Friday, October 17, 2014

The Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford Litfuse Blog Tour

About the book: 

Scotland, 1860.
Reverend Alexander Ferguson, naive and newly-ordained, takes up his new parish, a poor, isolated patch on the Hebridean island of Harris. His time on the island will irrevocably change the course of his life, but the white house on the edge of the dunes keeps its silence long after Alexander departs. It will be more than a century before the Sea House reluctantly gives up its secrets. Ruth and Michael buy the grand but dilapidated building and begin to turn it into a home for the family they hope to have. Their dreams are marred by a shocking discovery. The tiny bones of a baby are buried beneath the house; the child's fragile legs are fused together --- a mermaid child. Who buried the bones? And why? Ruth needs to solve the mystery of her new home --- but the answers to her questions may lie in her own past.
Based on a real nineteenth-century letter to The Times in which a Scottish clergyman claimed to have seen a mermaid, The Sea House is an epic, sweeping tale of loss and love, hope and redemption, and how we heal ourselves with the stories we tell.

Purchase a copy:
Landing page:
My thoughts:  I was intrigued by the idea of a mermaid baby having her remains buried under a house where a reverend lived.  From the discovery of the bones Ruth begins to delve into the history of the house she and her husband are working hard to make a home and business, while trying to ignore her own history and unhappy childhood.  The chapters alternate between Ruth in her present, during the 1990's to Alexander and his rescued housemaid Moira in the 1860's.  At the same time, Ruth also looks back at her own years growing up and how she got through growing up an orphan.
Scotland has intrigued me for years and I love stories set there, but I don't often get a chance to read ones set in the islands.  Seeing what life was like and how the poor were relocated and forced to board ships to Canada reminded me of the forced relocation of other groups of people, like the Native Americans, because someone with more money and power wanted the better land. 
Many people have obstacles in their path to happiness, some huge and external and some huge and internal, and many of these characters had to overcome bleak circumstances.  Seeing how some made it and others didn't really makes it apparent that attitude and a willingness to look for answers are both needed.
I loved the stories about mermaids and  Selkies and the possible explanation for what people were seeing when they believed they were seeing the two. 
About the Author: 

Elisabeth Gifford grew up in a vicarage in the industrial Midlands. She studied French literature and world religions at Leeds University. She is the author of The House of Hope: A Story of God's Love and Provision for the Abandoned Orphans of China and has written articles for The Times and the Independent and has a Diploma in Creative Writing from Oxford OUDCE and an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway College. She is married with three children. They live in Kingston on Thames but spend as much time as possible in the Hebrides.

Find Elisabeth online: website, Facebook

Friday, October 10, 2014

Magnificent Tales: Treasury of Bible Stories by Kelly Pulley Litfuse Blog Tour

Treasury of Bible Stories

Magnificent Tales: Treasury of Bible Stories || Magnificent Tale Collection (David C. Cook, September 2014)
Children ages 4-8 will be delighted by these rhyming Bible stories pairing spiritual truths with playful illustrations.
Featuring lyrical stories full of lighthearted moments, this colorful collection of Magnificent Tales is perfect for reading out loud. As families read these stories night after night, they will make memories together while learning about the Bible.
Learn more and purchase a copy at Kelly’s website.

Landing Page:

My thoughts:
I really enjoyed sharing this book with my children.  Each story is told in words and phrases that are easy for children to understand and to relate to.  Pulley takes some of the stories that don't make sense to young listeners and adds the right amount of description and illustrations to bring it to life for them.  My son looks forward to sitting down at night to read and talk about a story or two.  I love that they are on the short side as it gives us a chance to discuss what we read afterwards and leaves a logical break before beginning the next story.

Kelly Pulley works from his middle Tennessee home writing and illustrating children's picture books, most recently "Ten Unusual Features of Lulu McDunn" and "The Cycling Wangdoos." He is best known for illustrating dozens of books in the Beginner's Bible series, including "The Beginner's Bible" (over 1.25 million copies sold).

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue! (Origami Yoda Series #5) by Tom Angleberger

Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue! (B&N Exclusive Edition) (Origami Yoda Series #5)

Overview from Barnes and Noble:

At McQuarrie Middle School, the war against the FunTime Menace—aka test prep—wages on. Our heroes have one battle under their belts, and they’ve even found a surprising ally in Jabba the Puppett. But to defeat the Dark Standardized Testing Forces they’re going to need an even bigger, even more surprising ally: Principal Rabbski. But with great forces—aka the school board—pushing her from above, will the gang’s former enemy don a finger puppet and join the Rebellion—or will her transformation to Empress Rabbski, Dark Lord of the Sith, be complete?

With this timely episode in the blockbuster Origami Yoda series, Tom Angleberger demonstrates once again that his “grasp of middle-school emotions, humor and behavior is spot-on” (Scripps Howard News Service).

Praise for Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue!
"Fans will devour this satisfying and nicely realistic conclusion to the story set up in the previous volume. Characters grow, and non–Star Wars pop-culture references seep in. Readers new to the series are advised to go back to the beginning; they won’t regret it."
Kirkus Reviews
"These books are more popular than a working droid on Tatooine. Expect the usual army of young Jedis to come out swinging for a copy."

My thoughts:
I am not sure if I read book four or not, but that did not get in my way of enjoying this installment of the series.  This was a very quick read!  Angleberger takes a look at test prep series from the point of view of the students and made the test prep materials particularly annoying.  Because McQuarrie Middle School had the worst test scores last year the school board has taken away all of the electives the students formerly enjoyed, like music classes, drama club, and all sports and replaced them with video test prep and worksheets to prepare for the test.  The students are bored, they miss their electives and they hate the singing professor and his rapping calculator.  The teachers are less than thrilled too.  The origami owners get together to plan their own rebellion against this test prep.

How much of this parody is what is actually being done in some schools and classrooms?  How much of a rounded education with challenges and differences are students losing because of scores on tests?  I agree there needs to be accountability and some way to measure what the students have learned, but I have mixed feelings about our current system.  I've seen the tests from an educator's perspective and from a parent perspective and I think a change needs to be made.  My hope is that in the future something better comes into use, but while I agree that some review is necessary on a regular basis to maintain skills and knowledge, whole programs designed to prepare students for one test should not be the focus of the school day for students.  Learning and preparing for life should be the focus, not a test.

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781419710520
  • Publisher: Amulet Books
  • Publication date: 3/4/2014
  • Series: Origami Yoda Series , #5
  • Pages: 208

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Hidden in the Stars by Robin Caroll (Quilts of Love) Litfuse Blog Tour

Hidden in the Stars: Quilts of Love Series


Following an attack that killed her mother and stole her ability to speak, 21-year-old Sophia Montgomery has no choice but to accept her estranged grandmother’s offer to return to their family home. Although detective Julian Frazier is working hard on the case, Sophia unknowingly frustrates him because her inability to speak thwarts her eyewitness evidence. The fact that Julian is undeniably attracted to Sophia doesn’t help either, so Julian hides his feelings as concern for a trauma victim and focuses instead on finding the killer.

Little do they know, the clues to solving the case may be right in front of them, displayed in Sophia’s mother’s “special” quilt design. Who will realize the secret Sophia’s unwittingly been hiding in plain sight? When the truth comes to light, will Sophia find her voice again? Or will the murderer—still at large—silence her forever?

Landing page: 

My thoughts:
In one night, on the eve of the fruition of years of hard work and sacrifice, everything changes for Sophia.  A violent attack that leaves her mother dead and her temporarily unable to talk, lands her in the hospital giving a statement through a lip reader to a police detective. 

A grandmother she thought to be dead, ties to Russian mafia, parallels between a mothers training in dance and a daughters years of training in gymnastics, leave Sophia vulnerable to attack from the same men who hurt her, but whom police are having a hard time tracking down. 

What is hiding in the quilt?  What is the stain her mother always said was cola?  Why has she never met the grandmother who clearly is not dead?  As they circle closer to the answer the danger ratchets up for Sophia and Julian wants more and more to keep her safe, but doesn't know what to do with the romantic feelings he can't seem to stop.

As each of the questions is answered and leads to even more questions, the picture of Sophia's mother Nina's life emerges.  Why she stopped dancing professionally?  What really happened to her best friend?  Sophia never wavers in her trust of God's plan for her life and her path, but Julian has a lot of doubts.   He has been hurt and has lost his faith, can Sophia and her silent acceptance help him find his way back?

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781426773600
  • Publisher: Abingdon Press
  • Publication date: 9/16/2014
  • Pages: 240

About the Author: 

Robin Caroll is the author of 22 published novels. When she isn't writing, Robin spends time with her husband of 20-plus years, her three beautiful daughters and two handsome grandsons, and their character-filled pets at home in Little Rock, Arkansas. She gives back to the writing community by serving as conference director for ACFW. Her books have been named finalists in such contests as the Carol Award, HOLT Medallion, Daphne du Maurier, RT Reviewer's Choice Award, Bookseller's Best, and Book of the Year.

Connect with Robin: website, Facebook, Twitter
About Quilts of Love: Quilts tell stories of love and loss, hope and faith, tradition and new beginnings. The Quilts of Love series focuses on the women who quilted all of these things into their family histories. A new book releases each month and features contemporary and historical romances as well as women's fiction and the occasional light mystery. You will be drawn into the endearing characters of this series and be touched by their stories.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Ballroom by Alice Simpson TLC Book Tour


About the book:
Told in interconnecting stories, Ballroom is a beautifully crafted debut novel—reminiscent of the works of Elizabeth Strout and Jennifer Haigh—about a group of strangers united by a desire to escape their complicated lives, if only for a few hours each week, in a faded New York City dance hall.

Time has eroded the glamour of the Ballroom, but at the end of the 1990s, a small crowd of loyal patrons still makes its way past the floor-to-ceiling columns which frame the once grand hall each Sunday evening. Sweeping across the worn parquet floor under a peeling indigo ceiling, these men and women succumb to the magic of the music, looking for love and connection, eager to erase the drab reality of their complicated lives.

Nearly forty and still single, Sarah Dreyfus is desperate for love and sure she’ll find it with debonair Gabriel Katz, a dazzling peacock who dances to distract himself from his crumbling marriage. Tired of the bachelor life, Joseph believes that his yearning for a wife and family will be fulfilled—if only he can get Sarah to notice him. Besotted with beautiful young Maria Rodriguez, elderly dance instructor Harry Korn knows they can find happiness together. Maria, one of the Ballroom’s stars, has a dream of her own, a passion her broken-hearted father refuses to accept or understand.
As the rhythms of the Ballroom ebb and flow through these characters’ hearts, their fates come together in touching, unexpected ways.

My thoughts:
I loved the idea of interconnecting stories and how we touch the lives of others whether we realize it or not.  The people you see every day or regularly are a part of your life even if you don't know their names or their backgrounds.  Each of the characters in this book had his or her own flaws which seems like an attempt to make them more real, but some of those flaws made it hard for me to like the characters.  I found this to be especially true with the male characters.

Harry Korn has been living in his apartment since before Maria's father, Manuel, moved in to be the super.  He has kept to himself to such an extent that his neighbors barely know him.  He has been giving dance lessons to Maria for years without anyone knowing about them, but the whole time he has been harboring a dream of a future life with Maria.  Maria longs to be a dancer and loves learning from both Harry and her dance partner, Angel.  Joseph always thought he would one day marry, but instead he comes weekly to the ballroom and dances, but barely reveals anything about himself to his partners, including his last name.  Sarah thinks that if only she can improve her dancing she can attract Gabriel who she thinks will bring her life the fulfillment she has been looking for.  Gabriel has been trying to make the perfect life for himself and get away from his memories of his mother and her manipulation to get him to be her dance partner.

At times I wasn't sure where the story was going or how most of the storylines could have happy endings.  It seemed to come around to the fact that happiness can only come from being honest to yourself and to others and to find what makes your own heart happy, not someone else's.  IF we take responsibility for our own happiness first, we can bring that happiness to others on our life journey.  Some of these characters learn that lesson, but not all of them.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (September 23, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062323032
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062323033

Alice Simpson.jpg

For more about Alice Simpson check out her website:   Alice Simpson

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Here's the tour schedule:

Wednesday, September 10th: Tutu’s Two Cents
Thursday, September 11th: she treads softly
Monday, September 15th: Kritters Ramblings
Tuesday, September 16th: BookNAround
Wednesday, September 17th: I’d Rather Be At The Beach
Thursday, September 18th: Walking With Nora
Tuesday, September 23rd: Drey’s Library
Wednesday, September 24th: Books, Books Everywhere
Monday, September 29th: Book Loving Hippo
Wednesday, October 1st: Book by Book
Friday, October 3rd: Stephany Writes
Monday, October 6th: Consuming Culture
Wednesday, October 8th: Reads for Pleasure
Thursday, October 9th: bookchickdi
TBD: cakes, tea and dreams

Friday, September 19, 2014

Talking to Girls about Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut by Rob Sheffield (audio)

Talking to Girls about Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut

Overview from Barnes and Noble:

From the bestselling author of Love Is a Mix Tape and Turn Around Bright Eyes, "a funny, insightful look at the sublime torture of adolescence".—Entertainment Weekly
The 1980s meant MTV and John Hughes movies, big dreams and bigger shoulder pads, and millions of teen girls who nursed crushes on the members of Duran Duran. As a solitary teenager stranded in the suburbs, Rob Sheffield had a lot to learn about women, love, music, and himself. And he was sure his radio had all the answers.

As evidenced by the bestselling sales of Sheffield's first book, Love Is a Mix Tape, the connection between music and memory strikes a chord with readers. Talking to Girls About Duran Duran strikes that chord all over again, and is a pitch-perfect trip through '80s music-from Bowie to Bobby Brown, from hair metal to hip-hop. But this book is not just about music. It's about growing up and how every song is a snapshot of a moment that you'll remember the rest of your life.

My thoughts:
While I do not  have quite as much from the 1980s to remember, I can recall the songs and some of the fascination with MTV from that time.  I love how each of Sheffield's essays start with a song title from the time and bring up.  It was like sitting down with a funny friend who knows a whole lot more about music than I do and finding out all sorts of music history while remembering what it was like before cell phones became so rampant. 

Why Irish sisters act as they do, what it is like to be the only boy in a family of all girls, and how he came to love Duran Duran as more than a way to talk to girls who loved the group.  I did not have MTV growing up, my friend did, but I did not.  I was always a bit jealous about it.  Now I do have MTV but it no longer shows mostly music videos so I don't bother with it, how ironic.  I had to laugh when he described some of the videos that make no sense, like when the band is singing in a junk yard for no apparent reason.

Each song he used as a chapter title reminded me of moments in my own life, either from the eighties or from later on when I became aware of the song.  It was like a trip down memory lane with my own memories wound up with those of a good friend.

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452297234
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/26/2011
  • Pages: 288

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Joyful: Return to Sugar Creek Book 3 by Shelley Shepard Gray Litfus Blog Tour

About the book: A young Amish couple gets a second chance at love in New York Times bestselling author Shelley Shepard Gray's final book in her Return to Sugarcreek series.

Randall Beiler is doing his best to put his family and the farm's needs first, even forsaking love. But though he tries, Randall knows he needs help caring for his younger siblings and keeping the house together.
When his brother offers pretty Elizabeth Nolt a job taking care of the house and cooking for the family, Randall is furious---and guilty about the way he once broke Elizabeth's heart. But when he learns that Elizabeth and her grandmother are struggling to make ends meet, he knows the offer, no matter how painful, is the right thing for everyone.
Elizabeth wants to refuse---to stay far away from the man who hurt her---but she needs the money. Though she vows to protect her heart, spending time in the Beiler household makes Elizabeth realize that, while she's older and wiser, her love for Randall still burns strong.
Randal, too, seems to want something more. But does he want Elizabeth because he truly loves her---or because he needs a housekeeper? If Randall sincerely wants something more, he must find a way to show Elizabeth---or risk losing his chance at love forever.

Purchase a copy: 
Landing page:
My thoughts:
I enjoyed visiting with the characters in Sugarcreek again.  Finding out how Miriam and Junior are doing in their new marriage and Christine and Aden in theirs.  How Ben and Judith are doing with their foster son and other assorted family and friends in this small Amish community.
This time around the focus of the story is on Randall and Elizabeth.  They have informally courted for years and both thought they would one day be married, but then Randy broke things off after his three older siblings left the family home to start their own lives and he felt he needed to step in and be the head of the parentless family.  Elizabeth is blindsided and hurt, but too proud to talk about it. 
After getting sick of having the same thing for dinner every night, Randy's brother, Luke, offers Elizabeth a job at their home, cleaning and cooking for the four brothers and one sister who still live there together.  This puts the two back into each other's daily orbit and forces them to deal with their unfinished business.
Watching both of them work to be polite and to keep their own personal feelings out of their interactions is a bit painful.  Feeling abandoned and left behind again by Randy, just as she was when her mother remarried and moved away, Elizabeth holds her feelings in.  When Randy is injured at his construction job and needs someone to care for him, Elizabeth gets a chance to see what life is like in his family home and what it would be like to have a large family, instead of the way she grew up as an only child.
In order to grow and change we need to trust that things will work out the way they are supposed to which can be the hardest thing of all, but we also need to be honest and true in all that we do to present our best selves to the world and others to allow this to happen.
About the author: Shelley Shepard Gray is a two-time New York Times bestseller, a two-time USA Today bestseller, a finalist for the American Christian Fiction Writers prestigious Carol Award, and a two-time Holt Medallion winner. She lives in Southern Ohio, where she writes full-time, bakes too much, and can often be found walking her dachshunds on her town's bike trail.

Find Shelley online: website, Facebook
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