Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Thief by Stephanie Landsem- Litfuse Book Tour

A Roman centurion longing for peace and a Jewish woman hiding a deadly secret witness a miracle that transforms their lives and leads them to the foot of the cross.
Longinus is a Roman centurion haunted by death and failure. Desperate to escape the accursed Judean province, he accepts a wager. If he can catch the thieves harassing the marketplace before Passover, he'll earn a transfer away from the troublemaking Jews.
Nissa is a Jewish woman with a sharp tongue and no hope of marriage. Only with the help of Mouse, the best thief in Jerusalem, can she keep her blind brother, Cedron, fed and a roof over their heads.
When a controversial teacher miraculously heals Cedron, Longinus longs to learn more about the mysterious healer. Instead, his journey leads him to Nissa, whose secret will determine the course of both their futures.
Unexpectedly caught up in the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus, they wonder who this teacher is who heals others but does nothing to save himself. Is the mercy he offers in his teachings real, or just another false promise? Can Nissa and 
Longinus overcome their pasts to find a future free of their shackles?
The Thief is an evocative story of two people trapped in their circumstances and the life-changing power of forgiveness and love.
Purchase a copy: 
About the Author: 
Stephanie Landsem loves adventure in far-off times and places. In real life, she's explored ancient ruins, medieval castles, and majestic cathedrals around the world. Stephanie is equally happy at home in Minnesota with her husband, four children, and three fat cats. When she's not writing, she's feeding the ravenous horde, avoiding housework, and dreaming about her next adventure---whether it be in person or on the page.

Learn more about Stephanie at:
Landing page: 
My thoughts:
What a way to bring the past back to life and make it real and palpable for readers!  I wasn't sure what to expect of this book.  It started to build a foundation right from the start that was strong and realistic.  What was life like when Jesus was alive?  How did the people live? Landsem brought them all to life and made a realistic city and lifestyle.
Nissa's father spends all his time gambling and has stopped working, her mother has taken to drinking her days away, leaving Nissa and her blind brother, Cedron, with no food and leaving the whole family with no money for rent.  In order to survive, Nissa has found  a way to cope.  No one wants to hire a plain girl who is unskilled, so she has learned to steal a bit here and there just to get by and from those who can afford to lose a bit.
Cedron spends his days either praying or begging, blind both in actual sight and in his understanding of what is going on around him.  He trusts that God is going to make things right for him, but at the same time places too much trust in other people doing the right thing.
Longinus is a Roman solider stationed in their city and tasked with finding two thieves to earn his way back home.  He meets Nissa and Cedron while tracking the thief and something about them and their lives won't let him forget them.  But Romans and Jews are not friends and it is harder to offer help than he realized.
I could really see the city and the people and feel the injustice of their legal system.  I wonder how people will depict and judge our judicial system from 2000 years in the future.  Will they think it makes as much sense as crucifying thieves and stoning sinners? 
Seeing Jesus from the eyes of those who believe and those who do not was eye opening.  How he was abandoned by his followers and forgave them, how the people reacted when the tomb was found empty, and the peace he was able to impart to others even when he himself was suffering.  Landsem brought it all to life and made it real and relatable.  It seems like such a tough task, but she made this time period so much more real to me than it has ever been before.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Road Unknown by Barbara Cameron (Amish Road Series Book 1) Litfuse Blog Tour

About the book: Book 1 in the new Amish Roads series
Elizabeth is at a crossroad. She's been given the chance to experience life outside of her community, away from the responsibility to care for her eight younger siblings, but Elizabeth Bontrager can't decide which road to take. Goshen has its charms and pressures, but Paradise, Pennsylvania, sounds . . . well, like paradise. And it's also home to her Englisch friend, Paula. Decision made. Elizabeth is Paradise bound.
But will the small town live up to its name? When Elizabeth meets Paula's friend, Bruce, she quickly learns he wants more than a friendship. And the same might be true of Saul Miller, her new boss at the country story that sells Amish products to the Englisch community. As the two compete for her attention, Elizabeth is surprised to realize she misses her family and becomes even more uncertain about where she belongs. She has a choice to make: return home or embrace this new life and possibly a new love?

Purchase a copy:
About the Author: Barbara Cameron is a best-selling author who has a heart for writing about the spiritual values and simple joys of the Amish. She is the author of more than 38 fiction and nonfiction books, three nationally televised movies, and the winner of the first Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award. Barbara is a former newspaper reporter. Some of her non-fiction titles include the Everything Weddings on a Budget Book and Her Restless Heart: A Woman's Longing for Love and Acceptance. Cameron currently resides in Edgewater, Florida.

Learn more about Barbara at:
Landing page: 
My thoughts: 
 Elizabeth is an easy character to get to know and like.  As the oldest child in a family of nine children she has been helping to care for her younger siblings and do chores for years and has felt like she is never going to get to live her own life.  She has not had the time to go to singings or to meet a suitor.  Her favorite time of the day is when she goes to work at a fabric store, and even then she has to hand her paycheck over to her parents.  She wonders if she is being selfish or if it is normal to want to have a life of her own.  Through corresponding with an Englisch friend she made over the summer, Elizabeth decides to move from Goshen, Indiana to Paradise, Pennsylvania to start living for herself.  Her parents are shocked and her grandmother thinks she is the most ungrateful child, but she still boards a bus.  While waiting on the bus she looks for signs from God as to whether she should stay or go and sees some birds outside the bus window.  The birds don't worry about being selfish, they know that God will provide for them and she relaxes a bit more with her decision.
Living in Paradise is different from how she has lived before.  Paula has a dishwasher!  Elizabeth is a good roommate, sharing chores and being a friend and finds a job very quickly in a shop that sells Amish goods.  She makes friends and finds joy in sewing herself a new dress on a borrowed sewing machine.  Now she had four dresses to choose from!
Two men vie for her attention, on Englisch and one Amish.  She has decisions to make and relies on her belief in God to guide her to the right path.  Elizabeth has believed in the church teachings all along, she just wanted the freedom to make her own way within the church parameters and to have a say in her own life.  The growing and changing she does by taking a stand and being her own person give her the personal growth she needs to make the right choice and be herself. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Saturday Snapshot- Pinewood Derby

This month was my first graders first Pine Wood Derby for Cub Scouts.  He wanted to make a shark car.  He built this one with his dad and loved it, but at check-in the night before we found out that having it undercut at the front is against the rules.
So they came home and built another one.  My husband gets credit for helping build two cars, one the night before,  and for staying up late to make sure everything was glued on and ready for the morning race.  My son still likes the first car the best.

Still Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys? by Billy Crystal (audio)

Still Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?

Overview from Barnes and Noble:

Hilarious and heartfelt observations on aging from one of America’s favorite comedians as he turns 65, and a look back at a remarkable career

Billy Crystal is turning 65, and he’s not happy about it. With his trademark wit and heart, he outlines the absurdities and challenges that come with growing old, from insomnia to memory loss to leaving dinners with half your meal on your shirt. In humorous chapters like “Buying the Plot” and “Nodding Off,” Crystal not only catalogues his physical gripes, but offers a road map to his 77 million fellow baby boomers who are arriving at this milestone age with him. He also looks back at the most powerful and memorable moments of his long and storied life, from entertaining his relatives as a kid in Long Beach, Long Island, his years doing stand-up in the Village, up through his legendary stint at Saturday Night Live, When Harry Met Sally, and his long run as host of the Academy Awards. Readers get a front-row seat to his one-day career with the New York Yankees (he was the first player to ever “test positive for Maalox”), his love affair with Sophia Loren, and his enduring friendships with several of his idols, including Mickey Mantle and Muhammad Ali. He lends a light touch to more serious topics like religion (“the aging friends I know have turned to the Holy Trinity: Advil, bourbon, and Prozac”), grandparenting, and, of course, dentistry. As wise and poignant as they are funny, Crystal’s reflections are an unforgettable look at an extraordinary life well lived.

My thoughts:
Billy Crystal performs this audio book, some of which takes place in front of an audience and some of which was taped in a studio.  It includes his trademark humor and addresses what can be tough topics by poking fun at them.  I recall a few years ago when I read 700 Sundays and I could hear his voice in my head as I read the pages, this was even better because I didn't have to imagine it myself.

Crystal looks back on how his career trajectory went, from starting doing small acts in front of live audiences for very little money and being a stay at home dad to his daughter to his first television spots and then movies.  He talks about regrets about films he took and parts he didn't get, all the while making it funny and relateable.  He talks a lot about Saturday Night Live as well as a TV series I was unfamiliar with where he played a gay man.  And through it all is his love of baseball!

He gives a background story to his 700 Sundays book and stage show and tells all about his house in California.  When he and Janice moved there they bought the house they still live in.  The next door neighbors were sisters who grew up there with parents who believed in séances and such and the sisters said the house was so happy to have a new family.  All sorts of celebrities had been in the home prior to them being there and they would find, from time to time, things buried in the yard and even a secret room that was walled over that had significance to them.

After listening to this book I decided to watch When Harry Met Sally again when it was on TV the other night and I looked for scenes like the one when Sally and Harry are talking in a weird voice that was totally improvised.  It seems so natural when it comes along in the film and I tried to imagine how scary that might have been for Meg Ryan to be filming a totally unrehearsed scene in front of the cameras.  She pulled it off!

I like how Crystal seems like an everyday guy who has had the good luck to find success in entertaining, but how there really was a lot of hard work and uncertainty for him on his way to where he is today.  It didn't just happen for him, he really had to work at it and fail at times to get where he is today.  It is easy to think that celebrities have had it so easy, but for most people, to be successful involves a lot of effort and some false starts and failures along the way.  To quote his dialogue from the Princess Bride, "Have fun storming the castle!"

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805098204
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/10/2013
  • Pages: 288

Meet the Author

Billy Crystal

Billy Crystal has starred in many hit films, among them When Harry Met Sally, City Slickers, The Princess Bride, and Analyze This. He is the author of the Tony award-winning play 700 Sundays, about his relationship with his late father, which was later adapted into a book, and the children’s book, I Already Know I Love You. Crystal was a cast member of Saturday Night Live, is a six time Emmy winner, and recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. He has hosted the Academy Awards nine times. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Janice.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Smitten Book Club by Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt and Denise Hunter Litfuse Blog Tour

About the book:
In this remarkable collaborative novel, besties Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Denise Hunter, and Diann Hunt tackle the tale of the Gentlewoman's Guide by writing for one book club member apiece. Smitten Book Club is a hopeful, hilarious story of friendship and healing, written by friends for friends.

The century-old Gentlewoman's Guide to Love and Courtship is no ordinary book club choice. But for the little book club in Smitten, Vermont, it might be their best pick yet!

The thick, leathery tome Heather pulled out of the dusty cardboard box was definitely coming home with her. Not only was The Gentlewoman's Guide to Love and Courtship an appealing curiosity by virtue of its title; it was also written by Smitten, Vermont native Pearl Chambers, a local gentlewoman from three generations back.

Little did Heather know the repercussions this little curiosity would have on her and her friends' romantic exploits.
When Heather and her fellow book club members begin passing the book around, their respective interpretations are unleashed on their respective love lives . . . for better or for worse. Is it a mystery? An idealist fantasy? An intimation of Jane Austen? As romantic love finds its way to each woman, the Guide proves itself both surprisingly prescient and hilariously irrelevant.


What's more, a handwritten inscription indicates that the arcane book might hold the only extant clues leading to buried gold-exactly what one of the members needs to keep her house. How could they not go treasure hunting? 
My thoughts:
I love the idea of books clubs.  I belonged to one for about a year and I really enjoyed going to the meetings and discussing shared reads.  Attendance really dipped and then it was ended when there were only a few of us who still came.  At some point I would love to find a group to join again, perhaps as my own children get a bit older and I have a free evening, so the opportunity to read and review this book for Litfuse really appealed to me.  I have not read either of the other two books in this series, so this can easily stand alone, but I would love to now that I have read this one.
Each author took a different character and wrote a smaller book within the book from one woman's perspective.  They work together chronologically and advance the overall story, while the shorter stories work on their own and as part of the whole.
Each story is a love story.  Two of the characters meet men from their past who they were attracted to or friends with, but who, for one reason or another, left town and never explored where things might have gone.  One character meets someone new, but due to her own personal baggage, struggles with whether or not she should trust him and if she believes he is being honest.  The last woman has been resistance to change and going outside of the small boundaries she has set for herself for her own life.  In each case, when the going gets tough the women turn to prayer and to God to guide them through and show them the way.  I don't think that is something a lot of us think about in our love relationships, but if more people took the time to pray for guidance and to trust that there is a plan in place, things might go smoother for a lot of people.
Underneath the stories of love and trust is a mystery about a gold mine that was supposedly found by the family one of the women married into.  People have looked for it for years, but no one knows if it is real or just a legend.  At a rummage sale to raise money for Molly, whose husband, Curtis, was a volunteer firefighter who was killed in the line of duty, Heather acquires a book written by one of  Curtis' relatives.  Inside it is a letter saying that the book holds the clues to finding the treasure, the treasure that Molly's friends see as a way to help her deal with the large debt that was left behind by Curtis' death.  Each of the four women highlighted in this book take a turn looking and reading the found volume to see if they can find the clues and solve the mystery.


What bloggers are saying about the Smitten books: 


"I love that this story (four novellas) is written by four different writers! It makes for a wonderful read! The characters in each of the stories are very believable and compliment each other nicely. I found each story to be well thought out with a few twists and turns to keep me interested!" 
---My Blessings from Above, on Secretly Smitten
"If you enjoy Christian romance stories then this book is a must for you! It will be well worth your investment. Pick up your copy today!" 
---Splashes of Joy, on Secretly Smitten
"What a fun New England treat. The only thing missing was some yummy maple syrup and biscuits to enjoy while reading it. If you're looking for a lighthearted, fun read this winter than grab a copy for yourself!" 
--- Adventures in Unsell Land, on Secretly Smitten
 Meet the Authors 

RITA-finalist Colleen Coble is the author of several best-selling romantic suspense novels, including Tidewater Inn, and the Mercy Falls, Lonestar, and Rock Harbor series.  

Learn more about Colleen at:

Christy Award finalist and two-time winner of the ACFW Book of the Year award, Kristin Billerbeck has appeared on The Today Show and has been featured in the New York Times. Her books include A Billion Reasons Why and What a Girl Wants.

Learn more about Kristin at:

Denise Hunter is the award-winning and best-selling author of several novels, including A Cowboy's Touch and Sweetwater Gap. She and her husband are raising three boys in Indiana. 

Learn more about Denise at:

Diann Hunt has lived in Indiana forever, been happily married forever, loves her family, chocolate, her friends, her dog, and, well, chocolate.

Learn more about Diann at:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Scraps of Evidence by Barbara Cameron (Quilts of Love Series) Litfuse Blog Tour

Scraps of Evidence : Tess has taken some ribbing from her fellow officer, Logan,for her quilting hobby. He finds it hard to align the brisk professional officer he patrols with during the day with the one who quilts in her off-time. Besides, he's been trying to get to know her better and he'd like to be seeing her during those couple nights a week she spends with her quilting guild.

Then one afternoon Tess and Logan visit her aunt in the nursing home and she acts agitated when Tess covers her with the story quilt. Aunt Kathy seems to be communicating a message to them about Tess's uncle. There's a story behind this quilt, they realize, one that may lead them to a serial killer. Will they have a chance to have a future together or will the killer choose Tess for his next victim before they find him?
Barbara Cameron is the CBD, CBA, and  ECPA bestselling author of 24 books including the new Stitches in Times series for Abingdon Press. Barbara has written fiction and non-fiction books for  Abingdon Press, Thomas Nelson, Harlequin, and other publishers. She sold three films to HBO/Cinemax and is the first winner of the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award. Barbara's first two novellas won the 2nd and 3rd place in the Inspirational Readers Choice Contest from the Faith, Love, and Hope chapter of  RWA. Both were finalists for the novella category of the Carol Award of the American Christian Writers Award (ACFW).

Learn more at:

Landing page: 
My thoughts:  I really enjoy the books in this series.  It is nice how they show that quilters as women who also have tough and challenging jobs.  Tess has just made detective and has been paired with a veteran detective from Chicago.  Logan has moved to sunny Florida to attempt to start living again after the death of his best friend from cancer.  The two try to avoid their attraction to each other in a desire to stay professional, but it is there nonetheless.
I liked the mystery aspect, though I have to admit that I figured out very early on who the murderer was.  Even being ninety percent sure I had the killer figured out, I enjoyed the twists and turns in the story.  The evidence the duo gathers and digs up about the connected murders and the spark that draws them together.
I feel like some of this book must have been edited out, perhaps to fit within page constraints, and some of the evidence and ideas were  not fully followed through on.  Tess gets sick after a picnic one day from what seems like some sort of drug or poison and she worries about the Tupperware it was in and returning it to the owner and then it is just forgotten.  I think if it had been returned some clues would have been raised about how the food was tainted.  The first victim in St. Augustine is Tess's best friend Sam.  On the night of their prom Sam and Tess first start out with dates who are twin brothers with the last name Johnson, but then two chapters later  Sam's date is Wendell Hendricksons, her high school boyfriend.   They know the possible killer who was in one woman's home was scratched by a cat, but no one acts suspusious when one of the characters has scratches on his hand.
That said, it was an enjoyable read that had me turning pages to see how the two were going to find the serial killer.  It also had me thinking of the TV show Dexter because it is also set in Florida and had serial killers.

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.

Hopeful: Return to Sugarcreek Book One by Shelley Shepard Gray (Litfuse Blog Tour)

About the book: Return to Sugarcreek, Book One

In the Amish town of Sugarcreek, love comes in many forms. But will it come at all for Miriam?
Miriam Zehr has worked at the Sugarcreek Inn longer than she cares to admit. The restaurant is a favorite of town residents as well as the many tourists who come to taste the famous Amish fare. Though she always tries to have a smile for every customer, deep down Miriam knows something's missing: a family of her own.
Miriam has never felt particularly beautiful, especially because she's always been a bit heavier than other girls her age. When Junior, the man she's pined for all her life, suddenly seeks her out, she's thrilled to be noticed . . . until she realizes he's only asking her to help get the attention of Mary Kathryn Hershberger, her pretty friend.
If Miriam helps Junior court Mary Kathryn, she'll get to spend a lot of time with him, but she might lose him in the process. Are these few stolen moments worth a lifetime of sacrifice? Is Miriam right to even hope for the life she dreams of?

Purchase a copy:

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.

Learn more about Shelley at:
Landing page: 
My thoughts:
Miriam has been the only child left at home with her parents since her much older brother and sister married and started their own families.  She is beginning to feel like an old maid, with  no one ever having come to court her.  For years she has had a crush on Junior Beiler.  Four years ago Junior's parents died and the family of eight children was left with Junior as the oldest.  He has taken the responsibility of his siblings very seriously, especially his youngest sister, Kaylene, who is now eight.  One day at the restaurant where Miriam works, Junior requests to visit her at home to talk.  She thinks he finally  noticed her, but her hopes are crushed when she discovers that he just wants to talk to her about her new friend, Mary Kate the new teacher.
Miriam puts herself second and tries her best to help Junior in his quest to get to know Mary Kate, all the while feeling her own pain inside that she can't share with anyone else.  Miriam helps people because she is so genuinely good inside.  She puts her own hopes and desires aside to try to help both of her friends.  Mary Kate is holding onto her own secrets and fears, and the only person she feels comfortable confiding in is Miriam,
We all have hopes and dreams, but sometimes love means putting someone else first.  By not thinking of herself, Miriam was completely selfless, but her sacrifice does not go unnoticed.  Many of her neighbors and friends have noticed how she is easy to talk to, always willing to lend a hand when needed and reliable, except for her habit of being tardy!  Miriam prays for guidance and tries to follow knowing that there is a greater plan at work that she might not know, but needs to believe in.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Friend Me by John Faubion

About the book: When a lonely wife and her frustrated husband each secretly pursue companionship online, neither dreams that a real woman is behind their virtual creations, threatening their marriage---and their lives.

Scott and Rachel's marriage is on the brink of disaster. Scott, a businessman with a high-pressure job, just wants Rachel to understand him and accept his flaws. Rachel is a lonely housewife, desperate for attention and friendship. So she decides to create a virtual friend online, unaware that Scott is doing the exact same thing. As Rachel desperately tries to re-create a friendship with a friend who has passed, Scott becomes unfaithful and is torn between the love for his wife and the perfection of his cyber-girlfriend. But neither realizes that there's a much larger problem looming . . .
Behind both of their online creations is Melissa, a woman who is brilliant---and totally insane. Masquerading as both friend and lover, Melissa programmed a search parameter into the virtual friend software to find her perfect man, but along the way she forgot to specify his marriage status. And Scott is her ideal match. Now Melissa is determined to have it all---Scott, his family, and Rachel's life.
As Melissa grows bolder and her online manipulations transition into the real world, Scott and Rachel figure out they are being played. Now it's a race against time as Scott and Rachel fight to save their marriage, and their lives, before it's too late.
In today's digital age, the Internet presents all kinds of opportunities to test our personal boundaries, and this exciting and suspenseful story raises important questions about the ethics of virtual relationships. Friend Me will open your eyes to a new---and terrifying---moral dimensions and how they play out in the real world.

Read an excerpt and purchase a copy: 

Learn more about John at:

Landing page: 

About the author: John Faubion has spent many years in Asia as a missionary with his family. Since returning to the United States, John has worked as a senior software developer for a large appliance chain. He teaches an adult Sunday school class and enjoys writing and driving his 1949 Packard automobile. John lives near Indianapolis with his wife, Beth, and their daughter.
My thoughts:
I was intrigued to read this book because it reminded me a bit of the premise for the movie Her which is in theaters now where a man falls in love with the operating system for his phone.  What makes a person real and what do we lose when we rely on devices and technology instead of face to face meetings for relationships and interactions.  Plus there have been other science fiction movies and books that have humanized robots which is always a bit disturbing!
Rachel feels isolated and alone and misses her husband Scott who often comes home from work late.  Her best friend passed away two years ago from cancer and she misses her.  One day, while on Facebook, she sees a sidebar ad for something called Virtual Friend Me.  When she goes there she meets Jane, a computer version of a person who looks real who introduces her to the possibilities for the site.  You have a whole range of options to create your own friend and can even recreate a loved one you miss.  Upload pictures and digital voice recordings and the site will make you a friend you can interact with face to face on the screen, on Facebook, through email or even texts.  After the first thirty days, if you want to be able to interact with your new friend face to face you have to start paying a $15 fee.  Rachel recreates her friend, Suzanne, and then shows Scott what she has done.
Scott is having some rough day at work and feels like he can't tell Rachel about what is going on because it will cause her to worry so he decides to try out the site himself and create a friend.  But Scott goes in a different direction.  When prompted to pick male or female, he choose female.  Then out of the array of options from colleague to friend to intimate he makes the last option his choice.  From there he starts to become a bit obsessed with his new friend, spending every lunch hour in his car parked somewhere that has wi-fi so he can chat with and watch his friend.
At this point it bothered me that both Rachel and Scott could have looked to each other for their needs or befriended someone new.  Rachel could have tried to click with another mom at preschool drop off or at the gym she goes to a couple times a week.  Scott could have taken his work worries to a buddy, since in selecting his option for Alicia (his virtual friend) he thought about how he had enough male friends.
Adding suspense to the story is Melissa, a very technologically smart but broken inside woman who is in charge of the company that runs Virtual Friend Me.  When he programs target Scott as he ideal love match she starts to take over the computer programs for the couple, allowing herself to play both Suzanne and Alicia and drive wedges between the couple, widening the cracks that are already there.
The end quarter of the book is very fast moving, but I don't want to say too much about it!  I liked the way the book was developed and how it shows some of the unsavory aspects of computerized interactions.  I felt at times the author missed the mark with some of the aspects of the female characters.  At one point at the gym the women are working out to Richard Simmons.  I have done plenty of time at gyms or with videos at home and he has been out of vogue for quite some time now.  Also he kept calling workout gear "exercise outfits", a term I don't usually think of for clothing and I think only older women wear matching tops and bottoms to work out in. I rarely wear the same color for both unless it is black and even usually not then.  These issues were minor, but they just jumped out at me.  Also, I was a bit unsure at one point why the characters were using cameras when they had cell phones, it seems like most of the time people now use their phones as their cameras.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bridge to Terabithia by Katharine Paterson (audio)

Bridge to Terabithia

Overview from Barnes and Noble:

A secret world of their own
Jess Aaron's greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. He's been practicing all summer and can't wait to see his classmates' faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, a new kid, a new girl, boldly crosses over to the boy's side of the playground and outruns everyone.

That's not a very promising beginning for a friendship, but Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. It doesn't matter to Jess that Leslie dresses funny, or that her family has a lot of money — but no TV. Leslie has imagination. Together, she and Jess create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits. Then one morning a terrible tragedy occurs. Only when Jess is able to come to grips with this tragedy does he finally understand the strength and courage Leslie has given him.

The life of a ten-year-old boy in rural Virginia expands when he becomes friends with a newcomer who subsequently meets an untimely death trying to reach their hideaway, Terabithia, during a storm.

My thoughts:
Part of me cannot understand why Barnes and Noble would have the fact that Leslie dies as part of their overview.  I hate when really powerful parts of books are given away in a book synopsis, book trailer or review without at least a spoiler notice.  That said, I doubt there are all that many adults who haven't already read this book so most of us already know.  I must admit that while listening to this audio book I did not cry when Leslie's death occurs.  Even as an adult this part usually makes me cry, I think I have less of an emotional investment in audio books that ones I read on the page.  It has been a number of years since the last time I read  it.  I decided to listen to it because my son is reading it at school with his class.  I had considered listening to this one with my children a number of times and I have always had such an emotional response to her death that I wasn't sure if it would be a good idea.

At the end of the book there is an interview with the author and her son.  Having never looked into learning more about Paterson I had not known that she took events from her own life to create this book.  Her son's best friend, Lisa, to whom the book is dedicated, died as a child and this is part of how she worked through her feelings about the loss.  I am sorry now that I shyed away from this as a shared audio book with my children, I think that

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780064401845
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/1/1987
  • Series: A Trophy Bk.
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Edition number: 25
  • Pages: 176

Meet the Author

Katherine Paterson was born in China, where she spent part of her childhood. After her education in China and the American South, she spent four years in Japan, the setting for her first three novels. Ms. Paterson has received numerous awards for her writing, including National Book Awards for The Master Puppeteer and The Great Gilly Hopkins, as well as Newbery Medals for Jacob Have I Loved and Bridge to Terabithia. Ms. Paterson lives with her husband in Vermont. They have four grown children.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Saturday Snapshot- Snowstorm Part 1

 Thursday morning we got up to a large snowfall that just added to the snow we already had on the ground.  This was the pile in front of our house early in the day, we got more snow during the day and again Thursday night.
 You can see that even after the first round of shoveling the snow kept coming.
With both falling and drifting snow some cars are going to be quite difficult to get out!
Even though we have had a lot of snow and snow days so far the kids were all still excited to be out and playing in it.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (audio)

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Overview from Barnes and Noble:

Kit Tyler is marked by suspicion and disapproval from the moment she arrives on the unfamiliar shores of colonial Connecticut in 1687. Alone and desperate, she has been forced to leave her beloved home on the island of Barbados and join a family she has never met. Torn between her quest for belonging and her desire to be true to herself, Kit struggles to survive in a hostile place. Just when it seems she must give up, she finds a kindred spirit. But Kit's friendship with Hannah Tupper, believed a witch by the colonists, proves more taboo than Kit could have imagined and ultimately forces her to choose between her heart and her duty.
In 1687 in Connecticut, Kit Tyler, feeling out of place in the Puritan household of her aunt, befriends an old woman considered a witch by the community and suddenly finds herself standing trial for witchcraft.

My thoughts:
This has been one of my favorite books since I read it for the first time in fourth grade.  I take something different from it each time I read it.  This time through I was struck by the rigidness of the rules the Puritans lived by.  Recently I have read a number of books set in Amish communities and noticed their adherence to rules for interaction and the amount of power the church leaders hold over their whole community.  In the past month I also watched all five seasons of the HBO series Big Love.  The sect of Mormons the family belonged to that believed in polygamy had their rule structure as the did the greater Mormon church who denounced them and went out of their way to make life difficult for those living in plural marriage.  What struck me about these three different books and settings was how strictly held the religious beliefs were and how much people were expected to blindly follow the rules set in place for them.  How free can a society be if they have no control over their own beliefs and dreams, but have to stay inside of prescribed boxes and obey guidelines put upon them?

Kit grew up in Barbados with her grandfather, after the death of her parents.  She learned how to read by reading fiction and works of literature with him, learned to swim in the sparkling water and took for granted that there would always be someone there to take care of her and spare her from chores and drudgery.  Upon her grandfather's death she boards a ship to go to Connecticut to her mother's sister.  A woman she has only come to know through letters, but never actually met.  Kit is out of place in New England, with her brightly colored dresses and carefree attitude.  She shocks people with her ability to swim and feels so alone and out of place until she meets a widow who lives alone.  Hannah Tupper is a Quaker that the townspeople distrust and many talk about her being a witch.  But Kit sees her for who she is, a lonely woman whose husband has passed away and becomes her friend.

Kit also befriends a little girl she met on the ship that brought her to the small town.  Prudence rarely gets enough to eat and lacks affectation and education, as her mother believes that she is not smart enough to learn.  Kit takes it upon herself to teach the girl and introduces her to Hannah as well. 

Being different marks Kit and her lack of understanding of the rules governing interactions and chores leads to her falling into grave danger.  How many times do we look at those who are different and wonder why they can't just adapt or fit in?  How many people gossip or think ill of neighbors or new classmates who don't seem to understand how to go about being  a part of a group?  If we could find a way to meet without the hurt feelings or assumptions so many moments of anger could be averted.  What about if we took this to a global level?  Just because a group of people does things differently does not mean that they are doing it wrong. If we took the time to really listen and the time to rally try to understand things could go so much more smoothly for everyone.

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547550299
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/10/2011
  • Pages: 249

Meet the Author

"I was born in Melrose, Massachusetts, on November 21, 1908. I have lived all my life in New England, and though I love to travel I can't imagine ever calling any other place on earth home. Since I can't remember a time when I didn't intend to write, it is hard to explain why I took so long getting around to it in earnest. But the years seemed to go by very quickly. In 1936 I married Alden Speare and came to Connecticut. Not till both children were in junior high did I find time at last to sit down quietly with a pencil and paper. I turned naturally to the things which had filled my days and thoughts and began to write magazine articles about family living. Then one day I stumbled on a true story from New England history with a character who seemed to me an ideal heroine. Though I had my first historical novel almost by accident it soon proved to be an absorbing hobby." Elizabeth George Speare (1908-1994) won the 1959 Newbery Medal for THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, and the 1962 Newbery Medal for THE BRONZE BOW. She also received a Newbery Honor Award in 1983, and in 1989 she was presented with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for her substantial and enduring contribution to children’s literature.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Ina Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson (audio)

In a Sunburned Country

Overview from Barnes and Noble:

Every time Bill Bryson walks out the door, memorable travel literature threatens to break out. His previous excursion along the Appalachian Trail resulted in the sublime national bestseller A Walk in the Woods. In A Sunburned Country is his report on what he found in an entirely different place: Australia, the country that doubles as a continent, and a place with the friendliest inhabitants, the hottest, driest weather, and the most peculiar and lethal wildlife to be found on the planet. The result is a deliciously funny, fact-filled, and adventurous performance by a writer who combines humor, wonder, and unflagging curiosity.

Despite the fact that Australia harbors more things that can kill you in extremely nasty ways than anywhere else, including sharks, crocodiles, snakes, even riptides and deserts, Bill Bryson adores the place, and he takes his readers on a rollicking ride far beyond that beaten tourist path. Wherever he goes he finds Australians who are cheerful, extroverted, and unfailingly obliging, and these beaming products of land with clean, safe cities, cold beer, and constant sunshine fill the pages of this wonderful book. Australia is an immense and fortunate land, and it has found in Bill Bryson its perfect guide.

My thoughts:
I listened to this audio book and learned a lot of interesting facts about Australia, but as I am not the best auditory learner I promptly forgot most of the facts!  For novels and memoirs audio books are great, but for something like this with a lot of facts and figures, I might have been better off with a print copy.  But everyone has a different learning style.

Bryson seems to go back and forth about his feelings for Australia. He says over and over again how much he loves the country but then talks at length about the things that can kill a person and about the monotonous miles between places.  About how the accommodations at one place or another are unsatisfactory or unbelievably expensive and how poor planning led to having no place to stay for the night.  Some of his difficulties make a lot more sense now that I know the book was written in 2001.

He makes Australia sound both beautiful and unforgiving at the same time.  There are detailed accounts of settlements and expeditions and facts about where they went right and, more often, where they went wrong.  About the capital of the country which is neither Sydney nor Melbourne, even though those are the cities most talked about in the news.

I had mixed feelings about this book.  I think it was supposed to be  more humorous than what I found it to be.  It felt a bit overly long.  I kept waiting to be at the end, which is never a good thing for a book.  Perhaps it was his writing style or it could have been the narrator's take on it that just didn't click for me.  I am glad to have learned a bit more about Australia, but this book just didn't click for me.

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767903868
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/15/2001
  • Edition description: 1ST BROADW
  • Pages: 352

Meet the Author

Bill Bryson
BILL BRYSON'S many books include, most recently, I'm a Stranger Here Myself, as well as A Walk in the Woods, Lost Continent, Notes from a Small Island, and Mother Tongue. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951, he lived in England for almost two decades. He now lives in Hanover, New Hampshire, with his wife and their four children.