Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book Review: A Marriage Carol by Chris Fabry & Gary Chapman

Title: A Marriage Carol
Author: Chris Fabry, Gary Chapman
Publisher: Moody Publishers (September 2001)

Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Summary from Goodreads:
On Christmas Eve twenty years earlier, Marlee and Jacob were married in a snowstorm. This Christmas Eve, they are ready to quit, divorce is imminent. Their relationship is as icy as the road they’re traveling and as blocked with troubles as the piling snow. They take a shortcut to get to the lawyer’s office, on a slippery, no-fault path. She thinks they need to stay on the main road. He disagrees. They fight. Story of their lives and they slam into a bank of snow , spinning, drifting, falling, out of control. Just like their lives. Reluctantly, freezing cold, hungry, scared, she trudges up the hill. Paul is nowhere to be found. Her ears frozen, fingers and hands red, she comes to a house on the hillside, built like a Bed and Breakfast, a green wreath on the red door and the door-knocker is in the shape of a wedding ring.

The red door opens and the first thing she notices is the fire in the room, blazing hot, a warm, inviting, friendly place and the voice of an old man welcomes her in. There are three golden pots on the hearth, shining, glimmering things. The old man claims that they are used to restore marriages. She laughs—and begins a journey through her past, present, and future that will test how she views her lifelong love. There are two futures available. Which will she choose?
Overall, the story was enjoyable, albeit very predictable. It's a play off The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, but it didn't have the depth I was hoping for. I think it read too much like a non-fiction Christian book trying to give you advice on what a great marriage should be like and how to fix a broken one. Gary Chapman's The 5 Love Languages is such an insightful book. In my opinion, I don't think that Fabry and Chapman transitioned into fiction very well. The story itself did not read like a narrative. Maybe it's because the length was so short, but I found myself wanting more.

It was a nice Christmas read, but had a lot of potential to be a whole lot more.

3 out of 5 stars

Friday, January 27, 2012

Blog Tour & Review: The Magic Room: A Story about the Love We Wish for Our Daughters by Jeffrey Zaslow

Title: The Magic Room: A Story about the Love We Wish for Our Daughters
Author: Jeffrey Zaslow
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) (December 2011)

Source: Received from publisher via Crazy Book Tours
Summary from Goodreads:
The New York Times bestselling journalist and author of The Girls from Ames, Jeffrey Zaslow, takes us to a multi- generational family owned small-town bridal shop to explore the emotional lives of women in the 21st century.

You may not have heard of Fowler, Michigan, much less Becker's Bridal. But for the thousands of women who have stepped inside, Becker's is the site of some of the most important moments of their lives-moments that speak to us all. Housed in a former bank, the boutique owners transformed the vault into a "magic room," with soft church lighting, a circular pedestal, and mirrors that make lifelong dreams come true.

Illuminating the poignant aspects of a woman's journey to the altar, The Magic Room tells the stories of memorable women on the brink of commitment. Run by the same family for years, Becker's has witnessed transformations in how America views the institution of marriage; some of the shop's clientele are becoming stepmothers, or starting married life for a second time. In The Girls from Ames, beloved author Jeffrey Zaslow used friendships to explore the emotional lives of women. In The Magic Room, he turns his perceptive eye to weddings and weaves together secrets, memories and family tales to explore the hopes and dreams we have for our daughters.

I absolutely loved this book. Zaslow reached deep into my feminine heart and pulled on all the strings that ties me to the little girl who wished she could grow up to be a princess. I will never forget the day that I married my husband. It was a wonderful, blessed celebration. But what comes up really close to that special moment of marrying my best friend, is the moment when I tried on a wedding dress for the first time and found "the one" for me. (It just so happened to be the first dress I put on too.)

I will never forget that moment because I was a little girl who played "bride" and pretended to get married all the time. Once in 3rd grade, my best friend and I pretended to throw the bouquet for the whole recess period. I used to draw and make my wedding photo albums of me and my crush. (I can't believe I'm admitting these things on the Internet!) I used to sketch what I thought I wanted my wedding gown to look like. The moment I put on a wedding dress, stood up on that round pedestal and just sparkled because of the little speckles in the dress... it brought me and my friend to tears. I couldn't believe the beautiful woman in the mirror looking back at me... was me. It truly was a magical moment I will cherish my heart always.

Zaslow captures this moment for so many different women and shares their stories with us in The Magic Room. Before reading this book, I worried that it might be too cheesy or corny, but Zaslow writes each woman's story honestly, but almost lyrically as well. I loved hearing all the stories - happy and sad.

He also writes about the story of the little bridal shop in Fowler, Michigan with a not so little heart and a very long history. I remember telling the clerk who helped me with my wedding gown that she must love her job and Zaslow provides an insider look to Becker's Bridal and the world of bridal shops without glorifying it too much because he shares the hardships as well that comes with a family-run small business.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I hope that you will too!

5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Caldecott Award Winners: 2012

I'm not as knowledgeable about picture books as I am middle-grade fiction, but I am excited about this year's Caldecott winners.

2012 Caldecott Award Medal Winner:
The Randolph Caldecott Medal is for the most distinguished American picture book for children..

Title: A Ball for Daisy
Author: Chris Raschka
Publisher: Schwartz and Wade (May 2011)
Summary from Goodreads:
Here's a story about love and loss as only Chris Rashcka can tell it. Any child who has ever had a beloved toy break will relate to Daisy's anguish when her favorite ball is destroyed by a bigger dog. In the tradition of his nearly wordless picture book Yo! Yes?, Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka explores in pictures the joy and sadness that having a special toy can bring. Raschka's signature swirling, impressionistic illustrations and his affectionate story will particularly appeal to young dog lovers and teachers and parents who have children dealing with the loss of something special.
My thoughts:
A wordless picture book... sounds intriguing!

2012 Caldecott Honor Winners:

Title: Blackout
Author: John Rocco
Publisher: Hyperion Books (February 2011)

Summary from Goodreads:
One hot summer night in the city, all the power goes out. The TV shuts off and a boy wails, "Mommm!" His sister can no longer use the phone, Mom can't work on her computer, and Dad can't finish cooking dinner. What's a family to do? When they go up to the roof to escape the heat, they find the lights--in stars that can be seen for a change--and so many neighbors it's like a block party in the sky! On the street below, people are having just as much fun--talking, rollerblading, and eating ice cream before it melts. The boy and his family enjoy being not so busy for once. They even have time to play a board game together. When the electricity is restored, everything can go back to normal . . . but not everyone likes normal. The boy switches off the lights, and out comes the board game again.

Using a combination of panels and full bleed illustrations that move from color to black-and-white and back to color, John Rocco shows that if we are willing to put our cares aside for a while, there is party potential in a summer blackout.

My thoughts:
The cover looks amazing so I can only imagine what the rest of the book looks like.

Title: Grandpa Green
Author: Lane Smith
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (August 2011)

Summary from Goodreads:
From the creator of the national bestseller It's a Book comes a timeless story of family history, legacy, and love. Grandpa Green wasn't always a gardener. He was a farmboy and a kid with chickenpox and a soldier and, most of all, an artist. In this captivating new picture book, readers follow Grandpa Green's great-grandson into a garden he created, a fantastic world where memories are handed down in the fanciful shapes of topiary trees and imagination recreates things forgotten. In his most enigmatic and beautiful work to date, Lane Smith explores aging, memory, and the bonds of family history and love; by turns touching and whimsical, it's a stunning picture book that parents and grandparents will be sharing with children for years to come. Grandpa Green is a Publishers Weekly Best Children's Picture Books title for 2011.

Title: Me...Jane
Author: Patrick McDonald
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (April 2011)

Summary from Goodreads:
In his characteristic heartwarming style, Patrick McDonnell tells the story of the young Jane Goodall and her special childhood toy chimpanzee named Jubilee. As the young Jane observes the natural world around her with wonder, she dreams of "a life living with and helping all animals," until one day she finds that her dream has come true.

One of the world's most inspiring women, Dr. Jane Goodall is a renowned humanitarian, conservationist, animal activist, environmentalist, and United Nations Messenger of Peace. In 1977 she founded the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), a global nonprofit organization that empowers people to make a difference for all living things.

With anecdotes taken directly from Jane Goodall's autobiography, McDonnell makes this very true story accessible for the very young--and young at heart.

What do you think of this year's winners?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Newbery Award Winners: 2012

Some people get excited about the Golden Globes, Oscars or the Grammy's. Kid lit fanatics like myself get excited about the Newbery & Caldecott Awards. The winners were announced yesterday!

2012 Newbery Award Medal Winner:

The John Newbery Medal is for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature.

Title: Dead End in Norvelt
Author: Jack Gantos
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (September 2011)
Summary from Goodreads:
Melding the entirely true and the wildly fictional, Dead End in Norvelt is a novel about an incredible two months for a kid named Jack Gantos, whose plans for vacation excitement are shot down when he is "grounded for life" by his feuding parents, and whose nose spews bad blood at every little shock he gets. But plenty of excitement (and shocks) are coming Jack's way once his mom loans him out to help a fiesty old neighbor with a most unusual chore—typewriting obituaries filled with stories about the people who founded his utopian town. As one obituary leads to another, Jack is launced on a strange adventure involving molten wax, Eleanor Roosevelt, twisted promises, a homemade airplane, Girl Scout cookies, a man on a trike, a dancing plague, voices from the past, Hells Angels . . . and possibly murder. Endlessly surprising, this sly, sharp-edged narrative is the author at his very best, making readers laugh out loud at the most unexpected things in a dead-funny depiction of growing up in a slightly off-kilter place where the past is present, the present is confusing, and the future is completely up in the air. Dead End in Norvelt is a Publishers Weekly Best Children's Fiction title for 2011. One of Horn Book’s Best Fiction Books of 2011.
My thoughts:

Most of the Newbery award winners that I've read needed a little warming up to for me, with the exceptions of Holes and Tale of Despereaux. Dead End in Norvelt has been on my radar for a few months now and I just ordered it with my next Scholastic book order for my classroom. I'm looking forward to reading it!

2012 Newbery Honor Winners:

Title: Inside Out & Back Again
Author: Thanhha Lai
Publisher: HarperCollins (February 2011)

Summary from Goodreads:
No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama.

For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon - the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by...and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.
But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama - the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape...and the strength of her very own family.

This is the moving story of one girl's year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.

My thoughts:
I thought this book would win the Newbery because of all the buzz about it leading up to the announcement yesterday. I have really wanted to read this book for several months now. The premise of it just sounds so fascinating.

Title: Breaking Stalin's Nose
Author: Eugene Velchin
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company (September 2011)

Summary from Goodreads:
Sasha Zaichik has known the laws of the Soviet Young Pioneers since the age of six:The Young Pioneer is devoted to Comrade Stalin, the Communist Party, and Communism.A Young Pioneer is a reliable comrade and always acts according to conscience.A Young Pioneer has a right to criticize shortcomings.But now that it is finally time to join the Young Pioneers, the day Sasha has awaited for so long, everything seems to go awry. He breaks a classmate's glasses with a snowball. He accidentally damages a bust of Stalin in the school hallway. And worst of all, his father, the best Communist he knows, was arrested just last night. This moving story of a ten-year-old boy's world shattering is masterful in its simplicity, powerful in its message, and heartbreaking in its plausibility.

My thoughts:
I have never heard of this title up until today. Sounds interesting though!

What do you think of this year's winners?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bookshelf Monday :: 28

I think I'm a little bit obsessed with window seats. I think this obsession started a long, long time ago - probably ever since I learned that they're called, "bay windows." I love how clean the lines look in this room. Very nice indeed.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bookish delights :: 7

Holiday Tree Book Art

Anyone else still mourning the fact that Christmas has gone by so quickly? I am!

image courtesy of: Kimbrough Library

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Blog Tour & Review: The Gilder by Kathryn Kay

Title: The Gilder
Author: Kathryn Kay
Publisher: Kensington Publishing (January 1, 2012)

Source: Received from publisher via Crazy Book Tours

Book description from Amazon:
Set against the exquisite backdrop of Florence, Italy, The Gilder is a compelling and beautifully wrought novel of secrets, friendship, betrayal, and the simple choices that change us forever. . .

In Marina Nesmith's skilled hands, even the most tarnished picture frame or objet d'art can be made perfect once again. Her life, too, seems flawless, at least on the surface. But more and more, Marina is conscious of what she lacks--someone to share her joys and sorrows with, confidence in the decisions she's made, and the courage to tell her teenage daughter, Zoe, the truth about her father.

Then Marina is invited to return to Florence, where she lived years before while learning her trade as a gilder. In those heady days, she wandered the city's picturesque streets, marveling at the masterpieces in the Duomo and the Pitti Palace. In the church of Santa Croce, she met Thomas, an American photographer who, along with his wife Sarah, introduced Marina to a thrilling, bohemian world of art and beauty. Through them, she also learned about love, lies, and the way one mistake can multiply into many. Now, as her past and present collide, Marina will finally have to move beyond the intricate veneer she's crafted around herself, and find the life that she--and Zoe--have been looking for.

Following college, Kathryn Kay spent five years living in Florence, Italy, where she studied restoration and gilding. Kathryn is the founder of the Nantucket Writers Studio, which offers writing workshops for women. She has three adult children, and lives on Nantucket Island with her husband, Robert.

I didn't know what to expect coming into this book. I have always wanted to travel to Europe and Italy in particular so when I read the blurb, I was definitely interested as an armchair traveler. The author, Kathryn Kay, spent five years living in Florence, Italy post-college where she studied restoration and gilding. She fills this story with so many intricate details about Florence and gilding that sometimes it is very easy to think that it is a true story even though it is fictional.

I enjoyed Part 1 of the story a lot because the main character, Marina, is young and innocent as she begins her life in Florence to study gilding. I especially love the details of her life in Florence in the bohemian world as an artist. She develops friendships and relationships with some very interesting characters in Florence that have a huge impact on her life later because of the decisions she's made along the way. I enjoyed how the author flashes us back from the first chapter because you know what to expect, but you don't know how it's going to happen.

At the same time, I was a little bit overwhelmed by all the art terms and vocabulary. I found myself on Wikipedia a lot just to get a better idea of what to picture in my mind when Marina was working on a project. I was also uncomfortable as it explored Marina's relationship with Sarah because it was unexpected for me.

In the 2nd part of the story, Marina is given the invitation to go back to Florence again much later in life and she does not want to take her teenage daughter, Zoe, because she has done everything to protect her from the truth. However, Zoe feels like she deserves to know the truth about her father. This challenges their relationship as mother and daughter because Marina's past and present come crashing together despite all that she has done to hide the weaknesses in her life which is symbolic in the work she does as a gilder.

Overall, I enjoyed this read about women, friendship, betrayal, and redemption, but it didn't quite grab me in the way I hoped it would. 

3 out of 5 stars

Other blog tour stops:

1/5/2012  --  Reader Girls
1/6/2012  --  A Bookish Affair
1/7/2012  --  Psychotic State Book Reviews
1/10/2012  --  CelticLady's Reviews
1/11/2012  --  Novel Reflections
1/12/2012  --  Practical Frugality
1/14/2012  --  The Bookish Mama
1/15/2012  --  Sherri's Reading Jubilee
1/16/2012  --  Books in the Burbs

Friday, January 13, 2012

Review: Smitten by Colleen Coble, Kristen Billerbeck, Diann Hunt & Denise Hunter

Title: Smitten
Author: Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt & Denise Hunter
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (December 2011)

Source: Received from publisher via NetGalley
Summary from Goodreads:
With Smitten Lumber closing, residents wonder if their town can stay afloat. Then four friends and local business owners decide the town is worth saving: they'll turn it into a honeymoon destination. Little do they know that love is already on the way.
I really enjoyed reading this book. I loved the title, the setting, and most importantly, the characters. I think it was a great compilation of writing from four accomplished authors. It is not easy to make a story flow with so many writers, but they did an excellent job of connecting the four stories and perspectives together even though they each have their own style of writing.

My favorite story was Natalie's. I think it's because she seemed the most realistic to me. Her self-doubt and insecurities resonated with me and I sympathized with her the most. I enjoyed the other characters, but they did not have as much depth in my opinion.

I loved the setting of Smitten, a small town in Vermont, because it reminded me a lot of Stars Hallow from the show, "Gilmore Girls." Even though I don't live in a small-town, I love (and probably overly romanticize) the idea of living in one. 

I loved the theme of letting go and trusting God because it's a daily struggle for me to do the same. A wonderful, light read! Perfect for Christmastime!

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, January 2, 2012

Bookshelf Monday :: 27

I often dream of a wintery wonderland this time of year because it doesn't get very cold in Southern California, the land of two seasons: warm or hot. Now don't get me wrong, I am not complaining because I am a SoCal girl to the core and LOVE our mild weather. However, I do wish we could have a day or two of snow. That would be fun. :)

Hope you had a wonderful New Years!

image courtesy of: Chris Silas Neal

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone! I pray that 2012 may be a wonderful year full of good books, health, spirits, friends and family for you and your loved ones. Anyone making any New Year's resolutions?

I'm looking forward to setting a new reading goal for 2012 and maybe participating in some reading challenges this year as well. How about you? Any recommendations for a fun reading challenge to join in on?

image courtesy of: Craftily Ever After

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