Monday, May 28, 2012

Review: Starting and Closing by John Smoltz

Title: Starting and Closing
Author: John Smoltz with Don Yaeger
Genre: Autobiography, Nonfiction
Pub Date: April 2012, William Morrow, an Imprint of HarperCollins
Format: Hardcover
Source: Many thanks to Tracy Diamond and the William Morrow Marketing Team for this finished copy for review!

Synopsis (from the dust jacket)

I wasn't afraid to fail. It's really as simple as that.

As a seven-year-old kid pitching a ball against a brick wall, John Smoltz decided to be a professional baseball player when he grew up. And from that simple decision until his last season on the mound in the major leagues, it was his faith, work ethic, and love for the game—even more than God-given talent—that propelled him through challenges that would have ruined other athletes.

Starting and Closing chronicles John Smoltz's final season in a major league uniform, capping a legendary career that included fourteen years as part of one of the most dominant starting rotations in baseball, a Cy Young Award, and a World Series title—all while battling and overcoming "career-ending" injuries. At age forty-one, Smoltz was making yet another unlikely comeback from his fifth surgery. Recounting the story of a season that tested his perseverance and deepened his faith, Smoltz flashes back to watershed moments in the skeptic-defying journey from being one of the best starting pitchers of all time, to closer, to starter again.

One of the most intelligent, talented, and passionate players in the game, Smoltz delivers insights into modern major league baseball, its place in popular culture, and the value of competition. He writes with unflinching honesty about becoming a true Christian and finding in his beliefs the peace and strength to stay focused—through postseason triumphs and defeats, upheavals in his personal life, and the sting of being sent to the bullpen. What emerges is an inspirational story of spiritual growth and family values, from a man who believed not just in himself but in God's plan for him—and one more year.

My Thoughts

I expect that many of you may not know that I grew up a die-hard Atlanta Braves fan.  Though I don't follow the game nearly as much as I used to (I used to record the team's stats and maintain a binder for a few years -- I was very serious!), I am still a Braves fan at heart.  I've long been a fan of John Smoltz, as well.  I had the good fortune to interview him in the Braves dugout for a summer project I worked on in 2002, the summer after my junior year at The College of William & Mary.  (The project was a statistical analysis of the Braves current ballpark, Turner Field, versus their old stomping grounds at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium -- taking a look at whether or not Turner Field was more of a pitcher's park and AFC Stadium was a hitter's park, which were the reputations each field had gained.  The long and short of it, there was no statistical difference between the two parks despite obvious opinions and impressions that the two stadiums were completely different parks with respect to how they "played.")

My project aside, the one thing I came away with from my interview with Smoltz (and a few other players and coaches) was what a genuinely nice guy he was -- willing to take the time to answer my questions honestly and fully.  It was an experience I'll never forget.  So, when I learned that Smoltz had co-authored a book documenting his final year in the Major Leagues, I was anxious to get my hands on it, both from a personal standpoint and with the thought that it would be a departure from my usual reviews.  (Not to mention that both my husband and my dad will likely enjoy reading this book.)

Starting and Closing proved to be a very interesting read.  And though I admitted yesterday it was slow going for me (compared to when I read fictional works), that certainly doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy this book.  Smoltz's personality really shines through the pages of this autobiographical account.  It's his voice you hear, evidenced much by the colloquial writing and heartfelt sentiments throughout.  Until reading his story, I wasn't really aware that he was a "born again Christian" or that his faith played such a strong role in his life and his baseball career.  By the end of the book, I had a new perspective on Smoltz and it was fun to see a more personal side, beyond the man on the pitcher's mound.

While this book does chronicle Smoltz's comeback after shoulder surgery and his perseverance to play one more year, he sprinkles in many stories of his boyhood growing up in Michigan and dreaming to play for the Detroit Tigers, not to mention the years he spent pitching with one of the best rotations in baseball in Atlanta.  Though I was already aware of his tendency to be a bit of a prankster and joke around, reading his accounts of some of the pranks he'd pulled, along with other Braves pitchers, made for an often funny read.  The book isn't all fun and games, though.  Smoltz also chronicles difficulties with injuries throughout his career, challenges he faced with the Braves' upper management, and some personal life struggles along the way.

Starting and Closing really is a genuine look at one of baseball's best pitchers through his own eyes.  If you're a sports fan or just a baseball fan -- even if you're not a fan of the Braves -- I think you'd enjoy picking up this book.  It's a quick, easy read (unless you have a difficult history with nonfiction like some of us and even then, I got through it relatively quickly) that offers not only a closer look at Smoltz, but some of the other guys he played with throughout his career.

My rating:

5 stars

If you have reviewed this book, please feel free to leave a link to your review in the comments section.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Sunday Salon (05.27.12): What do you like to read?

The Sunday Salon.comA couple of weeks ago I talked about reviews and asked all of you how you approached your reviews.  I received a lot of interesting comments and really appreciated the feedback and "discussion."

With my most recent read, I've started thinking about what kinds of books I enjoy reading and subsequently reviewing on this blog.  I'm sure you all are aware that the VAST majority of books I read are fiction, and more specifically, they are primarily YA, historical/Christian fiction, and mysteries.  Well, my current read is none of those.  I was lucky enough to receive a finished copy of Starting and Closing by John Smoltz from The William Morrow Marketing Group with Harper Collins.  As a lifelong Atlanta Braves fan, I was interested to read more about Smoltz's career from his perspective, not to mention I knew my husband and father would likely be interested in this title, as well.

So in the past week, I dutifully began to read this book, knowing that it would also be a different kind of review for this blog.  Happily, it's an interesting read and Smoltz's personality shines through a lot in the pages.  However... I simply can't get "into" this book -- you know, just sit down and read it, or devour it, the way I do YA and other fiction in general.  And as I realized this was the case, I started thinking back to other nonfiction I have read.  I do own a handful of nonfiction books -- most of them biographical or political in nature.  And looking back, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it has always been this way with nonfiction for me.  It could be some of the most interesting subject matter possible, but I still take so much longer to read a work of nonfiction than any piece of fiction I've ever picked up.

My theory on this is pretty simple and not in the least revolutionary or groundbreaking.  I simply enjoy escapist reads.  That is what fiction does for me -- it provides an escape from the real world, chores, responsibilities, troubles, you name it.  And it's not as if my real world is any horrible place -- far from it, in fact.  But for me, there is something so exciting and ultimately satisfying about getting lost in a new world with new people for a few hours.  And I suspect that is why, if I actually had the time to do so, I could sit down with a work of fiction -- particularly in my favorite genres, and read the entire book in one sitting.  Of course, the likelihood of that happening anytime soon is nonexistent, but I still tend to devour those books much more quickly in the same amount of time.

What about you?  What makes you "tick" when it comes to a book?  Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? What genres do you gravitate towards?

As for me, I will probably continue to stick with my favorite fiction and try to throw in some nonfiction here and there for good measure.  And now it's time to continue working on my current nonfiction read so I can provide my review sometime in the near future.  I hope you all are enjoying the weekend -- particularly for those of us who have a long holiday weekend!

As always, happy reading... whatever you happen to like reading! :-)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday Snapshot (05.26.12)

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky at Alyce's blog, At Home With Books.

Well, I hate that I haven't been around much this week, but my job has been SO crazy!  I definitely appreciate all of the advantages of working from home, but I still have requirements and deadlines to meet, all the same!  Luckily I have a boss who is supportive and pretty much told me that he would fire me if I worked at all this weekend, LOL... So, I am enjoying the long holiday weekend now!

So many of my most recent pictures are of our baby doll and my family, so I'm going to mix it up this weekend... particularly because I can guarantee you at least one of the next two Saturday Snapshots (if not both) will be of the munchkin, as her first birthday is coming up! :-)

Anyway, these pictures are from our last trip to NC last summer.  I can't wait to take a week off and go back later this year!

There are always so many different flowers we see blooming at various places in the mountains.  I particularly liked the perspective of this one in front of the lettering on that sign in the background.

These butterflies are all over the place in the mountains.  The blue on their wings is very reflective in the sunlight.

Captured this on one of our drives to or from our vacation house -- wish it had been a clear day!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Review: Destined

Title: Destined
Author: Aprilynne Pike
Genre: Young Adult, Fiction, Paranormal
Pub Date: May 2012, Harper Teen
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased from

Synopsis (from the dust jacket)

Tamani looked at her gravely, and reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear.

He hesitated for an instant, then his hands found the sides of her face, pulling her to him. He didn't kiss her, just held her face close to his, their foreheads resting together, their noses almost touching.

She hated how much it felt like good-bye.

Laurel now knows the truth: Yuki is a rare Winter faerie, the most powerful—and deadly—of all, and Klea plans to use her to help conquer and destroy Avalon. But Klea's reach extends far beyond one wild Winter faerie. With Tamani, David, and Chelsea by her side, Laurel prepares to face what may be Avalon's final days, in the stunning conclusion to the Wings series.

My Thoughts

The quotation from author Claudia Gray at the top of the dust jacket sums up exactly how I felt about this book: "The perfect ending."  If a series has to come to a close, I always hope that by the time I turn the last page I have that feeling of contentment and satisfaction with how the story is wrapped up.  I enjoyed every book in this series and really thought that each book improved upon the last.  Since I was on my blogging hiatus for the release of the third book, Illusions, I did not review it, but you can revisit my reviews of Wings and Spells should you care to.

With Destined, you have non-stop action from the start of the story.  Again, we are focusing primarily on Laurel, Tamani, David, and Chelsea as they battle to save Avalon from almost certain destruction.  The love triangle is finally no more, though Laurel doesn't really make her ultimate choice until towards the end of the book.  However, you basically know in whose favor the tide is turning at this point, anyway.  The ultimate battle for Avalon is a powerful climax and Pike does an incredible job portraying the many angles of fighting and the horror that Klea brings upon the fairies.  Though not as prevalent in this story, Yuki plays a key role near the end... hmm, no pun intended for those of you who have read this.  That is my only spoiler and it was totally unintended.

I honestly have no complaints about how Pike ended this series.  I thought the characters were at their best, the plot and pacing was about as close to perfection as you could get, and though I was sad to see the story end, I was totally content when I closed the book.  If you haven't given these books a try, yet, I highly recommend them -- particularly if you enjoy fairy lore.  Wings is certainly not as strong as its sequels, but it should be pretty obvious that there is great potential upon finishing that first book.

My rating:
5 stars

If you have reviewed this book, please feel free to comment and leave think link to your review!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

"Double Trouble" Review...

In the spirit of catching up on reviews of books that I have read lately but not yet blogged about, I'm going to kill two birds with one stone today and review Courting Trouble, by Deeanne Gist, and the sequel, Deep in the Heart of Trouble.

Synopsis of Courting Trouble (from back cover)

Whether it's riding bikes, catching snakes, or sliding down banisters, Essie Spreckelmeyer just can't quite make herself into the ideal woman her hometown -- and her mother -- expect her to be.  It's going to take an extraordinary man to appreciate her joy and spontaneity -- or so says her doting oilman father.

Sadly such a man doesn't appear to reside in Corsicana, Texas.

It's 1894, the year of Essie's thirtieth birthday, and she decides the Lord has more important things to do than provide her a husband.  If she wants one, she needs to catch him herself.  So she writes down the names of all the eligible bachelors in her small Texas town, makes a list of their attributes and drawbacks, closes her eyes, twirls her finger, and...picks one.

But convincing the lucky "husband-to-be" will be a bit more of a problem.

Synopsis of Deep in the Heart of Trouble (from back cover)

Essie Spreckelmeyer is the last woman anyone in Corsicana, Texas, expected to see with a man on her arm.  Independent and outspoken, she's known more for riding bicycles in outrageous bloomers than catching a man's eye.

And the last man who seems willing to give her a second glance is Tony Morgan, newly hired at Spreckelmeyer's oil company.  The disinherited son of an oil baron, Tony wants most to restore his name and regain his lost fortune -- not lose his heart to this headstrong blonde.  She confounds, contradicts, and confuses him.  Sometimes he doesn't know if she's driving him toward the aisle or the end of his rope. 

That's how life is... deep in the heart of trouble.

My Thoughts

I've read and enjoyed a couple of other books by Deeanne Gist: A Bride in the Bargain and A Bride Most Begrudging.  With these two most recent reads by Gist, I really can't decide quite how I feel about them.  I would say this time the Christian aspect of this Christian Historical Fiction novel is a bit more prominent, but once again, not overbearingly so.  I can't quite put my finger on what it was that just quite didn't do it for me with these books compared to Gist's other books I've read.

I tend to think that it is the stories themselves, more than anything.  I actually greatly enjoyed Essie Spreckelmeyer as the heroine of both books.  With Essie, there is never a dull moment and you never can be quite sure what she will do next.  I liked that she wasn't some perfect beauty that could have any man she wanted, but that ultimately she got the only man she wanted, though not without some pitfalls and missteps along the way.

Ultimately, I believe the most bothersome piece of the puzzle for me was the first book itself.  I wish that both of these books could have been made into one and that some of the various plot lines had been removed.  Clearly, by the end of the first book, I knew I was going to have to read the second so I could learn what would become of Essie.  And really, I did enjoy the second book much better than the first, which left a bad taste in my mouth to some degree, though not so much that I didn't want to read the rest of Essie's story, apparently.  Her independence and fiery personality really shine in Deep in the Heart of Trouble and add in an exciting climax, and you have a recipe for a much more gripping read.

Gist works in great moments of humor and has an interesting cast of characters for both stories, though I think that Essie really came to life in the second book.  I expect that most people will enjoy both stories, but I guess I was just really bothered by the way the first one turned out.  Of course, I wasn't bothered enough to give these up altogether, so I suppose that says something.

In the end, I'm not quite sure what this review has said -- perhaps it's just neutral, which is essentially how I felt about the two stories when you look at them together...  If you pick up Courting Trouble, you are almost guaranteed to want to follow it with Deep in the Heart of Trouble, simply to find out what happens to Essie.  I really can't recommend reading only Deep in the Heart of Trouble, because you do learn some key things about Essie in the first book that are important to the second.  However, I'd be more inclined to just send you to Gist's other books first.

My Combined Rating:
3 stars

(Individually, I'd rate Courting Trouble as a "2-1/2" and Deep in the Heart of Trouble as a "3-1/2".)

If you have reviewed either of these books, please feel free to leave a link to your reviews in the comments section below!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Saturday Snapshot (05.19.12)

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky at Alyce's blog, At Home With Books.

This week I'm sharing a picture from last Sunday, Mother's Day -- three generations together: my mother, me, and Miss Laura.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Review: Endure

Title: Endure
Author: Carrie Jones
Genre: Young Adult, Fiction, Paranormal
Pub Date: May 2012, Bloomsbury
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased from

Synopsis (from the dust jacket)

There was a time, not long ago, when all Zara wanted was to have Nick back.  Rescuing him from Valhalla should have made all her problems disappear.  He's Bedford's greatest warrior, not to mention Zara's true soul mate.


Nick isn't the person he used to be.  And neither is Zara.  She's a warrior now, and a pixie queen.  Astley's queen.  She has a plan to stop the evil pixies that are ravaging her town, and her ideas are not the same as Nick's or Astley's.  One thing they can all agree on though:  war is here.  And if Cassidy's premonitions are correct, then not every warrior will make it in the end, and Zara's gravest choice is yet to come.

My Thoughts

Well, I'm a little sad to see Carrie Jones' Need series come to an end.  I've enjoyed following Zara, Nick, and Astley throughout their quest to save the world from an evil-pixie-led apocalypse.  To tell you the truth, I regret that I don't have a review of the third book, Entice, on this blog because, well, I don't quite remember everything that happened!  I do recall that I enjoyed it more than I did Captivate, the second book in the series, but it's been so long since I read it during the great Blogging Hiatus of 2010-2011 that I don't remember much else about it.

All that said, I thought Endure was a great conclusion to the story.  It was well-paced and I think the characters were the strongest they have been in the whole series.  I didn't find anyone annoying this time around, which is always a bonus.  I remain staunchly "Team Astley," as I switched to his side when reading Captivate.  I also appreciated Zara's group of friends more this time around as well -- it just seemed like Jones hit her stride in writing about the key people in the story.  The dialogue was sharper and I found myself with a better "mental image" of everyone as I read.

Something that I really enjoyed was Jones' brief intros to each chapter -- news blurbs, samplings from social media, police radio calls, etc.  While sometimes serious, they were frequently quite humorous and usually at the right time.  But it really all comes down to how much the writing has improved from the first two books in the series.  I think that's why the characters were more relatable, the pacing was spot on, and the suspense really kept me reading.  Oh, did I mention there's a Plot Twist at the end?  I confess, I wasn't too caught up in it, but I don't want to give any spoilers, so I will just say I was satisfied with the ultimate outcome.

If you've been keeping up with this series, you really must finish it.  I don't think you'll be disappointed.  No, there is not 100% resolution for every story line, but there is just enough to provide a satisfying ending and make you wonder what the rest of Zara's life will be like.

My rating:

4 stars

 If you have reviewed this book, please feel free to leave a comment with the link to your review!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Catching up on Reviews: The House in Grosvenor Square

Title: The House In Grosvenor Square
Author: Linore Rose Burkard
Genre: Regency, Historical Fiction, Christian Fiction
Pub Date: April 2009, Harvest House Publishers
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased from Books-a-Million

Synopsis (from the back of the book)

As Ariana Forsythe plans her wedding to Philip Mornay, she must adjust to the realization that she is soon to become the wife of an extremely wealthy man. She wonders if it’s wrong to rejoice that her future husband is rich. But she promises herself to use her new position to do what she can to aid the numerous street waifs she sees all too often in London.

During a tour of her future home—the house in Grosvenor Square—Ariana makes plans to redecorate according to her tastes. But when Philip arrives home later, he is informed that an expensive silver candlestick and a miniature portrait of George III have gone missing. Moreover, each time Ariana visits the house, accompanied by a friend or relation, another item disappears.

When Ariana suffers an abduction attempt by two villains, and other mysterious goings-on are unexplained, Mr. Mornay must unravel the  mystery of who is after Ariana and why.  He knows he has to prevent any harm from befalling his future bride, even if it means he must keep her under lock and key in his own house!

My Thoughts

Well, you might know by now that I seem to have mixed luck with my Christian Fiction reads.  This, unfortunately, was not one of my luckier picks, it seems.  I was pretty excited about the idea of a Regency Inspirational book, but this is a far cry from my beloved Georgette Heyer's Regency England.  (And I'm sorry, I know it's probably blasphemy in the world of books and literature, but I will take Heyer over Austen any day of the week.)

I did not realize when reading this book that it was actually the sequel to another book, Before the Season Ends.  I don't believe that my opinion of this book would have changed any even if I had read the first book, though.  I had several issues with this story when you get right down to it.  I thought the characters were flat.  Oh, I suppose Ariana was fleshed out pretty well, but Philip Mornay was such a bore.  The supporting cast wasn't much better.  I felt like I didn't even know who Mrs. Bentley was -- I never knew what to expect with her.  Peter O'Brien... I hardly even know what to say about him.  I suppose I can see where there may be a sequel involving him and Ariana's younger sister, but you won't catch me reading it.

The synopsis would also lead you to believe that you will find mystery and intrigue inside this book, but we basically know from the beginning who is behind the plots against Ariana, both in Philip Mornay's home and with respect to the kidnappings.  What's the fun in that?  I like to be able to speculate about what is going on and see if my guess is right when the evil-doers are finally unmasked.

Really, I found the whole book to be a snooze-fest.  By and large, there were few sparks for me as far as the romance was concerned -- perhaps once or twice I got momentarily excited by Ariana and Philip's relationship, only to have those feelings fall flat soon after.  By the time I was about a third of the way through I found myself skimming more than actually reading every page.  I'd say the Christianity piece is preachier than what I like to read, but it wasn't THAT big of a turn-off in that respect.  I guess I just had a harder time envisioning it within the Regency world than I thought I would.  But when you get down to it, I had bigger problems with the story, the characters, and the mystery, or lack thereof.

My rating:


If you have reviewed this book, please feel free to leave a link to your review in the comments section!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays: Endure

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Here's my teaser:

"You know," Issie says, "I wish they were vampires.  In TV shows vampires always explode or disintegrate.  It seems so much easier for cleanup."

"Even the exploding?"

"Yep, just a little vacuuming up the dust, maybe a Clorox bleach wipe, and you're done."

~ page 74 of Endure by Carrie Jones (Book 4 in the Need Series)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Catching up on Reviews: Forever

Title: Forever
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal, Fiction
Pub Date: July 2011, Scholastic, Inc.
Format: Hardcover, 386 pages
Source: Purchased from



When Sam met Grace, he was a wolf and she was a girl.  Eventually he found a way to become a boy, and their love moved from a curious distance to the intense closeness of shared lives.


That should have been the end of their story.  But Grace was not meant to stay human.  Now she is the wolf.  And the wolves of Mercy Falls are about to be killed in one final, spectacular hunt.


Sam would do anything for Grace.  But can one boy and one love really change a hostile, predatory world?  The past, the present, and the future are about to collide in one pure moment -- a moment of death or live, farewell or forever.

My Thoughts

Well, to be blunt and 100% honest, one sentence in the above synopsis taken from the dust jacket sums up the way I feel about this book and this series: "That should have been the end of their story." For me, The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy has gone downhill with each successive book.  I loved Shiver -- in and of itself it was a delicious read and actually felt like it could have been (and really should have been) the end of the story of Grace and Sam. I was happy when I finished that book and it really felt like a story that had been wrapped up and tied with a pretty little bow.

Forever was not wrapped up at all. A gaping hole with a giant question mark is what I felt like I came to when I reached the end.  Yes, the title implies "forever," but the ending just doesn't make me feel "forever." It's more like I'll be forever wondering what happened to Grace, Sam, Isabel, Cole, and everyone else, except that I don't think I plan to waste much time thinking about it. I suppose I should have realized after reading Linger and not enjoying it as much as Shiver, that perhaps I should be wary of the last book in the trilogy, but unless books just get progressively awful for me or I have a change in taste/preferences, I usually feel like I have to finish a series.

Oh, how I wish I'd just read Shiver and enjoyed my happily ever after. It's not that there weren't some exciting parts in Forever. The efforts to save the wolves and give them a new home made for a dramatic read and I did enjoy that aspect. I also appreciated more from Isabel's and Cole's point of view, but again, there was no closure for the two of them, either. I can live with being left hanging if I know that there is another book coming, but this is it, folks. There is no more.

Other things I appreciated: (1) The research that Stiefvater mentioned she had done on wolves in her Author's Note. I felt like what she had written about the nature of the characters as wolves seemed quite realistic and I definitely thought it added to the story. (2) The story was told from multiple points of view. I liked hearing Isabel's and Cole's voices and not focusing entirely on Grace and Sam. I guess I felt that way because I was a little bit tired of the way Grace and Sam's story was headed at this point.  But the things I did appreciate saved Forever from getting a negative rating, in the end.  After all, I do try to be fair.

My final thoughts for you are simple.  If you haven't read this series yet, read Shiver and leave it at that.  Enjoy that story for the satisfaction it provides and re-read it to your heart's content. I'm not sure if I'll be able to re-read it because I know how the rest of the story ends (or doesn't). Quite honestly, it makes me wonder if I wan to read anything else by Stiefvater -- thoughts, anyone?

My rating:
3 stars

If you have reviewed this book, please feel free to leave a link to your review in the comments section!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Sunday Salon (05.13.12): How do you review?

The Sunday Salon.comHappy Sunday, everyone! And perhaps most importantly, Happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers out there!  I hope you get lots of pampering today from your families. :-)

Lately I've been thinking a lot about my reviews -- everything from the general style on my blog, the way I approach writing them, and how I read to ultimately review a book.  I think this has come to mind in part because while I was on my big blogging hiatus, I continued to read books even though I wasn't writing reviews.  Now I would actually like to review a lot of them, but I didn't take any notes while I was reading, so I am not left with strong impressions that create a worthwhile review for many of these books.  Of course, there are some I do remember quite well and plan to review in the coming weeks, but I rather regret not taking some notes to stash away for reviews, even though I've never been a note-taking reader in the past.  I have been thinking that I might change my approach going forward and at least jot down a few thoughts either while I am reading or right after -- particularly because I am not necessarily reviewing books right after I read them these days, in order to catch up on reviews of older reads.

I have also been thinking about the content of my reviews here on the blog.  I tend to lean heavily towards writing about my overall impressions and how a book made me feel, more so than getting into some of the more technical aspects.  Of course, if I find something to be particularly bothersome or incredibly outstanding with respect to writing, plot, editing, etc., then I do generally make mention of it, but that doesn't seem to happen with regularity.  I also always do my best not to write "spoilerish" reviews, which I think creates the tendency for my reviews to really focus more on how a book made me feel.  Anyway, my point here really is that I think I'm going to strive for stronger content in my reviews, without making them too much longer.  I admit to being a fan of fairly concise reviews -- I don't like to drone on and on, whether it is to gush over a book or berate its weaknesses.  So I will probably continue to try to keep my thoughts to 3-4 paragraphs.  We will see what I ultimately come up with :-)

As a brief aside, I am also in the process of changing my rating system -- and by that I simply mean changing the graphic.  I am going to start using my butterflies instead of stars, though for labeling purposes I'll continue to use "stars," as "butterflies" is just such a long word for that label cloud, haha.  Of course, Blogger is being obnoxious and giving all of my images with transparent backgrounds a white background on my posts, so the effect is currently not as lovely as I would like for it to be.  (If anyone has any advice on that, I'd really appreciate it.  I have Googled the heck out of it and tried many code tweaks and CSS add-ons, but to no avail.)

But back to the point of this post, this leaves me with my parting questions for you all... How do you approach your book reviews?  Do you take notes as you read?  After you read?  What do your reviews themselves tend to focus on?  And lastly, if you have any thoughts or words of advice for me as I look to modify my own approach to reviews and how I write them, please feel free to share!

As always, Happy Reading!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Saturday Snapshot (05.12.12)

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky at Alyce's blog, At Home With Books.

This week I thought I'd share some shots I got of last weekend's Super Moon...  (You can click on the pictures to make them bigger.)

The first I took earlier in the evening when the moon was a little lower and it was a little cloudy.  I liked the effect it created, along with the trees.  I left the flash off so the moon is glowing quite brightly.

With this next image, I took it at the peak time around 11:35pm.  I used a flash and then cropped the image so you can see as much of the detail as possible...

I wish I'd been able to see it when it first came up and would have looked even bigger!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sneak Preview - The Fairytale Keeper: Avenging the Queen

When Andrea Cefalo contacted me about reviewing her debut novel, The Fairytale Keeper: Avenging the Queen, not only was I intrigued by the premise of the story, but by the gorgeous cover.  I am seriously in love with this cover!  And now I'm so pleased to be able to share a clip of Ms. Cefalo reading an excerpt from the book as another teaser for you.

Avenging the Queen is the first book in The Fairytale Keeper series and will be released on June 1st.  Be sure to check back here for my review, which I will be posting right around the release date.

For more information on Ms. Cefalo and The Fairytale Keeper series, please check out the links below.  The first chapter of the story is available on her website, as well, just to tempt you a little more!


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays: The Fairytale Keeper: Avenging The Queen

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Here is mine this week -- I love the page I turned to, because I think this is the perfect teaser quote for this story:

Snow White is a name I do not enjoy.  It is a term of endearment from my mother, but a phrase of torment used by the artisan and merchant children who mock me for my fair skin and black hair.  I would never tell mother for it would hurt her to know, and while I have no love for the name, Snow White, I do have love for the way she speaks it.

~ pages 42-43 of The Fairytale Keeper: Avenging The Queen by Andrea Cefalo (Release date: June 1, 2012 - quotation is from an advance uncorrected proof)

Tomorrow I will be sharing another teaser of sorts, courtesy of Andrea Cefalo, as we wait for this book's release, so be sure to check back!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Review: Sixteen Brides

Title: Sixteen Brides
Author: Stephanie Grace Whitson
Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian Fiction
Pub Date: April 2010, Baker Publishing Group
Format: e-Book
Source: Downloaded as a free feature from


From Sixteen Civil War widows living in St. Louis respond to a series of meetings conducted by a land speculator who lures them west by promising "prime homesteads" in a "booming community." Unbeknownst to them, the speculator's true motive is to find an excuse to bring women to the fledging community of Plum Grove, Nebraska, in hopes they will accept marriage proposals shortly after their arrival!

Sparks fly when these unsuspecting widows meet the men who are waiting for them. These women are going to need all the courage and faith they can muster to survive these unwanted circumstances--especially when they begin to discover that none of them is exactly who she appears to be.

My Thoughts

Though the synopsis has no mention of it, this book would qualify as Christian fiction, in my opinion, though it is certainly far from some of the "over-the-top" Christian fiction that I have read. There are strong references to God, prayer, and the Bible, so if Christian undertones are a deal-breaker, you have been forewarned.

While the story may be called Sixteen Brides, we are ultimately following the stories of about six of these women, which lessens the confusion a bit. Whitson admirably rotates through each woman's point of view throughout the book and once I really got into the story, I didn't find it too difficult to keep everyone straight, despite the fact that we are following so many different storylines. Each woman's background is unique and each woman has to face her own challenges and struggles.  I found that I felt a connection to many of them as their stories unfolded. How Whitson was able to successfully manage so many prominent characters is beyond me. Perhaps they were not as fully fleshed out as they could have been, but I'm willing to forgive that, given the sheer number of "main" characters we are talking about.

Each woman's story is heartwarming in its own way and I enjoyed watching the various romances unfold, some more quickly than others. In fact, by the end of the book, one of the romances has barely begun, leaving you wishing for more. Yet at the same time, knowing the young woman the way you do by the end of the book, it's just enough to leave you happy knowing what her future holds in store, even if you don't get to read about it. I also found there to be quite a few humorous scenes and exchanges that kept the book moving quickly for me.  All-in-all, while not perfect, I thought Sixteen Brides was a charming story without being overly preachy: a win-win in my book, and at the time I read it, it was just what I was looking for.  If you like historical fiction that is set in the western frontier and you can live with some underlying Christian themes that won't overwhelm you, I'd say it's worth giving Sixteen Brides a shot.

My rating:
4 stars

If you have reviewed this book, please feel free to leave a link in the comments section.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on it, as well!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

DNF: Fear by Michael Grant

Well, folks, it's true. I have hit my wall with this series and could not finish Fear. It finally just became too gruesome for me. There are so many other books I would rather be reading right now that I just couldn't force myself to continue slogging through this one.

I know many of you loved Fear and love the series. I think for me these books have just carried on for too long. I would have been satisfied if the series could have ended after the fourth book.

I have to admit -- it's pretty liberating to just give it up and move on!

The Sunday Salon: Book Hype - To Read or Not to Read?

The Sunday Salon.comWe see it all the time: books that come seemingly from out of nowhere to find their way on practically everyone's shelves and become bestsellers almost overnight. I've often wondered how others react to this phenomenon. Do you immediately run out to grab your copy and devour it? Do you wait awhile until some of the hype dies down (or until you get a positive review from a trusted source) to give the book a try? Or do you write it off altogether because of the hype?

I'd say that I fall pretty consistently into the middle category. It is rare that I will run out to get a copy of a book the moment it starts appearing everywhere I look. I didn't start reading the Harry Potter series until the fourth book was out.  In fact, I distinctly remember holding my nose up at the books, eyeing them with disdain. Ha! What did I know? The turning point for me was seeing an interview with J. K. Rowling and I had to admit, I was tempted... those books sounded like they would be right up my alley. So, I swallowed my pride, went way out on a limb, jumped in with both feet, however you want to call it,  bought all four books, and promptly devoured them within a week's time.

Most recently, I stuck to my "wait and see policy" with The Hunger Games, which I mentioned in my "musings on a re-read" post a few days ago. Not surprisingly, I was very skeptical when I kept seeing that book appear on blog after blog. All I could think at the time was: is everyone getting this book from the author/publisher and feeling obligated to tout it as the best book they'd ever read? Seriously, I couldn't go to a book blog without seeing some kind of post about this book -- it was in someone's mailbox, teasered on Tuesdays, given 5 out of 5 stars, and on and on. It took me awhile to give in -- I think after breaking down and buying a copy it still sat on my shelf for quite some time, mocking me. Of course, wouldn't you know by the time I gave it a chance I loved it? And gave it my own freakin' 5 star review? And so I promptly found myself with everyone else, anxiously waiting for the remaining two books to be published.

I swear, if I was smart, I'd just wait to start reading a series once all of the books have been published and do away with this whole "waiting impatiently for the next book" business. But if I haven't learned my lesson yet, I doubt I ever will...

In general, I have to admit that I have ended up enjoying most of the hyped-up books I have eventually come to read. Probably the most notable exception are the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris.  I tried to like them, I really did. I gave the series three books, dammit. The whole experience probably should have ended with a DNF on the first book. It's like I thought there must be something wrong with me for not liking these books.  Well, the third time wasn't the charm, so I threw in the towel and just admitted what I probably knew in my heart after the first book: these books are just not for me. I'm sure there are other hyped-up books that fell flat for me, but it's late and right now I'm coming up with a whole lot of nothing.

I suppose what got me pondering this topic to the point of writing about it here is the recent craze over the Shades of Grey books by E. L. James. For awhile, I waffled back and forth over whether or not I'd ever read these. This time, I don't see myself buying into the hype, though. Oh, I've read my fair share of romance novels, so it's not like I haven't been exposed to sex scenes, but somehow the way these books are portrayed, they just seem so unappealing to me. It doesn't sound like romance to me and if I'm going to read about sex, there has to be a good romance behind it for me to enjoy it. I'm not even going to get into the whole topic of the books originally being written as Twilight fan fiction. (Yes, I gave into the Twilight hype and I confess I did enjoy reading those books for the story that was told, but let's all be honest here, we aren't talking about books that are going to win any major literary awards, am I right?)  OK, I guess I lied and did get into the Twilight fan fiction subject a little bit, but that's it, I promise. I've seen enough reviews of Shades of Grey that bemoan the writing and other niggling points, so I really don't think that all the gushing reviews about the story and the sex will weaken my resolve not to read these books at this point. (Of course, if that changes, feel free to call me out and remind me about this post, I would totally deserve it.)

What about you? How do you react to these books that explode in popularity?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Saturday Snapshot

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky at Alyce's blog At Home With Books.

This is my first time participating in this meme, but I have to confess I like it because it takes some of the pressure off of always having a book-related post.  Not to mention, I can share pictures of my little sweet pea from time to time.  This picture was taken by my dad while they were watching her for a few hours yesterday, which happens to have been her 11-month birthday.  Yes, I'm in total denial that in less than a month, she will be a year old!!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Musings on a Re-Read: The Hunger Games Trilogy

So, as is my habit with books adapted into movies that I plan to go see, I set out to re-read The Hunger Games a few weeks ago, in preparation to go see the movie.  I finally had the opportunity to go with my husband this past Sunday.  He had not read the books, nor had any interest in reading them, but he did end up enjoying the movie.  I, too, enjoyed the movie and actually thought it was quite well done.  The vast majority of the underlying themes and plots weren't changed, though a good bit of detail was left out.  There were really only two parts that were substantially changed from the books that bothered me a little, but I won't go into detail so as not to spoil anything for those of you who haven't yet seen the movie.  But back to the re-read...  Naturally, after I closed The Hunger Games, my immediate desire was to jump right into Catching Fire because I could this time, no waiting for the next book in the series to be published.  However, I managed to keep from moving forward in order to keep The Hunger Games fresh in my mind before the movie and I'm very glad I did.

As I came up with the idea for this post, I decided to go back and read my reviews for the original books.  (If you care to do so, too, just click on the book covers and they will link you to my reviews.)  I found some interesting things.  Firstly, I was reminded about my reluctance to read the series when The Hunger Games first came out.  I had a similar reaction to Harry Potter, in fact.  Thankfully an open mind prevailed and I have the privilege of knowing just what everyone was raving about and continues to rave about when it comes to these books.  Later, in my review of Mockingjay, I mentioned that these books would benefit from being read straight through, something I didn't do when each book came out simply because I didn't have the time.  Boy, I think I was dead right on that point.  I absolutely appreciated the books much more this time around, and actually changed my opinion about two of them.  Originally, Mockingjay was my least favorite of the three books, but now I would have to say that dubious honor goes to Catching Fire.  Oh, I still devoured all three books, but I had a much greater appreciation for Collins' conclusion to the trilogy than I did the first time around and actually found myself very satisfied with the end and epilogue, which is apparently not at all the way I felt the first time around.  This story of a dystopian future world that Collins has created is certainly thought-provoking and thoroughly gripping from start to finish.

All of this being said, I think that much about these series changed for me because I am reading these books from an entirely new perspective -- that of a parent, a mother.  I had to check the date of my review of Mockingjay to be certain, and sure enough, I hadn't even known I was expecting at that point, though I would find out in just days' time.  But I found my emotions were very different reading these books as a mother now.  Not only was my reaction to the story perhaps more emotional because of what was being done to mere children, but I also gave serious consideration as to when I would want my daughter to read these books for herself the first time.  I'm not sure I've figured out the answer to that question, yet, and truly, I think the answer will simply depend on her maturity level down the road.  Obviously, I have a while before I have to worry about that.  But it was interesting how differently I approached the story this time around and it makes me wonder what other books I have read will change for me if I re-read them again at this point in my life.  Having finished the series again also makes me realize what incredible movies the next two could be -- particularly Mockingjay, in my opinion.  Definitely not for the faint of heart.

The bottom line is, if you haven't given these books a chance yet because of the hype (or whatever the reason may be), throw caution to the wind and read The Hunger Games.  Sure, it may not be for you, but what if it is?  Now is a great time to at least give it a shot, because you don't have to wait months for the next book to be published should you get sucked in like so many of us did...

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays: Fear

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Ah, how I've missed this meme -- it was always one of my favorites to participate in.  Here's mine for this week:

"He had some kind of..." Diana began.  She made a face, then added, "I don't know what it was."

"It was a monster," Blake said.

~ page 71 of Fear (Gone Series #5) by Michael Grant