Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Weight of Shadows

The book opens with Kim, the protagonist, attending a party in her apartment. Coincidentally, it is her birthday but nobody knows. Kim grew up foster care and has never celebrated birthdays. Enter Rick, handsome, edgy, charming, and also grew up between foster care and a physically abusive father.

Meanwhile, Joshua, a recently widowed father of 4 year old Maddie, is looking over medical bills and deciding to sell his house in order to pay bills. Recently pink slipped from his job, Joshua and Maddie sell their house, full of memories, and buying a condo.

Debbie is a psychologist at Safe in His Arms women's shelter. She's just been dumped and eating ice cream at the beginning of the book.

Eventually, all of these characters' paths intersect as their stories develop and histories are revealed.

Strobel is an excellent writer. She develops each character to the point where they become real to the reader. She weaves a story of abuse, grief, forgiveness, and grace. The book is strong in heart and writing. The story is different than the usual Christian style book. The issues are real and the conclusion a continuation of the journey.

I loved the book. I am very rarely impressed by Christian writers. They are very nearly always strong on ideals, heart, and good intentions but rarely does the story and characters resonate. This one is amazing. Strongly recommend.

Allison has offered one lucky reader the opportunity to enjoy this book for FREE!  Want it? Leave a comment with your email address. 

Open to U.S. residents.
Ends July 12, 2010

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Huge Giveaway Announcements

The Art of Devotion
The Art of Devotion

Change of Altitude
A Change in Altitude: A Novel

Help for Parents


The Castaways
Cheryl F. The Lucky Ladybug

The Castaways: A Novel

Desire Me

Desire Me (The Legend Hunters)

Masked by Moonlight
Books and Bane
Masked by Moonlight

Thank you all for playing!  You are ALL AMAZING!

{But I still want to be amusing}

Winners have been emailed. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

...and the response to Hidden Wives Giveaway

Hidden Wives authors response:

So, I was sitting down with my double-espresso, fat-free, mocha-green-tea, soy-thingy when I stumbled upon a post where apparently I'm giving away my new novel, "Hidden Wives". Yeah!

And in case there's identity confusion, I am one half of Claire Avery. Michelle to be exact. Mari is really boring, so you really don't want her to reply back to you (should you decide to write to us on goodreads) because you may find yourself in a boredom induced coma. She really comes in handy for serious literature, oh wait, "Hidden Wives" is a pretty serious book. So, it all kind of works out. And she's an ace when it comes to angst.

Since Mari (the boring one) just leaned over my shoulder, I'm forced to get serious and tell you how excited we are to be involved in this AWESOME giveaway.

Thanks everyone for participating! And thanks Nancy for hosting this swindle (oops, I mean giveaway). Shhh, she left the room.

Regards to all,
Michelle (okay, and Mari)

Footnote: What Michelle forgot to mention is that she blew double-espresso, fat-free, mocha-green-tea, soy-thingy out her nose when she read the post.  That's why Mari came into the room.

Hidden Wives Surprise

Little known fact here - I graduated from Utah State University in 1988 in the ever-so job abundant bachelor's degree in Sociology. Very proud day. I wore my shoulder pad dress cut too tight to take large steps and wore my impractical high heels. Too much make-up, bangs ratted to heaven and far too skinny to be considered anything but a threat to any woman in my age group. I was a force to be reckoned with.

I spent the next two months looking for a job. Proudly, I was hired to be a sales associate (clerk) at JCPenney. 

After a year of eating humble pie, I stopped telling people I was a college graduate and I entered a more marketable graduate program. I was much more subdued at my graduation two years later, although my shoes were still impractical. 

I had also learned to not take myself so seriously. The robes for a master's degrees have funky sleeves. I stuffed them with treats for my friends and even a copy of Reader's Digest. Ever been to a university graduation? Then you understand.

Sociology was a fun major. I love studying people. I adore studying people more dysfunctional than I am. Eventually I settled into helping people but there's still a corner of my psyche that is fascinated by the weird.

One class I took while at Utah State focused on cults. Although taught by a professor I didn't particularly like, I thought the class would be absolutely fascinating. I registered and bought the textbook, ready to be completely weirded out. I was disappointed. 

The chapters were divided up by different cults; Amish, Mennonites, Father Divine, Mormons (we skipped that chapter) and other groups that made me yawn. I guess I misinterpreted the word "cult." Cults were riddled with socially inappropriate behavior and often bloody: Jonestown, Charles Manson, Satan worship, Wicca, anybody who practiced yoga, or felt a drive to go to the bathroom as a harem rather than all by herself.

Even today I find myself reading books that give me the inside scoop on groups of people who live contrary to social mores.

Having spent a couple of years in St. George, I was completely fascinated by the polygamist colony nearby. It was such a closed community that nobody seemed to really know much. They just kept to themselves since the bloody 70's with the rivalry of the LeBarons, Allreds, John Singer, and a few others thrown in. Then it was quiet. Maybe too quiet.

Then a teenage girl ran away from the Kingston Clan. Her father caught her, beat her within an inch of her life and she escaped again. She had taken issue with marrying her old uncle. And so began the delicate dance between polygamy, the attorney general, and law enforcement.

Rena Chynoweth wrote her memoir. She was the 13th wife of Ervil LeBaron.  She was the one who actually murdered Rulon Allred in his medical practice. Don't read it. It's a work of garbage. 

I also read a memoir by Dorothy Solomon, one of Rulon Allred's daughters. Do read this one. She is a writer and tells the story of being a child of polygamy during a tempestuous time.

I have then read a series of novels that all seem to tell the same story. Interesting at first but they all ended the same. The girl escapes and walks into the sunset. There is also a confusion about mainstream Mormons and poor research yields a poorly written novel. 

So I found a book that I wanted to read called "Hidden Wives." The sociologist in me piqued, I wanted to read it so I did, prepared to read the same story with the same ending and possibly written very poorly. 

I so enjoyed it! I found a familiar theme but the story had so much more depth! The protagonists' beliefs and thoughts were articulated incredibly well. The authors provided descriptive imagery and I forgot I was reading a book. A particularly poignant scene (?) occurs when one of the characters commits suicide. The symbolism is incredibly beautiful.

The author, Claire Avery, is a pen name for Mari and Michelle, sisters that decided to collaborate on their first novel. Coincidentally, Mari and Michelle grew up in a fundamental Catholic community. I wrote to them and told them how much I appreciated a well written novel that wove symbolism I could understand (without being condescending) into a solid and believable story. 

I'm really trying to not provide too many spoilers here, but the ending is not what is expected and the authors include a character or two that provide metaphoric understanding to the experiences. Even if you don't catch the metaphors, the writing is solid and the story is interesting.

The hard part is that I'm the only person I know that has read it so I can't talk to anybody about it. So I decided I'm going to host a giveaway and Mari and Michelle are going to sponsor it.  Doesn't this sound fun? (Speaking of socially inappropriate...) Do you know what's even funner? Mari and Michelle don't know about it. Yet.

Isn't this a fun game?

Leave a comment with your email address.
For an extra entry, go onto, find Claire Avery and send her (them) a message with this link or thank them for sponsoring such a fun contest. Remember to make a second comment telling me you did.

Contest ends July 9, 2010

"Claire Avery's" response will be posted.

Readers are highly encouraged to pick up a stick and poke this bear.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What's Really Hood Winner!

The winner of What's Really Hood is...

(The very tired) Michele Powell of Books and Bane!

Send me your address, Michele or I'll leave you out of my "I'm so tired but I stay up and read, anyway" club.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Maze of Grace Review and GIVEAWAY

In her first book, Trish Ryan chronicled the ways in which finding faith lead her to the happily-ever-after ending that had eluded her for so long. Only it wasn't an ending. It was a beginning.

In A MAZE OF GRACE, Ryan picks up where she left off, sharing the early years of her marriage, and the challenges that both shaped and startled her: temptations regarding fidelity, the anxiety of shifting body image, the awkward nature of following Jesus in a decidedly secular family and city, and struggles (depression, trying to conceive) that made her wonder if God had lost her file.

With appealing candor, Ryan sweeps the reader into her life and ponders questions and issues that we all face, dropping nuggets of wisdom along the way that are sure to inspire, encourage and help readers from all walks of life.
Reading Group Guide 

Trish Ryan is the kind of gal I'd love to go out to lunch with. She is honest, funny, and not afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve. She says things I've thought of but didn't dare say yet she's clean enough that her parents could read her books and not blush.

This is Trish Ryan's "After Happily Ever After" memoir. Her transition from single to married, her feelings of contradiction toward a hyphenated society, her uncooperative uterus, and so many other experiences she articulates so beautifully. I found myself laughing with her then aching for her later. It's not pity, mind you. It's understanding the married woman in me.

Love it.

You want this one. Tell me you do. 

Leave me a comment with email address.

Have a U.S. or Canadian address (not P.O.) box.

Let me know if you follow me in a separate comment. I'll file restraining orders later this week.

Contest ends July 9th

I have to two copies for you.

April and Oliver Review and GIVEAWAY

The story begins at the end of April's brother's life. The teenager dies in a car accident and hopes his sister knows that he doesn't suffer in death.

The next scene is Buddy's funeral. This is the opportunity for all the surviving players in the story to come together. The reader is introduced to April, a 28 year old bartender, Oliver, a 28 year old law student, Bernadette, Oliver's fiance, Hal, Oliver's father and Al, Oliver's brother. Missing from the scene are April's deceased parents, Hal's deceased wife, and Nana, alive and kicking but kept in the dark.

The story unfolds at a savoring pace. April and Oliver's father's are stepbrothers. April and Oliver were inseparable as children and sheltered Buddy, as well. Both protagonists have plans for their futures. April wants to live by the sea. Oliver wants to be a pianist.

It is a story of deep friendship, longing, forgiving, and redemption. The story is beautifully crafted. The characters took some time to take root and grow in my mind. The ending is not happy or sad but satisfying.  The Readers Group Guide adds layers to story and is fantastic for discussion.

Thanks to Hatchette  I have a copy for one lucky reader. Same rules as usual. Forget them? They're easy.
1. Make a comment and include email address.
2. Extra comments for extra entries (follower, tweet, facebook, link in blog)
3. Extra entry for skipping sometime today. No. I mean it. Stand up and skip across the room. 

It made you smile, didn't it.

4. U.S. and Canada residents with physical address
Contest ends July 9th

Friday, June 25, 2010

Damaged by Alex Kava

The story is set in the Gulf of Mexico as a hurricane is heading towards the panhandle. The protagonist, Maggie O'Dell, takes a near back seat to this story, as a couple of other character emerge.

Liz is a U.S. Coast Guard swimmer. She is dropped out of helicopters to rescue people (and the occasional dog or two) and retrieve odd items found floating around the ocean - like a very large, very specialized cooler containing three feet, a torso, and a hand. Kind of gruesome. This brings Maggie, a profiler, onto the scene.

Meanwhile, possible love interest who has a fascination with microscopic killers is called to Florida on a top secret mission to explore a new illness striking soldiers recently losing a limb in the Middle East.

Did I mention the hurricane? It's going to hit New Orleans, of course, because that makes the news channels. But wait, it looks like it will hit Florida, after all, as the residents expected. They always expect hurricanes. Just can't catch a break.

Throw in the unsavory yet socially gifted character of Joe Black who uses Scott's funeral home for his personal freezer. What is he freezing? Eventually, Scott's sister-in-law, the previously mentioned Liz, will find out.

All these characters (including the hurricane) eventually meet together and provide an enjoyable read. The story moves along at a comfortable pace and a darker side of organ donation is explored.

Entertaining, if a little gruesome, read. I enjoyed the book. 

Gotta have it? 2 copies up for grabs!
Leave me a comment with email address.
Extra entries - leave separate comment:

1. Become a follower

2. Tweet, facebook, or post about giveaway

3. Answer this question - Who would you like to "disappear" during a hurricane?  
Contest ends July 9th

U.S. Residents

No P.O. boxes

This book was provided to me by Doubleday publishing. In return, I have provided an honest review.

Hidden Wives by Claire Avery

Some authors have a story to tell but lack the ability to tell it. Some authors are prolific writers but have no story to tell so they blather for pages about nothing. Then there are those books that capture you completely with not only a compelling story but a voice that holds the reader's attention for hours on end.

This is one of those books.

Sara and Rachel are best friends and sisters. When I say sisters, I really mean that they share a father but not a mother. They live in a fundamentalist society in Southern Utah. Both girls are 15, although Rachel is a few months older than Sara. Their father is not a rich nor powerful man. Essentially, he has had very little to offer to the community hence has had very little opportunity for advancement in the church. Celestial Marriage is a requirement to enter the kingdom of God. Three wives is the minimum to enter into God's presence. How is marriage arranged, you may ask. A man gets a "testimony" of marriage for a particular girl in the community, takes it to the prophet who prays about it and grants or denies the request.

Rachel happens to be the oldest daughter of Abraham Shaw, a particularly self-centered and cruel man in the community. He loves to slap his children around with open and closed fists and possesses, on his property, a whipping shed. Imagine his dismay when the prophet requests his attendance to a meeting regarding his very beautiful daughter, Rachel. She's had 16 men in the community request her hand in marriage. They have all had testimonies revealed to them. Why would this happen? Clearly, Rachel is a seductress and a whore and requires the devil to be beat out of her. Of course, she complies because she is submissive to the priesthood in her home.

Then there's Sara, tall, angular, and starting to doubt a few doctrines of the church. First, it is her nature (wicked child). Second, a new family has joined the cult fold. The father is a man of means. He has money to offer along with a construction company to build a new meeting house for the saints. He also has a very handsome and headstrong son, Luke, who fills Sara and Rachel with all kinds of wicked talk. He doesn't believe the prophet is called of God. He is shocked that 13 year old girls are being married off so easily and told to multiply and replenish the earth. He is also world wise and knows why so many babies tend to have birth defects (shallow gene pool). Third, Sara has a literal and metaphorical experience that opens her eyes to the frantic nature of their situation.

Luke wants to run away. This won't be difficult since he's quickly assessed that boys his age are few and far between. Where have they gone, he wonders. Rachel patiently pats his arm and explains they have gone for further training and will return to build the kingdom. When? he asks. Uh, says Rachel. They just don't come back. But Rachel's testimony is unwavering and absolute. She believes the prophet is nothing but part God.

Sara, on the other hand, witnesses a bartering deal between the "prophet" and another man and then witnesses a woman's death which barely stirred the air. She correctly concludes that every woman in the community is expendable.

Little do they know, the worst is still to come. 

My take

I kept forgetting that I was reading a book since it played in my head like a movie. Scenes morphed beautifully and included such extensive research on the FLDS culture and church (which simply can't be separated).

I enjoyed having two protagonists with different personalities. All of the characters remained true to their personality to the very end. I particularly enjoyed the way Rachel did not just bounce back when her two worlds collided, causing a psychotic episode which is very believable.

Irvin was an interesting twist. His mouth echoed what he heard but his writing had different ideas. As did Sara's journal, I suspect. The moment he found his voice being the moment that Rachel discovered the ironies of her life and Sara found freedom - brilliant.

And more...
This is Mari and Michelle, a.k.a., Claire Avery. They happen to have a unique childhood. They grew up in a Catholic fundamental family. Extreme Mormons apparently no longer hold the corner on the market. Don't let their pretty faces fool you. Behind those gorgeous masks lurk brilliant minds.

I am not a polygamy expert. I have, however, read a number of books on the topic. Many of them have a story to tell but don't tell it well. I have, however, read one memoir that I would recommend by Dorothy Solomon, daughter of Rulan Allred, who gave a balanced voice to polygamy. 

Balanced in the way she presented her information. She never told the reader how to feel or think. She simply presented her experiences that included both happy times and frightening times. She also included stories that would send a little bit of bile into your throat. Dorothy Solomon is also now an active member of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Her story is written with an understanding of early church history regarding polygamy and the LDS perspective (we ignore it like the creepy uncle in the attic).

I have found that a number of authors who have attempted to write a novel about a polygamist group sprouting from the mainstream Mormon church slaughter the Mormon church in the process. Mari and Michelle accurately portrays the obstacles the FLDS woman faces. It is brutal.

Highly recommend. 

My rare five stars.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Paul Is Undead by Alan Goldsher

Book Description (from publisher)


For John Lennon, a young, idealistic zombie guitarist with dreams of global domination, Liverpool seems the ideal place to form a band that could take over the world. In an inspired act, Lennon kills and reanimates local rocker Paul McCartney, kicking off an unstoppable partnership. With the addition of newly zombified guitarist George Harrison and drummer/Seventh Level Ninja Lord Ringo Starr, the Beatles soon cut a swath of bloody good music and bloody violent mayhem across Europe, America, and the entire planet.

In this searing oral history, discover how the Fab Four climbed to the Toppermost of the Poppermost while stealing the hearts, ears, and brains of smitten teenage girls. Learn the tale behind a spiritual journey that resulted in the dismemberment of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Marvel at the seemingly indestructible quartet’s survival of a fierce attack by Eighth Level Ninja Lord Yoko Ono. And find out how the boys escaped eternal death at the hands of England’s greatest zombie hunter, Mick Jagger.

Through all this, one mystery remains: Can the Beatles sublimate their hunger for gray matter, remain on top of the charts, and stay together for all eternity? After all, three of the Fab Four are zombies, and zombies live forever. . . ."

This is just an off-the-wall read. There were some quite funny parts and other parts that struck me as British humor. It's different than American humor. I don't know why. The book serves as simple entertainment. And sometimes that's exactly what you need.

*Some offensive language and light sexual content.

Want it?
Comment with your email
Contest ends July 8th
No P.O. Boxes
U.S. Only

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Place for Delta

The story opens with Ben and Kate, the newest residents (with their mother) arriving in Georgia to their new home on the cusp of wilderness. Ben and Kate spend the first few chapters exploring their new world, understanding the boundaries between civilization and the wild, and forging new friendships with a local veterinarian and daughter.

The next scenes occur with Ben and Kate grown, Ben married and father to an 11 year old son who is just as curious and nature loving as his father. By this time Kate has become a researcher in the Alaskan wilderness when she is greeted by a surprise resident; a polar cub. With the help of her nephew, Joseph, she is able to care for the baby cub as intrigue is soon introduced. Someone is purposely killing the polar bears, hence, Delta's orphaned state. Joseph and his new friend, Ada, a native Alaskan decide to solve this mystery.

Dr. Melissa Walker writes this book with a conservatory slant as she explores the threats to nature in the Alaskan tundra (man encroaching and man's greed) while preserving a solid, well written story that will appeal to the target age group audience - ages 9-12.

Being in the business of public education, a title I love to throw out to add weight to opinion, I love the book.

More importantly, I happen to be in the business of raising four amazing and distinct children, I appreciate the simple language yet not condescending. Children will appreciate the adventure, the mystery, the friendships, and the new scenery. The author introduces a valuable resource on preserving the earth, the magical sense of discovering life of different shapes, sizes, and molecular make up.

Let me clarify. I am not a tree hugger. I am not opposed to oil drilling. I am not prepared to desecrate the wilderness and destroy animal and plant life beyond all recognition but I wanted to clarify my belief system before I type the next sentence.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It is new with excellent research to strengthen the story and provides latency age children with not only a good read, but an education, albeit sneaky. I'm not opposed to this path. I already know my children ARE tree huggers and will be pursuing education and work opportunities in botany and biology.

With my public educator persona and parent persona firmly in agreement, I can honestly recommend this book to school reading book circles with no qualms. It is meaningful, realistic, and empowering for a latency age child.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Every Boat Turns South

This book is an enigma. It is a cross between Ordinary People, Prodigal Son, Crime and Punishment, Miama Vice, Ernest Hemingway, and Robert Frost. Matt Younger is the son of a sailor that he calls Skip. Matt's been M.I.A. for the last three years but comes home in time for a cleansing of his soul as he confesses all at his father's deathbed.

Always playing second fiddle to his older brother, the Golden Child, Matt was the last person to see his brother, Hale, alive. In their teens, they boarded a boat and only one returned. Obviously, not the one for whom the sun rose and set. The parents and brother distraught, they drifted apart and dealt with the loss differently. Both parents blamed Matt for Hale's death. Matt carried Hale's secrets and kept them from his parents and the world.

Matt drops out of high school and uses his sailing skills to make money. He ends up being hired to sail a boat to St. Thomas so Sam Wells, a faceless victim (in the beginning) could bring his wife to cavort. The winds blowing just so and Matt still pretty full of stupid, he ends up retrieving a whole mess of cocaine, picking up a crew he probably shouldn't have, and getting stranded on Dominican Republic running into all kinds of trouble there.

The story is complex and metaphorical. J.P. White is a prolific poet who can describe the beauty of the Carribean, the islands, women, men, sailboats, and trade winds in explicit detail. Although enjoyable mental images, I found myself re-reading passages to discern whether I was to interpret something metaphorically or literally. I think some of that vagueness (maybe all?) was a planned part of the author's experience.

The author contrasts the beauty of the Carribean with the violence, poverty, and world of crime on the same islands. Prostitution, drug running, murder, bribery, blackmail are in strong contrast to the paradisaical setting. Woven into the story is the human experiences of love, loss, death and dying. The author explores the act of dying, the slow, laborious process, denial, acceptance, and love.

It is poetry.

I have 1 copy. Who wants it? 
Comment with email.
Contest ends June 30, 2010

The Federal Trade Commission wants me to tell you that I received a copy of this book from Pump Up Your Book in return for an honest review. Thanks, Dorothy!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Step on a Crack: Overcoming Depression, a Memoir (Review)

From Publisher
Jill Byrne's inspirational memoir Step on a Crack shows how her indomitable spirit and sense of humor helped her survive childhood neglect, divorces, chronic and clinical depression, a psychotic episode, and a revolving door of therapists. Following her completion of the Hoffman Quadrinity Process, she removed the psychiatric gum from her shoe forever. In Step on a Crack, Jill tells of her recovery and offers hope to the millions in America who suffer from depression's anguish.

My Take
The author is a product of an unwanted pregnancy (although her parents are married with a teenage daughter) and lives in the shadow of the knowledge she was unplanned and unwanted by her mother. She details the unfairness of her treatment in chronological order and includes incidences from both home and at school. I found this portion of the book laborious and unremarkable. It is far too easy for any person to revisit their childhood and recall how s/he was mistreated by parents, siblings, or children at school. I didn't find her mother's behavior exceedingly cruel - just thoughtless. However, the author offers explanation later in the book. She is not a child of horrific abuse, but a child who perceives that she is treated unfairly (which she probably is). 

What makes Jill's story compelling is that she struggled with mental illness long before treatment was well researched (beyond Freudian psychotherapy) and having a therapist was taboo. Jill's struggle with depression is very real which makes her persistence even more remarkable. Her humor continues to provide the book with enjoyment and the reader finds herself drawn in to her quest for peace and happiness.

I didn't love the book although it is extremely well written. I tire of the mantra that "I'm screwed up because my parents were mean to me" although the author does not explicitly say as much.  I thought it was implied whether intentional or not. I do not discount the author's perception of neglect and abuse but I think it should be further noted that the bigger issue is genetic predisposition for depression and anxiety. The author finds out much later that her mother suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder.

That said, I admire the woman who realizes her parents were human, made mistakes but seeks to become a better person. In this case, the author found a treatment that not only worked for her but she gained enough peace that she continued with her education to help others with mental illness.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther by Ginger Garrett

Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther (Lost Loves of the Bible)
Esther is an orphan living outside the palace walls, a Jew in exile. She is taken in by a distant cousin named Mordicai. She lives hand to mouth and sells sheep and roses at the market daily. Somehow, she is chosen to be part of the king's harem. It is assumed the king is Xerxes, the son of Darius famous for Daniel in the Lion's Den. He was tolerant and good to Jews (probably because of his close friendship with Daniel).

Back to Esther. She is prepped for one full year for her one night to impress the king who needs a queen since he has exiled the previous queen. She finds favor in the king, becomes the queen and lives in the palace where she is informed by Mordacai of a plot to murder and overthrow the king, she tells him, he is grateful, another bad guy enters and hates Mordacai so he gets the king to sign a decree to murder all Jews living under the crown of Persia but through Esther's cunning, she reveals to her husband that she is Jewish and bad guy is really trying to overtake the thrown. Bad guy dies. King won't recall his order to murder the Jews (it just doesn't look good, does it? King makes declaration then decides, "Oh, never mind." But he offers Esther and Mordacai free reign to write proclamation to root out all those in plot and kill them.

And this, my dear non-Jewish friend, is the birth of Purim, a tradition still practiced in the Jewish community to celebrate Esther and her bravery which saved the Jewish people from slaughter.

So, that's Esther. Very short book in the Old Testament. Frankly, it leaves me with my eyebrows raised. So many unanswered questions.

It's no secret that the women in the Old Testament are strangely silent. Whatever journals are canonized from our time period would be full of women who wielded great power over countries and politics. This simply is not so for the women under the Persian crown.

The author assumes Esther is quite poor and works hard in the marketplace. When the king exiles Queen Vashti (pregnant with his son), he is in need of a new queen. Where does a king find a queen? In his harems. Where do the harems come from? They are made up of virgins from his kingdom. This smacks strangely of sex slavery. The virgins are bought  with or without their caretakers' permission and carted off to the palace.

Hagai, a well respected Eunich (incidentally, Eunichs had a mortality rate of 90% shortly after their oh-so-sterile surgery), chose Esther because of her beauty to be trained and prepped by the best servants. But now she is an unwilling participant in the Old Testament's version of "The Bachelor." Each virgin gets one night with the king. Either she impresses him so he asks for her again and again, she gets pregnant and will be treated very well for the rest of her life (or his reign, whichever comes to the end first), or she wins his heart and is made queen.

Every night he gets a new virgin. Not all virgins make to the king's bed. There is murder and suicide. We're talking serious "Bachelor" crap going on. Esther makes it to the king's bed but refuses to enter willingly unless she has the promise of his heart. He makes her queen before he takes her virginity.

Oh, but did I mention that the king continues to play with his harems? She is a queen but she lacks any real power. He needs heirs so he will impregnate as many as possible. Isn't that just special.

What struck me so powerfully with the author's crafting of her story is the lack of will and power the women at this time possessed. The king wants a girl, even as young as 12 (Esther becomes part of the harem at 17), and she has no choice but to go. When the king calls for her, she must go. All of her strength lies in her power to conceive yet even that may not save her (as it did not save Vashti).

Did I mention that, even as queen, Esther does not have access to her husband unless she is summoned? Imagine her angst in knowing that there is a plan to murder Mordacai and the rest of her Jewish people and she runs the risk of being beheaded by approaching her husband uninvited.

In the end, she uses what resources she has; her beauty, her cleavage and sexuality, and the beauty implements at her disposal. Yes, the power of seduction was her gift to gain access to her husband. In essence, she had to prostitute herself even to her husband in order to save the Jewish people and herself. It was at this time she revealed that she was a Jew.

The story is told in diary form. Esther reveals her childlike dreams of marrying the man she loves from the village and the reader watches as Esther is an astute student of the rules of the palace and court. She learns quickly and realizes that royalty is simply precarious and always at death's door.

It need be noted that after Esther's heroic act of doing the will of God and saving the Jewish nation in Persia, life for women changed drastically. Because of the traitorous men in the land, most were purged by bloody and also cowardly means. This left many women and children without someone to care for them. Because of Esther's influence, women were allowed to work the same as men and were paid fair wages. It was a season of peace and prosperity.

The author weaves a beautiful story of Esther's probable life circumstances. Along with the story, she provides snippets of real history in the appendix along with talks given that liken Esther's experiences to our own. For instance, this was not Esther's dream in life, to be married to a king who worshiped pagen gods. However, she used the resources she had to make a life for herself. She learned to love her husband and retain her Jewish practices in secret. Have we not found ourselves in circumstances that are less than ideal? Can we not use the resources at our disposal to make our lives work for good?

There is a beautiful essay in the appendix contrasting the importance of having a fertile womb. Motherhood was esteemed above all else for a woman's worth. The goal was to get pregnant. How does that contrast with today's culture? We do women value today? Is it the same as what God wants for us?

Besides opening my eyes to sex slavery and the complete lack of power women seemed to have at that time (although Esther clearly makes good use of her talents and helps change the culture so women could also care for themselves) I am enamored by this book. The writing is exquisite and tells the story of Esther through her own fictional diaries. The author took some liberties when crafting the story but the basic story is not only intact, but the culture is meticulously researched and woven within the book.

Loved it.

But I don't want to be Esther.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Masked by Moonlight by Nancy Gideon

I always felt a little bad that Jacob Black was so young. Well, and moody but I won't address that here. What if he was older so I could look at him, pant, and not feel like a cradle robber?

Masked by Moonlight introduces the reader to the underbelly of New Orleans with crime lord, Jimmy, and his beautifully sculpted and exquisite lap dog, Max. The story is that Jimmy found Max as a little boy out in the swamps with his dead mama, half starved and mostly mad. He brought him home and trained him to always watch Jimmy's back. Rumor has it that Max is also a ruthless killer. An exquisite and magnificent ruthless killer.

Then we have New Orleans Police Department's, Charlotte, who verbally spars with Max on every occasion. For some reason she and her partner, Alain, find themselves at Jimmy's place often questioning them about the latest criminal activity. 

One of these characters possesses the same outstanding characteristic of Jacob Black sans Twilight. Another of the characters finds herself drawn to him as he sniffs her out wherever she may be. I'm not going to lie to you. It's a sensual book. Not the passive innuendo type book but the in-your-face-sexual-description and husband-is-going-to-get-lucky-tonight kind of book.

It's the first of a series, setting up a good New Orleans cop as the girlfriend of a very powerful underbelly criminal who definitely knows how to please a woman and does so over and over and over again.

Want it? I have a copy up for grabs. Have an address in the U.S. (no P.O. box) and someplace to hide it when your mother-in-law comes over. Give me a comment with your email address. Extra entry (in separate comment) if you tell me who you would choose to play an irresistible werewolf in a movie.

Contest ends June 28th.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Desire Me by Robyn DeHart Giveaway

Desire Me (The Legend Hunters)
I tried to make the picture bigger so you could more fully enjoy it.

It was fuzzy.

Years ago, Maxwell Barrett found a map to Atlantis and dedicated his life to the search for the mystical lost continent. But when an alluring woman makes a wager for the priceless artifact, he may have discovered an even greater treasure.

A descendant of Atlantis, Sabine Tobias needs the map to decipher an ancient prophecy. What she doesn't need are the sparks flying between her and Max. He's too devilishly charming to be trusted: The fate of her people is at stake as well as her heart. Yet a ruthless killer also covets the map. Now Max and Sabine must race to decode the prophecy's riddle before this criminal fulfills his deadly mission.

Don't you just love it when I've got the connections to get you one of these novels? It slips right into your purse. You can take anyplace. Pull it out when you're waiting in line at the post office, doctor's office, in your scripture case.

The rules for contest are incredibly easy, as usual.
1. Make a comment
2. Include email
3. Have U.S. or Canada address
4. Tell me your favorite chocolate concoction.

I'll start. Chocolate cupcake with cream cheese/whipped topping filling and frosting sprinkled with bits of Heath bar and drizzled with caramel.

I think I just drooled on my keyboard.

Contest ends July 9th.
2 winners

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Max Lucado's Hermie and Who Is In Charge, Anyway?

Not surprisingly, Max Lucado has tapped into his connection with children and their relationship with God. Animated characters feel insignificant and wallow in their shortcomings. One little guy is just stinky. Eventually, it is revealed that all of God's creatures and creations are made on purpose. God tells one of the little insects who is feeling quite outcast that He (God) does not make any mistakes and that each of us is created for a special purpose. God tells him that it doesn’t matter what other people think, only what God thinks about us.

Reminiscent of Veggie Tales except the story does not retell a biblical story but reiterates Jesus Christ's teachings and mission on earth. The stories are short and perfect for a younger audience.

I always love a good Max Lucado inspiration in any form.

This DVD was provided by Thomas Nelson Group for review. Although DVD was provided at no cost to me, I am not required to provide a positive review, only an honest review.

The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand GIVEAWAY

Greg and Tess MacAvoy are one of four prominent Nantucket couples who count each other as best friends. As pillars of their close-knit community, the MacAvoys, Kapenashes, Drakes, and Wheelers are important to their friends and neighbors, and especially to each other. But just before the beginning of another idyllic summer, Greg and Tess are killed when their boat capsizes during an anniversary sail. As the warm weather approaches and the island mourns their loss, nothing can prepare the MacAvoy's closest friends for what will be revealed.

Once again, Hilderbrand masterfully weaves an intense tale of love and loyalty set against the backdrop of endless summer island life.

Perfect Beach Read. Don't have a Beach Read? You're going to want this one. Unless you plan on going out on a boat for your anniversary and fear it will capsize and you will die. 
Please. Just call me Little Miss Mary Sunshine.

Make a comment by June 28th to win one of two copies.
What's your favorite beach? 
Open to U.S. and Canada.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Help! For Parents by Anthony LaPray Review and Giveaway!

Parenting doesn't have to be an ordeal. Reading doesn't have to be an ordeal. Those two beliefs make Help! For Parents different from any parenting book written.  Written in layman's terms, this book was published in order to better reach Dr. LaPray's clients. As a practicing psychologist (now retired) of 37 years, Dr. LaPray knew that parenting could be an enjoyable journey and consistency and positive feedback were key. 

While psychology students were studying their buried id or superego in the philosophies of Freud, Dr. LaPray was studying the cutting edge ideas of B. F. Skinner and developing a cognitive behavior approach to parenting (albeit through the experimental lab rats and mazes). While parents were reading how to care for babies by revolutionary Dr. Spock, Dr. LaPray was setting up reward systems based on poker chips and candy bars for his own 5 children and working as a pioneer in the new Head Start program.

My take

This book is an easy read with sound advice. Dr. LaPray advocates time-out, consistency, and basic troubleshooting of parenting. This book should sit on the shelf within arms reach for every parent of a toddler or teenager (same basic mentality). 

Are you a mom, dad, grandparent, aunt or uncle? Do you want a nudge in the right direction? Here's your chance for a copy of this book! Two lucky readers will get a FREE copy!

Rules -

1. Leave a comment with your email.
2. Include parenting advice given to you - good or bad.
3. Open to my friends in AFRICA and AUSTRALIA (and anyplace else that won't break the bank for me to send it).
4. Contest ends June 28th. HURRY!


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Change of Altitude by Anita Shreve GIVEAWAY!

Anita Shreve worked in Kenya as a journalist early in her career. She returns to that country in her latest, the story of a photojournalist and her doctor husband, whose temporary relocation abroad goes sour. The year-long research trip is an opportunity for Patrick, but leaves Margaret floundering in colonialist culture shock, feeling like an actor in a play someone British had written for a previous generation. When a climbing trip to Mt. Kenya goes fatally wrong, Margaret's role in the tragedy drives a quiet wedge between the couple. Compounding those stressors are multiple robberies and adulterous temptations, as well as Margaret's freelance work for a controversial newspaper.
This book is on my "to read" shelf which is really an attractive stack of books by my bed. It is two and half books away from being read. If you would like to try and beat me to it, let me know by providing a comment with your email address.

This looks like a great chick book (yes, I did just say that) and perfect for a book group. In fact, I'll give you a heads up and give you a link to the reader's guide. Here it is.

Contest ends June 28, 2010
Open to U.S. and Canada residents
No P.O. Boxes

Tell me you adore me.

Thank you Valerie from Hatchette Book Groups for sponsoring this giveaway.

Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook (Revised and Updated)

I'm not going to lie. I like to cook. Sometimes I like to cook a lot. But I'm a little on the busy side. In case I haven't previously mentioned, I have four children, a house, and a job. Far too often 6:00 p.m. approaches and I wonder what we're having for dinner.

Now meet my old friend, Ye Olde Crock Potte.

It's just a regular old crock pot but I love her. Look at the way she is stained on the outside. That means she is well used.

FSB Media let me review Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook. They don't know it, but it made me so happy I skipped.

I happen to be addicted to easy.  Slow cookers epitomize easy. Did you know you can bake bread in slow cookers? Neither did I. 700 recipes of slow cooker meals from appetizers to desserts with bread, soups and casseroles in the middle. Desserts! I said DESSERTS!

The nice part about this book is that it includes a page debunking myths and another page discussing best use practices. For instance, for optimum cooking, fill slow cooker 2/3 full. I didn't know that. Chunky vegetables take longer to cook so place them at the bottom of pot to maximize heat. Every time you take the lid off your slow cooker, add 15 minutes to cooking time.

Most important myth that MUST be debunked (according to me): You can't overcook food in a slow cooker. The next person that says that to me will get slapped. If you've never overcooked a roast in a slow cooker, you just aren't trying hard enough.

Each recipe provides prep time, cooking time, and ideal size of slow cooker. Do you cook it on high or low? It's provided. Don't have all the ingredients? There's even a page for substitutions.

I really wish you could see me doing the happy dance.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Flight to Heaven by Dale Black

My take:
About 20 years ago a lot of people who have had near death experiences published their story. It was disappointing to me and I didn't really know why. With a few more years experience, I realized that, although the experiences may be completely real, it seemed that they were trying to sell themselves more than the experience.

Dale Black was 19 and probably pretty arrogant when he got his pilot's license. He'd just been kicked out of college and didn't really care. He hopped into an airplane with two other pilots who had more experience and was ushered to the back seat, mere inches from the pilots. Minutes later, the acting pilot took off without gaining proper air speed. The airplane began losing altitude and, ironically, smashed into a memorial structure built to honor pilots who had previously died called "Portal of the Folded Wings." All of the occupants were ejected from the airplane at approximately 135 mph.

The acting pilot died upon impact. Dale's good friend, Chuck, died at the hospital. Dale felt the moment as he was floating above his body and the doctor came into the room. Dale was in a coma for three days. When he woke up he had HUGE gaps in his memory. He was also critically wounded with chemical burns, shattered bones and joints, pieces of the airplane stuck in his flesh, and an obvious brain injury. Slamming into concrete at 135 mph tends to do that.

Although Dale did not remember anything from the accident or the time he was in a coma, he awoke with a very strong and personal love for those he saw. He wanted to tell them how much God loved them. He wanted to tell them how precious they are and help them to know that truth. He wanted to tell them about Jesus and the importance of His gift.

The author eventually tells of the experience he had at the gates of heaven; the light, the sounds, the music, the love, the people but it is clear he holds back the most sacred of the experiences. The memories were buried for months before they began coming to him in dreams and then while awake. Because of the sacred nature, he didn't tell anybody about them until a couple of months later when he visited with his grandfather. His grandfather told him to hold them sacred, pray about them, and share them only at an appropriate time. Most importantly, rather than telling about his change of heart, live it.

The author then details the rest of the first year after the crash. His injuries were extensive. He didn't just have broken bones and dislocated shoulder as he was previously told. They were shattered beyond probable repair. He details his journey of faith and humility as the crash and the brush with heaven did not completely quell his pride.

Dale was given a glimpse of God's love, it changed his heart and he wanted everybody to know how much God loves them, too. But he was also a proud person (like most of us are) and wanted to be healed for personal gain. When he accepted God's will miracles occurred.

Another poignant part to Dale's story is that even though miracles occurred and he acknowledged God's hand (and they really are amazing), his journey is long and arduous. Nothing happens suddenly but requires not only his own faith but a lot of hard work. He didn't just get to believe he would be healed and pray it would happen. He had to exercise not only his body but his will. When he gave his will to God answers came.

With the additional years of experience and language, Dale more clearly articulated the importance of God, Jesus, and the Plan of Salvation. Waiting forty years to tell a piece of his story made the telling a selfless act. It also gave the author forty years to live the change.

This would be an incredibly difficult book to write. Dale leaves his pride behind him as he describes how he survived, why he survived and the others did not, how much he wants to further God's work, included a little smidgen of how he has done so without placing himself on a pedestal, and he is somehow able to use written language to write about spiritual experiences.

Getting a Little Personal
Last Sunday I had a culmination of experiences that ended (?) with an experience I could not articulate to my husband. He's only seen me grapple with the problem but hadn't been part of the entire process. Answers to my prayers were coming but not the answers I expected and then He added a bonus as I found myself connecting to a woman at church who happened to be struggling with similar issues.

I realize I'm being vague here. It isn't that I'm being secretive, I just couldn't articulate the experience that day and I can't do it now.

I tried a number of times to explain parts of it to my husband but I was unable to attach language to it and couldn't stop crying. In exasperation, I told him that I didn't know why I was crying. It wasn't a sad occasion or answer.

He wisely taught me that crying is the way our bodies respond to spiritual experiences.

Standing ovation to Dale Black and my husband..

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Business of Announcing WINNERS!

What a week! We have some happy bloggy readers! 

Rather than hold you over until the next commercial break like "So You Think You Can Dance"  in an effort to stretch it out until you can hardly stand it...

Have I ever told you how much I love DVR?

(Stop it, Nancy.)

And the winners for some Amusing books are:

Desire Me

Amazon Queen

The Heart Mender

Confessions of Catherine de Medici
Countess Laurie (how appropriate she would be royalty)

Winners have been emailed. If you see your name and you didn't get an email, assume it is because I am keeping the book all to myself drop me a line.

By the way, fantastic comments. Love the favorite lines. We are SO going to do that one again.

New giveaways in the works. Check out what I have on the right.

More coming!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Of Play Dead

T Warner

Still the One


Congratulations winners! 
Emails have been sent to winners. Please respond within three days.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Art of Devotion

Have we all not wished to keep forever the one person we love the most?

The secluded beaches of a sun-drenched Mediterranean island are the perfect playground for young Sebastian and Adora. Emotionally adrift from their mother, Adora shelters her sensitive older brother from the cruelties of the world. Sophie does not question her children's intense need for one another until it's too late. Her beloved son's affections belong to Adora, and when he drowns in the sea, she has no one else to blame.

Still heartbroken years later, Adora fills her emptiness with Genevieve, the precocious young daughter of her husband's business associate and his jealous wife, Miranda. Thrilled to be invited into the beautiful and enigmatic Adora's world, the child idolizes her during their summers together. Yet, as the years progress, Genevieve begins to suspect their charmed existence is nothing more than a carefully crafted illusion. Soon, she too is ensnared in a web of lies.

Stunningly told in the tragic voices of four women whose lives are fatefully entangled, The Art of Devotion is evocative and haunting, a story of deceit, jealousy, and the heartbreaking reality of love's true power.

My Take
This book is going to be the biggest hit for book clubs. I honestly don't know how to even write my reading experience. But I'll try. For you.

The story is unique because it is told in four distinct voices thus four perspectives. Each voice adding more to the story. I found myself leaning more sympathetically to each character after the chapter she wrote. And then I would change my mind as I was pulled through another voice and new information. 

The book begins with a simple story and ends with a tangle of secrets, betrayal, loves lost, gained, new understanding. The way I felt about each character at the beginning is not the way I felt about her by the end of the book.

Here they are in simplistic terms and I want so much to say more but I don't want to ruin the book for you.

Adora - She's the center of the universe. She is beautiful and tragic. As a child she arrived on the island with her brother, two years her senior. When her mother was widowed, Adora took the role as caretaker for her brother, Sebastian. She devoted herself to him with her all-consuming love. Established early in the book is that she died in 1938. Her voice comes from the diaries she keeps from the time of her brother's death at the age of 20 until her death at 38. She is unable to have children and decides she loves her husband's best friend's daughter, Genevieve whom she loves as completely as she did her brother.

Genevieve - By the age of 8 she had essentially been stolen by Adora. She spent every summer on the island until the age of 18. She begins the narration as a 20 year on the eve of her wedding. She sounds resigned and not thrilled as she might have been.

Miranda - Genevieve's mother. She bitterly laments the losses she has endured at Adora's hands. She feels victimized by her husband and Adora and manipulated by her daughter.

Sophie - Adora's and Sebastian's mother who blames Adora for Sebastian's death. She is jealous of Sebastian's affections for his sister and loathes her for being the child that lived.

It is killing me to say nothing more of the story but I don't want to ruin it for you. The symbolism is poignant. The dogs, the olive grove, the flowers, the sea. Motherhood a recurring theme, as it is a form of devotion, although can be dichotomous.

As each woman speaks, more is revealed, eventually providing the reader with completely unexpected twists and turns. The innocent may not be so innocent. Malice is also an art. And some people truly are without guile. Others are simply duped. 

This book completely ruined my dinner date with my husband tonight. I could think of little else. The more I processed it with him, the more irony or symbolism I found. I also found this is a very difficult book to explain because the story contains so many layers. Read it then explain it to you husband. Go ahead. Watch his astonished look when you try to explain the dogs. 

(They aren't really dogs, they are representative of devotion. Okay, they really are dogs but they are so much more. Now, see? It doesn't sound coherent but it makes perfect sense. Really. It does). 

The author has an incredible command of language and human capacity for love, devotion, annoyance, avoidance, malice, and just putting words to feelings I've never thought to articulate yet they resonate. Her descriptions are beautiful and heart breaking.

This is a book that will either be dearly loved or deeply irritating

Contains a Reader's Group Guide. I suggest reading the guide before beginning the book. I highly recommend reading the book for in a book club.

Want it? I have one up for grabs! Frankly, I wish I had more so we could start our own book club! I would love to hear a conversation about this book! 

We could have it at my house. I'd make petits fours. Not that I know how but it would be appropriate refreshment for our book club.

Leave a comment with your name, email address, and what you would like served at a book club.

Contest ends June 28, 2010
U.S. addresses only
No P.O. Boxes

Book provided by Sarah at Pocket Book Group for review. FTC regulations makes me say that but I still didn't have to tell you I loved it.