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Archive for the ‘The Weekly Read’ Category

A book combining food and family secrets was almost impossible to resist, but I’ve got mixed feelings about my experience reading A Table by the Window by Hillary Manton Lodge. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy through the Blogging for Books program.)

table-windowThe book focuses on Juliette, a food writer and youngest heir in a French-Italian family with deep cooking heritage. She tells the story in first person, and frankly, I was a bit bored in the beginning. I didn’t care much about her life, which didn’t seem all that bad, and although I was excited about the inclusion of recipes, I also felt they were intimidating and inaccessible to someone who hasn’t been raised with such a rich knowledge of proper cooking techniques. I did enjoy the cooking theme in the story, though, and Juliette’s appreciation for food. Her family was likable also and the characters were vivid and memorable.

Unfortunately, I was almost halfway through the book before I really started to enjoy it. Juliette tests the waters of online dating and that storyline started to propel the rest of the book. I took a liking to Neil, the doctor with whom she begins communicating. Their exchanges are cute and probably saved the book for me.  The ending was abrupt, offering less closure and more questions. Thankfully there was an excerpt of the next book included at the end of this one. Still, I wasn’t sure going in that this was a series and the ending kind of caught me by surprise, but not in a good way.

I mostly wanted to read this book as research for the novel I’m writing because the theme is similar: a young woman floundering in her present uncovers a family secret that could shape her future. I’m not sorry I read it, and I’m interested in the next one to see where the storyline goes, but I kind of hoped for more from this one.

If you want to make yourself drool, head on over to the book’s Pinterest page, though. In a word: yum!

 

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I had high hopes for this book, maybe too high. When I read the description for The Trail by Ed Underwood, I thought it sounded a bit like The Shack. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from Tyndale House in exchange for my review.) Unfortunately, it doesn’t measure up to the quality of storytelling found in The Shack, and I found it overall not as interesting as I’d hoped.

the trailThe Trail is a parable about discovering God’s will and it centers on a couple, Matt and Brenda, who are trying to make a decision about Matt’s job prospects. Their friends send them in to the woods to meet an old mountain man/preacher, Sam, who is supposed to take them on a weekend journey in the mountains and teach them principles about discovering God’s will.

I liked the principles and thought they were useful statements in the life of a Christian. And I appreciate the idea of the book because we, as Christians, often make the concept of finding God’s will too difficult.

However, I really couldn’t identify with any of the characters. Matt seemed like a selfish jerk. Brenda was a little bit flighty and weak. And Sam was sometimes just hard to believe as a person. He preached a lot and the conversations between the characters were not realistic. I also wasn’t sure whose point of view we were supposed to be reading most of the time. There were clues, but it was awkward.

I almost couldn’t finish the book and ended up skimming the last couple of chapters just to be done with it.

I did take away a few good principles, but the effort to find them just wasn’t worth it for me.

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For those who doubt their life or story matters, this is a collection of stories to convince you otherwise.

speakSpeak: How Your Story Can Change the World is a sometimes-gentle, sometimes not, kick in the pants for everyone, not just writers or storytellers or speakers, to tell our stories. And it is equal parts inspiring and convicting. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from Zondervan through the Booklook Bloggers program.)

The author, Nish Weiseth, is the founder of one of my favorite blog spaces, A Deeper Story, and though I haven’t read a lot of her work, in particular, I love the mission of the site and the stories shared there. So, I’m pleased to discover I love Weiseth’s writing as well.

And her message–that stories are more powerful than all the labeling and stereotyping and arguing policy that goes on–is timely. Over the two days that I read the book, I watched online arguments erupt and devolve into hatred among strangers over stories about a group of Muslims using a community room at a local rec center for a religious observation and about whether a 37-weeks-gestation body found in a garbage can should be called a “fetus” or a “baby.” (I digress a little but only to show the relevance of Weiseth’s work.) It is situations like those–and so many more–that call for stories. That urge us to know people for who they are not what we think they are or should be. Weiseth calls us to ask questions, to listen, and to tell our stories in an exchange of humanity. She writes,

This book is a call to do just that– to change the game by telling the stories of our lives with courage, honesty, and integrity. It’s a call to acknowledge that each of our stories is a small piece of the greatest story–God’s continual work and transforming power in our lives.  (24)

One of my favorite features of the book is the reprinted blog posts at the end of each chapter illustrating how a specific story changes the way we see a particular issue or stereotype. I love that Weiseth shared her book space with other writers to add another layer to the work. And though she has written a book and lives in Salt Lake City as part of a church plant, Weiseth is also a mother to two young children and immersed in the daily routines of life and family. She insists that our lives don’t have to look like a Hollywood movie to matter.

Most people are living life by daily fulfilling the obligations set before them. … And though you  may be living what seems like an ordinary life, faithfully doing what God has placed in front of you to do means you are actually living an extraordinary story. (183)

Not a book just for those who communicate for a living but one for anyone striving to live a life that brings more of the Kingdom of God to earth. Our stories, our journeys, our trials and triumphs, matter. And, as Weiseth says, they can be the catalyst for change in someone else’s life.

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By the time I reach the third book in a series, the characters are my “friends.” (Don’t judge me, I’m an introvert.) And even though I know a series has to come to an end, sometimes I still dread it.

Abandoned Memories-coverI’ve been eagerly awaiting Abandoned Memories, the third and final installment in MaryLu Tyndall’s Escape to Paradise trilogy that follows a group of American colonists post-Civil War to the jungles of Brazil to form a new Southern utopia. And it was only disappointing in that it signaled the end of the journey for this group. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the author in exchange for my review.)

The second book, Elusive Hope, left with a mystery I couldn’t wait to see solved. And Abandoned Memories delivered. I only needed one day to read it. So, if this is the first time you’re hearing about this series, let me catch you up without giving too much away.

It began with Forsaken Dreams, on a ship bound for Brazil. There we first met this lively bunch of characters who include Captain Blake Wallace and Eliza Crawford, Magnolia Scott and Hayden Gale, and James Callaway and Angeline Moore. each with their own reasons for leaving their lives in America behind for a second chance at happiness. The first book focuses on Blake and Eliza and the obstacles they each need to overcome to find that second chance. Book two is the story of Magnolia and Hayden, who both must give up a dream to discover a life of true purpose and beauty. And book three zeroes in on James and Angeline, both who have disreputable pasts but are determined to make a new start in the new colony.

Woven through each of these stories is a mysterious temple that both draws and repels the members of the budding colony. Some are drawn by the lure of riches buried below. Others are afraid of the darkness enshrouding the temple. In this final book, the mysteries of the temple are fully revealed and these six main characters learn how their lives have been intertwined for a reason: to defeat a terrible evil.

The adventure. The romance. The spiritual battles. It all comes together in a page-turning, heart-pumping story, one I hate to see end, but know it’s for the best.

Definitely don’t read this one unless you’ve got your hands on the first two. I’m tempted to go back and read them all together again just for the continuity of the story.

If you’re a fan of movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom  and Romancing the Stone, or the TV show Lost, then this is a series you don’t want to miss.

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Friends, while I’m getting back into the post-vacation groove and mulling all my thoughts into palatable blog posts, check out this giveaway for a book I reviewed last week. And get yourself a copy of this story! 

Welcome to the launch campaign for debut novelist Kristy Cambron‘s The Butterfly and the Violin. Romantic Times had this to say: “Alternating points of view skillfully blend contemporary and historical fiction in this debut novel that is almost impossible to put down. Well-researched yet heartbreaking. . . .”

Kristy is celebrating the release of the first book in her series, A Hidden Masterpiece, with a fun Kindle Fire giveaway and meeting her readers during an August 7th Facebook author chat party.


butterflyviolin-400-click

One winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire
  • The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on August 7th. Winner will be announced at The Butterfly and the Violin Author Chat Party. Kristy will be connecting with readers and answering questions, sharing some of the fascinating research behind the book, hosting a fun book chat, and giving away some GREAT prizes. She will also be giving an exclusive look at the next book in the series, A Sparrow in Terezin!

 
So grab your copy of The Butterfly and the Violin and join Kristy on the evening of August 7th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven’t read the book, don’t let that stop you from coming!)

Don’t miss a moment of the fun; RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 7th!

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I’m generally in awe of debut authors who make such a good first impression. And Kristy Cambron’s novel The Butterfly and the Violin makes a great introduction to a new writer. (Disclaimer: In exchange for my review, I received a free copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group.)

Butterfly and ViolinThis book is a work of art, not just because it centers on a lost painting. It’s the kind of story that makes me want to slow down and read the words over and over again so I appreciate the nuances of how they’re put together. I get the feeling that the more time spent with this story, the more details and layers I’d discover. Not unlike most pieces of art.

The Butterfly and the Violin combines the stories of Adele von Bron, a Viennese violinist during World War 2, and Sera James, a New York City art dealer in present day. Sera has been obsessed with the painting since she saw it a gallery in Paris when she was 8. Her life’s mission after her life crumbled has been to track down the painting. She and her assistant have hit a dead end when William Hanover, the heir of a wealthy California family, makes an offer to aid her search in an effort to save the family business. Sera and William try to piece together the clues to the painting’s owner and the story of Adele while each trying to patch up their broken pasts.

Adele’s story is woven into the contemporary storyline, a method of storytelling I love when it’s done well. And Cambron excels at it.

If you’ve read Susan Meissner’s The Girl in the Glass, you’ll find a similarly mesmerizing story in this book. The Butterfly and the Violin is part of the Hidden Masterpieces series, which is good news for those of us who want more stories that blend past and present.

About the book: A mysterious painting breathes hope and beauty into the darkest corners of Auschwitz—and the loneliest hearts of Manhattan.

Manhattan art dealer Sera James watched her world crumble at the altar two years ago, and her heart is still fragile. Her desire for distraction reignites a passion for a mysterious portrait she first saw as a young girl—a painting of a young violinist with piercing blue eyes.

In her search for the painting, Sera crosses paths with William Hanover, the grandson of a wealthy California real estate mogul, who may be the key to uncovering the hidden masterpiece. Together, Sera and William slowly unravel the story behind the painting’s subject: Austrian violinist Adele Von Bron.

A darling of the Austrian aristocracy, talented violinist, and daughter to a high-ranking member of the Third Reich, Adele risks everything when she begins smuggling Jews out of Vienna. In a heartbeat, her life of prosperity and privilege dissolves into a world of starvation and barbed wire.

As Sera untangles the secrets behind the painting, she finds beauty in the most unlikely of places: in the grim camps of Auschwitz and in the inner recesses of her own troubled heart.
Purchase a copy: http://ow.ly/zhXo3

About the author: Kristy Cambron has been fascinated with the WWII era since hearing her KCambron-238grandfather’s stories of the war. She holds an art history degree from Indiana University and received the Outstanding Art History Student Award. Kristy writes WWII and Regency era fiction and has placed first in the 2013 NTRWA Great Expectations and 2012 FCRW Beacon contests, and is a 2013 Laurie finalist. Kristy makes her home in Indiana with her husband and three football-loving sons.

Find Kristy online: websiteFacebookTwitter

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When my husband and I first started cooking together, I was amazed at his ability to take common, seemingly unrelated pantry ingredients and turn them into a meal. It’s a method he learned growing up in a house where he cooked a few dinners a week. Food Network’s spin on that method is the show Chopped, where contestants open a basket of mystery ingredients and are tasked with making an edible appetizer, main dish or dessert out of them. It’s addicting.

choppedWhich is why when I found out Food Network was offering a Chopped cookbook, I pretty much freaked out. Because there are nights when I look in the pantry and I’m sure I don’t have enough stuff to make something tasty. Now, I have no excuse.

(And even though I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review, I believe this cookbook is worth every penny you might pay for it. But keep reading because I have a surprise for you!)

The Chopped Cookbook is everything I’ve ever wanted in a cookbook: Tantalizing pictures, creative ideas and doable recipes. And did I mention flexibility? Most cookbooks want you to follow their instructions to a T. This cookbook emphasizes flexibility based on a basic knowledge of how foods work together. It gives you the building blocks and says, “Go, create.”

As of writing this post, I’ve paged through the entire book and tried two recipes from it. The first was Marinated Tilapia Tacos. I lacked some of the ingredients but improvised a bit and still turned out a tasty meal. Even the kids ate it! The second was Quick Skillet Kielbasa Pork and Beans, which again, I lacked some of the ingredients but was able to improvise. And it was good! (Seriously, my husband rarely raves when I experiment and both of these dishes gained his approval.)

The instructions are easy to follow and some recipes look more complicated than others, but there are 188 recipes in this book and I want to try them all.

A few of my favorite features:

  • The pantry list at the beginning. It gives you a foundation on which to build. Many of the recipes assume that you have some basics on hand. But again, the emphasis is on flexibility. No points lost if you don’t buy everything on the list.
  • The theme. “Use what you’ve got to cook something great.” It’s a confidence builder and ought to be a theme for life in general.
  • The variety. Scattered throughout the book are “go-to guides” for pan sauces, salad dressings and grains. This is where the creativity and versatility come in.

It’s been a long time since I was this excited about cooking.

And I’m even more excited because due to a processing error, I received an extra copy of this cookbook and I want to share it with you!

To enter to win, leave a comment answering ONE of these questions (and leave your e-mail address, if you don’t mind so I know how to notify you if you win):

What’s your one must-have in-stock pantry item?

What one ingredient would you hate to see in your Chopped basket?

What one ingredient would you love to see in your Chopped basket?

I’m going to leave the contest open till Sunday, July 27, when I’ll pick a winner. (Because of shipping costs, I have to limit winners to continental U.S. only.)

Happy cooking!.

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Every time I read and review a Jody Hedlund book, I feel like a recording with my praise. So, if I haven’t convinced you historical fiction fans to read one of her books yet, consider these reasons to pick up her latest, Captured by Love, or any other book she’s written. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review.) captured-by-love-662x1024

1. History. Duh. She writes historical fiction, right? But each of her novels leaves me wanting to know about the historical events she’s writing about. In this one, she focuses in on the War of 1812 and the British occupation of what we know as Mackinac Island in the Michigan Territory of 1814. I feel like I get an interesting history lesson when I read. But if history’s not enough to convince you, how about …

2. Hunky heroes. In Captured by Love, Pierre is a fur trader from the Michigan island settlement of Mackinac, which is currently occupied by the British. He’s the manliest of men with charm to spare. I’ve read all of Hedlund’s published books, and no two heroes are the same. I appreciate the diversity in character development as well as the predictability of some of their charms. Still, it’s fun to see how these men woo the women and also how they change. (My favorite hunky hero is from A Noble Groom. I’m swooning as I type.) But they’re not all typically hunky. Take Ben, who is modeled after John Adams, in Rebellious Heart. He woos with his words and his commitment to political change. That’s hunky in its own way. It’s not just about the men, though. Let’s not forget the …

3. Spunky heroines. This was a question posed by another historical fiction author recently: Do you like spunky heroines or more genteel ones? And honestly, I like them both for different reasons. Hedlund’s heroines are a mix of both but they lean toward spunky. They are not weak, damsel-in-distress types, though they do get rescued quite often. They are strong, passionate women with goals and ideas. In Captured by Love, Angelique has had to fend for herself for some time while also taking care of Pierre’s nearly-blind mother. She holds her own among the men in her life, even when she has little choice or say in matters. I appreciate female characters who earn the admiration of the men because of their minds, not just their pretty looks. Which is good because they face plenty of …

4. Peril. Hedlund’s stories are not sweet romances. There is danger, and the characters face opposition from without and within. Sometimes their lives hang in the balance. The stories are full of adventure and hold-your-breath moments, the kind where you know (you think!) things are going to turn out okay but you’re not sure how. Hedlund keeps me turning the pages and isn’t afraid to put her characters through the worst of circumstances for the sake of a good story.

And finally, you should read her stories …

5. To believe in love again. I know not everyone agrees that reading inspirational romance is a worthy pursuit, but don’t we humans love a good love story? I love reading true stories of love that lasts and weathers storms, and I’m grateful for authors who can write stories that reflect that real-life truth. Hedlund’s books are intense sometimes, and they are entertaining, but they are also pictures of undying and sacrificial love. These are not fluff romances meant to give readers a temporary thrill. They are stories that stick with you and rekindle the belief that love conquers all.

So, there you have it. Five good reasons to pick up a Jody Hedlund novel. She writes the stories I want to read, and frankly, I wouldn’t even have to know what the book is about beforehand as long as her name is on it. If you’re looking for a new author to love, give her books a try. And if you need further incentive to read Captured by Love, head on over to Goodreads and enter the giveaway for a chance to win one of 15 copies.

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Have you met the Christiansen family yet? I’m totally in like with this family created by talented storyteller Susan May Warren. This flawed family of faithful and forgiving people fills my heart. They’re so real. You can call me crazy, but I am love, love, loving these kinds of sibling series that focus in on one sibling’s story in a large family. When I Fall in Love is the third in this family’s story, and so far, it’s my favorite. (Disclaimer: I received a free ecopy of the book from the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my review.)

when i fall in loveIn it, we meet Grace Christiansen whose life is all about playing it safe. She’s reluctant to leave her family and the community of Deep Haven for anything resembling adventure. But when her family gifts her with a culinary vacation to Hawaii, she finds herself unable to avoid a life beyond what she’s known, thanks in part to Maxwell Sharpe. Max is a Minnesota hockey player with ties to the Christiansen family. His former teammate Jace is marrying Grace’s older sister Eden, and he was a teammate of the bad boy Christianson brother, Owen. He’s headed to Hawaii, too, for his third culinary vacation: his time to relax and put away his fears for tomorrow. They meet on the plane and Max sets out to show Grace the beauty and wonder of Hawaii while trying to keep emotional distance because of the fate he knows awaits him in life.

Call this book Food Network meets The Fault in Our Stars. Grace and Max bond over cooking and enter a cooking competition as a team. At times, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to keep reading or get myself into the kitchen and cook something myself. It was the best of both worlds for me: reading and cooking. And I appreciated the hard questions Warren tackles in this relationship. Max knows his days on earth are limited, and because of that, he shuts himself off from the possibility of a relationship. He doesn’t think he deserves to fall in love or dream because nothing is guaranteed to last.

And Grace. Oh, how I could relate to her need to live a safe life. Her reluctance to step out in faith and try something new or big or great. There were times in the story when I read the words she was speaking about herself and her abilities and they could have been my words, too.

It’s an age-old question: Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? And Warren answers it beautifully.

You can catch up with the Christiansens in books 1 and 2: Take A Chance on Me and It Had to Be You. And I, for one, will be following this family to the end of the series.

 

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So, here we are, nearly at the halfway point of the year, and I’m trying to sum up the best books I read in the second three months of 2014. (For a look at first quarter’s best books, check out this post.)

Why is this so hard?!?!

I’m sorry if you think me dramatic, but I’m reading great books this year, and if you can’t find a good book to read, ask me for a recommendation! Because I’m super picky about the books I read and review, and if I don’t think they’re amazing, I’ll let you know. Here’s an attempt at the best books I read in the April-June range (in no particular order). And if you want to see what all I’ve read this year, find me on Goodreads. I track all my reading there. broken kind of beautiful

  • Just missing the date cutoff for the first quarter was Katie Ganshert’s A Broken Kind of Beautiful. This novel features one of my favorite fictional heroes. Possibly of  all time. Ganshert writes contemporary romance but it’s not light reading. I compared this book to Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, which is on my all-time best books list.
  • Next up is The Waiting by Cathy LaGrow. Non-fiction that reads like fiction, and it is a tear-jerker, heart-breaking, hope-filled story of family reunion.
  • Jennie Allen’s Restless was a book that took me almost the entire quarter to read, and I still need to return to it and flesh out more of the questions it raises. If you’re lacking purpose or vision or wonder how and if God can use your life, this book will help.girl at end of world
  • I was surprised by how much I identified with the story in Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther. This is a memoir of the author’s years growing up in a fundamentalist cult. Her experiences are heartbreaking and her insights are challenging.daisies
  • I’m going to give this last one to a category of books: war novels. Daisies Are Forever by Liz Tolsma and The Sentinels of Andersonville by Tracy Groot have renewed my interest in history. Tolsma’s book is set during World War II. Groot’s is a Civil War novel. Both are based on historical events and places, and both I would consider must-reads for any history buff out there.

Seriously, these lists pain me, so why I keep trying to pick favorites, I don’t know. But, if you’re in need of a summer read yet this year, check out one of these.

And tell me, what are the best books you’ve read so far this year?

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