My Favorite Books Read in 2013:
(In no particular order; covers link to review or rating)
Synopsis: New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson’s Drugstore, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a grim summer in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.
Frank begins the season preoccupied with the concerns of any teenage boy, but when tragedy unexpectedly strikes his family— which includes his Methodist minister father; his passionate, artistic mother; Juilliard-bound older sister; and wise-beyond-his-years kid brother— he finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal, suddenly called upon to demonstrate a maturity and gumption beyond his years.
Told from Frank’s perspective forty years after that fateful summer, Ordinary Grace is a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God. (publisher)
My brief take: I highly recommend the audiobook edition of this novel. The narration by Rich Orlow is superb.
Just read the synopsis above. If that doesn’t grab you, well, never mind. I think it will. And, in the end, you’ll probably be glad you read (or listened to) it. I don’t want to say much more than what I posted on Goodreads:
. . . A coming of age novel where ordinary grace meets the awful grace of God in a small town in Minnesota during one summer in the early 1960s.
It’s one of my 2013 Favorites.
Last week on Bookfan:
Review: If Wishes Were Earls by Elizabeth Boyle
It was a busy week of Christmas festivities. I listened to some of Ordinary Grace while I cleared snow from the driveway and also read a couple of novellas while getting some exercise on the treadmill but I had no chance to sit and read. That should change in the week ahead. We had a wonderful time and saw lots of friends and family but they’ve now scattered and things have settled down a bit.
The big news is that our daughter and her boyfriend announced their engagement a few days before Christmas. We’re all excited for them and look forward to the fun of planning a wedding 🙂
What I’m reading:
Synopsis: When you wish upon an earl . . .
Harriet Hathaway has only ever wanted one man: the Earl of Roxley. After a passionate interlude at a house party, Harriet is convinced Roxley will do the right thing and propose. But when she returns to London, she finds the roguish earl on the verge of proposing to another.
Yet Harriet refuses to believe that her hopes of a happily-ever-after are completely lost—for she can see the desire still flickering in the earl’s eyes when he looks at her from across the dance floor. And when they are alone . . . there is one wish neither can deny.
. . . the most extraordinary things can happen
The Earl of Roxley is in a dangerous fix—and to keep Harriet safe, he must hold her at arm’s length. He won’t entangle her in the murderous mystery that is threatening to destroy his family and his future. But keeping Harriet Hathaway out of his troubles proves as impossible as it is to keep the determined beauty from stealing his heart. (publisher)
My take: Thoughts upon finishing this book: “Well, that was fun!” I love historical romance and enjoy reading new-to-me authors. If Wishes Were Earls is the first of Elizabeth Boyle’s books I’ve read and I enjoyed it very much.
What’s not to like? We have an almost financially ruined Earl in love with a childhood friend who just happens to love him back (and has even less money than he does). The problem is, he’s being blackmailed and must marry the daughter of his blackmailer if he doesn’t want to lose what’s left of his family’s holdings. And then there’s the business of some missing diamonds that have several people chasing after the Earl.
It sounds like it could be a bit complicated but Boyle laid it all out in a humorous and enjoyable fashion that had me looking forward to reading each time I picked the book up. That’s my sign of a good book. Since it’s part of a series I look forward to reading the previous two books.
Last week on Bookfan:
What I’m reading:
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (audio)
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It will be quiet here this week – no posts are scheduled. I put my 2013 Favorite Books list together last week and will post it on December 31st. I’ll be back with a Sunday Post next Sunday. This week will be filled with family time and maybe a little reading. Oh, and some shoveling…
Edited at 7:30pm Sunday
That’s me in the red jacket 🙂
To all who celebrate the day, Merry Christmas!
My take: I’m blaming the time of year for it taking me almost 2 weeks to get through the first few chapters. Once I had time I found it difficult to put the book down!
Weezie Foley’s wedding plans are in full swing and her BFF BeBe’s first baby is due in a few weeks. When Weezie’s fiancé Daniel comes down with a bad cold while he’s in NYC being a guest chef at a four star restaurant, she drops everything and flies from Savannah to New York to give him some TLC (and see the city and all it has to offer). When Daniel shares some news that could be life changing for them both she gets a little nervous. Meanwhile, BeBe is in full-nesting mode when the father-to-be takes what he promises will be his last charter fishing client out for a day. When he doesn’t return at the promised time BeBe gets worried.
So, you can see there’s a lot going on in this book. Like I said, once I had time to sit and actually read for a while I was on board for the roller coaster ride that Christmas Bliss is. It was cute, entertaining and gave me a few laughs – typical Mary Kay Andrews.
Recommended to fans of the author and the series. I enjoyed seeing what Weezie and friends were up to and hope there’ll be more adventures to come. Christmas Bliss is part of the Savannah series but it can stand on its own.
Synopsis: Lady Rebecca is determined to find a husband on her own terms, rather than marry any of the aging suitors her greedy aunt and uncle foist upon her. Her chance comes at the Kingsborough Ball, where she meets several potential grooms…yet no one compares to the dangerously handsome Daniel Neville.
Daniel Neville, notorious rake and heir to the Marquis of Wolvington, is in need of a bride, but finding a lady who’s willing to accept his past, is an entirely different matter. When he spies a stunning woman across the ballroom, Daniel believes he’s found her…until scandal erupts around them. How can he convince Rebecca to take a chance on him…and on the love that could be theirs forever after?
My take: Calling all debutantes and wallflowers! If you attend the Kingsborough Ball, and if the first two books in the series are any indication, chances are you’ll find a marriage prospect! And he’ll either be on the road to being reformed from his rakish ways or he’ll be open to you setting him on that path 🙂
The Scandal in Kissing an Heir is the second installment in the series and I enjoyed it just as much if not more than the first. Daniel is the quintessential rakehell and Rebecca is the lady in need of rescuing. Her aunt and uncle have put the word out that she’ll go to the highest bidder. And that highest bidder would be a creepy old Duke. When Daniel sees that Rebecca would do almost anything to not be wed to the Duke he sees a way to redeem himself in the eyes of his uncle (whose title Daniel will inherit). The uncle told Daniel he must leave his old habits and find himself a wife. So. Daniel and Rebecca form an alliance and resolve to help each other – knowing all the while that it won’t be a marriage of love but at least they like each other.
Sophie Barne’s story was an entertaining way to spend a few hours. I enjoyed the characters and the happily-ever-after resolution – and I look forward to going back to the ball in the next book of the At the Kingsborough Ball series.
Synopsis: Reluctant to leave her cherished New England hometown after her sister’s winter wedding, former journalist Vera Sterling makes a sudden decision. She takes what’s left of her severance pay and invests it in real estate … in one particular drafty colonial home and old timber barn set upon the pretty banks of Addison Cove. In that rough-hewn barn, she discovers a secret treasure left behind by the previous owner, the proprietor of the long-forgotten Christmas Barn gift shop.
While restoring her rundown, wood-sided home–its creaking floors, broken bannister, and neglected widow’s walk–that secret slowly unfolds like a bit of snowflake wonder, crystallizing hopes and dreams for many in this small Connecticut town. But mostly for Derek Cooper whose own tragic story has headlined Addison’s news. And whom Vera has come to love.
When the first snowstorm hits during Derek’s annual Deck the Boats Festival at the cove, residents become stranded. It is then up to Vera to not only bring the town together, but to mend one man’s heart she fears she may have lost. (book synopsis)
My take: Joanne DeMaio takes us back to Addison, a quaint Connecticut seaside town that you’ll want to visit (maybe even move to) after you read this charming tale. People in Addison are just like you and me. They experience life’s joys and sorrows and support each other along the way.
When Vera buys the fixer-upper Dutch Colonial she gets to know Derek who works at his family’s hardware store. He also fixes things – like stuck doors, broken steps, etc. Derek and Vera strike up a friendship that soon becomes more. There’s an easiness about them that lets them talk about anything – including the reason for Derek’s heartache. He appreciates how direct she is without being uncomfortable when talking about it. But one day when Derek misunderstands something he hears about Vera it drives a wedge between them. Vera doesn’t understand what’s wrong – until she does. She’ll have to prove to Derek she’s not going anywhere.
I like a novel that gets me invested in the characters’ lives and relationships and has an emotional impact. That was my experience with this book. Plus, it really put me in the Christmas spirit! I enjoyed Snowflakes and Coffee Cakes and look forward to my next visit to Addison. My thanks to Joanne DeMaio for this lovely Christmas story.
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Last week on Bookfan:
What I’m reading:
Synopsis: For over a hundred years, the Angelini Shoe Company in Greenwich Village has relied on the leather produced by Vechiarelli & Son in Tuscany. This historic business partnership provides the twist of fate for Valentine Roncalli, the school teacher turned shoemaker, to fall in love with Gianluca Vechiarelli, a tanner with a complex past . . . and a secret.
A piece of surprising news is revealed at The Feast of the Seven Fishes when Valentine and Gianluca join her extended family on a fateful Christmas Eve. Now faced with life altering choices, Valentine remembers the wise words that inspired her in the early days of her beloved Angelini Shoe Company: “A person who can build a pair of shoes can do just about anything.” The proud, passionate Valentine is going to fight for everything she wants and savor all she deserves-the bitter and the sweetness of life itself.
Romantic and poignant, told with humor and warmth, and bursting with a cast of endearing characters, The Supreme Macaroni Company is a sumptuous feast of delights: a portrait of a woman and the man she loves, her passion for craftsmanship, and the sacrifices it takes to build and sustain a family business while keeping love and laughter at the center of everything. (publisher)
My take: The Supreme Macaroni Company is the final installment of the Valentine series. I’ve been a fan since I first met Valentine Roncalli in Very Valentine. She’s a modern, sometimes confident, usually headstrong woman who is intent on keeping her family’s shoe company in business.
Val knows what she wants and one of those wants is Gianluca – the love of her life. Where Val is modern, American and in her 30s, Gianluca is a traditional Italian and in his 50s. These two don’t always see eye to eye but they never lose sight of their love for one another. When they marry Valentine must learn to compromise – easier said than done. Gianluca wants to take care of her and sometimes makes decisions without consulting Val. This causes some rocky times in the early days of their marriage.
What Val learns is that a willingness to sacrifice and compromise from a place of love will be a blessing to them both. Adriana Trigiani’s story is emotional and at times had me in tears so have some tissues handy. I’m going to miss the Roncallis and all the rest – maybe in five or ten years we can convince the author to let us know what’s going on in their lives.
Audio: Cassandra Campbell’s narration is first rate. Her performance of Valentine and the other characters enhanced my enjoyment of the book.
I took the past year off from reading challenges. It was a good break but I recently discovered the Finishing the Series Reading Challenge. Yvonne over at Socrates’ Book Reviews is host of the one and only challenge I’m going to join in 2014. You can click on her blog link to join.
I’ll go through my books and decide which series I want to finish and then edit the Challenge page before Dec.31st. What do you think? Want to join in the fun?
Synopsis: Since the loss of her family in a plane crash, Harley Diekerhoff has led a quiet life and keeps to herself. Taking the temporary job at the Copper Mountain Ranch as widower Brock Sheenan’s housekeeper seems perfect for her. But her calm cocoon is invaded with the arrival of Brock’s pre-teen twins, Mack and Molly who’ve never experienced a proper Christmas and before she knows it, Harley’s determined to make their holiday perfect.
Annoyed at first by Harley’s interference, Brock is secretly pleased she’s changed Mack and Molly’s world. It doesn’t hurt that he finds Harley incredibly attractive, fierce, smart and passionate. It’s also an added bonus that she’s not afraid to challenge him and get his blood heated! But when sparks fly and the attractions sizzles between them, Harley’s not so sure she can handle something permanent with this dark, taciturn cowboy who doesn’t know how to let her in. But Brock is determined to hold on to her and praying for a Christmas miracle… (publisher)
My take: Christmas at Copper Mountain is a sweet Christmas novella about two people determined to keep going after suffering unimaginable loss years earlier. This is a contemporary romance so there are the usual predictable scenes that seemed to rush the pace a bit – but it’s a novella so I guess that has to happen. That said, I thought the author revealed details about the main characters’ lives at a perfect pace – little by little.
I think a novella works when it makes me wish it was a full length novel. That was the case with this novella. I enjoyed Porter’s writing, the characters and the setting.
Recommended to fans of Christmas romance and Jane Porter.
Last week on Bookfan:
What I’m reading:
Synopsis: Once upon a time, Christmas was Kayla Green’s favorite time of year. Now all the workaholic wants for Christmas is for it to be over—as fast as possible! So when duty calls her to snowy Vermont to close a deal with a new client, Kayla is grateful for an excuse to avoid the holidays for another year.
Jackson O’Neil left a thriving business behind to return home and salvage his family’s resort—it’s in his blood, and he can’t let it fail. Now that he’s got marketing whiz Kayla Green working with him to put Snow Crystal on the map, success is on the horizon. The fact they strike enough sparks off each other to power all the Christmas lights in Vermont is just an added bonus.
Kayla might be an expert at her job, but she’s out of her depth with Jackson—he makes her crave the happy-ever-after she once dreamed of, and it’s terrifying. As the snowflakes continue to swirl, will the woman who doesn’t believe in the magic of Christmas finally fall under its spell? (publisher)
My take: Kayla and Jackson are perfect for each other and the fact that their story didn’t feel cliched to me (when it very well could have!) is all due to Sarah Morgan’s writing. It was easy to understand where they were coming from and I was curious as to how Morgan would give them their HEA given all their emotional baggage.
I loved Jackson’s family – from his cantankerous grandfather to his loving mother to his equally magnetic brothers (this is the O’Neil brothers series after all) – they all added to the complete picture of Snow Crystal. It will be fun to return to the characters as well as the beautiful setting in the next book of the series.
If you like Contemporary Romance with a Christmas theme you’ll want to read Sleigh Bells in the Snow. I liked everything about it: the attractive characters; the Christmas card setting; and the happy-ever-after ending. Don’t miss this engaging Christmas Romance!
Synopsis: In Old Man River, Paul Schneider tells the story of the river at the center of America’s rich history—the Mississippi. Some fifteen thousand years ago, the majestic river provided Paleolithic humans with the routes by which early man began to explore the continent’s interior. Since then, the river has been the site of historical significance, from the arrival of Spanish and French explorers in the 16th century to the Civil War. George Washington fought his first battle near the river, and Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman both came to President Lincoln’s attention after their spectacular victories on the lower Mississippi.
In the 19th century, home-grown folk heroes such as Daniel Boone and the half-alligator, half-horse, Mike Fink, were creatures of the river. Mark Twain and Herman Melville led their characters down its stream in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Confidence-Man. A conduit of real-life American prowess, the Mississippi is also a river of stories and myth.
Schneider traces the history of the Mississippi from its origins in the deep geologic past to the present. Though the busiest waterway on the planet today, the Mississippi remains a paradox—a devastated product of American ingenuity, and a magnificent natural wonder. (publisher)
My take: I grew up in a small Wisconsin town along the Mississippi River so when I was invited to read Paul Schneider’s book about the Mississippi I happily accepted.
What I found was a fairly comprehensive look at the history and importance of the Mississippi River in US history. Schneider’s conversational style of writing made the pages fly. I loved all the art and photos depicting life on the river as well as important historical events.
I really enjoyed Old Man River. I especially appreciated the inclusion of source notes, bibliography and index at the end of the book. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys reading about US history and geography.
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The Mississippi River
This photo was shot from the Iowa side of the river. You can see Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin in the distance.
My Big Greek Family by Maria Constantine
Winner was chosen by random.org
Last week on Bookfan:
What I’m reading:
Synopsis: The Sullivan siblings have captivated the hearts of readers worldwide, and this Christmas, New York Times bestselling author Bella Andre shares the love story that started it all…
For Mary Sullivan Christmas is, and always has been, about family. And this year is no different. As she awaits the arrival of her eight children and their partners at the cottage in Lake Tahoe, she hangs the ornaments that they made for her over the years. Each decoration brings with it a tide of memories, all of which she holds dear to her heart.
But when she comes across the oldest ornament, the one her beloved husband, Jack, gave her on their very first Christmas together, Mary is immediately swept back to the first days of their whirlwind romance, to the love that would be the foundation on which they built the family she is so proud to call her own. (publisher)
My take: This Christmas addition to The Sullivans series is heartwarming and made me want to catch up in the series. Reading about the love story of the Sullivan siblings’ parents gives readers an idea of the strong foundation of this family. It’s a love at first sight story that seems too good to be true. But this is a Christmas Romance so anyone who reads it is probably expecting that and more. They won’t be disappointed. Recommended to fans of The Sullivans series and Christmas Romances.
Synopsis: A cross between Nora Ephron and David Sedaris, longtime NPR commentator Marion Winik has a uniquely hilarious and relatable way of looking at life. Her stories of being single in middle age, marked by stylish writing and stunning candor, may be her funniest – and bravest – yet.
Highs in the Low Fifties follows Winik’s attempt to rebuild her world as a once-widowed, once-divorced single mom. With her signature optimism, resilience, and poor judgement, Winik dives into a series of ill-starred romantic experiences. some are pathetic, some are sweet, and some are downright incredible. she gets propositioned (for money) by a sexy Salvadoran doing construction work on her basement, meets an emotionally unavailable dreamboat on Craigslist, and makes out with a former student. Her clarity about her mistakes and ability to find humor in the darkest moments – in love, and in all parts of life – has won her a growing crowd of devoted followers… and a few voyeurs. (book flap)
My take: I especially enjoy memoirs when the writer is in my age group. That was the case with Marion Winik. As I read I realized we couldn’t be more different from each other. Where she has taken huge bites out of life and gobbled them down I’m a small bite girl who chews carefully.
Reading about Winik’s attempts at dating in midlife was like driving past a recent car wreck on the freeway – it’s hard not to look. I couldn’t stop reading even though a few times I was uncomfortable with what she experienced. That says more about me than the author, I think.
I don’t think I did that much coke, really, and even my sister, who tends to have a sharper take on such matters, agrees with me. Nonetheless, the wages of sin and narcissism just keep rolling in. As a greeting card I tacked on my bulletin board years ago says, “If you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to serve as a horrible warning.” (page 209)
Winik’s writing is sharp and engaging. If you’re a fan of the author and memoirs of this type I think you’ll probably enjoy Highs in the Low Fifties.
Synopsis: The cheer in Fool’s Gold, California, is bringing out the humbug in dancer Evie Stryker. An injury has forced her to return home to her estranged family. So she won’t add to the awkward scenario by falling for the charms of her brother’s best friend, no matter how tempting he is. When she’s recruited to stage the winter festival, she vows to do as promised, then move on, anywhere but here.
Jaded lawyer Dante Jefferson is getting used to the town he now calls home, but the pounding of little dancers’ feet above his office is more than he can take. When he confronts their gorgeous teacher, he’s unprepared for their searing attraction. Evie is his best friend’s sister—off-limits unless he’s willing to risk his heart. Dante has always believed that love is dangerous, but that was before he had to reckon with the magic of a certain small town, where miracles do seem to happen…. (publisher)
My take: If you’ve read the previous books in this series you know Fool’s Gold, CA prides itself on celebrating holidays in a big way. Christmas is no exception – the annual Christmas Eve performance of The Dance of the Winter King features the young students of the town dance classes. Evie, the dance teacher, has a personal history she’s worked hard to overcome. The same could be said for Dante. When the two get together (after agreeing on a no-strings arrangement) they set themselves up for disappointment during what should be the happiest time of year.
Over all I enjoyed this Christmas addition to the series. The only thing that kept me from loving it is the trope of the guy doing something that causes emotional pain to the girl. That issue aside, I liked Mallery’s story and characters. They are as charming and attractive as usual. The HEA wrapped everything up with a nice bow and left me looking forward to the next book in the series.