Friday, August 26, 2011

Review of Head in the Clouds by Karen Witemeyer

Rating: 4.5 Stars
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Synopsis from Bethany House: Adelaide Proctor longs to find a real-life storybook hero to claim as her own. But when a husband-hunting debacle leaves her humiliated, she interviews for a governess position on a remote Texas sheep ranch and vows to leave her silly romantic yearnings behind. 

Gideon Westcott left his privileged life in England to make a name for himself in America's wool industry, never expecting to end up with a child. To his dismay, five-year-old Isabella hasn't uttered a word since she lost her mother. The unconventionality of the new governess concerns Gideon—and intrigues him at the same time. But he can't afford distractions.When Isabella's uncle comes to claim the girl—and her inheritance—Gideon and Adelaide must work together to protect Isabella from the man's evil schemes. Soon neither can deny their growing attraction. But after so many heartbreaks, will Adelaide be willing to get her head out of the clouds and put her heart on the line?

Review: Karen Witemeyer has created a charming and slightly suspenseful novel with a heroine to whom book lovers can relate.  Don't we all have our "heads in the clouds" at some point when we are engrossed in a novel?  There is a bit of Adelaide in each of us. Adelaide Proctor is a fanciful dreamer with a likable and sunny personality. She is a bit impetuous, especially in the beginning of the novel, but she matures and finds inner strength during the course of the plot. Fortunately, Witemeyer presents Adelaide with adversity so that we can see below the bright and whimsical exterior to reveal deeper layers of her personality. 

Gideon and Isabella are equally enjoyable characters. I have a difficult time envisioning Gideon as an Englishman, but he does display the admirable integrity and strength that one finds in the great British classics.  Isabella is a delight and a little star even in her silence.  Some of the most pleasant and heart-warming scenes in the novel feature Isabella with Adelaide, Gideon, or both. 

When I initially read the summary of Head in the Clouds, I was instantly reminded of Jane Eyre.   A fitting impression since Adelaide makes references to Bronte's classic novel throughout the book.  The main premise of Head in the Clouds parallels Jane Eyre, but it is a much lighter read and Adelaide is a more vivacious and outgoing heroine (though not as timeless).  Head in the Clouds has the potential to be just another generic, light read, but Witemeyer builds characters with depth and a plot with its share of surprises blended with tender moments.  Although I have not read Witemeyer's A Tailor-Made Bride and To Win Her Heart, they are now on my list, along with any of her future novels. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Review of Sketchy Behavior by Erynn Mangum

Rating: 4 Stars
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Synopsis from Drawing Conclusions or Drafting Disaster?  Other than harboring a somewhat obsessive fondness for Crispix and completely swearing-off boys after a bad date (don’t ask), sixteen-year-old Kate Carter is about as ordinary as they come, except for her two notable talents: art and sarcasm. After an introduction to forensic sketching in her elective art class, Kate discovers a third and most unexpected gift: criminal profiling. Her photo-quality sketch helps the police catch a wanted murderer and earns her celebrity status in South Woodhaven Falls. But when that murderer appears to be using his friends to exact revenge, Kate goes from local hero to possible target. Will she manage to survive? Will life ever be 
normal again? And will local news anchor Ted Deffle ever stop sending her flowers?

Review: Novels like Erynn Mangum's Sketchy Behavior are the reason that I enjoy reading young adult inspirational fiction.  Although Kate Carter is a teenager, her character is relatable and her unusual talent of criminal profiling adds an element of suspense to the plot.  The premise of Sketchy Behavior is fresh and unique, with the intrigue of a police mystery without the extra layer of technical crime terminology and descriptions to slow down the plot.  Kate faces her share of fear, doubt, and danger throughout the course of the novel.  Told from Kate's perspective in first person, the novel captured my attention and had me asking the same questions as Kate.  The majority of the plot takes place in Kate's home or in the police station, with the same core set of characters.  Some sections of the plot are relatively uneventful, but Mangum maintains a steady pace with her writing and keeps the reader's attention, primarily through Kate's candid thoughts about the major changes that are taking place in her life. The major climax of the novel occurs at the end of the book, and it had my heart pounding.  But even in the tense situation, Mangum incorporates a touch of her trademark humor.

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from NetGalley, courtesy of Zondervan.  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.”

Lark Rise to Candleford: Season 3

We just finished watching the third season of Lark Rise to Candleford. Sadly, that means that we only have a few more episodes to enjoy, and we will relish them.  Olivia Hallinan sums up the appeal of Lark Rise in the clip below.

The residents of Lark Rise and Candleford become so familiar over the course of the series, and they are all endearing in their own unique ways.  Although we loved Seasons 1 and 2, Season 3 proved to be even stronger with more diverse plots to keep us intrigued.  This season, quirky little Minnie shined. It is hard to imagine that a character who so annoyed us on her first episode could grow into one of our favorites.

Without a doubt, Lark Rise to Candleford will be one of the rare series that we will watch again and again, especially Season 3... it's that delightful and magical.

Read our reviews for Season 1 and Season 2.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Rating: 4 Stars
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Review: My sister and I ventured into the wizarding realm of Harry Potter a bit late.  We only just finished reading the series, and we have not even watched all of the movies.  I was determined to experience the iconic Harry Potter phenomenon by watching at least one of the movies in the theater.  Just reading the series was an adventure outside of our normal scope of historical and inspirational fiction, but we both enjoyed the books.  We knew that watching the movie would be an even greater step outside of our comfort zone, but decided to take advantage of our last chance to see Harry Potter in the theaters and went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Our main thought was that the imagery would be too graphic and violent for our tastes.  Reading descriptions is one thing, but seeing them visually represented can be quite another. 

Of course, there were violent scenes, dragons, and strange looking creatures in much of the movie. It was a departure from the usual heartwarming movies that we usually watch, but we enjoyed it overall.  The visual effects were gripping and intense, keeping us on the edge of our seats, even though we knew the final outcome and Harry's ultimate triumph. There were a few humorous moments, but more moments of danger, fear, and sadness. By the end of the movie, our beloved Hogwarts was ravished and the cast was devoid of several characters.  My sister and I both agreed that we felt the loss of characters more in the novel, although the sight of dead and wounded in Hogwarts following Voldemort's first attack on Hogwarts was heartbreaking.  I overheard several sniffles in the theater at certain moments. At other moments, there were applause, cheers, and laughs from viewers who had obviously been with Harry, Ron, and Hermione since they were young first-years. 

After both reading the book and watching the movie, we decided that we prefer the novel.  It was difficult not to compare the events in the movie to how they happened in the book.  There were parts of the movie that we would not have understood as well without the context provided by the book.  Part 2 is a good representation of the second half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but it is not a substitute for reading the book itself.

One of our favorite characters in the last book and in the movie was Neville Longbottom.  He was often in the background of Harry's, Ron's, and Hermione's adventures and sometimes overshadowed.  I remember him as the geeky and forgetful first year, but by the end of the series he has grown into a courageous young wizard.  His role in both the book and movie versions of the Deathly Hallows was not huge, but it was definitely powerful.  He emerged toward the end of the movie somewhat beaten and bruised by the new cruel headmasters. In Harry's absence from Hogwarts, Neville clearly became a leader fighting against the Dark Arts.  In the novel, Neville's bravery was clearly demonstrated when he killed Nagini in front of Voldemort.  Unfortunately, the sequence of events was slightly different in the movie, and not quite as powerful.  Nonetheless, his determination and courage was visible, and he provided some humorous moments too.

We have reached the end of the Harry Potter era; but without a doubt, the books and movies are now ingrained in pop-culture and will be enjoyed for years to come. Although the series is sometimes controversial for its sorcery and witchcraft, there are many valuable lessons to be learned from Harry Potter, such as teamwork, overcoming adversity, and using one's talents for the benefit of others. We are glad that we ventured out of our comfort zone and into the Harry's world.

Review of Delivered with Love by Sherry Kyle

Rating: 4 Stars
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Synopsis from Abingdon Press: An old love letter found in the glove compartment of a young woman's inherited 1972 Volkswagen propels her to leave her life in Los Angeles and go to the small town of Capitola, California. There her dream of finding the writer of the letter leads her on an unexpected journey that changes her life forever.

Claire James, age twenty-three, is ready to make it on her own.  When she's fired from her job as a waitress and subsequently kicked out of her sister's home, she sees it as an opportunity to start over.  But even before moving, a thirty-five-year-old love letter written to her mother keeps Claire stuck in the past.  Michael Thompson, a middle-aged real estate agent, wants to keep the past where it belongs--at least until his grown daughter is married.  But, then a young woman comes to town . .

Read the first chapter on ABINGDONPRESS.COM

Click HERE to visit Sherry Kyle's website.

Review: Sherry Kyle delivers a delightful read in her latest novel Delivered with Love.  The pace of the plot is steady and consistent with an intriguing amount of mystery. Claire James is a likable character who is fighting to get her life on track after the death of her mother. On her journey from Los Angeles to Capitola, Claire is continuously awed by the kindness and love she receives from strangers. Piece by piece, Claire's life begins to mend, and secrets from the past are revealed.  The past, present, and future weave together in unexpected and inspiring ways as Claire learns about love, faith, and forgiveness. 

Delivered with Love also introduces the reader to several other core characters, each of whom are coping with issues of their own.  Michael Thompson is stressed about his job, his daughter's upcoming marriage, and secrets from his past that may threaten his marriage. Claire's sister, Haley, struggles with a difficult marriage to an alcoholic. Meanwhile, one of Claire's new friends attempts to mend a 20 year rift with her own sister and overcome the pain of previous tragedies. Sherry Kyle combines each story into plot that is realistic and ultimately triumphant.  A novel with various layers of emotional struggles has the potential to be heavy and sad, but Kyle creates an engaging novel that offers a satisfying amount of depth. Of course, there is also some romance, courtesy of Blake, Claire's neighbor, and some humor, courtesy of Geraldine, Claire's 80-something room-mate.  Geraldine can always be counted on to lighten-up a tense moment, for both the characters and the reader.  

The novel is told from the perspectives of both Claire and Michael.  I felt a connection with both characters and empathized with their worries and burdens.  The secondary characters are equally as developed and quite realistic.  Kyle describes the town of Capitola in picturesque detail, helping readers to envision the setting of the novel. After reading Delivered with Love, I found Sherry Kyle's video tour of Capitola on her website. I almost felt like I had already visited some of the restaurants, beaches, and stores featured in the video; and seeing that they exist in real-life just delivers an extra helping of realism.

I highly recommend this novel, and I definitely plan to read more novels by Sherry Kyle. 

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from NetGalley, courtesy of Abingdon Press.  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.”

Friday, August 5, 2011

Our 117 Year Old Find

While visiting antique shops on a day trip today, we discovered a beautiful hardbound collection of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poems.  This volume was published in 1894 by Houghton, Mifflin, and Company  Best of all, it was only $10 and in great shape!

Longfellow's Poems in its new home.
Book prices in 1894.
Mr. Longfellow featured in the first few pages.
A personal note from 1896.

Another recent find was a $20 old-fashioned school desk.  We don't know the exact year that it was made.  After a little research, we have narrowed the time frame down to the late 1800s.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Review of American Challenge by Susan Martins Miller, JoAnn A. Grote, Veda B. Jones, Norma J. Lutz

Rating:  3.5 Stars
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-Synopsis from Barbour Publishing: Girls are girls wherever they live—and the Sisters in Time series shows that girls are girls whenever they lived, too! This new collection brings together four historical fiction books for 8–12-year-old girls: Lydia the Patriot: The Boston Massacre (covering the year 1770), Kate and the Spies: The American Revolution (1775), Betsy’s River Adventure: The Journey Westward (1808), and Grace and the Bully: Drought on the Frontier (1819), American Challenge will transport readers back to the formative years of our nation, teaching important lessons of history and Christian faith. Featuring bonus educational materials such as time lines and brief biographies of key historical figures, American Challenge is ideal for anytime reading and an excellent resource for home schooling.

Review: I decided to step out of adult fiction and reminisce a bit while reading the collection of American Challenge stories.  When I was in elementary school, I adored the American Girls books, so I was drawn to historical setting of these inspirational fiction stories for children.  It is always refreshing to see fiction for children and young adults that introduce characters that young readers, especially girls, can admire. The American Challenge collection offers readers a glimpse into various aspects of American history through the late 1700s  to the early 1800s.  At times, the sections of historical fact make the plot move slowly. Some of the language could be more authentic to the time periods, but the "modern" dialogue probably makes the characters more relatable to today's youth.

As an adult, I have read other fiction geared to the 8-12 year age group that has completely captured my interest. This collection did not draw me in, but I believe I would have enjoyed the books as a child.  The stories introduce light elements of faith and teach good lessons about morality and character, while presenting key aspects of our nation's history from the perspective of young characters.

I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from NetGalley, courtesy of Barbour Publishing.  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.”


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