Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Sunday Salon: I'm Back!

So, um, wow... I took a much longer hiatus from blogging than I had intended to.  As most of you know, I had a baby last year.  In fact, we're coming up on Miss Laura's first birthday faster than I want to think about!  I am in the midst of planning her party as I type this.

I thought I'd use this post to give you all a summary update as to what has been going on with me...

The last year and a half has been a whirlwind.  Just sitting down to think about what I want to write about here has made me realize what a blur it truly has been.  Having a baby has so completely changed my life -- our lives -- but I can't imagine a world without my daughter.  And I had to include this picture from Easter -- we have a reader on our hands (I hope!)  Within weeks of Laura being born, my husband and I had no memory of what life was like before she arrived.  She is such a doll and yet a little monkey at the same time.  We have about a million nicknames for her, depending on what she is getting into.  :-)  I can't believe that any day now we expect her to get up and walk across the room.  She has taken a couple of tentative steps here and there, but she would much rather pull herself along our furniture.  We are both eagerly awaiting those fully independent steps, though not without considerable trepidation, knowing that we are getting ready to be running around like crazy even more than we already are with a crawler!  I am so looking forward to decorating for her first birthday party and making her a little cake to smash.  My mother and I took a cake decorating class on Saturdays this month, so I am planning to make a little 6-inch cake and decorate it for Laura to smash (and eat).  The theme of her party will be Winnie The Pooh's first birthday and all of the decorations arrived a couple of weeks ago.  I can't wait to decorate and have our family and close friends over to celebrate what a fun year this has been!

In other news, a lot has been going on with me professionally -- particularly in the last couple of months.  Going back to the Fall of 2010, though, I started a second part-time job in anticipation of it becoming full time when it became financially possible.  I was lucky enough to get my foot in the door with a legal transcription company without having had any prior experience.  It turns out I had a talent for it and things took off.  While I was still pregnant, I was typing up a storm in addition to fulfilling my role as the Assistant Store Manager for B&N @ Georgia Tech.  It was pretty crazy trying to manage both jobs and maternity leave *almost* felt like a vacation compared to that.  I said ALMOST. :-) Actually, I really did enjoy those 12 weeks I had to spend with Laura and if I could be a stay at home mom, I would do it in a heartbeat and never look back.

However, at the beginning of March, I officially became the next best thing, a work at home mother!  I did go back to B&N for another six and a half months while my amazing parents helped us beyond measure and watched Laura while my husband and I worked.  I had intended and hoped to become a full time Legal Transcriptionist at some point in the near future.  Then over the Christmas holidays, a friend of mine who worked in our corporate office asked me if I was still interested in working from home because she was hopeful she might be able to recommend me for an opportunity with one of our apparel vendors, Gear For Sports (they include the Champion, Gear, and Under Armour brands).  The next thing I knew, in January I had a conversation with the Sales Manager who oversees the B&N College Bookstores business for the Company and by the beginning of March, I was officially the Vendor Analyst for the B&N College business.

Of course, the best part is -- I get to work from home!  I am still in an industry I truly do love and one that has been so incredibly good to me over the years, but I no longer have to put up with the often-frustrating retail side of it day in and day out.  What an amazing blessing.  My parents are still watching Laura some, but for much shorter periods of time while I get in several concentrated hours of work.  I did have to give up legal transcription, but the manager of the company still wanted to keep me on and let me request work during any down times I have.  I am grateful to have that in my back pocket, so to speak, if I should ever want to make another change down the road.

There is no doubt about it, I have been very blessed in my professional life (and personal life, obviously).  Even in this tough economy, when I have needed to make a change, a job has found its way to me.  Not only that, but the very same week I had my training for the new job, my husband had an interview and found out within days that he was accepted into a management program with his company, so he got a promotion, as well!  The last month and a half has been a challenge to coordinate our schedules and figure out what works, but we finally seem to be settling into a good routine.

As the dust settled, I realized that it was HIGH time to blow the dust off of Melissa's Bookshelf and revive the blog.  I have participated in a couple of recent book tours and I had taken one review book by an author I love last year, but it just took me awhile to finally feel like I could jump back in with both feet and keep up with this site along with my busy personal/professional life.  I took a day recently and did some serious Spring cleaning on the blog and am so happy to have updated it a bit.  And yes, I have still been reading throughout it all, though admittedly not nearly as much as I used to, though I have found myself with more time for reading lately and I hope that continues to be the case.  I have lots of reviews planned for the next few weeks for the books I've read over the last several months.  I've penciled in some time every day to write reviews and schedule them to publish and I can't wait to get back into some of the memes I used to participate in.

So, I hope those of you who used to keep up with Melissa's Bookshelf will find your way back on occasion and I welcome all of you new readers out there.  Thanks to those of you who have kept up with me on Facebook, as well.  I'm looking forward to being an active member of the book blogging community again, that's for sure!  Happy Reading!!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Series Review: The Inheritance Cycle

Title: The Inheritance Cycle (Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, Inheritance)
Author: Christopher Paolini
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Hardcover, Random House Children's Books
Book Source: I purchased all of these books from either or Barnes & Noble.

Synopsis (from Paolini's website)

Fifteen-year-old Eragon believes that he is merely a poor farm boy- until his destiny as a Dragon Rider is revealed. Gifted with only an ancient sword, a loyal dragon, and sage advice from an old storyteller, Eragon is soon swept into a dangerous tapestry of magic, glory, and power. Now his choices could save - or destroy- the Empire. 

My Thoughts

I have been keeping up with Paolini's Inheritance cycle ever since Eragon was published.  I elected not to review the individual books here, but waited until the cycle was complete to write a series review.  Over the years I have become a huge fan of fantasy works and have enjoyed reading Paolini's tale of Eragon and his quest to overthrow Galbatorix.  No, it is not highly original fantasy, but many of Paolini's ideas and approaches to dragons are intriguing, particularly given that he started writing these books at the young age of fifteen.  His Inheritance Cycle can be appreciated on that fact alone.

In the end, it is my honest opinion that this series was one book too long.  If I recall correctly, it had originally been billed as a trilogy, and I rather wish it had stayed that way.  It was almost as if Paolini bit off more than he could chew -- there were just too many plot lines and too many loose ends that I believe caused him to get bogged down in parts that didn't really advance the plot.  And while I thought the character development was pretty good in the first two books, by the third and fourth, it was really as if they stopped growing altogether.

Because of the dangling loose ends and tendency to get caught up in the less important plot lines of the story, the ending ultimately was not as satisfying as it should have been, either.  It made the whole build to the finale and climax anti-climatic, which was a bit disappointing.  Some aspects I did enjoy and appreciate, but on the whole it didn't really do the entire series justice.  Again, I am still impressed by what Paolini was able to accomplish for someone so young and there certainly is much to like and appreciate about these books.  But if you sit down and read them straight through, as I did again when the last book was released, you shouldn't be surprised if you find yourself feeling a little let down by the end.

I don't make these comments so much to discourage anyone from reading these books, but more as a fair warning.  I know there are many of you out there who adore these books, hands down, no questions asked.  I, myself, expect that I will re-read these books again down the road and if my daughter becomes the reader I hope she will be, I would encourage her to read the Inheritance Cycle as well.  I am anxious to see Paolini grow as a writer -- I think that by simply getting to experience life more and grow as a person, his writing and storytelling will be better for that.  I truly do think there is a TON of potential for him to have a very prolific career as a fantasy writer.

My rating: 4 stars

If you have reviewed any of these books, as well, please feel free to leave the link to your review(s) in the comments section!  And feel free to join the discussion... do you have another opinion to share? I'd love to hear it!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mystery Mondays - Blog Tour: Banana Split

Welcome to another Mystery Monday at Melissa's Bookshelf!  I am excited to be a part of another blog tour today, taking a look at Banana Split, the seventh book in Josi S. Kilpack's Culinary Mystery Series.  I admit I haven't read the first six, but when I finished Banana Split, I wished I had been reading these books from the beginning.

Let's start with the basics, shall we?

Title: Banana Split
Author: Josi S. Kilpack
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pub Date: March 6, 2012
Paperback, Shadow Mountain
Book source: Received a copy from the author to participate in this blog tour -- many thanks to you and to Tristi Pinkston for inviting me to participate in the tour!


Sadie Hoffmiller has survived eighteen months of nonstop adventures filled with murder, deceit, and danger.  She could really use some rest -- and maybe even some time to heal -- relaxing in the tropical paradise of Kaua'i.  However, palm trees and sunshine are not as effective a medication as Sadie had hoped.  And when she finds herself entangled -- literally -- with a dead body, she is forced to face the compounding fears and anxieties that are making her life so difficult to live.

Her determination to stay out of danger and to focus on overcoming her anxieties soon takes a backseat when she meets eleven-year-old Charlie, the son of the woman whose body she discovered near Anahola Beach.  Charlie has some questions of his own about what happened to his mother, and he is convinced that only Sadie can help him.  If only Sadie were as confident in her abilities as Charlie is.

With the help of her best friend and a local social worker, Sadie dives into another mystery with the hope that, at the end, she'll be able to find the peace and closure that has eluded her.

My Thoughts

Okay, for starters, it's a nice bonus to read a mystery that also includes recipes inspired by the location and mentioned throughout the story.  There are several that I hope to try at some point -- most don't seem to be too complicated to make and it would be fun to get a feel of some of the local flavor of Hawaii.  Interestingly enough, this is the second mystery I have read recently that is set in Hawaii, and it is proving to be a fun way to learn even a small bit about their culture.  But going back to the recipes, I also discovered that there is an index of all the recipes located in the front of the book, which is a fantastic feature!

When reading this story, it is obvious that I must have missed a lot of Sadie's background by not having read the other books.  However, this book can certainly be read as a stand-alone and on its own merit.  So, while I would probably recommend starting at the beginning, don't feel like you have to just because I told you to!  Okay, that said, I also feel like I have missed out on a TON of Sadie's character development.  Rumor has it, the vulnerable Sadie we see in Banana Split is quite different from the Sadie that people got to know in the first six books.  However, we do get to see her work on overcoming the vulnerability she feels, and even by the end of the book she is a different woman from the Sadie I met on the first page.

The mystery itself evolves quite a bit as the story unfolds.  We are introduced to several suspicious characters, which always sparks me to contemplate who had the most motive to commit the murder.  I have to admit that as I got into the thick of the plot, the storyline slowed down a little for me, but Kilpack is able to keep the twists and turns coming and pulls you right on to the end as the pace quickens again for the last several chapters.  An added bonus in my mind is that this is a nice, clean book -- sure, the murder is a little gruesome, but that is mainly left to your imagination and after all, it IS a murder mystery.

If I have intrigued you so far, you really ought to pick up a copy of Banana Split (or one of Kilpack's other Culinary Mysteries) and see what it's all about!

My rating: 4 stars

For more information about Ms. Kilpack, please visit her website.

Be sure to visit the other blogs participating in the tour and hear what they have to say about Ms. Kilpack and Banana Split:

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