggling bakery, and also manage employees; all of which are tasks that take Lexi far out of her comfort zone. All she ever wanted to do was bake tasty and elegantly decorated French goodies, but that's only a slice of what she finds herself doing.

I enjoyed watching Lexi basically start-up the new bakery, the ups and downs of having to drum up business, find potential clients, and the worries of not turning a profit. The whole bakery atmosphere is really different and fun. Throughout the book Lexi has two romantic interests, but towards the middle and end of the book things on this topic started to not sit quite right with me. For some reason I couldn't really see her with either guy, but in the end I felt like she ended up with the guy I could least imagine her with. I just didn't really see the attraction, although Lexi was obviously happy with how things ended up, so I tried to just go with it... somehow it just seemed a bit off to me, but thankfully it didn't dampen the story *too much*.

Piece de Resistance is the third and last book in the French Twist series. Lexi has come quite a long way from where she was in the first book, and it was certainly an interesting journey to watch where life took her and to see her grow throughout the series. I don't really share her love of all things French, although that never really mattered...her love of French things makes her a unique character, and it definitely allows the storyline to go places the average chick-lit novel does not (Paris!).

If you're looking for a fun and light chick-lit series, I would say the French Twist trilogy is one worth looking into. I enjoyed it for the most part, and the French and Paris themes definitely add a unique flavor.

My rating: 4 stars

Please rank my review! You'll be entered to win a free copy of this book, (courtesy of Waterbrook/Multunomah and their Blogging For Books program)!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Review: Bon Appetit by Sandra Byrd

My reviews on Sandra Byrd's "French Twist" trilogy continue! Here's my take on Bon Appetit, the second book in the French Twist series.

Lexi Stuart has just arrived in France to take advantage of an incredible opportunity to live and study baking in the country of her dreams. She's enrolled in a 4 month program at a French baking school, completely paid for by her employer. In addition she'll also be working at two of the local village bakeries to earn her keep and to further her knowledge of all things French, food, and baking related.

Left behind in Seattle are Lexi's family, friends, and possible boyfriend Dan...although it was too early to tell, Lexi still wonders what might have been. But to actually be living in France, learning and baking scrumptious breads, cakes, and treats...it's a dream come true that she wouldn't trade for anything! After a couple weeks the realization sets in of just how alone she is, truly without friends in a foreign land. In a country of extremely private people where it's taboo to talk of faith and beliefs, Lexi once again starts to nourish her budding relationship with God that she had slowing been building back in Seattle.  

I was pleasantly surprised to find this story quite a bit more enjoyable than the first book in the series. Lexi has "grown up" some since the first book, and she is more likeable because of it. The setting of France is very unique, and the French customs and culture make the story quite different (in a good way!) from the average chick-lit novel. 

Going to a foreign country to study baking (or anything, really) is something I cannot even begin to picture myself doing. I especially can't imagine doing so completely on my own, leaving everyone I know behind....Yet that's exactly what Lexi did. The fact that I can't ever see myself doing something like this actually added to my enjoyment and appreciation of the story. I doubt I'll ever do something so drastic, but thanks to Lexi (or should I say, thanks to the author!) I got a taste of what it would be like, without ever having to leave my home-state! 

I really enjoyed reading about something so totally different from my everyday life, yet it wasn't historical or fantasy... the setting of France makes it realistic--just very far removed from my own reality. I really enjoyed it. Bon Appetit was a unique and enjoyable read, and I'm looking forward to seeing what turns Lexi's life takes in the third book, Piece de Resistance.

My rating: 4.5 stars 

If you have a kindle you can download the first chapter of Bon Appetit for free at Amazon.
 
Please rank my review! You'll be entered to win a free copy of this book (courtesy of Waterbrook/Multunomah and their Blogging For Books program)!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Review: Let Them Eat Cake by Sandra Byrd

Here's my review for Let Them Eat Cake, the first book in Sandra Byrd's "French Twist" series.

Lexi's life is stalled...everyone around her seems to be moving forward, while Lexi is actually backpedaling. Her college degree in French language and culture doesn't offer many job opportunities, and the jobs she has had (notice the past tense) are dull and boring, not to mention the fact that she's been let go from most of them. So at 24, she's trying to get back on her feet and has moved back in with her parents, but obviously that can't last forever: they're moving to a 55+ community in less than 6 months, so that's the amount of time Lexi has to (1. find a job, and (2. find an affordable place to live. Oh, and if she happens to find a guy somewhere in there, well that wouldn't be unwelcome either!

Lexi's love of all things French makes for a light and fun read, and while it does touch on some tough issues, it's done well and very appropriately. Although I don't share Lexi's fascination with the French culture, I did enjoy the story and following her through the book. Her experiences at the bakery were interesting, and I enjoyed seeing the friendship develop with her piercing-filled co-worker, Sophie. Lexi's yearning and attempts to get back in a relationship with God are very authentic, and I found it thought provoking when she realized that if she wanted a relationship with God she needed to actually pursue it, as at her age no one is "driving her to church" anymore.

Lexi ends up having two romantic interests, and I was rather surprised and at the same time pleased with how things ended up. At first it seemed fairly predictable and I thought for sure she was going to go one way, but I just wasn't content with it, I kept thinking, "No, no, no!". But there was an unexpected twist that I definitely didn't see coming, and it caused things to completely turn around, much to my satisfaction! I don't want to give any spoilers though, so that's all I'm going to say on that particular subject. ;)

I love when I find books that have characters in their early to mid twenties, as it seems they are few and far between. Most chick-lit books seem to be about girls in their late twenties, and to me it seems that characters who are a few years younger have a slightly different perspective on life that is a fun change. Of course maybe the reason I like them is that I'm right in that age range...whatever the case, when I started reading I was happy to find that Lexi is 24. :)

In closing, I enjoyed Let Them Eat Cake as a fun and light read. The ending leaves the story wide open for new and exciting things, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens in the next two books in the series. 

My rating: 4 stars

If you have a kindle you can download the first chapter of Let Them Eat Cake for free at Amazon. I don't have an e-reader yet, but I'm definitely pondering getting one! 
 
Please rank my review! You'll be entered to win a free copy of this book (courtesy of Waterbrook/Multunomah and their Blogging For Books program)!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: God's Handmaiden by Gilbert Morris

Okay, it's confession time. Apparently I am not a natural blogger, because I just found this book review in my "draft" area, dated 6-14. Oops! I discovered that I never published the post after I wrote it up. Uh....yeah. Well, anyway, here is my review of God's Handmaiden by Gilbert Morris....it's just a few (several) weeks late. ;)

After her mother dies, 15 year old Gervase is sent to live with her Aunt and Uncle who are servants at a large English house for the Wingate family. There she takes a position helping her aunt in the kitchen, and eventually moves up to higher positions in the household. After a couple years a situation arises that causes her to want a change in life, so she answers an employment ad that seeks a maid and companion for Miss Florence Nightingale. (Yes, THE Florence Nightingale!) Under Miss Nightingale, Gervase ends up acquiring nursing skills and works right alongside Florence in treating soldiers wounded in the Crimean War. After the war, Gervase's skills are needed when someone from her past needs care, forcing her to face the Wingate family and the life she ran from years before. I could easily go further with a summary because there is so much more that happens, but I'll stop here as I don't want to reveal any more....

Gervase is a very likeable character, and her attachment to her cat, Mr. Bob, endeared her to me even more as it's something I can completely identify with. Human-animal bonds aren't featured enough in most fiction, so I really appreciated Gervase's attachment to Mr. Bob. I was also really drawn to the character of Davis Wingate, I immediately liked him. He was so sweet to Gervase from the moment she arrived at the house, even though she was only a servant. His character seemed so real and was portrayed so excellently that I was actually saddened as he went through difficulties in his life.

Gilbert Morris really has a knack for writing for female characters; the emotions and thoughts that Gervase has are completely genuine. If I didn't know better, I'd say Gervase's character had been written by a female, she is that authentic! Being a female, I can't judge the male characters quite as well, however they too seemed very authentic. (Most of the books I read have female authors, but somehow I always feel that male characters are more authentic when written by a man.) It's not very common to find an author that can write with such authenticity for BOTH genders, but Gilbert Morris definitely has an excellent and impressive handle on both.

I very much enjoyed God's Handmaiden, and I was sorry when I finished it and had to move on to a different book. I completely recommend it; it's truly an excellent story. Check it out, you won't be sorry!

My Rating: 5 stars

If you have a kindle you can download the first chapter of God's Handmaiden for free at Amazon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review: A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson

After Countess Anna and her wealthy family lose their whole fortune and are forced to flee their home country of Russia, Anna takes a job as a lowly maid at a large English manor. Although she has previously only known a life of luxury, she is not unwilling to work--even in a servant position. Anna knows nothing about housekeeping or the duties of a maid, but by continuously referencing an outdated book of servant etiquette and household tips (much to the amusement and occasional annoyance of the rest of the staff "below stairs"), she is actually able to excel at performing the duties of a maid. But hiding her privileged upbringing which resulted in high-quality manners, graceful movements, and countess-like poise proves to be not quite as easy... 

Since Anna and her family come from Russia (and they are fluent in something like 3 or 4 different languages), there's quite a few non-English words and terms that are used, which honestly makes things rather difficult. A sentence will be rolling along, and suddenly there will be a non-English word (mostly Russian, I guess?) used, and I was left wondering what the word meant, and what was trying to be conveyed. Eventually I got used to this and just sped right over the foreign words, but of course that sometimes ends up leaving certain descriptions and ideas a bit lacking.

Maybe the style is just too high-brow for me, but overall I really felt the book was a bit too "wordy". Many of the sentences and descriptions were so long and complex that by the time I got to the end, I ended up having to skim the whole sentence again to nail down the exact idea being presented. I suppose it's possible part of this was due to the foreign culture and time period...but on the other hand I often read books set in historic England, and I haven't encountered something quite like this before. The wordy-ness is probably just the author's style, and unfortunately it didn't quite "click" with me. 

The description on the back cover really makes this sound like a great story... but somehow the impression I got from the description, and the reality of what the book is actually like, are two quite different things. I imagined the story would be told completely (or at least mostly) from Anna's point of view, but as it turns out the point of view shifts between countless characters. Anna, Rupert (the earl), his mother, his finance, the fiancĂ©'s weird Dr. friend, several different friends of the earl's family, and on top of all that multiple servants as well. I guess it flows fairly well, sometimes just a couple paragraphs from one person's point of view, and sometimes several pages before it switches to someone else. So while this wasn't what I expected, I guess it wasn't really a problem except for the times when I had trouble keeping track of who certain characters were, which happened a few times.

Overall the story wasn't bad, but the wordy writing style just didn't allow me to totally enjoy it. I wanted to see where the story went so I didn't seriously think about not finishing....but let's just say I'm happy to be done and to have moved on to a different book. I really would have liked to see more of the story told from Anna's point of view though, I think that could have improved things quite a bit. Judging by other reviews I've read, it seems I'm in the minority with my less-than-5-star opinion, so I'm not going to recommend for or against A Countess Below Stairs. I'll leave the decision up to you. 

My rating: 3 stars

For those who are interested, here's a brief content advisory:
There's not much to be worried about here. A few minor innuendos, a couple of d-mn words, and God's name is misused a handful of times. A couple of the side characters are interested in eugenics, which is basically selective breeding for humans, trying to cut out bad bloodlines with the proposed result of more beautiful, flawless, and intelligent people. I'm always a bit uncomfortable when such emphasis is placed on outward appearances...it's so judgmental, potentially mean, and obviously un-biblical. But anyway, those are the only content issues I can remember that you might want to be aware of beforehand.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review: Double Shot by Erynn Mangum

I've finished Erynn Mangum's Maya Davis trilogy. I totally loved it, although I'm bummed out that I've finished it... I've already got my mother reading the series; I raved over it so much that she wanted to check it out for herself! ;) Here's my review for the third (and last) book, Double Shot.

Maya's roommate Jen has just gotten married, and that in turn has forced the now roommate-less Maya to move into a smaller apartment for financial reasons. Change is not something that Maya handles well, and changing apartments is about to become the least of her concerns!

Maya is engaged to her long-time best friend Jack; their wedding is 3 months away and counting. It's a short engagement so they're cutting it close to get all the plans settled, and on top of that there's so many details Maya never imagined were involved in planning a wedding! Jack has given the wedding planning reigns to Maya, which is probably for the best considering that he works at a zoo. Uh, yeah, Maya is probably quite a bit more qualified to plan a wedding than a zookeeper...

We've already established that Maya doesn't deal well with change, so when Jack brings up a topic that could affect their effect their entire future and take them away from all they've ever known, Maya is utterly speechless. This could represent the largest and most unwelcome change in her entire life, and she is immediately opposed. While Maya is sure this thing is not God's will for them, Jack is equally sure that it IS God's will. Maya obviously still loves Jack, but is this issue enough to come between them?

Double Shot is a nice conclusion to the Maya Davis series, it wraps up most of the ongoing story lines and leaves just a bit up to your imagination. The story is chock-full of the wonderful Maya sense of humor that was established in the first two books. Several times I couldn't even believe what I was reading, because it was just so humorous! I love when everyday things can be turned into humorous situations and dialogue, it's just so entertaining! I could hardly keep the grin off my face!

I'm so glad I stumbled across the Maya Davis series, but I am sad that I've finished the trilogy. This was the most entertaining series I've read in a really long time, the characters are so full of life they simply jump off the pages and dare you not to like them. Erynn Mangum is definitely an author I'm going to be keeping an eye on, and I'm already planning on tracking down her Miss Match series. To sum things up, my advice is this: Do yourself a favor, buy Cool Beans, Latte Daze, and Double Shot. You'll be glad you did!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Review: Latte Daze by Erynn Mangum

Happy 4th of July, Independence Day to all of those in the USA! Here's my review of Latte Daze, which is the second book in Erynn Mangum's fabulous "Maya Davis" series:
It's official: I want to be friends with Maya Davis!
 
Four months have passed since we last saw Maya and her friends in Cool Beans (the first book in this series). Since then, she's started dating her best friend Jack, but things between them aren't much different than they've always been...their dates mostly just seem like two friends hanging-out. Jack was the one who confessed "more than friends" feelings, and Maya's still not sure what to think. Obviously she likes Jack, he's been her best friend for years....but more than that? Maya's just not sure... 
Then there's Jen, Maya's long-time roommate. She's dating Maya's ex-boyfriend (aka high school flame) Travis, and things are pretty serious between them. So serious, that when Travis pops the question to Jen, Maya is hardly surprised. But what catches Maya off guard is the intensity that the wedding plans take on. And when Jen's rude and impossible-to-please mother moves in and starts criticizing all of Jen's dream wedding plans, everyone's patience is put to the test.
Although I liked Cool Beans (the first book) just a little bit more, I still really enjoyed Latte Daze. I was kind of bummed to see Jack leave the coffee shop to start a new job since that meant there weren't as many opportunities for Maya/Jack banter. Although his new job at the zoo did end up providing quite a lot of opportunities for good-natured teasing and humorously cheesy jokes, I still missed his presence at the coffee shop. But as Maya is starting to find out: everything and everyone changes, and it's good if you can hold it together and not freak out about it. The best thing you can do is support the ones you love and not hold them back. (Even if it seems everyone around you is changing and growing while you remain stagnant!)
I said this in my review of the first book, and I'm going to say it again: if Maya was a real person I feel like I'd be friends with her! Sometimes I can't even believe how similar her thinking patterns are to mine, it's actually quite funny! :) But back to the review...Maya is still as spunky as ever, and she still has a love for movies, the food network, her dog Calvin, and of course coffee! Like the first book, this one is also loaded with great spiritual truths and applications for life. It's so awesome when you can be entertained and at the same time be learning things of value and not even realize you're learning, because it's all just woven together so nicely. I received (along with Maya) a great lesson on kindness: it's not a lack of action, such as simply keeping your mouth shut instead of mouthing off, but rather kindness is an action, an effort on your part. This is the type of stuff that we can all use reminders on.
If you've already read Cool Beans (the first book), I definitely recommend that you check out Latte Daze as well. And if you haven't already read the first book, Latte Daze does have enough of a recap that I guess you'd be okay to read it on its own... but Cool Beans is really a fun read too, so just make sure you don't miss out on it! These are some of the most lovable and entertaining characters I've run across in a long time, and it's just a pure joy to follow Maya's (or as Jack would say, "Nutkin's") story. This author has found a new fan in me, and I'm anxious to see what happens in the third book, Double Shot!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Review: Cool Beans by Erynn Mangum

I've found a new series to go on my list of favorites! Here's my review for "Cool Beans" by Erynn Mangum.
 
What do you do when your roommate unknowingly starts dating your ex-boyfriend....your ONLY ex-boyfriend, the one that you (a. dated for 4 years, (b. looked at rings with, and (c. thought you'd marry? And what happens when the guy doesn't even recognize you? Sure, you broke up 5 years ago, but before that you had dated for FOUR YEARS! Do you announce it to your friend and the guy, risking the demise of the relationship before it even begins, or do you keep your mouth shut and act normal? This is the beginning of Maya's super-fantastic-amazingly-awesome and story!

I have to admit: Before I started reading, I wasn't sure if I'd like Cool Beans or not. The synopsis on the back of the book makes it sound like just another take on an over-used sitcom plot. But to my incredible delight, as soon as I started reading I found that I was immediately hooked! The characters are so real and loveable, they truly became my friends, and I really felt for Maya and the awkward situation she got put in.

Maya in many ways reminded me of myself, at times I couldn't even believe it... she thinks so much like I do that if she were real, I feel like we'd be friends! Her sense of humor is awesome, and that allows her to have some amazingly great banter and dialogue with other characters. Jack is great as well; I couldn't help but be amused by his parrot problem! He is such a nice and fun guy, I loved his pet-names for Maya, and also the way he encourages her to do the right thing even when it's difficult. Of course I have to mention Maya's family: they are amusing and authentic, the dynamics between them all are realistically strange! Oh, and Calvin, Maya's pilates-loving beagle...I loved how she talked to him and he always responded with variations of "Roo?" or "Roo!" So funny!

If anyone saw me while I was reading Cool Beans, they must have wondered what was going on, because half the time I couldn't keep the grin off my face. It seems I have the same sense of humor that Erynn Mangum does, because Maya's banter with Jack, and also with Andrew (her pastor) had me cracking up; the fun-slightly-sarcastic tone is just awesome! There were several movies and tv shows mentioned, and I've seen almost all them so I was able to picture the exact scenes that were mentioned, which was really cool. (FYI: Don't worry, if you haven't seen any of the movies, it doesn't matter, it's just a bonus if you have. There were a couple mentioned that I hadn't seen, and I still thought Maya's comments about them were funny.) 

For some strange reason this series seems to be marketed towards teens. (I actually had to go to the children's floor of my library to find it, because it's classified as "Young Adult"!) I don't quite understand this, because it technically isn't much different from other Christian Chick-Lit books... the only thing I can figure is that Maya is 24, which is a bit younger than most Christian Chick-Lit heroines. I definitely think teen girls would enjoy it, but the appeal certainly doesn't stop there. I'm 24 and I loved it, and I'm certain that older gals would enjoy it, too. The writing, style, and dialogue do not seem young or simple, and honestly I really feel like it should be grouped with the rest of the Christian fiction in the main adult section. So, to the Teens: yes, you'll like this. And to the Adults: You'll like it too, don't let the "teen" marketing scare you away!

To wrap things up: This book is so fun, I loved it, and I'm anxious to find out what happens in the sequels. Another reviewer mentioned this, but I want to point it out again: As Maya goes through her difficulties and is seeking guidance, the spiritual truths she learns are embedded so masterfully that you actually learn these truths right along with Maya. Some of the stuff really does make you stop and think about things and the way you live your life. One thing in particular that stood out to me is that we are a witness "all" the time, not "only" when we are sharing the gospel, which is a reminder we all need. Yes, I'm serious, there's really some solid content here, and it's all contained in such an amusing and entertaining package. I highly, highly, highly recommend Cool Beans! It's just so "cool!"

Friday, June 10, 2011

Dealing with the Three Unknowns

As promised in my last post, I'm going to share the solution I discovered to dealing with the "three unknowns" of the library. In case you need a reminder, I am a clean-freak, and the "three unknowns" are:
The unknown number of unknown people that have read the books in unknown places.

You just don't know who has held those books, where they were, or what their habits are. I like to read before I go to sleep each night, and the thought laying in bed holding one of those books....let's just say it was not going to happen. I realized the solution would be to find a removable cover that could slid on and off, but I didn't have any idea where to get something like that, or if anything like that even existed.

You've probably heard of or seen those BookSox...the stretchable fabric covers kids are putting on their schoolbooks now. I originally thought those might be the answer, but they are designed for hardback books, and most of the fiction titles at the library are paperback bound. After doing some pondering, and a few internet searches, I came across an awesome tutorial on wikihow that describes how to make a removable cover for paperback books!! The perfect solution!

I followed the tutorial to create a book cover, and then promptly went to my local library to pick up a book I had reserved online. I brought the book home and immediately put on the cover, which worked great. I'll put the link to the instructions for making a cover below, but first I want to show a few pictures of the cover I made.





Kinda cool, right? All it takes is contact paper, and some manila folders or something similar. What's neat is that you can personalize it by picking a contact paper design that fits your personality. If you don't have any contact paper, or if you don't like the designs you've seen in stores, check out a 2nd hand or thrift shop. Alot of times they have partially used rolls (cheap!) with different designs than walmart or wherever might currently have.

Here's the link to the complete instructions: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Hard-Cover-for-a-Paperback-Book

So if you're like me, and you don't like to think of the "unknowns" of the library, you might consider a cover like this. It completely covers up the front and back covers (which are the areas I feel are most likely to have germs, etc), so you only end up touching your slipcover and the inside pages of the book. This nifty cover has made me a frequent visitor of my local library, without (much) fear of the "unknowns"!

For anyone who's curious, the book I used in the pictures is "God's Handmaiden" by Gilbert Morris, which I borrowed from the library. I very much enjoyed the book, and I'll be posting a review of it soon!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Libraries, the Unknown, and Me

Libraries and me: we don't have much experience with each other. I remember checking a book out one time when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. I had to do a paper or something on a president, so I chose George Washington, I got a library card, and I checked out a book about him. That's the extent of my library experience, at least until recently...

I go through quite a few books (about one a week), and it gets expensive to constantly be buying books, even when you get them at discount/closeout places (which is what I do). I don't keep many books that I read, only the only the ones I really like, so when I finish a book I generally try to sell it online. But eventually I found that I was selling old books slower than I was reading new ones, so my "already-read, trying-to-sell-online" stack was getting increasingly bigger. I finally decided I had to do something...both to cut costs and also to cut down on the number of "already-read" books laying around.

With a bit of hesitation I started looking up libraries in my area, and cautiously I looked at the details of exactly how it all worked. Hesitation and caution. Yep, that describes it...mainly because I'm a bit of a clean-freak, and the thought of reading a book that an unknown number of unknown people have read in unknown places just freaked me out. (Which shows why up to this point I had been so keen on buying 'new', unused, unread books.)

I was surprised to find that libraries have come a long way from what I thought they were like, and the one by me is unbelievably modern. You can look at all the books online, see if they are available or checked out; if another patron has a book checked out, you can see when it's due back. If a book is available, you just punch in your library card number and voila, that book is on hold and waiting for you at the front desk. There's also these cool self-check systems everywhere, which let you check out books on your own, sort of like the self check-out systems in stores like Wal-mart, etc. Plus, the library is hooked up with email, so they send email receipts for check-outs, and reminders when books are due. And one of the best things: if you need to renew a book, it's no big deal. Just hop online, click a few times, and presto, your book is renewed for additional time!

All of this is great, you may say, but what about that original problem? The unknown number of unknown people that have read the books in unknown places. Yes, I admit, that was still a problem for me. But I was desperate to change my situation, and unwilling to cut back on my reading. I did some online searches, and I came up with a solution... but in the famous words of tv and movie psychiatrists, "Our time is up." I'll share my discovery of the solution to the "three unknowns" in my next post. Pictures will be included!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Introduction

Well, I've never had a blog before, but I thought I'd try it. Every once in a while I come across something, or I get an idea, or I see something cool, etc, that I think others should know about, and I thought this would be a good place to post things of that sort. And no, I don't mean things like viral videos or spammish type things, as that would be most un-cool.

I already have a few ideas for posts, so I do actually have things in mind. Topics will be varied, but I can guarantee there will be book reviews and some photo discussion (I'm in the process of digitizing all my old photos). I can also envision possibilities of internet & slightly tech-y stuff, and probably talk of tv or movie topics.

Coming up with a blog name was pretty difficult...honestly, I wanted to start this blog a couple days ago but I couldn't because I didn't have a name for it. Many of the names I tried were already in use, which only added to the difficulty. I finally came up with a name I really liked, and to my delight the name was available on blogger! BUT......then I decided to do a search for non-blogger blogs with that name. Turns out there was a nice girl over at wordpress that had a blog with the exact name I wanted. Sure, since hers is at wordpress, and mine is here on blogger, I obviously could have used the name. But then I thought how I would feel if I had an original blog name and someone started up a blog on a different host with the exact same name: I wouldn't be thrilled. So, I eventually gave up on that particular name and came up with this one. It's kind of plain, but I sort of like it. If I'm suddenly struck with an awesomely spectacular name, maybe I'll change it.

Anyway, I'm not sure how frequently I'll have stuff to post, it certainly won't be everyday, maybe not even every week. But I would imagine I'll probably have something to say at least once or twice a month. I read quite a few books, and I've been reviewing some of them over at amazon for a couple years now. I may start posting some of those reviews here, just to get things rolling.