Monday, June 29, 2015

Magnolia Wednesdays

Magnolia Wednesdays
by Wendy Wax

Genre: Women's Fiction

Synopsis:  At forty-one, Vivien Armstrong Gray has spent most of her life fighting to make it in investigative journalism, only to have it crumble after a bullet lodges in her backside during an expose.  As if the humiliation of being the butt of everyone's jokes isn't enough, Vivi learns that she's pregnant, jobless, and very hormonal.  Maybe that explains why she actually says "yes" to a dreadful job covering suburban living back home in Georgia, a column she can only bear to write incognito.

Leaving her tiny apartment in New York, she reluctantly heads south to experience the suburban soccer mom existence through her widowed sister's eyes.  Surrounded by minivans and bake sales, she has lots of material for the column.  Her sister's ballroom dance studio becomes her undercover spot where she learns about the local life while posting as an extra dance partner.  But Vivi's little stunt starts throwing her for a loop as friendships develop, and a real relationship with her sister blossoms.  As she digs up her long-buried roots, and begins to secretly investigate her brother-in-law's death, she starts to wonder if life inside the picket fence is so bad after all...
from the back of the book

Review:  The book started off slowly for me but definitely picked up momentum once you figure out how all the characters are connected and what their individual stories are.  I was really drawn into Vivien's sister's, Melanie's, life with her two teenage children and how Vivien fit into their lives.  I wasn't as interested in the side character's stories, Ruth and Angie.  I got tired of reading about Angie's insecurities about her former life as a fat girl and I just wanted her to come clean with her fiance.  I understood Ruth's issues with her husband but I thought the husband was awfully obtuse and I got tired of reading about him.  I thought Vivien was an immature, selfish forty-one year old but luckily she changed throughout the book due to her interactions with all the characters in the book and really did help out her sister.  Her propensity for investigating did cause problems and I didn't feel that the investigation of her brother-in-law needed to be as dramatic as it was because it made me think that something really awful had happened.  That part of the plot made the story seem more like a mystery and less like a women's fiction book.  I feel like the author ran out of pages and had to throw the ending together in a hurry so everything needed to be tied up nicely.  The secret of Vivien's brother-in-law came out in such an odd way that didn't seem realistic.  Overall, I did like reading the book and thought it was a decent story.

Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Lives Between Us

The Lives Between Us
by Theresa Rizzo

Genre: Women's fiction

Synopsis:  How far would you go to save the one you love?

Reporter Skylar Kendall has run from commitment all her life, pushing people away before they leave her, until her niece worms her way into Skye’s heart and settles in tight. Skye relaxes into a career she enjoys and relishes being a doting aunt.

Then her niece becomes gravely ill. Unable to bear yet another loss, Skye is determined to find a cure, but the girl’s only hope lies in the embryonic stem cell therapy Michigan Senator Edward Hastings repeatedly opposes. When Skye fails to find alternative treatment in time, she vows to end the senator’s political career.

Curious about the woman behind the scathing articles on his best friend, Mark Dutton pursues Skye. Dating Mark gives her access to Hastings’s life and secrets that would launch Skye's career and satisfy her need for retribution… Only she hadn’t counted on falling in love.

Can she avenge the lives lost to politics at the expense of her new love and friends?
from Goodreads

Review:  Ah!  I just finished this book and I NEED to talk to someone about the ending!  You all better read this book soon so I can ask you what you think happened at the end.  Go on, get reading!

After reading the beginning chapters I thought this book was going to be a romance which is not what I normally read but I am happy to report that the novel gets much deeper.  There is still a romance storyline but the book delves into the ethical dilemma for stem cell research.  Skylar (Skye) is a young reporter who is out to get Senator Edward Hastings because of his views on using embryonic stem cells.  Skye was a bit immature at times and I found it hard to read about some of her misadventures because she did some stupid things.  Luckily she seems to grow up a little through the novel.  Once I got into the book it was so hard to stop reading.

The stem cell debate, cord blood vs. embryonic, was quite an interesting topic for the book and one I didn't know too much about.  I felt that I learned something from this book in regards to this topic.  I am still a little hazy on some details and I felt that some things could have been explained better.  There are still some details that I'm not sure about-I feel like I was left hanging on some of the side plot lines.  The author does include some ambiguity at the end but I'm sure that was purposeful.

This book was thought provoking and intriguing but still easy to read.  I very much enjoyed reading it.

**I was contacted by Theresa Rizzo, the author, to read the book and give an honest review of the story.  Thank you for sending me the book.

Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Magical Animal Adoption Agency: Clover's Luck

Clover's Luck
author: Kallie George
illustrator: Alexandra Bolger

The Magical Animal Adoption Agency, Book 1: Clover's Luck

Genre: Chapter Book

Summary (from Goodreads): The first in a chapter book series starring an unlucky girl named Clover who accepts a volunteer position at a magical animal adoption agency.
Review:  (Review by Amelia)  This book is about a girl named Clover who is really unlucky until she finds a magical animal adoption agency and she starts helping there.  She meets fairy sized horses, unicorns, a firefly under a curse as a toad, a fire salamader, and even a dragon.  She helps the toad find her home because she was put under a curse, and Clover found the toad's owner.  Twice there was a mean witch who steals stuff from the animal agency; she cut off some of the unicorn's tale and she cut off one of the dragon's claws.  The witch thinks Clover is unlucky, so she puts some of her blood into a potion that she thinks will make people unlucky.  But then Clover figures out that she is lucky because when the witch squirts some of the magic potion at a cat, the cat turns green, which is the color of a lucky clover.  Then Clover throws the pot of potion at the witch, and when the witch is saying bad spells (like telling bees to strike) they turn into nice spells (like the bees turn into rainbows and butterflies).  When the owner of the AAA came back, he had an egg that would hatch into another animal.

This book was really good because Clover got to find lots of magical animals like unicorns.  I liked Clover because she was a nice person who helped animals find their homes.  She is also helpful and brave and never gives up.  This book had funny parts, like when the witch was pretending to be a princess.  My favorite part was when Clover found out that she was lucky after all.  I read this book twice in a row because it was super duper good.  I would recommend this book to kids who like magical animals.

Rating: 100 thousand million stars

Friday, June 19, 2015

How I Came to Sparkle Again

How I Came to Sparkle Again
by Kaya McLaren

Genre: Chick-lit-Christian-women's-fiction (yes, I know that isn't a "real" genre)

Synopsis:  Jill Anthony spent her young in the ski town of Sparkle, Colorado, but more than a decade has passed since she left.  Then a devastating tragedy, coupled with the worst kind of betrayal, makes her want to run away, but the only place she knows to go is home: Sparkle.

Lisa Carlucci looks in the mirror once morning and realizes that she no longer wants to treat her body like a Holiday Inn.  She's going to hold out for love.  The only problem is, love might come in the form of her ski-bum best friend, who lives next door with his ski-bum friends in a trailer known as "The Kennel."

Cassie Jones, at age ten, has lost her mother and no longer believes in anything.  Her only solace comes from the messages she believes her deceased mother is spending her through the heart-shaped rocks they once collected in the streams and hills of Sparkle.

Three people at the crossroads of heartbreak and healing.  Three lives that will be changed one winter in Sparkle, Colorado.  One tender, funny, tear-jerking novel that you won't soon forget.
from the book jacket

Review:  To be honest, I almost abandoned this book after 20 pages because I thought it was a Christian fiction book.  There was so much talk about God and people losing faith.  It was so heavy on faith and it turned me off.  I checked online to see if it is a Christian fiction book and it is not, it's actually a chick lit book.  That surprised so I kept on reading.  Then we are introduced to Lisa and her crew of male friends and the book just gets crude and immature.  But I stuck with it because the story of Cassie who has lost her mother and is going through a really tough time intrigued me.  But don't get me started on Uncle Howard, the philosophical zen skiing dude who just seems way too over the top and a caricature of a real person.  I did, however, keep going and found myself tearing up at the raw emotions that Cassie and her father, Mike, portrayed.

This book seems to have an identity problem.  Is it a Christian fiction book masquerading as a chick lit book?  Is it supposed to be a light, chick lit book intended for a younger than myself audience?  Is it an emotional story of the struggles of a young girl?  I have no idea how to classify this book but the author really should have picked just one genre of book.  It's far too heavy on religion for the everyday reader but it's far too vulgar for the Christian fiction reader.  If the author had left out all the sex talk by Lisa and the sex-crazed male neighbors next door this book would be more appealing as these sections of the book are highly crude and immature.  If the author had toned down the come-to-Jesus moments that Lisa had and the struggles with faith that Mike had, the book would also be more appealing.

But yet, I had a hard time putting this book down.  Cassie's story really tugged at my heart strings as did Jill's story.  (I do wish that the author had picked different names for Jill and Lisa, I had a hard time remember who was who).  The faith part of the story really dropped off after a while and it makes me question why the author even included some of it in the first place.  The author did tie everything together at the end and the reader is left with a warm feeling.  It makes it very difficult to rate this book!

Rating:  2 1/2 stars

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Meet Samantha

Meet Samantha
Susan Adler

Meet Samantha: An American Girl

Genre: Chapter Book

Summary (from Goodreads): Samantha Parkington is a bright Victorian beauty being raised by her wealthy grandmother in 1904. Samantha's stories describe her life during this important period of change. Her own world is filled with frills and finery, parties and play. But Samantha sees that times are not good for everybody. That's why she tries to make a difference in the life of her friend Nellie, a servant girl whose world is nothing like Samantha's Samantha befriends a servant girl named Nellie who moves in next door. The girls become fast friends, though their lives are different.
Review:  (Review by Amelia, but I have corrected spelling errors.)  Samantha is a nine year old girl who lives with her grandmother, Grandmary.  Her clothes are different than ours because she is always supposed to wear a dress and this kind of itchy underwear. I did like the book because it was fun and it teaches me about the past.  I would not want to live in Samantha's time because I would have to wear itchy underwear from September to June.  My favorite part of the book was when she gave her doll to a servant girl named Nellie.  I liked it because she was being kind.  I would like to recommend this book to a kid who likes American Girl dolls or a kid who likes to learn about the past.

Rating: 4 stars

Monday, June 15, 2015

An Invisible Thread

An Invisible Thread
Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski

An Invisible Thread: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny

Genre: Memoir

Summary (from Goodreads): In the tradition of the New York Times bestseller The Blind Side, The Invisible Thread tells of the unlikely friendship between a busy executive and a disadvantaged young boy, and how both of their lives changed forever.
Review: Becky has influenced me to read memoirs, but I tend to prefer ones about normal people who do interesting things.  There is nothing particularly special about Laura Schroff; she's a woman from a working class family, who didn't go to college but managed to rise in the magazine advertising world until she became a hot-shot.  But what is special about her is that she befriended a young African American panhandler, brought him into her house, and became his family.  I love reading about ordinary people who do amazingly kind things that change someone's life, and this book delivered. 

Rating: 4 stars

All You Can Dream Buffet

The All You Can Dream Buffet
Barbara O'Neal

The All You Can Dream Buffet

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): Perfect for fans of Kristin Hannah and Susan Wiggs—Barbara O’Neal’s new novel of food, friendship, and the freedom to grow your dreams brings together four very different women longing to savor the true taste of happiness.
Popular blogger and foodie queen Lavender Wills reigns over Lavender Honey Farms, a serene slice of organic heaven nestled in Oregon wine country. Lavender is determined to keep her legacy from falling into the profit-driven hands of uncaring relatives, and she wants an heir to sustain her life’s work after she’s gone. So she invites her three closest online friends—fellow food bloggers, women of varied ages and backgrounds—out to her farm. She hopes to choose one of them to inherit it—but who?

There’s Ginny, the freckle-faced Kansas cake baker whose online writing is about to lead her out of a broken marriage and into a world of sensual delights. And Ruby, young, pregnant, devoted to the organic movement, who’s looking for roots—and the perfect recipe to heal a shattered heart. Finally, Val, smart and sophisticated, a wine enthusiast who needs a fresh start for her teenage daughter after tragedy has rocked their lives. Coming together will change the Foodie Four in ways they could never have imagined, uniting them in love and a common purpose. As they realize that life doesn’t always offer a perfect recipe for happiness, they also discover that the moments worth savoring are flavored with some tears, a few surprises, and generous helping of joy.

Review: I have thoroughly enjoyed O'Neal's other books, but this one wasn't quite as delightful as the others.  Perhaps it was because the narrative was split between four different women, meaning that none of them were quite as fleshed out as I would have liked.  Or perhaps it was because each chapter contained a blog post, and I found the blogs a little annoying.  Or perhaps I just didn't buy into how such four completely different women could have formed a strong friendship without ever meeting.  This was still a nice book, just not as enjoyable as her others.

Rating: 3 stars