Monday, March 31, 2014

Book Review: A Table By the Window

A Table by the Window: A Novel of Family Secrets and Heirloom RecipesA Table by the Window: A Novel of Family Secrets and Heirloom Recipes by Hillary Manton Lodge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book about Juliette, the youngest in a boistrous French Italian family of restauranteurs. It follows her desperate attempt to end her loneliness by attempting online dating, her struggles with her career as a food writer that she loves/hates, her love of food and cooking and her intense family.  It is a story about new love, the dynamics of family and of course food. Throughout the book, Juliette attempts to discover why her late grandmother had a photo of a young man (who is not her grandfather) hidden away in the inside of a dust jacket on a well used cookbook, and why this young man looks just like one of her brothers. I enjoyed Juliette's family quite a bit, and think books on her siblings could be interesting as well. However, they will have to wait, as I realized, as the book ended quite quickly that this is almost definitely the first in a series on Juliette's story. The authors answers just barely enough of the stories raised in this book that it is almost satisfying on its own. Juliette finds some answers about her grandmothers story, amd reverses a hasty decision about her own, but there is so much left to tell in those two storylines as well as in the storylines begun about her family. I was switching devices  as I was beginning (what I was surprised to find out was) the last chapter! I really thought I had at least a quarter to the book to go. That is really my only criticism of the book, that it really seems like a large book split in two that is just not quite satisfying enough to stand on its own. I love book series, but much prefer when the individual books can be read on their own. This is a Christian novel, though it really is not overwheming or attempt to be spiritually inspirational or evangelistic as some Christian novels are. the characters' faith shows through at different points as the offer to pray for each other or  pray in the midst of turmoil to find peace, etc. While I think Christian readers of fiction or romance will enjoy this, I think it could be enjoyed by non-Christians who enjoy clean novels as well.  

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Book Review: Bluebonnet Bride

Bluebonnet Bride (Butterfly Palace, #1.5)Bluebonnet Bride by Colleen Coble
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm always disappointed to read a book and realize that it is a novella. i wish publishers would be more specific in their description that is not only a novella but part of series. the series dorsnt bither me so much, especially in books and series like this, where I assume they just follow different sets of characters. The novella, however, I found very unsatisfying. the storyline and writing style have the makings of a good book, but everything felt very forced and incomplete. The mystery was told more than experienced, and everything moved too quickly in both the mystery and the romance. It really wasn't all that enjoyable as I felt like the reader was just rushed through what could have been a good story too quickly to enjoy it. I really wish the autbor had taken the time to make this a full fledgedmember of the series. I'm really not sure what is the point of the novella. However, if you are looking for a very short, clean, mystery romance, then you will probably enjoy it.

I received a copy if this novella from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Book Review: Murder Simply Brewed

Murder Simply Brewed (Amish Village Mystery #1)Murder Simply Brewed by Vannetta Chapman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't usually choose to read Amish fiction but this one is different from the traditional Amish novel. It is a mystery novel set in an Amish tourists village run by Amber, a middle aged, never married woman. one of Amber's employees is found dead of what appears to be natural causes, thought there are some suspicious circumstances, and several acts of vandalism quickly follow. Hannah, a young Amish girl who works in the quilt shop next door to the victim's coffee shop, finds the body and finds herself becoming involved in investigating the mystery with Amber.  There is some romance as well as they both develop love interests. I enjoyed this clean mystery/romance and thought there was a nice balance between the two. I liked the variety of hearing the story through several different viewpoints, and while it gives a nice peek into Amish life it wasn't an overwhelming part of the book. I think mystery readers who aren't generally into Amish fiction might want to give this one a try!

I recieved a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

I also read the first in her Shipshewana Amish Mystery series, Falling to Pieces and found it similarly enjoyable.  Again, there was a nice mix of the "English" and Amish viewpoint and life and a good mystery. I'd like to continue to read the others in the series. 

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Book Review: Miss Brenda and the Loveladies

Miss Brenda and the Loveladies: A Heartwarming True Story of Grace, God, and GumptionMiss Brenda and the Loveladies: A Heartwarming True Story of Grace, God, and Gumption by Brenda Spahn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great, inspiring book. it was a pretty quick read, and I was sad when I got to the end! The book tells the true story of Brenda, a self-professed addict to making money as her wealth and success is stripped away and she is almost sent to prison. She feels led by God to do more with her life and chooses to work with women in prison and rehabilitating from prison as that almost happened to her. She volunteers for a while and then gets the idea to start a "whole way house" rehabilitation program. Expecting white collar criminals as she almost was and as she'd had worked with when she volunteered, shed gets a houseful of hardened drug users, attempted murderers, armed robbers, etc. The story is mostly told from Brenda's viewpoint, but I loved that there were several chapters told by the women themselves.The book does an excellent job of helping the reader understand the fear and difficulties these women face as they integrate back into society. The authors include wonderful scenes that bring the women and their struggles to life, like the first trip to walmart. I love that the book ended by sharing what several of the first women are doing today.  I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to be inspired to step outside their bubble and do something. We can't all do what Brenda did but we can all change our attitudes and help others.

I recieved a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Book Review: A Broken Kind of Beautiful

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This novel is a beautiful story of redemption, forgiveness and love.  The idea of a story about a fashion model didn't instantly draw me in, but as soon as I started reading I was hooked.  The author does an excellent job developing the characters and showing their inner turmoil and fears.  Ivy is a NYC model at the end of her ten year run of fame. She desperately takes a job from her stepmother to model her wedding gown designs for a photo shoot and charity fashion show.  On the outside, Ivy is a gorgeous successful woman, but on the inside she feels unloved and unwanted, due both to the last ten year of being treated as an object of beauty and lust as well as to growing up the product of adultery, ignored completely by her father and finally removed from her mother's home as her mother retreats into alcohol, drugs and depression after Ivy's father cuts off the relationship.  The author writes beautifully and Ivy's transformation in the small town is so well done and believable.  I love that the characters of faith in this story, her stepmother Marilyn, and Davis and Sara her nephew and niece, while believing in Christ's power and love, also have issues in their lives and I love that the author allows Ivy in her brokenness to be instrumental in their healing as well.  Despite the fact that Ivy is the child of her husband and his mistress, Marilyn has always felt God calling her to love Ivy as a daughter and she lives that calling despite the fact that Ivy doesn't see it and responds negatively to her.  Ivy's redemption and the redemption of these relationships in her lives was moving.  All these main characters have struggled through so much: guilt, blindness, infidelity,rejection. Marilyn makes a powerful statement that really impacted me in my personal life. She says, "God's not in the business of pampering His children. He's in the business of perfecting them."

This book is one that I will lend freely, but will always have a spot on my shelf.  While there is romance, I'd say its not specifically a romance novel; it is a novel about the redemptive power of Christ and the freedom we can have in Him.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Book Review: Storming the Black Ice

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Once again, I feel like I'm in the minority because I didn't love this book.  To sum up, the book is based around the idea that the British have found a huge oil deposit in Antarctica and have a base set up researching and protecting it.  They are attacked by Venezuela who is working with Argentina and want to take control of the deposit as they are worried about another country getting a piece of the fuel money pie in South America.  The book follows various characters, my favorite being Austin Rivers, a Leftenent in the British army I believe, who is stationed at the base in Antarctica. His story was the most interesting to me as he has a son (from a one-night-stand he has begun a relationship with as well as keeping in touch with the mother.  The author does a great job of painting the picture of the big burly army dude baby talking at his son. Various other characters are introduced, though often fairly quickly dismissed as their subs are sunk! I thought there would be more suspense and espionage, though this really is a very much a military novel, following the attacks and defense of subs as well as Rivers, his fellow army man, and the civilian engineers' capture and subsequent treatment.  This book is published through a Christian publishing house, though  honestly, I found very little Christian content in it, other than a character or two who are or have become Christians (not in the novel's timeframe), and people occasionally talking about praying. Overall, I did enjoy the book even though it wasn't what I was expecting.  However, it was one of the other main characters, Pete Miranda, who really kind of ruined the book for me.  I was ok with Pete, although he really is a ladies' man but at the beginning of the book meets a girl who then follows through out the book as his love interest.  However, I really felt their relationship was more of a lustful one that anything with substance.  Its frequently mentioned about how amazing she looks, how he feels when he looks at her, but really nothing to substantiate any kind of solid relationship is presented at all.  The whole thing felt unnecessary and silly, especially when he invites her to visit his family in Texas at the end.  The whole relationship is very sexual, and yet he (though never showing any spiritual inclination) wants to avoid a sexual encounter with her when she tries to seduce him over peach pie at her apartment.  One of the last sentences of the book has Pete saying that they are going to "finish that peach pie".

Honestly if you are just looking for a fairly clean military novel, you'll probably enjoy this. But if you pick it up thinking its going to be a Christian military suspense novel, i think you'll be sorely disappointed. I won't read it again, and won't be rushing to pick up any more of this author's books either. Not to say I wouldn't read one at some point, but its definitely not my favorite.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my  honest review.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Book Review: Life Support

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I enjoyed this story. The book follows Lauren Barclay, an ER nurse who has returned to her home town to help her parents deal with her irresponsible sister who is also bipolar (though no one in the family admits this). Eli is a physician's assistant dealing with his own issues, an overbearing arrogant father who degrades him about his profession and professional opinions, especially with regard to his older brother who is mentally and physically handicapped from an accident when they were children.  The story follows them as their problems collide and magnify and their relationship changes.  It's pretty much a romance and family drama, with a peek into the ER atmosphere which (most likely due to the author's career as an ER nurse) seems very realistic.  I enjoyed the story and the characters for the most part though I was SO frustrated with Lauren's wishy-washy, defensive attitude about her sister.  It seemed like she was so quick to fear that her sister had done something wrong, very enabling to all her sister's irresponsiblity, but also very quick to become angry at any insinuation that her sister needed help. I imagine though that this is fairly true to life as many normal, well-educated people don't see or refuse to see the things going on in front of them. My only other criticism would be that at the end of the story, it seemed like I blinked and everything was wrapped up and over.  All the issues were solved without any effort or drama, everyone just suddenly admitted their issues and it was over.  It was a little anticlimactic for me.  But i enjoyed the process and it was a book I would recommend to lovers of Christian dramas/romance.

I recieved a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Pattern Testing: Georgia Twirl Dress

I did snag a pattern test for L in this last batch, the Georgia Twirl Dress. This is the last of my pattern tests for Shwin & Shwin for this round.  The pattern includes both top length and dress length.
Photo by Shwin & Shwin
Here's L's:

This is such a simple and cute pattern.  Its hard to tell, but the entire thing is a wrap, the skirt is split down the back as well, so it is SO simple to get on.  The two buttons hold it together and the full circle skirt wraps over itself enough that there's no panty views!  Always a good thing...

 She includes an option to make it fully reversible by making the two skirts the same length or using a fabric with no wrong side for the underskirt. Everything is very well constructed and the seams are all hidden. 

The bodice construction above makes this so simple to put together. No armholes to hem and sew, just the slightly curved pieces that overlap.  

I actually meant to follow Shauna's lead and have the top skirt and bodice match, but I accidently cut the bottom layer as the longer one, and didn't have enough fabric of the smaller print anyway.  I'm ok with it, I like the way it turned out and still coordinates together.  

And speaking of fabric, this is the first one in a while I didn't upcycle!  I actually won a fabric giveaway and had picked this out to do something for myself... oh well. It look so cute on her, i can't really complain!

This pattern goes from 12-18 months to 8 years old, so still tons of usage!  Several options included and you could even take the layers even shorter if you like the peplum look... 

I believe this is my last pattern test to blog... finally!  So we'll see what comes off the machine next!  I have quite a list/pile in my sewing room/dining room... The first ones will probably be practical projects before I get to more clothes, sale stuff, or other fun things...

Pattern Testing: Apple Loungewear!

I think the very first thing I did for Shwin & Shwin was the Apple Loungewear Top and Leggings.  It's a sweatshirt type top with leggings. I wanted to do the high/low hem option but it didn't fit on my "fabric"... I upcycled... a womens top I think?  I can't even remember... I believe the leggings and cuffs and neck cuff were from a pair of women's large capri leggings I got for a couple bucks at the big W. 

(again, terrible pictures... thankfully Shauna at Shwin & Shwin is not picky about pics and just wants to see fit...)

The sleeves were a little long on her so they are rolled up, but I really loved this one! I don't think L has worn it since, but I'd totally wear it in my size! I think it looks like the comfiest thing ever, and so cute on her!  

She really seemed to enjoy wearing it that night... one of these days I'm going to force it on her!  A great thing about this top pattern is that its actually designed to be used with woven fabrics.  Its so loose fitting that it doesn't really need to stretch. So you have so many choices for fabric if you aren't cheap and mostly upcycle...!

And there are pockets!  Sneaky pockets in the side. Anything with pockets is a definite yes in my book... While pockets may be intimidating at first, they are really so simple to add in, especially this kind in the seam.  And who doesn't like places to store your treasures...

I love that its nice and long. I'm definitely in the "leggings are NOT pants" camp.  I figure there's no use allowing it now, when she's six and skinny as a stick if I'm going to be not allowing it later...

Super simple and cute.  We have a new baby on the way, in case you haven't heard, and if she's a girl, this is definitely on the list.  Especially for the years where she has no say in what she wears and can't hide it away in her closet...  The pattern goes from 3-6 months to 8 years.  These pdf patterns are amazing in terms of how much use you can get out of them if you start early, so if you haven't tried one yet, you should!!

Pattern Testing: Desmond Jacket

Another pattern test!! I was so excited to test this one, I have loved this pattern... also from Shwin & Shwin, the Desmond Jacket!
This pictures are horrendous... I'm obviously not a pro blogger!  but anyway... I upcycled a very large pair of women's pants for this jacket, and lined it with some fleece I've had stashed away for awhile. 

 The jacket has this cute rounded yoke at the back with a tab detail. I love the look of it.
If I remember correctly, the pattern actually doesn't have the seam down the middle, I think this was actually an original seam from the pants leg... yup, they were a VERY large pair of pants... the extra large women's clothes section is the BEST place to get fabric...

Funcional welt pockets (lined with fleece, yum!) and cute button tabs on the sleeves.

I sewed this for E, but actually sewed L's size 5. He actually did wear the jacket some though not so much now that it is so cold! However,  L modeled it for the fitting review.  So, another great unisex pattern if you girly it up!

Book Review: Distortion

DistortionDistortion by Terri Blackstock
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This review has a couple spoilers so if you really want to read this book, don't read the part in light grey towards the end! 

This book was a fast read for me, it's a mystery novel mainly concentrating on four siblings, 3 of whom dabble in working for a private detective (who is dating one of them) and who are drawn into another mystery when Juliet's successful doctor husband is executed before her eyes.  They conduct their own investigation, partly working with the police and FBI. This book is a tough one. I liked the story idea, I was drawn in and wanted to know what happened.  The idea of the hidden life of the husband was intriguing.  Now, if you typically enjoy Christian mystery novels and Blackstock's work in particular, and are not super detail oriented when reading,  stop reading this review right here and go get the book.  You'll probably enjoy it immensely. I'll give you a second to click the little x at the top of your screen...

For me however,there were just too many things that seemed illogical or tweaked to fit what the author wanted to happen. The first was that Juliet as sent home the night of the murder with a bag of her husband's effects, cell phone, wallet etc. She is the first to hear a message threatening her husband and their family. Now, I'm not in law enforcement, but I have never read a book or seen a movie where the victims personal items were not kept as evidence. It seemed like the author just wanted to advance the story and give Juliet a reason to start digging. There were many similar things. The police did not gain access to his computer files, home office, work office, etc until Juliet and Co. had a chance to search it and offered it to the police because of what they found. When Juliet is wired by the FBI to talk to her husband's mistress in hopes of gaining information, she is allowed to decide where they go afterward and who she tells what she found to (she includes the PI and her sister) and the FBI just follows her around like puppies. There were so many things like this that took the enjoyment out of the book for me. And the end of the book was terrible. Spoiler: Everything wrapped up so quickly and when the FBI come in and start executing everyone, there is never any explanation of why or how they were involved in the drug ring. I did appreciate Juliet's "sacrifice" at the end, but again it felt just thrown out there, and that the author could have done a better job of fleshing it out. 

I have read other books by this author and enjoyed them but I don't think I would recommend this unless you are a reader who can whiz through and not focus on the details!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Book Review: A Stillness of Chimes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Excellent novel. The book follows Laura (after some reminiscing about experiences in her youth) as she returns to her hometown to get her mother's affairs in order after her death.  Laura finds out that there are rumors that her father, a Vietnam Vet with PTSD, who was to have drowned in a lake ten years prior, may not be dead and has been surviving in the mountains.  She spends time with her old friends, Carrie, who is like a sister to her, and ex-boyfriend Sean as she tries to determine whether the rumors are true. I definitely was engaged in the book and couldn't wait to find out whether the rumors were true and what was going to happen!  The book has quite a few twists and turns and is more of a book about the relationships in the story than a mystery book, though there is a bit of that as well.  I really enjoyed this book and cried my eyes out at the end.  The only criticism for me, is the fact that Laura gives up her relationship with Sean because she can't imagine having his abusive father as a father in law.  It seemed slightly unbelievable that, even though she obviously loved him, and still has feelings for him, she can't see past this point and wonders what genetics would affect their children despite the fact that Sean is a wonderful, loving, kind man who has obviously overcome his upbringing. This is a Christian novel, though it is not at all overwhelming and rarely discussed; It actually seemed like a very minor point in the story which is actaully a bit of a second criticism. I think that anyone enjoying clean romance/mystery would enjoy this book.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.