Saturday, April 30, 2011

From the Archives: Sweet Caroline, by Rachel Hauck

(This was originally posted on my main blog, Notes in the Key of Life, May 2008)

When you head off to the beach or on vacation, be sure and tuck a copy of Rachel Hauck's Sweet Caroline in your tote bag. It's the perfect, pleasant diversion for a carefree summer's day.

Caroline Sweeney has a dilemma. Should she stay on as owner/manager of an iconic small-town Southern cafe, or accept a once-in-a-lifetime job with Spain's version of Donald Trump?

Either choice has major implications for other people besides Caroline. If she ditches the cafe, its longtime employees could lose their jobs and the little town could lose a beloved landmark. If she accepts the job in Spain, she could lose the re-budding romance with her ex-boyfriend, who is now a major country singing star.

"Sweet Caroline" is one of those appealing novels in which you truly enjoy spending time with the characters. Caroline is lovely, funny and relatable. Her spiritual journey from near-agnostic to joyful new convert is unforced and believable. The character of her ex-boyfriend, Mitch O'Neal, is attractive and appealing.

What choice will Caroline make? You'll enjoy finding out. Rachel Hauck's writing is fresh, breezy and contemporary, and this book is as refreshing as an ice-cold root beer on a hot summer day.

I'm participating today in Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books--click on the icon for more info!


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

WWW Wednesdays: What's in your book stack?

Hello, book-loving friends! Once again I find myself participating in a bookish bloghop for the very first time. This time it's W...W...W... Wednesdays, again hosted by Should Be Reading, and here's how it works:

To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…
• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?

Here are my answers:

Definitely not for the first time, I just finished reading Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. I honestly don't know how many times I've read this wonderful book--it is, actually, my favorite novel of all time. You can scroll down to read my review of it. If you somehow have never read this book, I can't encourage you enough to do so!

I'm currently reading Wolves Among Us, by Ginger Garrett. I'm only three chapters in, but I'm definitely hooked. The story is set in 16th-century Germany and centers around women who become the targets of witch-hunting zealots.

Next up on my to-read stack is In the Shadow of Evil, by Robin Carroll. It's a romantic suspense tale of a building rebound scam that's exposed, with deadly results. Looks really good!

To participate, just head over to Should Be Reading and add your link to her comments!

Teaser Tuesday: Wolves Among Us, by Ginger Garrett

Hi book-loving friends! Well, I've found another bloghop/meme to get involved in. It's called Teaser Tuesday, and it's hosted by Should Be Reading.

Here's how it works:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

  • This is actually kind of a teaser for me as well, because I literally JUST started reading this book. As you can see, it's Wolves Among Us, by Ginger Garrett.

    Here we go...randomly flipping to page 143:

    "Mia turned her attention back to Rose, her eyes clear and fierce as the woman screamed at Mia.

    'He'll do this to you, too. Flee. Flee tonight.'"

    Don't know about you, but I'm intrigued! I'll definitely be delving into this book tonight.

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    My Review of Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

    Michael Fassbender and Mia Waskikowska in the current movie version of Jane Eyre

    "This year, thousands of high school English classes will assign Jane Eyre (and tens of thousands of high school students will complain about it). But then, something magical will happen. Young women accustomed to the sarcastic chatty prose of the Gossip Girl series will get swept up in Brontë’s luxurious language. They will be enthralled by Jane’s story, her strength and determination. She is the thinking girl’s heroine, and they will see themselves in her. Because of Jane, generations of young women have been — and will continue to be — reassured that even if they are 'poor, obscure, plain, and little,' they can still make a happy ending if they are true to themselves.-Alexandra McAaron (hat tip: The Bronte Blog)

    For years I've been saying that Jane Eyre is my favorite novel of all time--
    and that it is.

    But I've never written a review of it! I suppose I thought of the book as being so much a part of the fiction landscape that any review I would attempt to write of it would be superfluous.

    But as my sister and I were chatting about the current movie version of the book (which is getting excellent reviews, by the way), I realized that not everyone has read this classic. She hasn't read it, although she's always had it on a mental to-read list.

    I also realize there are a crop of young people, particularly young women, who may not be acquainted with the book. So I just finished reading it for possibly the 50th time (that probably isn't much of an exaggeration!), and while it's fresh on my mind, I offer my review.

    This is the cover of the copy of Jane Eyre I've had since high school. The portrait is that of author Charlotte Bronte, and I must admit, when I read the book, this is who I picture as Jane

    Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

    The story opens on a wet, wintry day. When we first meet her, Jane is a 10-year-old orphan who is living with an aunt-in-law who doesn't love her and cousins who despise her.

    When Jane unexpectedly defends herself against her bullying older cousin, John, she is banished to a room that is particularly frightening to her. It's the room where her uncle died when she was an infant, with his last request being that his wife would raise Jane as her own.

    Her resulting fright and hysteria, and her aunt's cold mercilessness in response, set the stage for the next chapter in Jane's life. She is sent away to school.

    I won't go into much more of the story, because I don't want to spoil it for those of you who haven't read it yet. Suffice it to say that years later, Jane ends up as the governess of the little girl who is the ward of Edward Fairfax Rochester, a wealthy bachelor.

    How this young girl--who describes herself as "poor, plain and little"--finds an all-consuming love, loses it, then seeks it again--is the basis of the story.

    An indomitable heroine

    The character of Jane is, to me, one of the most admirable and appealing fictional characters of all time. Poor and plain she may be, but her spirit is indomitable.

    In an era when women were expected to be brainless and ornamental, Jane (through the words of Charlotte Bronte) refused to bow to those expectations:

    "Women are supposed to be very calm generally; but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex."

    Jane's love for Mr. Rochester is strong and profound, again without giving into the excesses common in Victorian fiction.

    And later, when she is offered a marriage that would be devoid of that kind of love, Jane steadfastly refuses. She knows what real love is, and she won't accept anything less.

    One thing that Jane Eyre does have in common with other books of the Victorian era is a tendency toward wordiness, many of those being words we don't toss around frequently nowadays, like "auditress and interlocutrice," and "cicatrixed visage." You may want to keep a dictionary nearby!

    Why do I love this book so much? Even now, after having just finished it again, I have a hard time putting it into words.

    But I will tell you that it's not the mother of all gothic novels for nothing. It has everything: romance, mystery, suspense, a dangerously attractive love interest and a heroine we admire and care about.

    It's no wonder, 164 years after it was first published, this book is still captivating readers and prompting movie adaptations.

    If you've never read Jane Eyre, I strongly encourage you to do so...I can't recommend it highly enough!

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    From the Archives: And the Shofar Blew, by Francine Rivers

    ...what happens when a pastor's zeal for the ministry becomes a quest for personal glory and validation...

    This review was originally posted January 2004

    What happens when a pastor builds a church in his own power and for his own glory, instead of keeping the focus on the leading of God? The results can be disastrous, both for the shepherd and for his flock...and Francine Rivers' And the Shofar Blew (Tyndale House) illustrates this vividly.

    Francine Rivers is one of my favorite authors, and this book reminded me just why that's so. It's been a while since I read one of Francine's books. Once I obtained a copy of this one, I plunged in headfirst and came up for air only when absolutely necessary.

    As a pastor's daughter married to a pastor's son, I can tell you firsthand that a pastor's life is a difficult one, and the same goes for his wife and children. If the pastor's focus on the Lord wavers--if his desire to build a ministry shifts to personal ambition and a need to create a monument to his own glory and legacy--everyone suffers.

    As the story begins, we see Centreville Christian Church literally dying...peopled with a handful of senior citizens who are weary or ill or both.

    The hero of the book, to my mind, is Samuel...the aging elder whose godly wisdom and steadfast devotion to the Lord and His Word form the anchor for all of the characters and action in the book.

    When the elderly pastor suffers a serious health crisis and has to retire, Samuel persuades his crusty fellow elders that the church should go on, but with a new pastor.

    Enter Paul Hudson. Young, bright, enthusiastic, and full of energy and ideas, Paul hits the ground running.

    But he carries his own heavy baggage in that he is the son of a famous pastor of a megachurch...a father who never had time for him and whose approval he can never quite earn. Early on, he begins to run roughshod over anyone who stands in the way of his ambition, ignoring and even resenting Samuel's wise and godly counsel.

    We sympathize with Paul's wife Eunice, who suffers mostly in silence as she watches her husband slowly turn into a copy of his dad. Some reviewers have critized Eunice's inaction and ultra-submissiveness, but I've seen many such pastors wives--lovely and godly women who are simply trying to please God despite their husband's increasing neglect and even cruelty. I don't believe this makes Eunice a less appealing character; as a reader, I found myself drawn to her and hurting for her.

    Eventually, though, even Eunice has to take a stand as matters come to a tragic head. The story is truly a cautionary tale about what happens when a pastor's zeal for the ministry becomes a quest for personal glory and validation.

    A subplot about Stephen Decker, a contractor who becomes caught up in Paul Hudson's ambition, is interesting, but was sometimes a bit distracting as I found myself more concerned with what was happening with Paul, Eunice, their son Timothy, and Paul's parents.

    Also, I would have to agree with the reviewers who were a bit skeptical of Paul's sudden change of heart. Damascus Road experiences do happen, but the turnaround can include massive struggles. I would have liked to have perhaps seen Rivers write a sequel in which she dealt with the aftermath of Paul's repentance.

    But those a minor criticisms. Overall, an excellent and absorbing read that packs a powerful message.

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    The Crazy-for-Books Blog Hop!

    For the first time, I'm participating in the Crazy-for-Books Blog Hop, which I found on this terrific book blog.

    (Apparently this blog hop normally runs on the weekend, but this time it's running through Thursday of this week.)

    This week's question:

    "Outside of books, what is your guilty pleasure?"

    Well, right now, I would have to say it's this:

    Yes, I adore Cadbury Creme Eggs.

    Honestly, even though I'm a Type 2 diabetic, I don't have to feel horrifically guilty about having one.

    One Cadbury Egg is 170 calories and 28 carb grams...a bit much for a snack, but not bad for an occasional treat.

    And believe me, they're worth a few more minutes on the elliptical. As this person blogged:

    Cadbury Creme Eggs? YES, YES, YES!! I realize that it’s just chocolate and fondant, but it’s just SO HEAVENLY. I love to freeze these so the fondant isn’t goopy. Then I eat the chocolate all around the fondant, saving the “yolk” for last. Most people I know who hate Cadbury Eggs think they are too runny and goopy, so try freezing them and let me know what you think. I will rate these 10 out of 10 forever and ever, Amen.
    Goopy, cold, frozen, melted, whatever. I love Cadbury Creme Eggs, and for that window of opportunity in which they're sold, they are definitely my guilty pleasure!

    What about you? Let me know in my comments section, or participate in the blog hop yourself! Click on the icon below.

    Book Blogger Hop

    Saturday, April 9, 2011

    "Waterfall," by Lisa T. Bergren--Time Travel, Intrigue, Hot Italian Guys

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    What red-blooded American teen-aged girl wouldn't want to be transported to a time and place where she's surrounded by hot young Italian guys?

    That's exactly what happens to Gabi Bettarini in Lisa T Bergren's Waterfall. Oh, but there's more. There are medieval feuds, violent battles and deadly intrigue. And the hottest young Italian guy, who has his eye on Gabi, has a fiancee who pretty much hates her.

    Plus, she can't find her sister, who apparently transported to medieval Italy with Gabi but is nowhere to be found.

    I was thrilled when I received this book, because I've loved anything I've ever read by Lisa T. Bergren, and I've always been fascinated with time travel.

    Then I saw that it was aimed at young adults. But you know what? That didn't dampen my enjoyment of the book one bit.

    If anyone is equipped to be transported to medieval Italy, it's Gabi and her sister Lia. Because their mother and their late father were archaelogists, they've spent a lot of time in Italy and have a solid knowledge and sense of its history.

    Their dad made sure Gabi had fencing lessons, and Lia happens to be an expert at archery. Both very handy skills to have in the setting in which they find themselves.

    And Gabi is what the British call a "plucky" girl--brave, even daring, never one to back down from a challenge or stay too discouraged about some of the more daunting realities of medieval life.

    Oh, and conveniently, she finds herself speaking in the Italian vernacular of the day without even trying--a smart device on the author's part.

    The story is written from Gabi's perspective, and she sounds like a teen-ager (albeit an intelligent and well-educated one.)

    Bergren says her eldest daughter Olivia and her friends were the first to read the book: "They set me straight on things that would make other kids roll their eyes." With those kind of consultants, Gabi's voice is authentic and genuine.

    There's plenty of danger and suspense (along with the gentle romance) to keep the pages turning. And just the novelty of a 21st century girl finding herself in this era has a very engaging fish-out-of-water appeal.

    I've never met a Lisa T. Bergren book I didn't like, and this one is no exception. Although I'm closer to Gabi's mother's age than Gabi's age, I'll definitely be reading the next book in this series!

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Wynn-Wynn Media. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    My Review of Operation Bonnet, by Kimberly Stuart

    **Scroll down for my Ultimate Blog Party post!**

    Note to self: Read more books by Kimberly Stuart.

    The back cover of Operation Bonnet declares: "NOT your grandmother's Amish fiction"...and boy, is that right!

    To be honest, I'm a little tired of Amish fiction. (Don't kill me, those of you who love it and those of you who write it.)

    But with the exception of the fact that, yes, there ARE Amish characters in this book...well, that's pretty much where the resemblance ends to any other Amish-related book you've ever read.

    21-year-old Nellie Monroe is a "luminary." One of her elementary schoolteachers dubbed her that because of her precocious intelligence, and Nellie still accepts the designation.

    Still with some college to go, working at a golf course, Nellie longs to be a private detective. So she jumps at the chance for a real bonafide case--helping her ex-Amish co-worker Amos determine if he still has a chance with his still-Amish love, Katie.

    To do this, she has to get up-close and personal with the nearby Amish community--which she does, by somewhat underhanded means.

    So involved is she in her well as the fact that her beloved grandmother, Nona, is fading mentally...that she fails to notice that her long-time best friend, Matt, has been in love with her for years.

    Kimberly Stuart's witty, pop-culture friendly writing fairly sparkles off the page, and made me laugh out loud more times than I can count.

    Nellie is an immensely likable heroine, and I couldn't wait to find out what she would do next.

    As for the Amish characters? Honestly, this book probably made them come to life more than any other Amish fiction I've read. In particular, I loved the ex-Amish boy, Amos...his attempts to fit in with "English" society are nothing short of hilarious.

    Through it all, Nellie finds herself more and more drawn to her Nona's steadfast faith.

    Operation Bonnet is an engaging, fun, intelligent, and genuine novel...a sheer joy to read. That's why anything else by Kimberly Stuart is going to be high on my to-read list!

    PLEASE leave a comment!!!!

    I'm participating today in Semicolon's Saturday Review of on the icon for more info!


    Note: This book was provided to me by Wynn-Wynn Media in exchange for my honest review.

    **Scroll Down for My Ultimate Blog Party Post!**

    Sunday, April 3, 2011

    Welcome to the Ultimate Blog Party 2011!

    Ultimate Blog Party 2011

    This is a great way to introduce your blog and to get to know other bloggers! Just click on the badge for more information.

    If you're visiting Cindy's Book Club for the first time, here's some info:

    Hi, I'm Cindy Swanson, and I'm PASSIONATE about books and reading!

    This blog, Cindy's Book Club, used to be attached to an actual book club. For a few months, a few years ago, I hosted a book club as part of my radio job with 101QFL. The book club was eventually discontinued, but this blog site remained. Since I was spending so much time on my main blog, Notes in the Key of Life, blogging about books and reading, I decided to designate this space for that purpose.

    Here's where I put my book reviews, book discussions, and pretty much anything to do with books and reading. Sometimes I bring some of my older author interviews (which are transcribed--not in audio form) to this blog. Those books are no longer new--in some cases they go back as far as 2003, when my other blog began--but they are certainly worthy of some new exposure!

    I also review new books, of course--and I also use this blog to link to reviews on other blogs and sites, so let me know if you have a book/reading blog and you'd like some free publicity. Thank you soooo much for stopping by! I do hope you'll be back.

    Do look around, check out the archives, join me in a nice cup of tea... ...and remember...

    Friday, April 1, 2011

    Saturday Review of Books: Kathy Herman's False Pretenses

    Well-written, page-turning suspense

    Having lived in Louisiana for four years, and having some family roots there, I know what a great Cajun meal is all about--and I enjoyed this book with all the gusto of a big bowl of spicy gumbo or a heaping dish of tasty jambalaya.

    Set in the fictional southern Louisiana town of Les Barbes, this well-written mystery is about Zoe Broussard, a happily-married woman with a thriving Cajun eatery.

    But Zoe has a secret. And when she starts getting anonymous notes from someone who claims they know what she's done, Zoe is terrified that her secret will be revealed and that life as she knows it will be destroyed.

    Suspenseful complications ensue, and Zoe faces them with the help of her new friends Ethan and Vanessa Langley, who are strong in their Christian faith. The book is also peopled with colorful and endearing characters that reinforce the authentic feel of a small Cajun town.

    (Ethan and Vanessa seem to have a strong backstory that makes me wonder if they weren't the featured characters in a previous Herman series. Anybody know?)

    The main thing I ask of a suspense novel is that it keeps me turning the pages (usually way past my bedtime!) and makes me care about the characters. This book more than filled the bill.

    Besides being entertaining and engrossing, the story highlights important truths about grace and faith.

    I thoroughly enjoyed False Pretenses, and I look forward to the next book in Kathy Herman's Secrets of Roux River Bayou series. So pass the Louisiana hot sauce...I'm hooked!

    Do check this out!

    I was so excited to find that Carol at MagistraMater read and reviewed one of my favorite books of all time--the wonderful, but somewhat obscure "Auntie Robbo"--that I blogged about it on my main blog, Notes in the Key of Life. Read about it here!

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Wynn-Wynn Media. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

    I'm participating in Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books--click the icon for more info!



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