Friday, September 23, 2016

Life is Beautiful



August 2016 and into the first week of September has been probably the worst month+ of my life...in some ways, but through it all I've been reminded that life is beautiful. It started when I sprained my ankle immediately before an out of town trip for my grandmother's memorial service. She died earlier this year, just a week and half after my youngest child was born. Life comes and goes, and it's beautiful.

My grandmother was a positive, can-do person. She never let her age and accompanying issues keep her down. Instead, she picked up boxing. And she never complained such that unless you saw her, you had no idea how bad off she was. She saw the good, the beauty, in the cards she was dealt.

A couple days after returning home from her memorial service, my father went to the doctor and found out he had what they called a widowmaker - a 99% blockage in his heart in a critical area. Three days later he had open heart surgery. Literally at any moment up to that point his life could have ended. If something throws and makes that blockage 100% there is no recovering. Once again we were reminded of the fragility and the beauty of life.


Not even two days after my dad is released from the hospital, my grandfather dies. He had been given no more than 3 months to live, and he didn't even last another half week. He was a man who loved his family, who served as a medic - preserving life - in Korea. He didn't talk about it much. He was an honest man who did a good job, and everyone knew he was reliable. He worked hard to provide for his family. One of his and my grandmother's favorite things to do was go to the beach and soak in the beauty. Having young ones around the last few years of his life was the absolute highlight for him. Young life is beautiful, but so is old life, and seeing the young life and old life interact and intermingle is truly precious, and a great gift.


Just a couple days after my parent's returned from my grandfather's funeral my dad was readmitted to the hospital for complications from his open heart surgery. Thankfully, he is fine now. But once again, we are reminded that life is precious, life is sweet, life is grand, and its an adventure as we never know what each day brings. Sometimes life is tough, but we are too. And all those things meld together and are facets in the diamond that is life. And life is beautiful.




Cents of Style is launching their new LIFE IS line of T-shirts and they are on sale with FREE SHIPPING this weekend (through Sunday 9/25) for $15.95 with the code LIFEIS1

Which T-shirt will you choose? Which shirt tells your story best? I'd love to hear!


original image source

Monday, September 5, 2016

Reading Challenge 2016: Magemother (A Series Review)



#vtReadingChallenge
Week 33: A book by an author under 30

The Magemother series is a middle grade fantasy written by Austin J. Bailey. The gorgeous cover artwork is eyecatching, and the premise, well, the premise of misfit girl being summoned to another world and uncovering her true past could be either totally lame or really work well. The first book was (and at the time of this publication still is) free, so I figured, what did I have to lose? 



 The Mage and the Magpie

This book was free on Amazon and had high reviews. Honestly, I usually pick up freebies with high reviews so I can give an honest negative review. Many people seem to think that if they like a book, it deserves five stars. Five stars, imo, should be reserved for the most excellent, memorable, standout books. Not every single book you read.

Sometimes, though, books deserve the praise. I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed this book. The characters were well developed, the search was enjoyable, and since we're in an unfamiliar world there are lots of surprises. Some things that I think were supposed to be "reveals" were obvious to me, but others were not.

I haven't quite figured out how I feel about the magic in this series.  I think magic is neutral and you use it for good or bad, like you would a car, and it seems like the mages and apprentices possess their particular magic. Like a gift. I don't think that the wind mage's apprentice could learn the magic of the metal mage. In this world, magic is either something you have or something you don't. If you have it, but are not a mage or mage apprentice, I'm not sure what you do. That's never addressed in the series.

I liked this book so much that I immediately looked the author up and signed up to receive updates from him. I received Magemother 1.5 as a "thank you."

4.5 stars



The Empty Throne

This is a novella, not a full length novel. It was offered as a "thank you" gift for signing up to receive updates from the author.

It is a very short and quick read, but it is an important link in the story. If you don't read this, there will be things you scratch your head at in later books trying to figure out if missed something.

While I didn't find this short story as compelling as the larger series narrative, I still thought it was important and highlighted the vulnerable side of Tabitha. It also makes the reader think about how they would respond if they had to go through Tabitha's test.

4 stars





The Paradise Twin

Book 2 largely focuses on finding the hidden mages and on Hugo's struggle with Molad. And there's a dragon. Dragon's are always fun, right?

In Hugo you really get that Jekyll and Hyde feel. His struggle is real, and it's easy to empathize with him. The search for the hidden mages was not as compelling, though, and almost became tedious at times. I had guessed part of Chantra's location, Unda's hiding place was obvious to me, but Lignumis' was well done.

In this book that I started feeling like the series was very similar to the Farworld series by J. Scott Savage.* A lot of necessary things happened in this book, but overall is wasn't as compelling as the others in the series. It moved things along, but I didn't feel anyone particularly developed as a character.

3 stars





The Bridge to Nowhere

This book was very interesting - and not entirely happy. There were a couple moments where I was actually surprised at something truly bad/sad happenings. Realism! I like books that have happy endings, but when absolutely everything works out perfectly as planned, it is eye-roll worthy. You see more development in Brinley and Hugo, others hold their own, and there are a couple flat characters. Some "twists" in the book I saw coming, but the intended audience would largely find them unexpected.

The Hugo/Molad struggle continued, and while it certainly felt real at times, there was one point very near the end in a major moment (trying for no spoilers!) where the reaction seemed a little extreme. But I understand why the author wrote it that way.

There is a meeting with the gods of their world, near the end of the book, and it rather felt like a huge aside. I got it - and they had showed up in other books - but the direction they promise really hadn't been there the whole series, so it didn't feel quite genuine. They also appear to be modeled after the Mormon view of God - being God and his wife who live in another world, but sometimes interact with us. The moral underpinnings in what they say are close to what I believe as a Christian, but the framework is wrong. Not everyone will agree, but I thought I'd mention it for those who want to have conversations with their children about that aspect of the book.

The biggest thing for me is one unanswered question that is actually asked in the series - what about the bell Brinley's father heard? That is never explained. I feel that is an oversight, or maybe it was too complicated to work into the book without a huge expansion ... but in that case the question should have been removed from the book. Its one thing for a reader to have questions of their own, it's another for an author to pose a question within the series that never gets answered.

Overall, the book gets 4 stars.



Serial Thoughts

As mentioned in my review of book 1, I'm not sold on how magic works in this world. To be sure, it is a well crafted story, but something seems a tad off, but I can't put my finger on it. Maybe its the lack of complete explanation, I don't know.

*To expand on my Farworld comment from book 2's review. The Farworld and Magemother series aren't actually that similar. Just the whole looking for mages (who control the elements) that are hidden was bringing me strong vibes of the looking for the hidden elementals (basically the elements themselves). Also, the cross-world transfer of a main character. But the journeys are drastically different, as are the endings. The Magemother series actually has a more satisfying ending, but as a series I think I prefer Farworld. If you like one of the series, though, I'm pretty sure you'll like the other.

And, to reiterate from my review of book 3, I don't like unanswered questions posed within the story itself (If I missed this someone please point it out to me!). There is also the Mormon-esque deity thing going on that doesn't completely fit with the world that was built.

My biggest complaint for the series as a whole is the age of the our main cast. They're around 12 years old! Everything they do just seems better suited for someone at least an additional 5 years older. It's a little overdone in literature today to have THE FATE OF THE WORLD resting on pre-to-early teens.

I was grateful that while there is friendship (and hints of particular people probably liking each other) romance is not really in the book. Like I said, it's hinted around, but it's not the star. THANK YOU! That is so nauseously overdone, and these books show you can have a good story without the romance. Especially when we're talking this young.

Mage and the Magpie: 4.5 stars
The Empty Throne: 4 stars
The Paradise Twin: 3 stars
The Bridge to Nowhere: 4 stars

Magemother series average: 4 stars


These book reviews appear as a part of the Reading Challenge 2016, to see other books in the challenge, click here.


I received complimentary ecopies of books 2 & 3 in exchange for my honest opinion.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Reading Challenge 2016: Bully!



#vtReadingChallenge
Week 32: A book with a one word title



Bully!
by: Ryan Stallings

Strange

I missed somehow that this was a modern story in which a historical figure appears. I thought it was set in Roosevelet's time where he became a father figure to our young hero. Oops. Okay.

The writing was well done in the story, I could just never buy the idea of how Roosevelt arrived in the present time ... really? Kid tells teddy bear he wants a real dad and the next day the bear is gone and Theodore Roosevelt is in the bear's place? Weird, creepy, and how the dad ultimately reacts isn't real at all.

Also, for the book to be marketed as a children's book, there's an awful in here that kids won't really understand - like everything from the father's perspective about having lost his wife. I know that's a vehicle for learning about Roosevelt's wife who passed away, but some of it seemed a little much for children.

That said, if I could accept the premise the story was interesting. Lots of tidbits about Roosevelt mixed in and well as conjecturing what he would think about some things we just accept nowadays. But overall, how the adults were just ok with this strange man claiming to be a dead president hanging out with Jamie just never set well with me. So between that and his appearance/disappearance the whole things was just rather incredible (as in, unbelievable) to me.

I was really excited about the idea of this book and series when I started, and the writing is well done, but I just couldn't buy off on the story itself.

I'd read other books in this series if they were free, since the premise is good and maybe others are more believeably crafted, but I won't seek them out. 3 stars.

This review appears as a part of the Reading Challenge 2016, to see other books in the challenge, click here.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Reading Challenge 2016: Tunnel, Smuggle, Collect





Tunnel, Smuggle, Collect: A Holocaust Boy
by: Jeffrey N. Gingold

Moving

I have read many books about WWII and the Holocaust, including some personal accounts. I've also read history books and historical fiction. This was the first account I read about someone who lived in a ghetto. This was also one of the most relate-able accounts I've ever read. Maybe that's because I'm an adult, maybe because my time of life is similar to that of Leah's, maybe because of the way the book is written ... I suspect it is some of all of the above. 

I never cried while reading this book, but I definitely got teary. When I'd put the book down, I'd keep thinking about what the Gingold's went through. It's a book that stays with you. And that's important. We need to never forget what happened, and we need to make sure it never happens again.

Personally, I would've left the subtitle "A Holocaust Boy" off the book. The focus of the book is not on Sam, he is just one of the movers and players in the story. The story is really his family's collective story, not his. 

I read an ARC and I'm sure some of these issues have been corrected since I know there was an updated version before the book was published, but I did not read that manuscript. Toward the end of the book there are a couple editing mistakes, and the afterward is somewhat awkwardly attached to the end. It ties the beginning of the book full circle, but it was not seamlessly done. 

My only other complaint in the book is there is a bit of Yiddish in the book that is transliterated, but not translated. I have no problem with including the Yiddish in the book, but I do think translations would be helpful, even if just in footnotes. Many times the Yiddish is paraphrased or the English response gives the context to get a good idea of what was said in Yiddish, but a direct translation is always better.

If the issues I mention above were fixed before publication, it is a 5 star book. If they were not, the book is 4-4.5 stars, depending on how much was changed. 

This is a book that will stay with you and offers a perspective on the war and the Holocaust that is not mainstream. I highly recommend this book.

I received a complimentary ecopy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

This review appears as part of the Reading Challenge 2016. To see other reviews in the challenge, click here.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Constant Reminder




I'm Southern, and proud of it. One of the first things people think of when they think of Southern are the Southern Belles. These ladies were grace and elegance. They were charming and genteel. But they weren't pushovers. They knew how to stand their ground, and they did. They were Velvet over Steel, Steel Magnolias, if you prefer, and they are my inspiration to be who I am and fight for what I believe in - but to be kind and gentle and caring. Grit with Grace is the perfect way to express that sentiment and the necklace would remind myself of my heritage and my future.


Every day, every moment we are making history. Every choice affects our next. We all dream of doing great things, but we often get caught up in the mundane and trivial. While these daily tasks are molding us, we should never let them hold us back. We have the power to change our lives. We have the power to change those around us. This necklace is the perfect reminder that we make history every moment. And we can make it good.



Cents of Style has expanded their incredibly popular Tribe line to include necklaces! There are so many different sayings to choose from!


And this weekend (8/5-8/7) you can get these necklaces for only $11.99 + FREE SHIPPING with the code TRIBE4! Huge savings since each necklace is usually $25! 



We all have something that resonates with us that we want constant reminders of. What in this collection speaks to you?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Reading Challenge 2016: Bat Dad (a parody)



#vtReadingChallenge
Week 30: A photo essay book


Bat Dad (a parody)
by Blake Wilson

Disappointing

I was unfamiliar with Blake's videos online as Bat Dad, or I would've looked them up before getting this book. I expected a funny book about the adventures of Bat Dad. What we get instead is one picture a page of Bat Dad in various situations with an added caption, sometimes featuring cuss words. I was hoping this would be a cute book to gift a friend who loves batman and is a dad, but with the swearing and the only mildly funny content, it doesn't make the cut. Love the idea, but it just wasn't implemented well.

Advice: If you love his stuff online, you'll probably love this. If you don't like his online content, you probably won't like this. So check that out first. Don't be like me and get it unaware.

2 stars.

This review appears as part of the Reading Challenge 2016. To see the other books in the challenge, click here.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Reading Challenge 2016: The Doll Shop Downstairs



#vtReadingChallenge
Week 29: A book based on a true story


The Doll Shop Downstairs
by Yona Zeldis McDonough

Wanted to like it

The Doll Shop Downstairs is the fictional story of a Jewish family in New York who has to make changes to keep their business going during WWII. It is inspired by a true story (the author has a nice note in the back of the book about that).

I thought it was cute and predictable. The story is told from the perspective of the middle child, and while I certainly understood her thoughts and perspective the dedicated voice has the potential to alienate a lot of readers ... mainly those who aren't middle children.

I picked this book up for free and really debated about whether to hold on to it or not. Our heroine ends of stealing a stamp from her parents (saying she's going to replace it) and there are never any ramifications for that act. I just didn't like planting that idea in kids' heads. A trivial thing, perhaps, but I never think stealing should be painted in a forgiveable light like that. I think the story would have worked just as well if she had asked her parents for a stamp.

Maybe I'll regret letting go of this book one day, but I think it's mostly forgettable anyway. Maybe if I read this as a child and had nostalgia attached to it I wouldn't feel that way. I wanted to like this book, but I just didn't connect with it.

3 stars.

This review appears as part of the Reading Challenge 2016. To see the other books in the challenge, click here.