Sunday, September 30, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Here is what I reviewed this week:

My Review: A Season of Love

About the Book:
In the fifth and final novel of the Kauffman Amish Bakery Series, three young women are about to change their lives. Lizzie Anne and Samuel have decided to get married, and Lindsay is about to be baptized in the Amish faith and is courting Matthew. While Katie Kauffman is happy for her friends who seem to have settled their futures, she is also finding herself something of a fifth wheel. When Lindsay's sister Jessica returns to Bird-in-Hand, she finds that Jake Miller has moved on with his life. He lost hope that Jessica would ever be satisfied to settle in rural Pennsylvania and takes comfort in becoming close friends with Katie. However, it's not an easy road as Jake is Mennonite and Katie has just been baptized in the Amish faith. Her father forbids them to see each other, adamant that his daughter marry an Amish man. A Season of Love is filled with surprising twists that will grip you to the very last words. As the stories of your favorite Amish community draw to a close, join Lindsay, her friends, and all the people of Bird-In-Hand for one last volume.

My Comments:
This NetGalley has been on my Kindle for a long time,and I finally was in the mood for another Amish story. While this book can stand alone, "knowing" the characters from the other books makes it easier to understand them in this book.  I enjoyed watching these  young people make choices about their lives and settling into adulthood.  Details about the Amish were interesting though I found the generous sprinkling of Amish words to be more distracting than anything--it made it sound like the Amish speak English with a sprinkling of Germanic or "Deutsch" words thrown in, rather than, as I understand it to be, speaking a different language all together.  In short, if you like Amish fiction, you'll probably like this one; if not, there is nothing  particularly noteworthy about it.  Grade:  B-.  

My Reviews of Other Amy Clipston Books:

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post.  Click here to sign up.

Lots of reviews for me this week.  Many of you have probably read Sarah Reinhard's blog, The Snoring Scholar.  This week I reviewed her A Catholic Mother's Companion to Pregnancy. 

The Shortest Way Home is about a man who has Huntington's disease in his family.  I'd love to get a discussion going about the pros and cons of testing for Huntington's.  See the post for more info.

The Accidental Bride was a silly romance but fun read.

Love Anthony is about the mother of a deceased autistic child and a woman who recently learned her husband was cheating on her.

Outlaw's Christmas is just what it looks like.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Review: A Catholic Mother's Companion to Pregnancy

About the Book:

Popular Catholic blogger and speaker Sarah A. Reinhard presents the first book to accompany expectant mothers from conception to baptism with weekly reflections and prayers rooted in the mysteries of the Rosary and related to the baby's physical development.

Designed to help expectant mothers embrace pregnancy as an opportunity for spiritual growth, A Catholic Mother's Companion to Pregnancy prepares mothers for the trials and joys of pregnancy, childbirth, baptism, and, ultimately, motherhood. Each week of pregnancy is paired with a mystery of the Rosary, a personal, down-to-earth reflection from Reinhard, advice for living the sacramental life, and a prayer to help the reader grow in faith as she bonds with her unborn child.

My Comments:
When I was pregnant with my first child (who is twenty now), I read What to Expect When You Are Expecting and some book that had film plastic overlays showing how the various systems in the baby's body developed.  I suspect I got some other books about pregnancy and childbirth from the library(this was before my internet days).  I was blissfully happy being pregnant (at least until morning sickness hit) and wanted to know all I could about this wonderful process happening inside me.  When I was pregnant with my third, my dad gave me a book for Christmas--The Girlfriend's Guide to Pregnancy which was much better considering the attitude I had at that time.  One suggestion in that book was to stand on the scale backwards and tell the nurse you didn't want to know your weight.  They said that if your weight was a problem, your doctor would tell you; if it wasn't, you didn't need to know every pound if it just made you upset.  Anyway, while these books were good for telling me what was going on inside my body (or in the case of The Girlfriend's Guide, commiserating with me) they didn't prepare me to be a Catholic mom.  Sarah Reinhard's A Catholic Mother's Companion to Pregnancy covers the nuts and bolts of pregnancy and helps a woman prepare spiritually to be a Catholic mother.  

There are books that give more vivid descriptions of fetal development but this one is adequate for most people, giving the size of the baby each week by comparing it to common items (as big as an eggplant) and some developmental milestones.  Chapters include articles about our faith, about mothering, about pregnancy or about family life.  Also, as  noted above, Sarah takes a different mystery of the rosary every week and writes a meditation relating it to pregnancy.  For example, for week 24, the mystery is the Annunciation and the mediation talks about not being afraid.  I loved an article for week 27 that talked about how much stuff you really need.  Like me, she found that you don't need near as much as what you have for the first baby.  The Faith Focus section of each chapter introduces some traditional Catholic devotions, tells about Saints and teaches you prayers.

If you know a Catholic woman who is expecting a baby, A Catholic Mother's Companion to Pregnancy would make a wonderful gift.  Grade: B+.

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  I was not obligated to write a positive review.

I have linked this review of A Catholic Mother's Companion to Pregnancy to the free Catholic Book review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods. Aquinas and More is the largest on-line Catholic bookstore. While they did not send me a copy of this book, they will promote this review and credit me with points I can use toward future purchases.

Book Review: The Shortest Way Home

About the Book:
Sean has spent twenty years in Third World war zones and natural disaster areas, fully embracing what he’d always felt was his life’s mission. But when burnout sets in, Sean is reluctantly drawn home to Belham, Massachusetts, the setting of Fay’s much-loved Shelter Me. There, he discovers that his steely aunt, overly dramatic sister, and quirky nephew are having a little natural disaster of their own. When he reconnects with a woman from his past, Sean has to wonder if the bonds of love and loyalty might just rewrite his destiny.

My Comments:
If I offered you a chance to know your future, would you take it?  Most of us aren't offered that opportunity in any reliable way, but some are.  A prenatal test can tell you that you will spend the next years caring for a special needs child, or the next  months mourning a child who will not live long after birth.  A test for Huntington's Disease will tell you if you are going to develop a progressively debilitating disease, a disease that is genetic, a disease for which there is no cure, a disease for which there are no symptoms until you middle-aged, a disease that will kill those who have it.  Sean's mother died of Huntington's so there is a fifty percent chance that he has it.  Should he get tested?  Sean was one of three siblings, none of whom have chosen to know for sure what the future hold,

I won't pretend to know what it must be like to know that disease is in your family.  Sean was old enough to remember his mother and her illness.  He decided to live his life fully before middle age.  He had a vasectomy so he would not transmit the gene (if he had it) to any offspring.  He chose a career as a nurse to disaster areas--famine victims, areas hit by earthquakes, war zones.  He'd stay in one place a while and then head to the next place that needed him most.  At first he thought it was a calling from God; now he isn't sure God exists.  He is burned out and heads back "home" to decompress, and when he gets there he is forced to take a look at where his life is, has been and where he wants to be in the future.  He again has to decide whether to take "the test", though he realizes he is now older than his mother was when she got sick.

This is a story about a family.  It is a family that is not normal by most people's standards, and much of that abnormality can be blamed on Huntington's but they also have much more common challenges--aging elders, teens who don't fit in, those who feel trapped by family obligations, divorced adults who have become estranged from their children.  When Sean gets home he has to make a choice--does he stay and get involved in the messiness of the lives of his family or does he head off to the next disaster to deal with the messiness of the world?

Sean is Catholic; at least nominally so.  He is going through a crisis of faith in this book, but the book is not really religious fiction.  It asks far more questions than it answers.  

Sean's nephew suffers from sensory processing disorder.  In short, he has very sensitive senses and the input from them can overwhelm him easily. He hates being jostled, smells in the school cafeteria overwhelm him and he refuses to wear socks.  While Kevin in not autistic, he shares many traits that go with autism and the book has some good information on this condition.

I'd like to thank Leyane Jerejian  at FSB Media for sending me a review copy of this wonderful book.  Grade: A.  

You can view a video trailer here.

For Discussion:
As noted above, Huntington's disease is a progressive genetic disease that generally ends up killing those who have it.  Everyone has the gene on which Huntington's is carried.  If your gene has a particular defect, you get the disease.  In order to get the gene with the defect, you must have a parent with that gene, and if you have the gene there is a 100% chance you'll develop the disease if you live long enough.  Symptoms do not appear until middle age, generally somewhere between 30 and 50.  In short, you are not at risk for the disease unless one of your parents has it, and if one of your parents has it, there is a 50% chance you do.  There is now a test that can be given to those at risk to determine if they have the gene.  If you watched a parent die of Huntington's disease, would you get tested?  Sean and his siblings decided not to -- they didn't want to know for sure if they were going to get it.  Other people want to know.  If the test is negative, they can live a normal life and not worry about the gene.  If it is positive they know they don't have to save for retirement, they know they need to do what they want to do early in life because late isn't likely to come.  They may want to forgo having kids.  What about  you, would you want to know?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Review: The Accidental Bride

About the Book:
When her friends order her to take a vacation, successful chef Jilly O'Hara is less than enthused. She may be overworked, but a trip to the mountains is not her idea of fun. Especially when she's roped into an outrageous scheme to pose as a happy bride—all to fulfill the kindly resort owner's dreams of once again hosting a lavish wedding. But the ruggedly handsome make-believe groom may just make it tolerable….
Walker Hale has kept to himself since his return from active duty—but the next thing he knows, he's also playing along with the wedding charade. Even this jaded loner isn't immune to Jilly's quirky charm…or her beauty. But vacations have to end sometime, and they'll soon have to decide if the feelings between them were more than pretend.

My Comments:
Jilly has heart problems (physical) and her doctor orders rest.  Her friends (we've met them in other books) send her to a knitting retreat (she thinks she's going to a cooking retreat--she's a chef).  While she is at this resort in the middle of nowhere she meets Walker, who is a veteran recently returned from the Middle East.  They fall for each other, and agree to marry, just temporarily, to make an old woman happy.  What can I say? It is not the most realistic plot I've ever read.  It was a cute story, and she fell for his dog before she fell for him.  There are a couple of hot and heavy scenes but they aren't terribly explicit.  Great literature it is not, but its not a bad pool read.  Grade:  B-

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Love Anthony--My Review

About the Book:
Olivia Donatelli’s dream of a “normal” life shattered when her son, Anthony, was diagnosed with autism at age three. Understanding the world from his perspective felt bewildering, nearly impossible. He didn’t speak. He hated to be touched. He almost never made eye contact. And just as Olivia was starting to realize that happiness and autism could coexist, Anthony died.

Now she’s alone in a cottage on Nantucket, separated from her husband, desperate to understand the meaning of her son’s short life, when a chance encounter with another woman facing her own loss brings Anthony alive again for Olivia in a most unexpected way.

Beth Ellis’s entire life changed with a simple note: “I’m sleeping with Jimmy.” Fourteen years of marriage. Three beautiful daughters. Yet even before her husband’s affair, she had never felt so alone. Heartbroken, she finds the pieces of the vivacious, creative person she used to be packed away in a box in her attic. For the first time in years, she uncaps her pen, takes a deep breath, and begins to write. The young but exuberant voice that emerges onto the page is a balm to the turmoil within her, a new beginning, and an astonishing bridge back to herself.

In a piercing story about motherhood, autism, and love, New York Times bestselling author Lisa Genova offers us two unforgettable women on the verge of change and the irrepressible young boy whose unique wisdom helps them both find the courage to move on.

My Comments:
My regular readers know that I have an autistic son.   Luckily, my son is verbal, and was a physically affectionate as a young child. However, I have seen many handicapped kids in my day and have given thanks  many times that my problems are not as serious as those kids' parents' problems.  Olivia was not so lucky.  Her son's autism was severe--and then he died, and with him, her marriage, her life as she knew it.  Her divorce settlement called for her to get the Nantucket cottage so she heads there, after tourist season is over, to recover.  

Beth used to write.  She has been a wife and mother for years, but she just learned that her husband was having an affair.  In cleaning out her attic she remembers that she used to write and decided to start again. Somehow she ends up telling Olivia's son's story.  The two women's lives come together and each learns to live, and hope again.

I really enjoyed the story and found the characters to be well developed and the story line a little different.  The ending was hopeful but realistic.   

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via Edelweiss.  Grade:  B+

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Review: An Outlaw's Christmas

About the Book:
Celebrate the holidays with a brand-new McKettrick tale by beloved #1 New York Times bestselling author Linda Lael Miller

With his wild heart, Sawyer McKettrick isn't ready to settle down on the Triple M family ranch in Arizona. So he heads to Blue River, Texas, to seek a job as marshal. But in a blinding snowstorm he's injured-and collapses into the arms of a prim and proper lady in calico.

The shirtless, bandaged stranger recuperating in teacher Piper St. James's room behind the schoolhouse says he's a McKettrick, but he looks like an outlaw. As they wait out the storm, the handsome loner has Piper remembering long-ago dreams of marriage and motherhood. But for how long is Sawyer willing to call Blue River home?

As the gray skies clear, Piper's one holiday wish just might bring two lonely hearts together forever.

My Comments:
Now what exactly did you expect when you saw that cover and that title?  Yup, that's what you get.  The rugged handsome guy who is just bad enough to be interesting, coupled with the prim and proper schoolteacher who lets humanity come before prim and proper.  As they spend the week before Christmas cooped up in the schoolhouse of this rural Texas town sparks fly and eventually... However, they don't consummate the marriage until after the marriage, and there is one other intimate scene in the book where readers get to watch the action.  In short, it is a short Christmas novella totally typical of what Linda Lael Miller writes.  Grade:  B-

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post.  Click here to sign up.

Lots of book reviews for me this week:
General Market Romances:  Dream Lake, Rainshadow Road,  Sweet Laurel Falls (clean), A Place Called Home

Exam Schools:  A book about public high schools the students have to test into

With Every Letter:  A Christian romance set during WWII

Candy Canes in Bethlehem:  Catholic children's Christmas story. 

Catholic Company Book Review: Candy Canes in Bethlehem

About the Book:
As their world grows larger, young children start reflecting upon their own traditions, while becoming intrigued by diverse cultural practices. This festive Christmas storybook guides children through uncovering the religious meanings behind secular symbols, and the various cultural traditions celebrate the holiday.

Ideal for ages 6-8, children will be drawn to the read aloud-friendly format and the brightly colored, brushstroke illustrations. Teachers, parents, grandparents, librarians, and catechists will find this book an entertainingly educational way to illuminate the faith which celebrates the birth of Jesus in many ways.

The story opens with Christmas fast approaching. Daniel is excited to help Deacon Matthews with a special project in his parish…until he is assigned the boring nativity scene! Deacon Matthews senses Daniel's disappointment, and explains to him that the manger scene is the most important part of Christmas: Christmas represents Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, and without his birth, there would be no reason to celebrate. To encourage Daniel's enthusiasm about the project, he suggests personalizing the nativity scene.<

Daniel becomes inspired by ideas from around the world-from Kenya, Mexico, Japan, Native America, and Australia. Excited by origami crane decorations, Three Kings tribal elders, a glass pickle ornament, kangaroo reindeers, and Christmas piñatas, he comes to the realization that these unique gifts of tradition are all celebrations of the same event: the birth of Jesus Christ! Like Daniel, your child too, will learn how so many unique traditions can exist within a single faith community.

Using his imagination, Daniel creates a nativity scene unlike any other, combining many cultural traditions and adding a touch of his own: a miniature candy cane placed beside Jesus in the cradle. When Deacon Matthews sees the final masterpiece, he is bewildered.

But maybe this time it is Daniel who has something to teach Deacon Matthews about the meaning of Christmas….

My Comments:
My eight year old enjoyed this book.  I thought the illustrations were well done and the story did a good job of not only repeating the age-old story but also of telling us how people around the world celebrate.  I have to say I never knew kangaroos pulled Santa's sleigh in Australia or that Lebanese folks planted basil.  The point is made that all our Christmas traditions are there for one reason, to celebrate Jesus' birthday.  

Published by Pauline Books and Media, the book is distinctively Catholic in that the action takes place in the parish hall at All Saints Parish and one of the characters is a deacon.  I don't think there is any reason a non-Catholic would mind if his/her child got this book.   

I'd like to thank the Catholic Company for making this book available for review.  Grade:  B+

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Candy Canes in Bethlehem. The Catholic Company is a great resource for tools to help you participate in the Year of Faith, including Year of Faith bible studies and exclusive Year of Faith personalized gifts. The Catholic Company also has all your Advent needs in stock, such as Advent calendars and Advent wreaths.

Friday, September 21, 2012

My Review: Dream Lake

About the Book:
Dream Lake takes readers once again to the exquisite setting of Friday Harbor, and tells the story of Zoe Hoffman, an innkeeper who has all but given up on love. She’s a gentle, romantic soul, but has been so hurt in the past that she dare not trust her heart with anyone. Especially not Alex Nolan. Alex is the most haunted of all the Nolan brothers. He drinks to keep his demons at bay and not only has he given up on love, he has never, ever believed in it. Zoe and Alex are oil and water, fire and ice, sunshine and shadow. But sometimes, it takes only a glimmer of light to chase away the dark. Dream Lake is classic Lisa Kleypas: romantic, powerful, emotional, and magical.

My Comments:
If you like romances and ghost stories, you'll like this one.  As Alex is renovating his brother's house, he meets the ghost of a WWII pilot.  The pilot does not remember who his is, nor does he know why he is a ghost.  Zoe is a friend of his brother's fiancee, and Zoe needs someone to renovate a house into which she and her grandmother will move.  Her grandmother is descending into dementia.  Of course the story comes together with the ghost knowing the grandmother.  Of course, despite protestations, Zoe and Alex end up together.  As a Kleypas novel, it is steamy in parts.  

Often with series fiction  you feel you've missed something if you don't read the earlier books.  In this case, the books seem to repeat a lot of stuff from earlier books, since the stories are all happening at the same time.  

I enjoyed this library book and give it a B.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Blog Tour: With Every Letter

About the Book:

Lt. Mellie Blake is a nurse serving in the 802nd Medical Squadron, Air Evacuation, Transport. As part of a morale building program, she reluctantly enters into an anonymous correspondence with Lt. Tom MacGilliver, an officer in the 908th Engineer Aviation Battalion in North Africa. As their letters crisscross the Atlantic, Tom and Mellie develop a unique friendship despite not knowing the other's true identity. When both are transferred to Algeria, the two are poised to meet face to face for the first time. Will they overcome their fears and reveal who they are, or will their future be held hostage to their past? And can they learn to trust God and embrace the gift of love he offers them?

Combining excellent research and attention to detail with a flair for romance, Sarah Sundin brings to life the perilous challenges of WWII aviation, nursing, and true love.

My Comments:

Since I enjoyed Sarah Sundin’s novels about WWII pilots (See reviews linked below) I was eager to read the first book in her new series, one titled “Wings of the Nightengale” about WWII  flight nurses.  Since this tour has started, I've read a lot of very good reviews of this book; unfortunately, I was disappointed in this one and did not finish it.

The female lead is Philomella.  She grew up without her mother and never learned to make friends.  She has a scrapbook of photos from magazines of kids playing games and she used to imagine herself joining them.  Then she switched to cutting pictures out of the newspapers--pictures of people she believed needed her prayers.  One was the son of an infamous murderer, one who was so infamous (he killed a famous husband and wife) that children made up rhymes about him --McGilliver the killiver… and even now, at least ten years later, everyone recognized the name. She prayed for the son who lost his father, the poor boy who would forever be an outcast because of his father’s crime.   As an Army nurse, this scrapbook is one of the possessions she carries with her as she goes from her training as one of the first flight nurses to her wartime assignment in northern Africa.  While I am not an expert on WWII or nursing,  assuming Sudin got the details right, the parts of the book about flight nursing were the best.

The male lead is Jack McGilliver.  He is a lieutenant in the US Army, and an engineer who dreams of one day designing bridges.  As an engineer, he is an officer and expected to lead a squad of men.  Unfortunately, due to his name he has cultivated a “nice guy” personality--friendly, affable, inoffensive.  He doesn’t have any real friends but everyone likes  him.  He doesn’t want to be mean or physically threatening.  His men lack discipline and don’t obey him.

Her commanding officer is married to his commanding officer and Mrs. gets the idea that having her nurses write anonymous letters to his men would be a morale  boost.  He ends up with her letter and they being a regular anonymous correspondence.  Each speaks of his or her weaknesses to the other.  They encourage each other--she tells him to look to Jesus as a model of leadership.  One day they meet but he doesn’t know it is her.  Each is utterly lacking in self-confidence, sure the other wouldn’t want him/her if she/her knew who he/she really was.  I found the whole book, or at least the 250 pages I read (it is over 400 pages long) to be overwrought and melodramatic.  I neither liked nor cared about either of them by the time I decided that enough was enough.

My Reviews of other Sarah Sundin novels:
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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sweet Laurel Falls: My Review

Sweet Laurel Falls

About the Book:
Spring should bring renewal, but Maura McKnight-Parker cannot escape the past. Still reeling from the loss of one daughter, the former free spirit is thrown for a loop by the return of her older daughter, Sage, and the reappearance of her first love, Sage's father. Jackson Lange never knew his daughter-never even knew that he'd left the love of his life pregnant when he fled their small town-but he has never forgotten Maura.

Now they are all back, but Sage has her own secret, one that will test the fragile bonds of a reunited family. Thrown together by circumstances and dedicated to those they love, Maura and Jackson must learn to move forward and let go of the mistakes of their past for the bright future that awaits them and their friends in Hope's Crossing.

My Comments:
I enjoyed this third book set in Hope's Crossing Colorado.  Maura is a single mom who recently lost one of her two daughters in a car accident that touched the characters in all the books in this series.  Her other daughter returned home from college with her father in tow--the father Maura loved when she was in high school, the father who left before he knew she was pregnant, the father who never knew he had a daughter.  These two get to know each other and the father from whom he is estranged.  They learn that problems in families tend to repeat themselves but that people can change.  All in all, its a sweet story with some depth.  It is also a reasonably clean read with no bedroom scenes, and one that shows the real consequence of bedroom scenes.  It was fun to see that I guessed the mystery character from the other books (though it wasn't the toughest mystery to solve).  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.   Grade:  B.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Review: Exam Schools

About the Book:
What is the best education for exceptionally able and high-achieving youngsters? Can the United States strengthen its future intellectual leadership, economic vitality, and scientific prowess without sacrificing equal opportunity? There are no easy answers but, as Chester Finn and Jessica Hockett show, for more than 100,000 students each year, the solution is to enroll in an academically selective public high school. Exam Schools is the first-ever close-up look at this small, sometimes controversial, yet crucial segment of American public education. This groundbreaking book discusses how these schools work--and their critical role in nurturing the country's brightest students.

The 165 schools identified by Finn and Hockett are located in thirty states, plus the District of Columbia. While some are world renowned, such as Boston Latin and Bronx Science, others are known only in their own communities. The authors survey the schools on issues ranging from admissions and student diversity to teacher selection. They probe sources of political support, curriculum, instructional styles, educational effectiveness, and institutional autonomy. Some of their findings are surprising: Los Angeles, for example, has no "exam schools" while New York City has dozens. Asian-American students are overrepresented--but so are African-American pupils. Culminating with in-depth profiles of eleven exam schools and thoughtful reflection on policy implications, Finn and Hockett ultimately consider whether the country would be better off with more such schools.

At a time of keen attention to the faltering education system, Exam Schools sheds positive light on a group of schools that could well provide a transformative roadmap for many of America's children.

My Comments:
My daughter attends our district's magnet school for bright kids so this book caught my eye when it was offered on NetGalley.  I enjoyed reading about magnet schools in other cities and the authors' discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of such schools.  Basically, I found that their thoughts mirrored mine.  The schools do a good job of preparing kids for college, of offering high-level courses, often in districts that have less than admirable ratings for their neighborhood high schools.  The question is whether the kids in these schools achieve more because they are in these schools than they would achieve if they were in their neighborhood high schools, or if the high scores of these magnet schools are earned in  the admissions office rather than in the classroom.  

Mention is made of NCLB's emphasis on testing and on schools improving scores yearly.  The authors point out that most of the kids in these schools have high test scores to begin with and that the emphasis on test-taking vs. critical or imaginative thinking is a disservice to these kids.

If you are considering a magnet school for your child, I think you'll find this book to be an interesting and informative read.  Grade:  B.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

Rainshadow Road: My Review

About the Book:
Lucy Marinn is a glass artist living in mystical, beautiful, Friday Harbor, Washington.  She is stunned and blindsided by the most bitter kind of betrayal:  her fiancé Kevin has left her.  His new lover is Lucy’s own sister.   Lucy's bitterness over being dumped is multiplied by the fact that she has constantly made the wrong choices in her romantic life.   Facing the severe disapproval of Lucy's parents, Kevin asks his friend Sam Nolan, a local vineyard owner on San Juan Island, to "romance" Lucy and hopefully loosen her up and get her over her anger. Complications ensue when Sam and Lucy begin to fall in love, Kevin has second thoughts, and Lucy discovers that the new relationship in her life began under false pretenses. Questions about love, loyalty, old patterns, mistakes, and new beginnings are explored as Lucy learns that some things in life—even after being broken—can be made into something new and beautiful.

My Comments:
Lisa Kleypas is a better than average writer of romance novels.  While she writes steamy bedroom scenes, those scenes are not what carry her books, at least for me.  She creates very real characters, even if they are (as in this case) a little magical.  Unlike what is said above, Sam is upfront with Lucy, he tells her that he was asked to romance her, and she goes along with it.  Like his brothers, Sam is afraid of love because of his childhood--he beds women but doesn't sleep with them.  Of course as an old-fashioned woman I had to shake my head at all those folks living together outside of marriage who then wondered why their relationships didn't work  Oh, well...

I enjoyed this library book and recommend it if you like contemporary romance and don't mind steam.  Grade:  B

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book Review: A Place Called Home

About the Book:
When Thea Wyndham and Mitchell Baker learn they've been named joint guardians for their late friends' three children, they're little more than acquaintances. Barely polite acquaintances, at that. Something about Mitch's forthright intensity has always left ad exec Thea feeling off-balance, while Mitch makes no secret of his disdain when Thea offers him financial assistance if he'll take sole guardianship. Thea is far from heartless. She's just plain terrified of her new parenting responsibilities. Both she and Mitch are romantically involved with other people. Yet the more time they spend together, the less certain she is of her loyalties. There are complications and mis-steps, tears and laughter - lots of it. And somehow, through it all, the dawning realization that the last place she thought she'd find herself could be just where she belongs.

My Comments:
Thea has never wanted children.  Her own childhood was so bad she was sure she could never be a decent parent and did not plan to subject any child to her efforts.  She dated a man much older than she was, a man who, while he enjoyed being a grandfather, had no desire for a second go-around at fatherhood.  Mitchell didn't exactly pine for children--he liked being the "uncle" who came to play and then left--but when his best friend is killed in a car accident and leaves him and Thea joint custody of three children, he steps up to the plate.  Thea wants to remain as an "aunt", but slowly gets pulled into the children's lives, and Mitchell's.  

I enjoyed the story and was really rooting for Thea to get her act together.  I found some of the language in the bedroom scenes to be on the crude side.  Grade:  B.  This was a library book.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post.  Click here to sign up.
Well, we are back in the internet world, though our connection is slow; however since the last time I called to complain they told me we'd be without internet until tomorrow night, I'll put up with it--for now.  Amazing how something we didn't have fifteen  years ago has been a practically indispensable part of life.

Lots of reviews published this week (lots of time to read when you don't have internet or work due to a hurricane).  
Military Fly Moms is about military pilots who are also moms. 
Girl in the Glass is set in Florence, Italy and I loved it.
Better than Chocolate is a sweet, clean romance.
In The Reunion, what goes around comes around, eventually.
Lonestar Angel is Christian romantic suspense.
In Mother of Pearl a mother recovers from family tragedy by trying to keep it from happening to others.

Military Fly Moms: My Review

About the Book:
Military Fly Moms is a gorgeous coffee-table book with a collection of true stories by seventy women who shared the same two dreams—becoming a military aviator, and being a mom. The first few women, who, in the seventies, took their places in the world of all-male military aviation, paved the way for other women to follow. From flying during the Cold War to rescue missions during Hurricane Katrina to flying in combat during the current war on terror, these gutsy women—our nation’s sisters, daughters, neighbors, friends, and, yes, even moms—have done it all. Illustrated throughout with 75 stunning color photos, Military Fly Moms depicts women aviators in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard alongside their helicopters, transport aircraft, or fighter planes, as well as highlighting their families. These stories and their accompanying photographs weave a beautiful tapestry, passing on a lasting legacy to inspire future generations to reach for their dreams. Book Review, Military Writers' Society of America: "Linda Maloney knows her subject when she writes of women who balance the career of military flying and motherhood. The author herself was one of the first to fly combat missions after the law allowing women to do so went into effect in 1993. Not so coincidently, she also happens to be the mother of two boys. "Passionately devoted to her career and family, Maloney records the stories of others women likewise who dared to dream big. The book is divided along service lines: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Each account is unique, but they all share two things in common, a love of flying and family. "Being a woman balancing a career and a family isn’t easy even in civilian life, but being a pilot, navigator, flight instructor, etc., in the military sometimes with a husband who may or not be deployed at the same station with you, is daunting to say the least. No matter the odds or risks, these are intimate accounts of women who wanted to serve their country in a particular way—by flying. Some came from military backgrounds, which made their career choice easy. Some came from horse farms. Some joined the military to finance their educations. Some went to Annapolis. Some became Chief Warrant officers, other lieutenant colonels or Rear Admirals. Some dreamed of flying before entering the service, others afterwards. There was no one set path to their goal. Yet all had the ambition, brains, and courage to endure rigorous training programs, peace and war deployments, separations from family, and yes, pregnancy and career. "What sets the book apart are the special touches Maloney adds. Each woman gives two pieces of advice, her insights from parenting and her comment on her career. The Little Flybys, quotes from some of their children at the end of the book, are endearing. "Maloney pays touching tribute to a friend, Kara, whose F-14 didn’t make landing on the USS Lincoln and was the sole crew member who didn’t survive. Equally fitting is Maloney’s dedication to Lieutenant Commander Barbara Rainey, an aircraft instructor who was killed while training a pilot, leaving two young daughters behind." Reviewed by Barbara Peacock, 2012

My Comments:
Recently someone wrote an article for one of the major newspapers about "having it all".   Her conclusion was that, at least for her, it was impossible to "have it all"--one of the highest powered job AND kids,if you are a  woman.  Military Fly Moms is about women who do think they've managed to "have it all"--and about some women who have decided that a job that required periodic deployments to war zones was not one they wanted once they had kids.  

Military Fly Moms is the story of about seventy women, some from each branch of the United States military, who are pilots.  Thier aircraft range from helicopters to transport jets to fighters.  Some come from military families; others do not.  Some had their children before they became pilots; others afterwards.  Some have managed to combine family life and a job as a military pilot; others have decided to fly with the Reserves or National Guard; still others have decided to either retire or just resign.  All love to fly.  All are intelligent, hard-working women who set high goals for themselves.

Each woman's story is told magazine article style over three to four pages.  Sometimes we learn a little about her childhood. We hear how she decided to join the military and how she got into flight school.  Each woman's military career is briefly discussed as well as when she had children and how that affected her career.  

I enjoyed reading about these remarkable women.  Many were among the first women to reach certain positions in the military.  I think the book would be a good addition to a high school libray and would be a wonderful gift for a young woman considering a career in the military or one who wants to be a pilot.  Grade:  B+.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Book Review: The Girl in the Glass

About the Book:

Since she was a child, Meg has dreamed of taking a promised trip to Florence, Italy, and being able to finally step into the place captured in a picture at her grandmother’s house. But after her grandmother passes away and it falls to her less-than-reliable father to take her instead, Meg’s long-anticipated travel plans seem permanently on hold.

When her dad finally tells Meg to book the trip, she prays that the experience will heal the fissures left on her life by her parents’ divorce. But when Meg arrives in Florence, her father is nowhere to be found, leaving aspiring memoir-writer Sophia Borelli to introduce Meg to the rich beauty of the ancient city. Sofia claims to be one of the last surviving members of the Medici family and that a long-ago Medici princess, Nora Orsini, communicates with her from within the great masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance.

When Sophia, Meg, and Nora’s stories intersect, their lives will be indelibly changed as they each answer the question: What if renaissance isn’t just a word? What if that’s what happens when you dare to believe that what is isn’t what has to be?

My Comments:

I absolutely loved this book! I loved the story, the characters, the writing, even the cover.  Like Susan Meissner's other books, The Girl in the Glass unites the stories of a modern-day woman and a woman from history.  In this case the woman from history was a woman from the Medici family who lived during the Italian Renaissance.  The women from today are an American book editor and an Italian tour guide/author.  

Meg's parents divorced when she was young and her mother moved her away from her beloved Grandmother, who happened to be from Florence, Italy.  Her grandmother promised to one day take her to Florence, and when she dies before she can fulfill this promise, her father adopts the promise.  Meg is now in her early thirties and keeps waiting for the trip.  One day her father sends her tickets and off she goes to join him in Florence.  When he doesn't show up and tells her he isn't going to, she goes to plan B and meets up with some authors she knows through work.  

Sofia says she is the last of the Medicis and that she can hear Nora, who lived long ago, speak to her.  Sofia has written a travelogue giving voice to Nora, and Meg is interested in publishing it.  However, the more she learns about Sofia, the less sure she becomes.  In short, things aren't as they seem, either in her life, or in the life of Nora, and interestingly they have paralles with Meg's life.

The chapters set today are preceded by short sections "written by Nora".  The typeface is different so it is easy to keep the stories separate.  

While the book is classified as Christian fiction, I'm not sure why.  While there are a few references to God or faith, they aren't central to the book.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for sending me a review copy as part of their Blogging for Books program.  As anyone who has read the blog for any length of time knows, the opinions I post about books, even those given to me by publishers, are my own.  In this case my own opinion is that this book deserves an A.  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Better Than Chocolate

About the Book:
Sweet Dreams Chocolate Company has been in the Sterling family for generations, ever since Great-Grandma Rose literally dreamed up her first fabulous recipe. But now it looks as if they're about to lose Sweet Dreams to the bank—and that would be a disaster, not only for the family but for the town of Icicle Falls, Washington. Can Samantha, the oldest daughter and new head of the company, come up with a way to save it?

After Samantha does some brainstorming with her mother and sisters, inspiration strikes. They'll have a chocolate festival! Time's running out, but the Sterling women are determined and the town's behind them, so everything's bound to go smoothly….

Or not. Events seem to be conspiring against Samantha, and her mother's attempts to help aren't helping. To make matters worse, the fate of her company is in the hands of her archenemy, Blake Preston, the bank manager with the football-hero good looks. It's enough to drive her to chocolate. But Blake's also enough to convince her that (believe it or not) there's something even better than chocolate.

My Comments:
After looking at the cover and reading the summary, do you really think the evil banker is going to repo the chocolate company and make off with some cute bimbo?  

This appears to be the first in what I'm guessing Sheila Roberts hopes will be a long and profitable series of books set in a small ski town in Washington state.  We meet a large ensemble of characters who flit across the screen and then are seen no more (at least in this book, but I have a feeling...)  Still, the story is sweet as good chocolate and is a clean read too.  No one in this book ends up in bed with anyone else.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Win a Kindle or a Nook

Celebrate with Sarah by entering to win a eReader (winner's choice of Kindle Fire or Nook Color)!

See what folks are saying about With Every Letter!

One fortunate winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire or Nook Color (winner’s choice)
  • Handmade With Every Letter First Aid Kit
  • With Every Letter by Sarah Sundin
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on September 26th. Winner will be announced at the “With Every Letter” Author Chat Facebook Party on 9/27. Connect with Sarah, get a sneak peek of her next book, try your hand at a trivia contest, and chat with readers just like yourself. There will also be gift certificates, books and a Book Club Prize Pack to be won (10 copies for your book club or small group)!

So grab your copy of With Every Letter and join Sarah on the evening of the September 27th for a chance to connect with Sarah and make some new friends. (If you haven’t read the book – don’t let that stop you from coming!)
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