Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Summer Secrets by Jane Green


Star Rating : 3 out of 5
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Content Rating : MODERATE
Back Cover :

 When a shocking family secret is revealed, twenty-something journalist Cat Coombs finds herself falling into a dark spiral. Wild, glamorous nights out in London and raging hangovers the next day become her norm, leading to a terrible mistake one night while visiting family in America, on the island of Nantucket. It's a mistake for which she can't forgive herself. When she returns home, she confronts the unavoidable reality of her life and knows it's time to grow up. But she doesn't know if she'll ever be able to earn the forgiveness of the people she hurt.
As the years pass, Cat grows into her forties, a struggling single mother, coping with a new-found sobriety and determined to finally make amends. Traveling back to her past, to the family she left behind on Nantucket all those years ago, she may be able to earn their forgiveness, but in doing so she may risk losing the very people she loves the most.

Told with Jane Green's keen eye for detailing the emotional landscape of the heart, Summer Secrets is at once a compelling drama and a beautifully rendered portrait of relationships, betrayals, and forgiveness; about accepting the things we cannot change, finding the courage to change the things we can, and being strong enough to weather the storms.” 

My Thoughts :

This is the first full book I have read in a while (because I’m working all the time) and I have to say it was super easy to read. I read it online at work in about 2 days. I found it on Pinterest on a list of easy quick summer reads. It’s an adult romance novel that follows Cat, a single mother who is a recovering alcoholic. Through flashbacks, we piece together her recovery journey, and how Cat and her family deal with the aftermath of a few bad decisions. I am not in love with this book, but it was entertaining enough to keep me reading until the end. I would recommend this to someone who needs a quick, easy beach read and doesn’t want to think about some of the inconsistencies too much. 

I gave it a content rating of MODERATE because of all the portrayals of drinking, like I’m going to drink till I blackout kind of drinking, and a few short sex scenes (nothing really explicit but still).
 

What I liked :
  • The Overall Story - I liked that the author focused on a woman who wants to be a loving mother and wife but whose alcoholism consumes her. We too often hear about the husband and his raging alcoholism; but, we rarely hear about a woman’s struggle. It was also nice to see how supportive people around her are in her recovery process.
  • The Characters - I honestly can’t say I really disliked any character in the story. I think the person I disliked most was probably Cat before she became sober. There are a few characters that are annoying to me in the flashbacks (when Cat is still consumed by alcohol) but looking back I think that may be because of Cat and how unreliable she was when she was drinking.
  • The Settings: I love London! And the east coast! I think it was very clever that the author could seamlessly transition back and forth between locations.  

What I didn’t like :

  • The Flashbacks - The flashbacks were confusing to me. There’s one flashback where it focuses entirely on Cat’s mother, which seemed odd to me. And after those chapters we never really go back to the mother’s story; that subplot simply is dropped. Which brings me to another thing…
  • The Subplots - I would’ve dived right into a book that had a mother/daughter parallel love story. If for instance, we learn through flashbacks how the mother met her husband while we follow the daughter through her present day struggles. I think this book would’ve been well suited for that structure. But like I said, the author dropped that sub plot. Cat also apparently is struggling with God and believing in Him, but only at certain points throughout the book. That subplot is also dropped and picked up very sporadically.
  • The Character Development – So, I’m basically only talking about the change in one character in particular.  He is portrayed as a completely different person after a certain time. And yes, I know people and characters change, but this development just seemed so abrupt that I didn’t quite believe it.
  • The Overall Writing Style - I don’t know what it is about the writing in particular; but, I did not care for it. It wasn’t awful, just not my preferred style.  

What others are saying:

“A gripping and powerful novel about finding the courage to make the life you want. This is Jane Green at her absolute best.” ―Emily Giffin, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The One and Only on Summer Secrets

“Warm, witty, sharp and insightful. Jane Green writes with such honesty and zing.” ―Sophie Kinsella, New York Times bestselling author of Shopaholic to the Stars on Summer Secrets

“Summer Secrets is the perfect summer read. Once you dive into this story about a recovering alcoholic who must finally face her own dark past and make amends, you'll be hooked.” ―Kristin Hannah, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Nightingale on Summer Secrets


 


Reviewed by Lydia Jones


Pick up your copy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines with Mark Dagostino



Star Rating : 4 out of 5

Content Rating : NONE

Backcover :
Are you ready to see your fixer upper?

These famous words are now synonymous with the dynamic husband-and-wife team Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of HGTV’s Fixer Upper. As this question fills the airwaves with anticipation, their legions of fans continue to multiply and ask a different series of questions, like—Who are these people?What’s the secret to their success? And is Chip actually that funny in real life? By renovating homes in Waco, Texas, and changing lives in such a winsome and engaging way, Chip and Joanna have become more than just the stars of Fixer Upper, they have become America’s new best friends.

The Magnolia Story is the first book from Chip and Joanna, offering their fans a detailed look at their life together. From the very first renovation project they ever tackled together, to the project that nearly cost them everything; from the childhood memories that shaped them, to the twists and turns that led them to the life they share on the farm today.

They both attended Baylor University in Waco. However, their paths did not cross until Chip checked his car into the local Firestone tire shop where Joanna worked behind the counter. Even back then Chip was a serial entrepreneur who, among other things, ran a lawn care company, sold fireworks, and flipped houses. Soon they were married and living in their first fixer upper. Four children and countless renovations later, Joanna garners the attention of a television producer who notices her work on a blog one day.

In The Magnolia Story fans will finally get to join the Gaines behind the scenes.”
               
My Thoughts :
I love Chip and Joanne Gaines. They are funny, real, and love people. There is no way I could put up with some of the crazy things Chip has done; but, clearly God brought them together and has allowed them to blossom. Their book is everything you want it to be. Go get it! Borrow it from a friend or whatever, you will love it. It’s a short, quick read that is funny and inspiring. I also just signed up for the magazine, which I also love!

I gave this a rating of NONE. There was no strong language, violence, or sexual references.

What I liked :
  • Chip and Joanne – I love their show and how well they work together. Their book reads just like they talk, which is great. There is a one font for when Joanne is talking and another when Chip is speaking or interrupting. They work together so well and the love they have for each other, their family, for God and for Waco shows in their show and in their book.
  • The Pictures – Of course we all want to see some pictures of what they looked like growing up, or when they got married and thankfully they are included. There are also a few pictures of some of their first fixer uppers.
  • Their Story – They talk about the good and the bad, but mostly the good. Joanne shares how they meet and how Chip encouraged her to take a risk and go for her dream. She also explains where the name Magnolia came from and what it means to them now. They also share how God closed some doors and opened others; looking back they see how He prepared them crazy ride of the last few years.
  • Just a Note – I did not listen to the audio version on this one; however, it would translate perfectly to one. Also, Joanne and Chip are the narrators so what would be better!

What I didn’t like :
  • Wanted More – The only complaint I had was I wanted them to speak a little more about the present and how their lives look now. I understand why. This book is about the journey that brought them to now and how the Gaines built their business before HGTV came in; but, I would have love to read a little more about the creative journey they take as they renovate house and opened up the Silos.

What Others Are Saying :
The husband and wife team who host HGTV's Fixer Upper and own Magnolia Homes, Magnolia Market, and Magnolia Realty in Waco, Tex., shed light on their success in business and family endeavors, giving fans a humble and heartwarming view of the long and bumpy road leading up to their hit show.” – Publisher’s Weekly

The many fans of Fixer Upper will be enthralled to spend some time behind the scenes with the Gaines family.” – Library Journal Review

Reviewed by Shayna Hinshaw


Pick up your copy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Robbing the Pillars by Kalen Vaughan Johnson

Star Rating : 2 out of 5

Content Rating : NONE

Description :
Gold Rush California’s notorious “Legislature of a Thousand Drinks” launches a secret consortium of frontier barons, triggering the collapse of independent mines throughout Sierra Nevada.

James MacLaren, a fugitive from Scotland, embarks on a new life in California, escaping his secrets but not his hatred for the upper class. He is a man always on his guard, leery of the entitled and wary of his own temper. While raising a beautiful, headstrong daughter, and denying his love for a woman he cannot have, he champions miners in their fight against the Coleridge Sierra speculators seeking to maneuver a mining industry monopoly.
San Francisco’s Judge Dandridge sees himself as a man of vision. But when retributions fail in his courtroom, reparations are administered in the back rooms of vigilante justice. His venal and mercenary machinations tie him to the powerful Sam Brannan, the Chinese Tong and a shadowy control of the governorship of California.
Robbing the Pillars is a story of the working class fighting for legitimacy against a legacy of gold and all it seduces – a tale of hidden pasts, love and betrayal, and the fulfillment of dreams against incredible odds.
Robbing the Pillars is the first book in The Empire Barons series.”
               
My Thoughts :
This story takes place in 1850’s. It mainly follows one family and the development of Nevada City. Johnson speaks a little bit of gold, life in town, and a little bit of farm life. I had a hard time finishing this one to be honest. It wasn't for me; but, maybe it's right up your alley. Let us know your thoughts.

I gave this a rating of NONE. There was no strong language, violence, or sexual references.

What I liked :
  • The Idea – I really love historical fiction. I like to be taken to another place in time, and live it out through the characters. Who doesn’t like the Wild West and Gold rushes? I thought there was a lot of potential in this book.

What I didn’t like :
  • The Wording – Johnson used several mining terms without really explaining them. This left me a little confused at times. Her word rhythm also seemed to vary. Sometimes it was overly simple and then others it felt like she had really worked hard in that section to find the right words and structure.
  • The Flow – I thought the transitions were lacking. You felt like you were jumping around in the story a bit, which made it hard to follow the timeline. The story opens up with a mining collapse and then jumps back in time with the rest of the story leading up to this event. However, I was about half the way through the book and I still didn’t understand how the events where leading up to this big event or any event at all. Nothing really seemed to be going on at all actually. Turns out the big event of the mine collapse was only maybe a page and a half once it got there and then the story moved on. There was a second event that happens after the mine collapse, in which a main character is hurt, I felt would have made a better opening chapter and gave a better focus to the book, as I felt it was more closely tied to the book's plot of the Empire Barons of Nevada City.
  • The Ending - I also didn’t realize this was the first book in a series until after I had finished the book. The ending just ends. I didn’t feel left hanging; instead I read the last sentence and was confused again. It just abruptly stops just when you feel like maybe something is starting to happen.

What Others Are Saying :
"A sweeping look at personal idealism and autonomy pitted against the forces of greed and manipulation, Robbing the Pillars is an emotive family saga solidly rooted in the American dream." --Chanticleer Reviews

"In telling the story of James's life, Johnson not only gives us a fascinating portrait of a man determined to carve out a life for himself despite every obstacle, but she also presents a richly detailed vision of part of America's past. – San Francisco Book Review


Reviewed by Shayna Hinshaw

I received a free copy of this book from the author, for my honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.


Pick up your copy at Amazon.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport

Star Rating : 3 out of 5
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Content Rating : NONE

Back Cover :
They were the Princess Dianas of their day―perhaps the most photographed and talked about young royals of the early twentieth century. The four captivating Russian Grand Duchesses―Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Romanov―were much admired for their happy dispositions, their looks, the clothes they wore and their privileged lifestyle.

Over the years, the story of the four Romanov sisters and their tragic end in a basement at Ekaterinburg in 1918 has clouded our view of them, leading to a mass of sentimental and idealized hagiography. With this treasure trove of diaries and letters from the grand duchesses to their friends and family, we learn that they were intelligent, sensitive and perceptive witnesses to the dark turmoil within their immediate family and the ominous approach of the Russian Revolution, the nightmare that would sweep their world away, and them along with it.

The Romanov Sisters sets out to capture the joy as well as the insecurities and poignancy of those young lives against the backdrop of the dying days of late Imperial Russia, World War I and the Russian Revolution. Helen Rappaport aims to present a new and challenging take on the story, drawing extensively on previously unseen or unpublished letters, diaries and archival sources, as well as private collections. It is a book that will surprise people, even aficionados.”
                                                                                                                                                                                             
My Thoughts :
I’ve not read anything previously about the Romanovs; but, thought this would be an interesting place to start. Like many girls my age, I saw the Disney movie Anastasia; and well, Disney lied to us. The story of the Romanovs is a bit like a twisted fairytale. They wanted nothing more than to have a quiet family life and tried their best to achieve just that. Unfortunately, the Russian society was much steeped in superstition; and, the striving to a quiet life lead to a distrust from among people.

I gave this a rating of NONE. The Romanov’s did meet a very violent end; however, Rappaport hands this off screen. She does not go into any details as this is a book about the life of the Romanov’s and not their deaths.

What I liked :
  • The Daily Life – The book focuses on the family, their daily schedules, the people they interacted with, and the things they enjoyed doing. Much of the material in the book comes from letters and diaries. This allows a more intimate glimpse into what it was really like to be in the Romanov family.
  • Alexandra – I think part of why we are given so much information on Alexandra, the wife and mom, is because her attitudes and desires very much drove how the family behaved and lived for better or worse. Her story starts for us before she marries the Czar. Rappaport tries to show what made Alexandra into Czarina of Russia that the people so mistrusted.

What I didn’t like :
  • The Title and Back Cover – Nothing is wrong with them by themselves; but, they do not accurately describe the book. It’s almost a bait and switch. It’s presented as a book about the lives of the four Romanov sisters; however, much of the book focuses on other members of the family. Almost the whole first third of the book is details about their mother, Alexandra. While I did enjoy reading about Alexandra’s marriage and such, it’s not what I feel was advertised. The book itself is probably more of a 4 star; however, for the book as described I gave it 3 stars.
  • The Middle – I enjoyed the beginning of the book. I found Alexandra’s story very interesting. I also liked the end, not in a morbid way, but in a curiosity way. Though not as much detail was given for the end as I wanted. I later found out the author did this on purpose because she had a previous book that went into all the details. However, the middle got a little repetitive and long for me. I felt much of this could have been summarized a bit better. 

What Others Are Saying :
"Helen Rappaport paints a compelling portrait of the doomed grand duchesses." ―People magazine

"The public spoke of the sisters in a gentile, superficial manner, but Rappaport captures sections of letters and diary entries to showcase the sisters' thoughtfulness and intelligence." ―Publishers Weekly

“The haunting cover photograph of the Romanov sisters will draw readers, and the extensive bibliography will aid those who want to learn more.” ―Booklist


Reviewed by Shayna Hinshaw


Pick up your copy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Monday, April 24, 2017

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Star Rating :  3.5 out of 5
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Content Rating : MILD

Back Cover :
“Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.” 

My Thoughts :
I enjoyed this novel by Doerr; and yet when I finished it, I was glad it was over. I really enjoy historical fiction and I have read a lot of this time frame recently.  I enjoyed the different approach that Doerr took to his storytelling in this World War II novel. The two main characters are great. I, however, struggled with the structure and the pace of this novel.

Let’s talk about the title. This book is fully of imagery, title included. Anthony Doerr explains it this way, “The title is a reference first and foremost to all the light we literally cannot see: that is, the wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that are beyond the ability of human eyes to detect (radio waves, of course, being the most relevant). It’s also a metaphorical suggestion that there are countless invisible stories still buried within World War II — that stories of ordinary children, for example, are a kind of light we do not typically see. Ultimately, the title is intended as a suggestion that we spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility."

This book is rated MILD. There are a few uses of strong language towards the end of the book. There is also a seen about rape; no details are given, it’s more implied. I don’t like that the author added this scene as it adds nothing to the character’s story and only seems to added as almost an afterthought.

What I liked :
  • The Characters – The two main characters are two young children that grow up in very different circumstances during World War II. One lives in France with a loving father; but, is blind. The other is an orphan living in Germany; but, is incredibly smart. At different times in the book one story line would be more compelling than the other; but, you like and root for both.
  • The Parallel Stories - I loved the play between the two stories lines of the main characters. But, this whole story is one of contrast and parallel, and how those come together. It is about light, and also about the dark. It delves into the power of science, yet it also plays with magic curse that emanates from a diamond, the Sea of Flames. It plays on logic verses faith, courage verses fear, and many others.
  • The Prose – The descriptions and wording are amazing. It is beautiful writing. You could almost close your eyes and smell the salty sticky wind from the ocean. One of the main characters is blind. So, I thought it very appropriate that the descriptions were not just visual but about touch and smell and sound.
 What I didn’t like :
  • The Pacing – I really wanted to love this book. It has a lot of great elements; however, the pacing and structure are what kept me just liking and not loving this book. I found it a bit tedious at times, like you were waiting for something important to happen that once it did left you unsatisfied. Also, some of the chapters felt too short. I’d find that I was really enjoying a certain storyline and then all of a sudden Doerr would switch change and/or the time frame. I didn’t see a huge need for the time frame jumping. I thought it would have been a much better flow and build up if the story was told straight through. I think not only did it feel choppy at times but took out the tension. 
What Others Are Saying :
“Exquisite…Mesmerizing…Nothing short of brilliant.”  -- Alice Evans Portland Oregonian

“Doerr has packed each of his scenes with such refractory material that All the Light We Cannot See reflects a dazzling array of themes….Startlingly fresh.” -- John Freeman The Boston Globe


“This tough-to-put-down book proves its worth page after lyrical page…Each and every person in this finely spun assemblage is distinct and true.” -- Sharon Peters USA Today



Reviewed by Shayna Hinshaw

Pick up your copy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.