Monday, April 25, 2011

Oh, the Joys of Painting....and Jury Duty?

Well, we're going full steam on the painting projects!  Hubby and I managed to finish the living room and hallway over the weekend (3-day weekends are perfect for these sort of projects).  Now, all that remains is painting the trim and doors....a necessary evil since we're switching over from an off-white trim to a white one.  Pictures are coming, I promise.  You just don't want to see them now, trust me (because my house looks like a fruit basket turnover).  :o)

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter weekend with their families.  We had a great church service and lunch with my in-laws yesterday.  The day was made complete when they said that we had a few pieces of mail at their house.  Guess what that means?  Yours truly has been called to jury duty.  Oh, what joy.  We actually had a running joke a few weeks ago that everyone had been summoned except me....looks like I should've kept my mouth shut.  :o)  Hubby got called a few months back, and has assured me that the first day is really no big deal. 

Have you gotten that lovely envelope requesting your presence?  And don't you wish that instead of a nice summons to jury duty, it was invite to the Royal Wedding or something else equally grand?  :o)  My hubby can't understand what all the fuss is about.  (Trust me, I gave him THE look.)  I said that we will probably never see anything so grand again in our lifetime.  Prince Charles and Diana got married while I was still in the womb, and hubby would've been about 1, so their wedding does not count at all.  It's just a matter now of figuring out how early I'll have to wake up in the morning to catch all the to-do.  I've even talked my co-workers into having some cake on Friday, too.  Hey, just because we're not there in person doesn't mean we can't have our own cake and eat it, too!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Book Review: Tomorrow's Garden by Amanda Cabot/4.5 Stars

About the book:

Harriet Kirk is certain that becoming Ladreville's schoolteacher is just what she needs--a chance to put the past behind her and give her younger siblings a brighter tomorrow. What she didn't count on was the presence of handsome former Texas Ranger Lawrence Wood--or the way he slowly but surely claims her fragile heart. But can Harriet and Lawrence ever truly put the past behind them in order to find happiness?

Readers will love this story of overcoming powerful odds and grabbing hold of happiness. Book 3 in the Texas Dreams series.

My thoughts:

Amanda Cabot has quickly become one of my go-to authors.  I can't even count the number of times I've recommended her books to my book friends....they're just that good!  Her latest offering is the last book in the Texas Dreams Series, and I'm so sad that my time with the citizens of Ladreville has come to an end.

I enjoyed seeing the town through the eyes of Lawrence and Harriet.  I have to confess that Lawrence wasn't one of my favorite characters in the last book.  He was too stiff and rugged for my taste, and his infatuation with Priscilla got annoying after awhile.  However, he was a completely different person in this book.  He said goodbye to the life of a Texas Ranger, and stepped into the dual roles of town sheriff and mayor, two jobs that suited him quite well.

Meanwhile, Harriet stepped in to fill the vacancy for school teacher in Ladreville.  Not only was she excited to be teaching in a new town, she was anxious to forge a new life for herself and her siblings.  I couldn't help but smile at the friendship that developed between Harriet and Isabelle.  Isabelle has been one of the most genuine characters throughout the series, and her sweet spirit in this book is not one that I'll soon forget.  If it hadn't been for Isabelle, poor Harriet would have never softened her uptight exterior.  She also would've been destined to be a victim of the Fashion Police for a LONG time if Isabelle hadn't come to her rescue!

Even more that the two previous books, I felt like I was a part of the town in Tomorrow's Garden.  I wanted to scream at Harriet that she needed to keep her distance from Karl.  I wanted to convince the townsfolk how important the bridge building was.  And I wanted to cheer with joy at Ruth's gradual growth into a more confident young woman.  Who wouldn't want to be part of such a community?  :o)

If you enjoy such authors as Lori Copeland and Kim Vogel Sawyer, I would strongly suggest you give Amanda Cabot a try.  Each book in this series has been filled with so much emotion, and all of them have been nearly impossible to put down!  I don't know how in the world I will be able to wait until next year to read her next offering which will be set in Wyoming.  :o)

4.5 Stars

Southern?  No (I don't consider Texas to be part of the South.)
Sass?  No

**Many thanks to Revell for providing a copy for review.

**Click here to read my review of book 1, Paper Roses.
**Click here to read my review of book 2, Scattered Petals.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Book Review: Secrets of Harmony Grove by Mindy Starns Clark/3.5 Stars

About the book:

From the bestselling author of Shadows of Lancaster County comes an exciting new romantic mystery set in Amish country.

Sienna Collins, owner of the Harmony Grove Bed & Breakfast in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, learns that she is under investigation by the federal government for crimes she knows nothing about. A few hours later she finds her ex-boyfriend, Troy, dead, and her life and livelihood begin to spin wildly out of control. She begins to doubt everyone around her, even the handsome detective assigned to the case.

As Sienna tries to clear her name, she is forced to depend on her faith, the wisdom of the Amish, and the insight of the man she has recently begun dating. She’ll need all the help she can get, because the secret she uncovers in Harmony Grove end up threatening not just her bed-and-breakfast, but also her credibility, her beliefs, and ultimately her life.

My thoughts:

Readers familiar with Mindy Starns Clark know that she is an incredible writer that can weave an intricate story together in a phenomenal way. Her plots are always complex and her characters believable. It is also very difficult to put down one of her novels because the action is always non-stop.

That said, Secrets of Harmony Grove was a rather complicated story. The plot, while interesting from the word "go," had way too many twists and turns. It was a mystery within a mystery, with a few other mysteries served on the side.  With all of the subplots, it was not a surprising experience to find several lagging portions in the book.

Knowing that Clark has written another Amish/mystery story, it was a given that the two books were easy to compare against each other.  While neither book was overtly Amish, each book featured parts of the Amish lifestyle that are not commonly mentioned in strictly Amish novels.  For example, this novel dealt with mental illness and Amish ancestry, while her other novel explained the intricacies of DNA research and diseases among the Amish.

Readers who enjoy lighthearted stories may wish to bypass this particular novel.  Clark is a very talented mystery author, but this novel, in particular, had a few scenes that were darker than her usual fare.  It will be interesting to see how she has used this novel, as well as her previous Amish/mystery novel, as she branches out with co-writing Amish novels.

3.5 Stars

Southern?  No
Sass?  No

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spring Cleaning...or Is It Spring Painting?

Just wanted to let everyone know that I will be on a reduced posting schedule on my blog for the next few weeks.  I will still be posting some things here and there, but not as frequent as I have been.  Hubby and I are preparing for some large house projects, and I'll be up to my eyeballs in paint and plants.  I'm planning to do some before and after photos, too, which are always exciting.  :o) 

Right now, our agenda includes painting the entire kitchen (including the cabinets, which will have to be sanded first--so not looking forward to that), painting the living room, and re-painting our master bedroom + new paint in our master bath.  Can you imagine all that blue tape?

Not only are we doing ALL of that, we are also considering building a new shed (ahem....*hiring* someone to build a new shed).  :o)  Our poor shed now is literally on it's last leg, in addition to being a total eyesore.  I think it's been there since our house was built 20 years ago.  AND it's so old that one of the doors fell off last fall.  Embarrassment much?

It's also time to get some flowers planted.  I'm slowly, but surely, working toward having perennials planted in all my flowerbeds, but I'm still a long ways away.  Thankfully, I have one flowerbed full of perennials which have already started to bloom beautifully (yay!), and another bed that just needs to be weeded so the vincas there can start bursting with blooms.  For those of you that garden, did you know that vincas (also known as periwinkles) are sold as annuals but they come back year after year?  I discovered this last year when these itty-bitty tiny sprouts started to cover my flowerbed.  Lo and behold, I had a bed full of them by summertime!  Vincas thrive in full sun, which is great because my front yard gets full sun from sunup to sundown.  There aren't too many plants that can survive that much heat, but vincas are practically indestructible when it comes to hot weather in the South.

So, um...I'll be busy.  :o)  I've been able to do a LOT of reading lately, which has resulted in a LOT of reviews in the past few weeks (which I've really enjoyed).  But during all this home decor drama, I think I'll be lucky to accomplish one book/review per week!  So, stay with me...I promise I won't desert you.  :o)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Book Review: Scattered Petals by Amanda Cabot/4 Stars

About the book:

Longing for adventure, Priscilla Morton leaves Boston in 1856 and heads for the Texas Hill Country, never dreaming that the adventure she seeks could have heartbreaking consequences. Although attracted to her, ranch foreman Zachary Webster knows Priscilla deserves a cultured East Coast gentleman, not a cowboy who's haunted by memories of his mistakes.

When necessity draws them together, Priscilla and Zach begin to forge a life filled with promise. But then the past intrudes.

Book 2 of the Texas Dreams series, Scattered Petals weaves a tale of drama, love, and second chances as beautiful as the Hill Country itself.

My thoughts:

Amanda Cabot certainly knows how to weave an incredible story.  When I read her first book, Paper Roses, last year, I completely fell in love with her writing.  The way she created the most beautiful love story between Sarah and Clay was so romantic, it gave me goose bumps.  Because of that, it was a no-brainer that I would eventually read her second novel, Scattered Petals.

While I recommend that any series of books be read in order, Scattered Petals was a book that was easily read as a stand-alone novel.  It shared the story of Priscilla, the sister-in-law of Clay, and Zach, a member of the local town and a friend to Clay and Sarah.  Priscilla and her parents were on their way to share in the joy of Clay and Sarah's upcoming wedding when their stagecoach was attacked.  In a matter of minutes, Priscilla watched as her parents were shot, and experienced the subsequent act of being raped.  From that point on, she didn't want anything to do with men, regardless of their good intentions.

Meanwhile, Zach had a host of memories that he would rather forget.  He made a stupid mistake in his teenage years, and he's never been able to forgive himself for it.  When he met Priscilla, he thought there was no way in the world she would ever give him a second look...until circumstances forced them to make some crucial decisions about one another.

Being that it's been a year or so since I read book one, I struggled a little bit with remembering some of the characters in this story.  Yes, the introduction of Priscilla and Zach was easy to follow as their story stood alone, but it was the other townsfolk that I had some trouble with.  The town was settled by both German and French immigrants, and even after a few years of living amongst each other, there were prejudices that still existed.  It wasn't until I was almost half-way through the book that I was able to better follow the story, and understand the direction it was heading.

There's one other thing that bothered me.  I believe I noticed this in Paper Roses, but it wasn't as obvious as it was in Scattered Petals.  Occasionally, there were sections of the story that appeared to be lumped together.  For example, a character would mention an activity that they wanted to do that evening, and that event would appear in the very next paragraph.  There was no break in the page.  I really didn't understand the reasoning for this as all the chapters in the book were very long; a break here or there would have been very helpful.

In my opinion, Paper Roses was a book worthy of 5 whopping stars, but I can only give 4 stars to Scattered Petals.  I feel bad that I am comparing these books against each other because I like to judge each book I read on it's own merits.  I was literally glued to the pages of Paper Roses, but I didn't have that same urgency to find out what would happen in Scattered Petals.  In spite of that, I am anxious to see how the series wraps up in book 3, Tomorrow's Garden, releasing in April 2011.

Southern?  No (Texas is not part of the South in my opinion...sorry.)
Sass?  No

**Click here to read my review of Paper Roses.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Top 10 Books I Just Had to Have....But Are Still Sitting on My Bookshelf

I saw two different blog posts today.  And yep, they were about books.  (Like you had to ask.)  :o)  Except it's about books that we haven't read yet.  Check out Bluerose's Heart and Reading to Know's posts to see where I got the idea to create my own list of Top 10 Books I Just Had to Have...But Are Still Sitting on My Bookshelf.

1.  Made from Scratch by Sandra Lee

I've wanted to read this book since I first heard about it, and I can't even remember how it made it to my shelf.  I saw a biography special on Food Network about Sandra Lee, and was so impressed with her resiliency and strength to do the best she could when she was growing up that I just had to read the book.

2.  Prairie Tale by Melissa Gilbert

There are tons of people that grew up as fans of Little House on the Prairie, and I am just one of thousands.  Laura was always my favorite character on the show because she was a Daddy's girl just like me.  And I used to think that Almonzo was just drool-worthy when I was a girl.  So yep, had to have the book.

3.  Escape by Carolyn Jessop

Somehow, I got hooked on reading memoirs about women that escaped a lifestyle of polygamy.  So far, I've read Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall and Shattered Dreams by Irene Spencer.  (I also admit an addiction to the tv show, Big Love.)  A friend of mine recommended Escape to me as one of the best of the memoirs available, and I still haven't read it....ugh.

4.  And the Shofar Blew by Francine Rivers

The only book by Francine Rivers that I have not read.  I loaned it to my dad on a whim about 4 years ago because he had recently read Redeeming Love.  I think because the story was based on a pastor helped him relate more to it because he spent a number of years as a church pastor before I was born.  I'm just so embarrassed that I still have not read it to this day.

5.  The Heavens Before by Kacy Barnett-Gramckow

Another recommendation by a friend. 

6.  The Begotten by Lisa Bergren

Until The Begotten released, I had read everything by Lisa Bergren.  I don't know why I never actually read this one soon after I bought it.  Now, 2 whole series later (3 if you count her newest one), it's still sitting on my shelf. 

7.  The Perfect Life by Robin Lee Hatcher

I had to have this one for pretty much the same reason as The Begotten.  When I was in high school, I had managed to read everything by Robin Lee Hatcher that my library had available.  Once I got a job and some spending money, I bought the rest of her books that I hadn't been able to check out through the library.  I've read all of her books up to this one (and somehow, I haven't read the 2 that she wrote immediately after this one).

8.  Dreaming in Technicolor by Laura Jensen Walker

I got a copy of Dreaming in Black and White by Laura Jensen Walker from my library, and had a blast reading it!  Laura's sense of humor reminds me a lot of Tamara Leigh.  Only problem was that they didn't have this one to follow it....sigh.  A few years later, I managed to snag a copy through Paperbackswap.

9.  The Moon in the Mango Tree by Pamela Binnings Ewen

I admit it...I bought this one just for the cover.  Something about it reminded me of The King and I...maybe it was that cool umbrella.  :o)  Or maybe it's the fact that it's set in Siam.

10.  Fields of Gold by Lisa Samson

Another one thanks to my library.  They had book one in this series (which I loved), but not book 2 or 3.  Book 3 is sitting on the shelf, too.  Took me awhile to get these because I don't believe they're readily available anymore.

So, that's my Top Ten list.  Now, I just want to hang my head and cry!  Like most of y'all, I read and read and read, but never seem to catch up.  And great books like these (well, hopefully they're all good) just have to patiently wait their turn.

Has anyone read any of these?  Any suggestions on where to start first?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Book Review: The Inheritance of Beauty by Nicole Seitz/5 Stars

About the book:

Beauty is sometimes found in the most unlikely places.

In 1929, the train brought strangers to small-town Levy, SC. There was a struggle--and a fire--and the lives of four childhood friends would never be the same. Eighty years later, George and Magnolia Jacobs are living out their remaining days in Harmony House in Charleston. When an anonymous portrait arrives of a younger Maggie, George realizes there are things he still doesn't know about his wife. And when an old stranger moves in just down the hall, their past seems to be coming full-circle. Like it or not, George must now remember things from long ago in order to set himself--and all of the childhood friends--free from what happened in Levy.

The Inheritance of Beauty is an entrancing story about beauty and age, about the blessings and curses of each, and how the true beauty of a person, like true love, never fades.

My thoughts:

I feel like any words I say about this book will be so inadequate. It's just that books like this rarely cross my path, maybe because I don't go out of my way to read them.  What kind of book is that?  Part sadness, part pain, while also moving slowly, but deliberately.  Then, when I get my hands on a book like this, it always ends up that I love it or hate it.  Hardly does it fall somewhere in between.

The Inheritance of Beauty was a book that definitely fell on the "loved it" side of the equation.  And even after I've put it down, I still can't put my finger on what captivated me so much about these characters.  They're nothing spectacular.  Nobody did anything that changed the world.  They were just ordinary folk that were not far away from death's door.  In my opinion, George was the main character of the story.  He was like an open book; I always knew what was going through his mind.  At times, he was complacent, other times a bit hateful, but at all times, he loved his sweet wife, Maggie, in a way that caused tears to come to my eyes.  At one moment, he said, "I have loved Maggie since before I knew what love was.  She is love to me.  Without her, there is nothing for me here." Oh, to have a love that pure, that selfless from one person to another.  That, indeed, is a most beautiful thing.

As I read more and more novels, I have come to a conclusion about something.  Authors should always write about what they know.  When I discover that a particular book is loosely based on real life events, I can't seem to put it down.  Just knowing that this book was partially based on a photo of the author's grandmother, and how that photo had been a part of the history of her family, made this story so much more real.  I felt like I was peaking into a diary, only to discover that their family wasn't much different than my own.  We all have skeletons in our closets; it's just a matter of how much or how little we let them shape the rest of our lives.

I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to review this book as I doubt it would have ever crossed my path otherwise.  This book had a little bit of a literary flair, which I'm not normally too crazy about, but it worked so well here.  I can do nothing but give this book 5 stars, as well as a huge recommendation for people who love deep, and meaningful stories.  I know that The Inheritance of Beauty will stay in my mind and heart for days to come, as I'm sure it will for many others.

Southern?  Yes
Sass?  No

**Many thanks to Thomas Nelson through the BookSneeze program for providing a copy for review.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Book Review: Montana Rose by Mary Connealy/4 Stars

About the book:

Fire up your love of romance with Montana Rose, where Cassie Griffin, a seemingly spoiled pregnant woman, is widowed one day and wedded the next. Marrying handyman Red Dawson seems the only alternative to Cassie’s being hitched to a brutal rancher. But can this “china doll” bear exchanging smooth silk for coarse calico?

Red was reluctant to be yoked to an unbeliever, but sometimes a man has no choice. Will Red change Cassie’s heart by changing her name?

Wade Sawyer is obsessed with saving Cassie from a marriage of convenience. How far will he go make her his own?

My thoughts:

Mary Connealy's books always have a way of pulling me in and getting under my skin. Montana Rose was no exception at all! She took a seemingly ordinary setting out West with every-day people, and turned it into a story that was full of emotion. I connected with these characters in a way that hasn't happened to me in a very long time, so much so that I felt like I was a small part of their community.

I loved the compliment at the very beginning of the book that stated this was a tribute to Janette Oke's famous book, Love Comes Softly. It's been years since I read that book, but the story is one that I'll never forget. I thought Mary's take on this very similar story was done so very well that I never once compared the two. Mary's story stood apart and had it's own personality, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

I cannot wait to read the rest of this series, and I have no doubt that I will fly through it! Book 2, The Husband Tree, looks to be a continuation of Belle's story that was featured in Montana Rose. Hopefully, she'll be able to do something with that dead-beat husband of hers, other than hit him upside the head with her skillet. :o)

4 Stars

Southern?  No
Sass?  Yes; it took awhile, but Cassie found some.  :o)

**Many thanks to Barbour Books through NetGalley for providing a copy for review.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Book Review: Stealing Adda by Tamara Leigh/5 Stars

About the book:

Life for Adda Sinclaire, New York Times best-selling author, Historical Romance Writer Extraordinaire, ironically reads more like a country song than a bodice-bursting, breathless affair. For starters, she has no actual romance in her life. That might have something to do with the fact that her husband--correction-EX husband--ran off with Stick Woman, whom everyone knew would never be more that a mid-list author anyway. To add insult to injury (and another verse to the country song), he not only took their dog but gave it to her. If this isn't enough, Adda's come down with a horrible case of writer's block and finds herself the unwitting target of a romance cover model's misdirected (and completely unreciprocated) amorous advances.

Just when she catches her breath--and quite possibly the eye of a certain fabulously good-looking man--her arch-nemesis gives the pot one final stir.

My thoughts:

Ok, it's time to officially add Tamara Leigh to my list of favorite authors!  I love her stories, her style, and her fabulous sense of humor.  Her books fall a little bit into the chick-lit genre and a little bit into the romance genre, but by the time I finish one, I'm a fan of the "I-don't-care-what-you-call-it-it's-so-good-I-wanna-read-it-again" genre.  (Wow, what a mouthful!)

I became a fan of Tamara's right after reading Splitting Harriet (which was just as great of a read as this one).  But before reading this book, I honestly had no clue that Tamara Leigh had once been a successful, mainstream romance author.  After I read Stealing Adda (along with a few book reviews of it, too), the light bulb went off in my head that this book very easily could've been her journey through the world of writing.  Everything was so spot on--the deadlines, the writing conferences, the agent phone calls, the best-seller lists, the red pen of death from the editor--that I felt like I was in the midst of all that drama right beside Adda.

But let me tell ya...that just barely scratches the surface about how great this book was!  I cannot believe how many times I could not stop laughing!  And I'm not talking about a little chuckle, either.  I'm talking about LOL funny!  Adda had these very "unique" names for people (mostly for people she didn't like) that summed them up to a T.  "Stick Woman" was a personal favorite of mine, as well as Adda's friend, "Puffer"...better known as Joyce.  "Prim" and "Improper" stole the show a few times, too.  :o)

As great as the humor was, the romance was enough to make me weak in the knees.  Goo.... (you'll know what I mean after you read it for yourself).  :o)  "Chocolates" was every girl's dream guy, even if he had a tendency to be non-committal a good portion of the time.  The chemistry between him and Adda was the kind that would have you imagining fireworks in the was that good! 

But seriously....this book is the kind of book I would give to someone that wants a great story, but maybe they're not a Christian.  It showed the journey from non-believer to believer in a very real way that wasn't preachy or "church-ey."  Instead, the Christian characters that were featured had a genuine faith that was just part of their personality.  They weren't trying to witness every 5 minutes, or saying "I'll pray for you" all the time.  They lived their faith by example instead of trying to cram it down your throat.  What a refreshing change.  :o)

So, with all that said, I think there should be a Tamara Leigh Fan Club, and I very seriously doubt that I would be the only member!  Anyone else wanna join?  (Er....maybe we should ask Tamara what she thinks first.....)

5 Stars (as if you had to ask)  :o)

Southern?  No
Sass?  Oh, my!!  Heaping loads of it!

More favorites by Tamara.....

**Click here if you'd like to read my review of Splitting Harriet.
**Click here if you'd like to read my review of Leaving Carolina.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Free Kindle Books!! Yay!

This is not something I normally post on my blog, but I wanted to let everyone know about a couple of great NEW free books on the Kindle.  Yep, I said new......and.......*FREE*!  Woohoo!!  :o)  Both of these books are Christian historical fiction published by Revell, and first in their respective series.  Be on the lookout in the next few weeks for the 3rd book in each series to be released very soon.

First up, The Edge of Light (At Home in Beldon Grove, Book 1)

It is the summer of 1838 in St. Lawrenceville, Missouri, and Molly McGarvie's life is about to change forever. When her beloved Samuel succumbs to cholera, Molly is heartbroken but determined to take care of herself and her children. But when Samuel's unscrupulous brother takes over the family business and leaves Molly to fend for herself, she knows she must head out on her own. It is a dangerous journey and Molly has to leave her old life behind. Somehow she must find a way to make a living, keep her family together, and fend off some over-eager suitors. Book one in the At Home in Beldon Grove series, The Edge of Light will captivate readers with the true-to-life emotions of one woman's struggle to survive.

The future stretches out in front of Sarah Dobbs like the pure blue Texas sky. Leaving the past behind in Philadelphia, mail-order bride Sarah arrives in San Antonio ready to greet her groom, Austin Canfield, a man she has never met but whose letters have won her heart from afar. But there is one problem--he has died. And Sarah cannot go back East.

As Sarah tries to reconcile herself to a future that is drastically changed, Austin's brother, Clay, struggles with his own muddled plans. Though he dislikes working on the family ranch and longs for a different life, Clay is driven to avenge his brother's death. But something between them is growing and neither Clay nor Sarah is ready to admit it.

Book 1 of the Texas Dreams series, Paper Roses will sweep readers into the Hill Country with a tale of love and loss, closed doors and beautiful possibilities that will leave them wanting more.


Now, of these two books, I've only had the pleasure of reading Paper Roses, and to tell you that I loved it is an understatement.  If you'd like to read my thoughts on this book, you can click here to read my review.  I promise'll have a hard time putting this book down!

But don't wait!!  Snatch up these two Kindle freebies while you can!  :o)