Tuesday, May 31, 2011

From the Archives: Third Time's a Charm, by Virginia Smith

Originally posted at Notes in the Key of Life on February 8, 2010

I interview Virginia Smith, author of "Third Time's a Charm"

It appears I'm late to the party! Although I've known Virginia Smith via e-mail from when voiced her book trailer for Age Before Beauty (you can see the trailer here if you like), I had never read any of her books until I recently finished Third Time's a Charm--which is actually the last of her Sister to Sister trilogy.

It was such an enjoyable read that I plan to backtrack and read the other two: Age Before Beauty and Stuck in the Middle.

The books are about the Sanderson sisters, with this final one focusing on the baby of the family, Tori.

While Smith's style is breezy and accessible, don't make the mistake of thinking this is all chick-lit fluff. Along with the fun, she tackles some serious issues in Third Time's a Charm--like how having daddy issues here on earth can often cause young women problems with fully trusting their heavenly Father.

In this short excerpt from our interview, Smith talks about that theme.

Having two sisters myself that I adore, I really enjoyed Smith's obvious firsthand understanding of how sisters relate and interact. There's a good reason for that: she based the Sandersons on herself and her own two sisters.

More about that in this clip from our interview.

Find out all about Virginia Smith and her books here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Beautiful Library Picture

So, I just had to share this gorgeous picture. If you love books as I do, I know you'll enjoy just looking at it!

I found this on tumblr, an incredible place to find beautiful images.

However, I had to do a bit of Google detective work to find the actual source of the picture. I finally discovered that it's an artist who goes by the name El Hombre de Arena on deviantart.com.

His name is Pablo Verdugo Munoz, and he is a Chilean comic artist. Of all the images I saw of his, this was my indisputable favorite.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Booking through Thursday: Are You in a Reading Rut?

I'm participating in Booking Through Thursday today. Here's today's question:

Do you ever feel like you’re in a reading rut? That you don’t read enough variety? That you need to branch out, spread your literary wings and explore other genres, flavors, styles?

Well, I don't feel as if I'm in a rut. I do read a wide variety of books, but I purposely choose books that I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy.

With the exception of biographies, I read fiction almost exclusively--so the case could be made that I need to include more nonfiction into my reading diet.

But why? I read plenty of books in school and college only because I had to. I don't feel that my leisure reading should be a "have-to" kind of thing.

I do have some guidelines in what I read. I think the following statement sums up my leisure reading philosophy:

Any book that is not ultimately redemptive, uplifting, and/or enjoyable, is a waste of my time.

(This doesn't mean that a book has to be totally happy and fluffy. It just means that whatever sad or disturbing things the book takes me through, it must ultimately justify me spending my valuable time on it and subjecting my thoughts and emotions to it. It MUST have some redeeming value, even if "quality entertainment" is pretty much the only redeeming value!)

So, I guess the answer is no...I don't feel I'm in a reading rut! :)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Review of Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis

First of all, why am I reviewing two books at one time?

Take note: Do NOT read Blackout without a copy of All Clear right next to you. The two books are basically one book.

No, I don’t mean All Clear is a sequel to Blackout. I mean, they are two parts of the same book.

I, unfortunately, did not realize this when I checked Blackout out of the library and devoured it--only to get to the end and a message saying something to the effect of, "this story will be continued in the next book..."

Naturally, my library didn't have All Clear on the shelf when I raced back to get it, so I had to wait a few days.

The fact that I read this enormous book in one day (granted, it was a day in which I had not much else to do, and I'm a fast reader) is testimony to what an extremely good book this is.

Kind of obsessed with Connie Willis right now

I read Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog after reading a review of the book by one of my favorite reviewers, The Ink Slinger. His review prompted me to buy the book, and began a small mini-obsession with books by Connie Willis.

I've quickly surmised that my favorite books by Willis are those that involve time-traveling historians from Oxford, England, in the late 2050's.


Blackout begins in Oxford with a few historians preparing for trips to World War 2 England.

Merope (who is going by the name Eileen in the past) is observing evacuated children at a rich lady's estate. Michael plans to go to Dover. Polly...who has already experienced V-E Day on a previous "drop" (as they call time traveling sessions), wants to experience London during the Blitz.

Fortunately, unlike most time travel related books I've read, these historians are totally prepared. They've been prepped on the fashions, manners and lingo of the time they're visiting. Polly even knows exactly where each bomb will fall during the time she's in the Blitz, so she can avoid those places.

Despite all this, all three time travelers quickly realize that something has gone wrong. They can't get their drop sites to open...which means they're stuck in the past.

Just at a critical point, the book ends abruptly. I mean, ABRUPTLY. That's why I'm telling you to have All Clear on hand so you can pick it up immediately!

Criticism of Blackout

During the time I was waiting to get my hands on a copy of All Clear, I read some extremely negative customer reviews of Blackout on Amazon.com

I could actually relate to some of the criticisms. For one thing, I agree that neither book needed to be quite as long as they are...and they are both very long books. There is quite a bit of redundancy and extraneous stuff that could have easily been trimmed down.

However, one of the common criticism was that Blackout introduced some characters whose stories seemed to go nowhere.

Well, those characters reappear in All Clear, and they are vital to the story.

All Clear

I don't think it would be too much of an exaggeration to say that All Clear is one of the best books I've ever read.

The suspense builds, with heart-quickening intensity, throughout the entire book. The criticism that Merope, Polly and Mike were hard to care about is totally voided (in my opinion) in the second book. I absolutely cared about them, and was vitally concerned about what was going to happen to them.

In Blackout, it was becoming obvious that something was going wrong with time travel. As All Clear picks up the story, the fear that the time travelers have done something to dangerously alter the space-time continuum solidifies.

And there's a lot at stake. If the historians have done anything, however small, to affect the course of history, then Hitler could have won the war, and we'd all be German-speaking slaves of the Nazi regime.

An eye-opening history lesson

I have to say that I came away from these books with something akin to awe for the British people who lived through World War 2, especially the Blitz. "Keep Calm and Carry On" wasn't just a cute poster for them. It was their life.

Can you imagine having to go through your daily life, going to work or school as if everything was normal, only to be constantly interrupted by air raid sirens and having a short amount of time to get to a shelter? Not to mention the shortages of food and clothing, and the frequent news that someone you knew and maybe loved had died on the very streets where you lived.

Yet the British people did this, with amazing strength and courage. These books were a vivid and fascinating history lesson for me.

I heartily recommend these books, under a few conditions:

--If you don't mind reading very long books (I happen to love them)
--If you don't mind losing some sleep staying up too late to read
--If you love history and are intrigued by time travel
--If you don't mind putting up with some frustration as long as you're rewarded with a satisfying conclusion.

For me, the journey was well worth it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

From the Archives: A Year of Blind Dates, by Megan Carson

My interview with Megan Carson

(This was originally posted 1/25/10 at my other blog, Notes in the Key of Life)

Even the mention of a blind date is enough to make many people shudder in fear--but what about an entire YEAR of blind dates?

That's what Megan Carson did, and she lived to write about it...and in a humorous, reader-friendly, enjoyable style at that.

Megan's book, A Year of Blind Dates: A Single Girl's Search for The One, chronicles her experiences going out with dates arranged by an agency she refers to as The World's Best Dating Service--as well as several arranged by her own friends and acquaintances.

While some of the dates were tear-inducing, many of them were really funny or downright strange--like the guy who called her "Kiddo" during the entire date, and the math geek who was obsessed with Debbie Gibson.

Probably the most disappointing and even heartbreaking were the guys with whom Megan thought she made a genuine connection, but who ended up never calling her back.

No, she didn't find Mr Right. It wasn't the typical movie "happy ending," but Megan says it was a happy ending nonetheless. She says she ended up becoming a much more confident dater, and she's learned while leaving herself open to the possibilities, she's now content to let God determine the timing of the discovery of her own "One."

Go here to listen to my interview with Megan Carson.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Do you only read books for your own age group?

Today I'm participating in Booking Through Thursday. The question is:

Do you read books “meant” for other age groups? Adult books when you were a child; Young-Adult books now that you’re grown; Picture books just for kicks … You know … books not “meant” for you. Or do you pretty much stick to what’s written for people your age?

Well, it depends.

As I've mentioned on this blog before, there are a few childhood favorites that I read over and over again--like the Chronicles of Narnia, Auntie Robbo, and Red Knights from Hy Brasil.

And whenever I get to spend time with my little grandsons I always read to them...sometimes from new books I've bought them, other times from their own books.

Otherwise, I really don't seek out children's books to read. I wouldn't buy or check one out just for me to read.

However...I have enjoyed several books aimed at young adults...most recently Operation Bonnet by Kimberly Stuart, and Waterfall by Lisa T. Bergren. After all, a great story is a great story...and I've found that the best young adult books don't "talk down" to their readers at all.

As a child, I was rather precocious in my reading. I read a lot of the classics before I was ten years old--Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations, and others. I'm sure I didn't fully understand everything in them, but I formed an attachment to those books that has stayed with me throughout my life.

And although I've read and enjoyed my share of books about women in my time of life ("women of a certain age," as the French so delightfully put it), I certainly don't limit myself to that!

As I've said many times, my measure of a terrific book is one whose story keeps me turning the pages and whose characters I care about.

How about you?

Go here to participate in Booking Through Thursday!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Friday Finds! Great Books I've Heard About

Today I'm participating in Friday Finds, hosted by Should Be Reading.

"What great books did you hear about/discover this past week? Share with us your FRIDAY FINDS!"

Here are a few that I've been told about or have come to my attention that are going on my to-read list. If you've read any of them, let me know what you thought of them!

The Girl in the Gatehouse, by Julie Klassen

Tapestry of Love, by Rosy Thornton

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis

Lark Rise to Candleford, by Flora Thompson

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My Review of Wolves Among Us, by Ginger Garrett

We've all seen the depictions--even comedy skits on Saturday Night Live--of innocent women being condemned as witches on the most ridiculous of grounds.

Unfortunately, that really happened--all too often-- in medieval Europe. Author Ginger Garrett tells us that in Germany alone (where this story is set) some 24-thousand women were burned alive for witchcraft.

A woman, a priest...

Wolves Among Us is the story of Mia, who lives in a small German village in 1538. Her situation is bleak: she's married to Bjorn, the local sheriff, who is cold and distant to her; her little daughter, Alma, is chronically ill; and Mia has to care for her senile mother-in-law Margarite.

To add to her problems, the women of the village seem to want nothing to do with her--except for Dame Alice, whose persistent pleas to come into her home and eat with her Mia ignores. She is afraid any affection from anyone will make her crumble, and uncover her own past as an orphaned beggar.

But Wolves Among Us is as much the story of the village priest, Father Stefan, as it is of Mia. Father Stefan often feels bewildered and helpless as he tries to shepherd his little flock. He doesn't even have access to a copy of the Word of God--something William Tyndale has been executed for producing.

When a man and woman are inexplicably murdered in the village, Stefan feels the need to call in an outsider for help--an Inquisitor named Bastion.

Stefan just wants Bastion to root out the problem, take care of it, and leave--but Bastion has other plans. The handsome, charismatic Inquisitor immediately blames the village's problems on witchcraft, and sets about to kill innocent women on the shakiest of charges.

Ultimately, the experience forces both Mia and Father Stefan to change and grow in profound ways...but not before ugliness and violence (in the name of God) tragically grips their village.

A dark story

I'll admit, sometimes one of the things I like most about fiction is being able to live in another place for a while--usually a place I enjoy.

Dinfoil, Germany in 1538 was not a jolly place. At times, I was a bit bogged down in the often depressing and bleak tale, and I wished for a few more moments of lightness.

However, to realistically portray this moment in history, Garrett couldn't take us on a walk in the park. And I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to tell you that there's pay-off in an ultimately redemptive, uplifting and even joyful conclusion.

A story with profound implications

This beautifully-written book brings out so many issues, including the role of women in the church through the ages. In medieval times, women had no voice at all. Even when the Bible became accessible, they were often forbidden to read it (assuming they even knew how to read)...and they often turned to folk magic to help them with everyday health and personal issues.

Women were blamed for sin--as Garrett puts it in an afterword, "evil existed outside of men and inside of women." The atmosphere was perfect for labeling women as witches and cruelly executing them.

Our attitude toward modern-day witches

In Garrett's fascinating afterword, she tells us she wanted to find out what makes modern-day witches and Wiccans tick, so she arranged a face-to-face with several of them. What she saw surprised her.

"The women I met were...lovely, wounded, searching, fascinated by a world beyond our own, generous and open." Garrett says in many cases, the women had sought answers in churches but had been rebuffed.

Garrett calls on Christians to deal with such women with kindness, not berating or hostility. She says: "As with any opportunity to evangelize, we must earn the right to tell others of our experiences or opinons."

An unusual book

I don't know how I've come this far without reading anything by Ginger Garrett (especially since her last name is my maiden name!) I will definitely be reading more by her.

Wolves Among Us is one of the best Christian fiction books I've read in terms of addressing profound issues thoughtfully and caringly.

But more than that, it's a great read! Garrett made me care deeply about the characters, and her excellent writing kept me turning the pages as she deftly built a tale of suspense, evil, tragedy and ultimately hope. I highly recommend it.

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.”

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Which is the best "Jane Eyre"?

Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester, Jane Eyre (2011)

By my count (according to Wikipedia) there have been at least 28 motion picture and television adaptations of Jane Eyre (my favorite novel of all time).

I honestly can't remember how many of those I've seen, but I know it's been at least 3 or 4.
The most recent features Mia Wasikowska as Jane and Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester. I happen to think Mia is the perfect Jane. Somehow she manages to combine the plainness of Jane with a luminous near-beauty that makes it very understandable that Mr. Rochester could fall for her.

Michael Fassbender has been called the sexiest Mr. Rochester ever, and that's probably true. Fassbender can't help but be sexy; he's inherently so.

If Mia Wasikowska is the perfect Jane, though, I actually think we've yet to see the perfect Mr. Rochester. Has any adaptation really been true to how Charlotte Bronte described Edward Rochester--his black hair and almost-black eyes?

Mia Waskikowska as Jane Eyre--the perfect combination of plainness and beauty

George C. Scott as Rochester, Susannah York as Jane--not buying it!

I especially couldn't buy the 1970 version starring George C. Scott as Mr. Rochester and Susannah York as Jane. George C. Scott? Really? In the book, Mr. Rochester is about 38 years old. If Michael Fassbender was too young for Mr. R, Scott was too old!

What do you think? What's your favorite movie or television adaptation of Jane Eyre? Share, please, and tell me why!

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Review of The Shadow of Your Smile, by Mary Higgins Clark

My flight home from Texas involves a two-and-a-half hour flight, followed by an hour bus ride. My must-have? A book that will keep me riveted. Mary Higgins Clark's The Shadow of Your Smile totally fit the bill.

I've enjoyed every Clark book I've read, but some have been better than others. This was one of the better ones.

Unbeknownst to pediatrician Dr. Monica Farrell, she is the granddaughter of a deceased man who amassed a huge fortune from medical patents. Here's part of the synopsis from Publisher's Weekly:

When a deceased nun, Sister Catherine, becomes a candidate for sainthood in this gripping thriller from bestseller Clark (Just Take My Heart). Monica Farrell, a 31-year-old Manhattan pediatrician, becomes the target of those who don't want her to inherit what's left of a fortune created by her unknown grandfather, Alex Gannon, with whom Catherine had a secret love child before she took up holy orders. That child, given up for adoption, became Monica's father...Olivia Morrow, Catherine's 82-year-old dying cousin, ponders whether to tell Monica she's Alex's granddaughter... Gannon Foundation funds have been steadily siphoned off by greedy heirs and associates who will stop at nothing, even murder, to keep their criminal misbehavior under wraps.

This story has a lot of layers and characters that add substance and interest to the tale, and Clark interweaves them smoothly and masterfully.

I love how Clark gives even minor characters their own voice, highlighting each person's role in the story to make them multi-dimensional and real.

As a person of faith, I appreciated Clark's premise that miracles can and do happen thanks to prayer...miracles that medical science simply cannot explain.

As I said earlier, this is one of Mary Higgins Clark's best. I thorougly enjoyed it and the fact that it made the miles fly by on my journey home!


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