Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Learning - Karen Kingsbury

Synopsis from Bailey Flanigan is growing closer to her dream to be an actress and dancer in New York while Cody coaches a small high school football team ... on and off the field. But neither feels complete without the chance to share their dreams with one other. Can distance truly make the heart grow fonder? Or will Cody learn to turn to others to share in his happiness? And when tragedy strikes? Who will be there to provide comfort in the face of loss? As Cody's past catches up with him, he must learn to reach out for help or risk withdrawing permanently inside himself. Both Bailey and Cody find themselves learning significant life lessons in this poignant love story, featuring members from Karen Kingsbury's popular Baxter family.

Now I am very much a Karen Kingsbury fan. And it pains me to write this…I really did not like her latest book in the Bailey Flanigan series, Learning. I don’t know if it’s because I feel so attached to the characters and found myself spending much time yelling at them and disappointed in them. Or if it was because the story itself seemed to drag and not really go anywhere.

I do still enjoy how Karen shares her life through the story of the Flanigan family. And I’m holding out hope for the next book. I believe she has an amazing gift and a good heart.

A Long Fatal Love Chase - Louisa May Alcott

Talk about seriously loving someone to death.

Rosamond was brought up by her reclusive grandfather who showed her no love or compassion. So she was primed for Philip Tempest to sweep in and offer her love and adventure like no other. Rosamond willingly follows Philip into the freedom he seems to offer. However, as she learns more about Tempest, she sees that freedom isn’t really what she’s found. But Rosamond is stronger and more resilient than anyone gives her credit for. As the book flap says “Remarkable for its portrayal of the sensuality and spirit of its Victorian heroine, A Long Fatal Love Chase, tells a compulsive tale of love, desire, and deceit.”

This book took me a bit to get into. Okay. Quite a bit…as in the first half of the book. Once I reached around midpoint, though, I was really engaged in the tale and attached to Rosemond’s character. I was amazed by her character and ability to rebound from the tragedies she faced. That she continued to stand for good and what was right even when her heart wanted evil and what was harmful to her. Such constancy.

It was melodramatic at parts and a bit ridiculous at others. But once you muddle through the first half, the rest is captivating and difficult to put down.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Gift - Cecelia Ahern

Synopsis from Extremely successful executive, Lou Suffern is always overstretched, immune to the holiday spirit that delights everyone around him. The classic workaholic who never has a moment to spare, he is always multitasking while shortchanging his devoted wife and their adorable children. And ever since he started competing for a big promotion, he has barely seen his family at all.

One frigid morning in an uncharacteristic burst of generosity, he buys a cup of coffee for Gabe, a homeless man huddled outside his office building. Inspired by his own unexpected act of kindness, Lou decides to prolong his charitable streak and contrives to get Gabe a job in his company's mailroom. But when Gabe begins to meddle in Lou's life, the helping hand appears to be a serious mistake. Gabe seems to know more about Lou than Lou does about himself, and, perhaps more disturbingly, Gabe always seems to be in two places at once.

With Lou's personal and professional fates at important crossroads and Christmas looming, Gabe resorts to some unorthodox methods to show his stubborn patron what truly matters and how precious the gift of time is. But can he help him fix what's broken before it's too late?

I really enjoyed Cecelia Ahern’s first book, P.S. I Love You. However, in the ensuing years I haven’t read anything else by her. I ran across this book while browsing the library shelves (never a good pastime for me as I end up walking out with more books than a reasonable person can read) and figured based on the first book I’d give this one a try as well.

I didn’t enjoy it as much. I don’t know if that’s the book’s fault or mine. I had some preconceived notions about what it was about, who Gabe was, etc. And I was trying to figure out how it all works together and such for most of the book. So I couldn’t fully engage in the story as a result.

Additionally, while the moral is really good, I did have a lot of the plot figured out before it happened.

That being said, I still think it’s worth the read. Although I caution about some of the language in the book. It’s enough to be a obnoxious. The underlying message of the book is one that I certainly need a reminder of…frequently. Time is precious. I can choose how to use it, but I will never get more.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Inheritance - Louisa May Alcott

Synopsis from School Library Journal (on YA. Alcott's first novel, written at age 17 and discovered in 1988, is a delightful rags-to-riches ramble in the life of orphan Edith Adelon, who is taken in by Lord and Lady Hamilton to serve as a companion to their young daughter, Amy. When Lord Hamilton dies, Edith is treated as a servant in the household until she saves Amy's life. Purer than pure, young Edith takes the slights and verbal abuses of her jealous rival, Lady Ida, while Lord Percy, an older, wiser, and sadder friend of young Lord Arthur Hamilton and the reason for Lady Ida's jealousy, looks on in his attempts to love Edith from a distance. Set on an aristocratic English manor in the 19th century, the plot twists and turns its way to a "happily ever after" ending. Even though characters are stereotyped and the plot is at times contrived, this precursor of Little Women is sure to be popular among budding readers of Jane Austen or sprouting young writers looking for desirable role models. This squeaky-clean novel written by an outstanding author at the beginning of her career is a desirable addition to any YA collection. Dottie Kraft, formerly at Fairfax County Public Schools, VA.  Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

I more agreed with the second review from Booklist on, but the above one provided more a synopsis of the story itself.

While probably not truly bad for a first novel written at 17 years of age, I found both the plot and the characters of The Inheritance to be rather contrived. All of the characters were static and one-dimensional. I even had a difficult time feeling any empathy for orphan Edith Adelon. The story was pretty predictable as well.

As a positive, it is a quick read.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery

Synopsis from Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert had decided to adopt an orphan. They wanted a nice sturdy boy to help Matthew with the farm chores. The orphanage sent a girl instead - a mischievous, talkative redhead who the Cuthberts thought would be no use at all. But as soon as Anne arrived at the snug, white farmhouse called Green Gables, she knew she wanted to stay forever. And the longer Anne stayed, the harder it was for anyone to imagine Green Gables without her.

I have to say that this is probably one of my all-time favorite books from childhood…and as an adult I enjoy them just as much. So I was excited when we decided on Anne of Green Gables as our book club book for June.

Montgomery is such an enchanting really don't want to skim any of it but instead read every single word. And Anne is such a fascinating character. She is a very dynamic and engaging girl/young lady. I both laugh and cry when I read this book. Even though I have read it so many times I know what’s coming just by the chapter title…I still thoroughly enjoy the journey.

My favorite quote this reading go-round is one said by Anne to her “bosom friend”, Diana, when discussing conflicting thoughts and feelings: “There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person. If I was just one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn’t be half so interesting.”

Isn’t that so true of all of us and human nature in general? We are not static, one-dimensional creatures. We have many facets and opinions and ideas and feelings and interests. And that creates some of the dilemmas we face in life. But it also makes life a lot more interesting.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Pioneer Woman - Ree Drummond

Synopsis from I'll never forget that night. It was like a romance novel, an old Broadway musical, and a John Wayne western rolled into one. Out for a quick drink with friends, I wasn't looking to meet anyone, let alone a tall, rugged cowboy who lived on a cattle ranch miles away from my cultured, corporate hometown. But before I knew it, I'd been struck with a lightning bolt . . . and I was completely powerless to stop it.

Read along as I recount the rip-roaring details of my unlikely romance with a chaps-wearing cowboy, from the early days of our courtship (complete with cows, horses, prairie fire, and passion) all the way through the first year of our marriage, which would be filled with more challenge and strife—and manure—than I ever could have expected.

This isn't just my love story; it's a universal tale of passion, romance, and all-encompassing love that sweeps us off our feet.

It's the story of a cowboy. And Wranglers. And chaps. And the girl who fell in love with them.

I absolutely and thoroughly enjoyed this book. As I read it, I kept thinking I would love to see a movie of it. However, there is no way a movie could ever aptly portray this wonderful, engaging story.

I rarely laugh out loud while reading a book. With this one, I did so many times. Poor Jeff kept giving me looks wondering if his wife has lost her mind.

Ree Drummond tells her love story in such an energetic and soul-baring way that you can’t help but get sucked into her city-girl mindset as she’s falling completely in love with her “Marlboro Man.” One thing I loved about the book that was *very* pleasantly surprising is that while there is definitely passion between the author and her man, it is very clear that they put limits on that passion and stayed pure until marriage. How wonderful.

It was great to see how Ree Drummond grew and changed throughout her story. I have nothing negative to say about this book. I liked it all.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

An Unlikely Suitor - Nancy Moser

Synopsis from Secrets abound in this tale of three unlikely romances set in New York's Gilded Age--an uplifting story of true devotion and sacrificial love. Lucy Scarpelli, an Italian dressmaker from New York, befriends socialite Rowena Langdon as she's making her summer wardrobe. It's an unlikely friendship, but one that Rowena encourages by inviting Lucy to the family mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. Grateful for Lucy's skill in creating clothes that hide her physical injury, Rowena encourages Lucy to dream of a better future. One day Lucy encounters an intriguing man on the Cliff Walk, and love begins to blossom. Yet Lucy resists, for what man will accept her family responsibilities? Rowena also deals with love as she faces a worrisome arranged marriage to a wealthy heir. And Lucy's teenage sister, Sofia, takes up with a man of dubious character. All three women struggle as their lives, and those of each unlikely suitor, become intertwined in a web of secrets and sacrifice. Will any of them find true happiness?

I don’t know that “secrets” necessarily “abound” in this novel. But I did really enjoy the reading of it.

Parts of it were certainly predictable, but that made it cozy to read. I enjoyed Lucy’s character and the growth shown in both her and Rowena through their friendship and life circumstances.

I wanted to slap Lucy’s sister many times throughout the novel. Her character annoyed me with her childish ways and selfishness. Then again, I know many teenagers with similar attitudes. So Ms. Moser probably hit the mark with that character.

I didn’t like the end being so rushed (through the epilogue) and would have liked a little more “meat” near the end. And what happened to Sofia at the end? I don’t want to spoil it, but we know that Mrs. Scarpelli moves but we have no idea what Sofia does.

A pleasant book overall.

Kate: The Making of a Princess - Claudia Joseph

Synopsis from Kate Middleton is the girl everyone wants to be. Catherine Elizabeth "Kate" Middleton is living a perfect Cinderella fairy tale. She is engaged to Britain's most desirable bachelor—and now she's the future queen of England!

Based on exclusive and intimate interviews with Kate's closest friends and relatives, and illustrated throughout with photographs, many published here for the very first time, Claudia Joseph's Kate: The Making of a Princess is a fascinating portrait of the extraordinary young woman who will be queen—and the story of a family's remarkable journey from the mining villages of Durham to an apartment in the royal residence of Clarence House.

My disclaimer is that I read this as a digital book. So some of my issues with the book may or may not be a result of that.

I was looking forward to reading this book (since I have a mild obsession with all things royal) but finished it feeling rather disappointed and unsatisfied. It says the book is based on exclusive and intimate interviews. I’m not sure how valid that is. There were a few quotes from friends and great aunts and second/third cousins, etc. But I don’t know how intimate those “interviews” were. And most of the material seemed like information you could have gathered from the society pages.

Also, the chronology of the book was not okay. It kept jumping back and forth and back again between generations and branches of the family tree. Now, this is one issue with it being in digital form: apparently there was a diagram of Kate’s family tree in the back of the book. That would have been more than helpful to reference throughout the reading. However, since it was digital I didn’t know it was there until I’d finished my reading.

Even with Prince William and Kate’s relationship, the narrative would bounce around in time, often repeating events that had already been covered.

This is the first book I’ve read on the current Princess Catherine. My advice is to skip it and pick a different biography to get your royal info fix. There is a plethora of them to choose from.

The Widows' Club - Joyce Livingston

Synopsis from Valentine Denay seems to have it all in finances and nice possessions-the only thing missing is her husband Carter. Can she find a way to fill the aching void he left behind? She has already opened her house each morning for coffee with two other widows in the cul-de-sac. But when a new widow in the neighborhood, a church fundraising project, and a pregnant soldier's wife all come knocking at the door to her heart of compassion, can Val keep her wits about her? Or, will the princess of the cul-de-sac fall from her lofty perch when pulled into a romance triangle?

This was an interesting concept for a book series. And this is the first book in the series (finally reading a series in order!).

It is the story of Valentine and her widow friends. How they help each other, help the community, and basically do life together.

I enjoyed the connections between the characters. Their friendships, their open doors, and the way they accepted others for who they were.

I did find it odd that most characters had very odd names…Valentine, Bitsy, Barbie, etc. Really?

And I didn’t like Edna popping up at the end. She seemed more like a specific plot device than an actual character in the book. I also wonder what happens when these widows remarry. Do they still get to be a part of the club? I guess I’ll have to read book two to find out.

Overall, it was a lighthearted (despite being about widows), enjoyable read on a unique concept.

Schoolhouse Brides - Various

Synopsis from The lives of four schoolmarms are complicated by unexpected encounters. Judith questions her calling when a widower and his troubled children enter her life. Marin offers her services as a schoolteacher and soon faces unforeseen challenges, including a less-than-desirable student. Christa gets off a train in a quaint mountain village only to find herself entangled in a web of deceit. A disillusioned Meredith moves to Last Chance, Idaho, and finds herself stuck in a place whose name describes her situation only too well. Can these women find a place in their hearts for love?

This four novellas in one book was pretty much par for the course for its kind. Fairly rushed stories without a lot of character development. Predictable but nice. It was a good and quick beach read.

My favorite story was Christa. I just found the case of mistaken identity amusing.

Friday, June 3, 2011

You've Got to Read this Book! - Jack Canfield & Gay Hendricks

Summary from From two acclaimed experts and authors on personal transformation comes a collection of stories from notable people about the books that have been transformational in their lives, and why they've had such an impact.

For me, this book was just okay. I did add 12 books to my “to be read” list (it’s lengthy). But 12 out of 55 isn’t real great odds, in my opinion.

I did not know many of the “notables” who were featured in the book, but that’s okay. There was quite a bit of new age kind of speak in several of those. And some were just plain boring; so I skipped those.

Probably by favorite feature was Gary Heavin, the founder of Curves.  Maybe it helps that I also watched he and his wife on Secret Millionaire.  :)