Sunday, February 27, 2011

Curiosities of the Civil War by Webb Garrison

Rating: 4 stars

Did you know that some wives, including General Grant's wife, actually followed their husbands from one battlefield to the next during the Civil War?  Even after losing a limb, did you know that some soldiers returned to battle?  Have you ever thought about the thousands of horses that lost their lives during the Civil War?  Reading Curiosities of the Civil War will open your eyes to numerous aspects of war that are not mentioned in traditional history books and documentaries. With this 150th anniversary edition, Thomas Nelson Publishers has re-introduced readers to the extensive research and amazing findings of Webb Garrison, the late historian and former associate dean of Emory University.  The attractive cover serves as a tribute to our nation's history and the durable hardback binding will stand the test of time, like the stories within its pages. 

Curiosities of the Civil War is arranged in nine parts, beginning with "Memorable Players in the Nation's Greatest Drama" and ending with "The Money Trail." Every chapter within each part follows a general theme and is comprised of paragraph snippets of interesting findings about individuals who served in the war.  Many of these findings are based on secondary resources, like diaries and newspaper articles from the time period.  One of my favorite chapters is entitled "No One Called Lincoln Handsome." Newspaper columnists and acquaintances noted his unusually large hands and feet and his lanky frame, and it is now believed that he may have had Marfan Syndrome.  Today, when visitors view the famous Lincoln Memorial, they will not see the hands of Lincoln, but the hands of its sculptor, Daniel Chester French, who apparently decided not to accurately depict Lincoln's over sized and bony fingers.

As a person who enjoys learning about the past, I found Curiosities of the Civil War to be quite interesting. This is not a book that needs to be read in a few sittings. In fact, it is an excellent book for the coffee table that can be read in snippets and offer conversation starters.  If you happen to teach history, it is a wonderful supplement, and a daily passage can be shared at the beginning of Civil War history lessons to capture students' interest.  A question can be posed from the account to stimulate their thinking and natural curiosity.  Curiosities of the Civil War offers a multitude of  interesting historical details for the young and old alike.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Book Sneeze through their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, February 21, 2011

Berkeley Square: Movie Review

Rating: 5 Stars

Synopsis from A classic coming-of-age tale on par with Anne of Avonlea and Little Women, Berkeley Square is worth watching over and over again. This 10-episode British miniseries will awe you with its erudite script, wonderfully believable characters, high-caliber production values, meticulous Edwardian details, and topnotch acting. In fact, you will join the growing multitudes who puzzle over why the BBC decided to stop after only 10 episodes.

In 1902 three young nannies find jobs in well-to-do London households and get to know each other. Naive farm girl Lydia finds an unfamiliar world both in city life and with the progressive-thinking family who employs her. Earnest, rule-abiding Matty is a hard-working East End girl who slowly learns to loosen up. And, after a tragic affair with the eldest son of a grand Yorkshire family, Hannah's life in London is full of chilling secrets and grave life-and-death decisions. --Tara Chace

B Squared's Review: Berkeley Square is a worthy and engaging endeavor for fellow fans of period British movies.  The 10 episodes total about 8.5 hours; so this series takes longer to finish than a traditional movie.  We were skeptical about finishing the series after watching the first episode, which was less eventful than the proceeding episodes.  In retrospect, episode one does a fabulous job of introducing viewers to the main characters and providing insights into the households.  By the end of the second episode, we were completely hooked.  Lydia, Matty, and Hannah each have compelling stories.  Their characters are well-developed and masterfully acted, as are the supporting characters. We felt connected to each of the girls as well as their charges, whose own plights, despite their privileged lives will pull on you heartstrings (especially Hannah's charge, Bertie).  

Collectively, the many story lines in Berkeley Square offer happiness, sadness, loss, mystery, danger, scandal, and love...truly something for every viewer.  After reading viewer comments that alluded to loose-ends and the lack of a conclusion, we were concerned that the end would leave us disappointed.  Berkeley Square clearly could have continued into another season.  There were a few minor story lines introduced midway through the series that could have been developed in another season, but the lack of focus in the remainder of the season was not detrimental to the overall plot.  Fortunately, the final episode does provide a satisfying conclusion.  Every issue is not perfectly resolved, but it is easy to develop one's own happy ending.  In comparison to the final episode of Downton Abbey, which will continue in 2012, Berkeley Square's conclusion is much more developed and defined.  Thank goodness, because we would have been sorely disappointed if we were left "hanging" after almost 9 hours.

We will definitely watch Berkeley Square again.  It is one more British movie/series to add to our list of favorites.

So Not Happening by Jenny B. Jones

Rating: 5 stars

Publisher's Synopsis: Bella Kirkwood had it all: A-list friends at her prestigious private school, Broadway in her backyard, and Daddy’s MasterCard in her wallet. Then her father, a plastic surgeon to the stars, decided to trade her mother in for a newer model.

Forced to trade her uber-trendy NYC lifestyle for  down-home charm, Bella feels like a pair of Rock & Republic jeans in a sea of Wranglers. At least some of the people in her new high school are pretty cool. Especially the hunky football player who invites her to lunch. And maybe even the annoying--but kinda hot--editor of the school newspaper.

But before long, Bella smells something rotten in the town of Truman, and it’s not just the cow pasture. With her savvy reporter’s instincts, she is determined to find the story behind all the secrets.

How can a girl go on when her charmed life is gone and God appears to be giving her the total smackdown?

B Squared's Review: I decided to read the first novel in Jenny B. Jones' acclaimed young-adult series, The Charmed Life, after reading two of her adult novels. Although there are teenage elements to the plot, I found the novel very enjoyable and relatable. Bella Kirkwood is a self-centered and somewhat spoiled girl at the beginning of the novel, but she has a good heart which makes her likable.  Over the course of the novel, Bella re-evaluates her priorities, while maintaining her wit and humor.

On the surface, So Not Happening looks like a light read.  How seriously can one take a book with a cover featuring a designer handbag an a cute pink pig?  Yes, the cover is quirky, as well as the plot in some places.  Jones balances quirks and humor with infusions of faith, suspense, and drama.  Together, these elements create an engaging and steady plot.  I highly recommend So Not Happening to both teenagers and adults.  Will I read the next two books in The Charmed Life series.  Of course...that is so happening!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Journey to Riverbend by Henry McLaughlin

Rating: 3 stars

Journey to Riverbend  by Henry McLaughlin is the most recent winner of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel Contest.  McLaughlin's debut novel introduces Michael Archer, a reformed man ministering to criminals.  Michael's promise to Ben Carstairs, a man sentenced to an unavoidable death, leads him on his journey to Riverbend to meet Ben's ruthless father, Sam.  Upon arrival in Riverbend, Michael is drawn to the beautiful, yet allusive Rachel Stone, a woman fighting to establish a promising future in spite of a dark past.  News of Sam Carstairs' kidnapping compels Michael to join the posse determined to save Mr. Carstairs and return him safely to Riverbend.  Danger abounds on the journey; but in the midst of peril, Michael has numerous opportunities to share his faith and contemplate his future (which he hopes will include Rachel). 

Meanwhile in Riverbend, Rachel faces dangers of her own and constant reminders of her past.  During Michael's absence, she reflects over her growing feelings for a man she barely knows.  Can she find the courage to give her heart away?

Journey to Riverbend is a well-written novel, which combines Western-style action with faith and a dash of romance.  The novel begins as a romance between Michael and Rachel, who are quickly attracted to one another, but held apart by circumstances and Rachel's reservations.  After Mr. Carstairs disappears and the search begins, the novel transitions into a western.  A significant portion of the plot focuses on Sam's and the posse's time on the trail, with occasional glimpses of Rachel and life in Riverbend.  The ever-present danger that the posse faces and the overt cruelty of the outlaws who kidnapped Mr. Carstairs help to move the plot along, but after a while, the trail grows old.  I would have enjoyed more interaction between Rachel and Michael and a little less time on the trail, but I am partial to love stories and watching love gradually grow between two characters.

The conclusion of Journey to Riverbend left me wondering if there will be a sequel.  There is an opportunity for Michael and Rachel's story to continue and develop more fully.  The end of Michael's journey to find Sam Carstairs alludes to the beginning of a new quest to satisfy another man's wish, perhaps there will be enough adventures to fill the pages of another novel.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale through their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Contest Winner!

And the winner of Hearts Awakening is...Edna!
Congratulations! We hope that you enjoy this novel.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Never Say Never

"Never Say Never" may be a cliche phrase, but it has proven true for these two rambling readers over the past few months.

First, we started this blog, something that we never expected to do.  But, the chance to review books and receive complimentary copies was just too hard to resist, and our blog has proved to be a fun diversion. 

Second, we bought a Kindle. This is a new acquisition, purchased this past Friday.  We have downloaded a few free books, but we have yet to begin reading anything other than the user manual.  An e-reader will never surpass our affection for actual books, but it is a good option for two readers who are running out of room on their bookshelves.  Our virtual bookshelf can hold about 3,500 titles, though I doubt we will come close to filling it.  I am anxious to read a novel on our Kindle, but I have a few books lined up by my bed before I can embark on my first journey through a virtual novel.  Hopefully I will enjoy the trip.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Celebrate the Release of "An Unlikely Blessing"

Prolific author of over 75 novels, Judy Baer, is launching her new Guideposts series, Forever Hilltop, with a KINDLE giveaway! The first book in the series, An Unlikely Blessing is available now wherever fine books are sold.

Read the reviews here.

In celebration of the release of An Unlikely Blessing, Judy is giving away a KINDLE prize package worth over $175.

One lucky winner will receive:
  • Brand New KINDLE with Wi-Fi
  • A $25 gift certificate to
To enter just click on one the icons below and then tell your friends! Winner will be announced on February 21st on Judy's blog,

Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter

For more information please visit the Litfuse website, and click {HERE}!

An Unlikely Blessing by Judy Baer

B Squared's Review:
Welcome to the Hilltop Township of Grassy Valley, North Dakota.  Judy Baer sets the scene for her Forever Hilltop series in the first installation, An Unlikely Blessing.  The novel introduces readers to Alex Armstrong, a new pastor who moves from the big city to a rural farming community in the open plains of North Dakota.  From the minute Alex drives into Grassy Valley he witnesses the unique flavor of life in an agricultural town.  Nothing can say “welcome to the country” quite like a traffic jam created by an overturned truck and an escaped pig named Twinkle Toes.  As Alex settles into his new life, he faces an array of obstacles, ranging from driving on gravel roads, to learning names and family histories, to helping his parishioners overcome daunting challenges.  Alex discovers an abundance of unexpected complexities, but he also learns that his new home offers unexpected blessings and friendships. 

Alex’s story is not concluded in An Unlikely Blessing; there are questions that are left unanswered and problems that are not completely resolved. I generally prefer each novel in a series to have more definite and complete conflict resolutions, but the loose ends are reminiscent of real life, which is not neatly contained in 263 pages.     

I do not doubt that many readers will greatly enjoy this novel.  Baer paints a vivid and beautiful picture of North Dakota.  The story’s unhurried pace captures the charms and challenges of small-town life.  As a reader, it is easy to empathize with Alex’s struggle to find his place in a township where citizens’ roots are several generations deep.  Likewise, I related to Alex’s concern over remembering the names of his parishioners and other people in the township.  I often had difficulty recalling the significance of certain characters.  The main characters are likeable, and the charming quirks that define some of the townspeople will engage readers.  An Unlikely Blessing lays out the Hilltop welcome mat, and readers who enjoyed their first visit will eagerly await their second to finish old chapters and open new chapters in Alex’s life.  

I received a complimentary copy of this book from LitFuse through their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
About the Book:
An Unlikely Blessing is a heartfelt story about a new pastor and life-long city dweller Alex Armstrong, who reluctantly accepts his first assignment, a two-point parish in the wilds of North Dakota. Hilltop Township, a farming community, blooms from the prairie like a wild pink rose—lovely and prickly all at once, much like the people who live there.

Alex quickly finds that this lovely place is in quiet peril. Farmers are struggling to make ends meet: Jonas Owens, a faithful member of Hilltop parish, is on the brink of losing the farm. Alex believes that part of why God called him to Hilltop was to help turn things around, and steps in with ideas for saving the Owens' land. But can even God's minister help save this rural community?

There are a lot of firsts for the new pastor—the annual Hunter's Breakfast, julebukking (also called Christmas fooling), King Oscar's fish balls, and the melody of the musical saw. And the new, single pastor creates remarkable excitement among the unmarried women in the community. If you could die of hot dish overdose, Alex would be a dead man. Whether performing weddings, counseling his flock, or herding cattle by snowmobile, Alex soon discovers that his new church home has as much to teach him as he will teach them. Day by day, he falls more in love with the people of Hilltop Church. People may leave Hilltop, but Hilltop never leaves them.

Buy the Book:

About Judy:
Judy Baer is the author of over seventy-five books for adults and teens. She has won the Romance Writer of America Bronze Medallion and has been a RITA finalist twice. She lives in Elk River, Minnesota with her husband. Follow the Hilltop characters on Judy’s blog and find out more about Judy and her books at

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book Giveaway Contest Winner

And the winner of The Search is...Edna!
Congratulations! We hope that you enjoy this novel.


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