Friday, May 6, 2016

The Newsmakers - Lis Wiehl

Title: The Newsmakers
Author: Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart
Hardcover: 337 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Published date: January 2016
FTC: Received to review from publisher

The Newsmakers is one of those novels that I loved reading the last page and then moving on to the Discussion Questions enclosed. Setting this novel in the heart of Manhattan's news world, especially during this current season of crazy media enhanced election news, is so fascinating.  Questions like "What tools to real cable news networks use to drive ratings?" and "Is fear an effective management tool?" make me think this would be a great book club read because while it looks like a hefty book.  The Newsmakers is a fun and quick read packed with action.

What if it turns out that the newsmakers are actually making the news happen?

Television reporter Erica Sparks has just landed her dream job at Global News Network. Beautiful, talented, and ambitious, Erica grew up dirt poor, worked her way through Yale, and is carrying a terrible secret. She moves to Manhattan to join GNN, leaving Jenny, her adored 7-year-old daughter, in the custody of her ex-husband. Erica’s producer at the network, Greg Underwood, is handsome and compelling. Scarred by her divorce, Erica is wary of romance, but there’s no denying the mutual attraction.

On one of her first assignments, Erica witnesses a horrific Staten Island ferry crash. Then she lands a coveted interview with presumptive presidential nominee Kay Barrish. During the interview Barrish collapses. Erica valiantly tries to save her with CPR. The footage rivets the world—GNN’s ratings soar and Erica is now a household name.

But she’s troubled. What a strange coincidence that both events should happen on her watch. It’s almost as if they were engineered. Is that possible?

Erica’s relentless pursuit of the truth puts her life and that of her daughter in danger. Her investigation leads her into the heart of darkness—where the future of our democracy is at stake.

My thoughts:

The Newsmakers was a fun quick read. Erica Sparks, while outwardly perfect looking, is inwardly a recovering alcoholic trying to regain her footing after loosing custody of her daughter. Going sober she was climbing the ladder when she struck gold by getting hired by the almost too good to be true news network GNN.  I loved being in Erica Sparks head as she was a likable character but not perfect.

The story was fast paced with lots of action in part due to the story line but also because of short chapters and sentences. I noticed that the author has had over 14 years in the cable news industry and the writing reflects that. Often I like the brevity because I am kind of like that - short and to the point. But it also created a kind of distance that I didn't like as much. While I was reading from Erica's point of view and privy to her thoughts, I still felt a bit removed. It also made some of the action a little less intense than it could have been. 

That said, the book ends with a fun set-up for a sequel which I would totally read. And like I said above, I think it would make a great book club choice. I'd love to be in a discussion about what drives cable news networks' ratings, what's ethical or unethical, and is fear an effective (or ethical) tool? There are also a lot of interesting discussion questions about Erica's background and life - coming up from poverty, her descent into alcoholism, and how her background affects her parenting insecurities. 

Have you read anything by Lis Wiehl or any book set in the cable news network world? 


Checking out Barnes and Noble, I saw Lis Wiehl's second novel, The Candidate,  up for pre-order. Ooo. 

About the author:
Lis Wiehl is one of the nation’s most prominent trial lawyers and highly regarded commentators.  Currently, she is the legal analyst and reporter on the Fox News Channel and Bill O’Reilly’s sparring partner in the weekly “Is It Legal?” segment on The O’Reilly Factor. Prior to that she was O’Reilly’s co-host on the nationally syndicated show The Radio Factor. She is also a Professor of Law at New York Law School.

Prior to joining Fox News Channel in New York City, Wiehl served as a legal analyst and reporter for NBC News and NPR’s All Things Considered.  Before that, Wiehl served as a Federal Prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s office.

And for fun, I am starting to get back into posting on Instagram.

A photo posted by Amanda (@libraryofmyown) on

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Mix and Match Guide to Companion Planting - Josie Jeffery

Title: The Mix & Match Guide to Companion Planting
Author: Josie Jeffery
Hardcover: 104 pages
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Published date: 2014
FTC: Received from Blogging for Books to review

With its unique split-page mix-and match system, The Mix & Match Guide to Companion Planting is a colorful visual gardening guide to which vegetables, fruits, and herbs grow best with one another, and which do not.

The age-old practice of companion planting is an effective way to create healthier, happier, more productive gardens simply by placing the right plants next to each other. It is an ingenious, all-natural method to control pests, disease, and weeds without the need for chemicals. With its unique split-page mix-and-match system, this colorful, visual guide makes it fast and easy for you to choose which vegetables, fruits, and herbs grow best with one another, and which do not. All you have to do is select your desired crop from the extensive plant directory, flip the strips, match the dots, and get ready for your vegetable garden to flourish!

My thoughts:

I can't wait until I can get into gardening again. I'll admit I am a novice at gardening and haven't had much experience. We were living in Las Vegas and gardening was so intimidating and difficult. I am so excited to now be living in the South were I can experiment more. This is a great resource for beginner gardeners to help find out which plants compliment each other to naturally drive out pests, disease, and weeds. I think this was a pretty fun book for newbie gardeners.  I wasn't intimidated by the book which was full of color photos and divided into thirds with flip-able sections to mix and match. It's really a beautiful book with a gorgeous cover and photos inside. There were a lot of herbs and fruit plants which I am looking forward to growing in my garden.

That said, it took a bit to figure out exactly how the flip sections all worked together. I also think that if I had more gardening experience, I wouldn't find this book as informative. I may want a more comprehensive resource. I am looking forward, as my three sons grow up, to sitting down with them and looking through the pictures in this book to plan out our garden.

Do you have any favorite gardening books, websites, or resources?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Respectable Actress - Dorothy Love

Title: A Respectable Actress
Author: Dorothy Love
Paperback: 363 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Published date: October 2015
FTC: Received from publisher to review

Back of the book:

When the illustrious India Hartley is accused of murder, she has to uncover the deceptions of others to save herself.

India Hartley, the famous and beautiful actress, is now alone in the world after her father’s death and embarks upon a tour of theaters across the South. Her first stop is Savannah’s Southern Palace. On the eve of the second night’s performance, something goes horribly wrong. Her co-star, Arthur Sterling, is shot dead on stage in front of a packed house, and India is arrested and accused of the crime.

A benefactor hires Philip Sinclair, the best—and handsomest—lawyer in Savannah to defend India. A widower, Philip is struggling to reinvent his worn-out plantation on St. Simons Island. He needs to increase his income from his law practice in order to restore Indigo Point, and hardly anything will bring him more new clients than successfully defending a famous actress on a murder charge.

Because India can’t go anywhere in town without being mobbed, Philip persuades the judge handling her case to let him take her to Indigo Point until her trial date. India is charmed by the beauty of the Georgia low country and is increasingly drawn to Philip. But a locked room that appears to be a shrine to Philip’s dead wife and the unsolved disappearance of a former slave girl raise troubling questions. Piecing together clues in an abandoned boat and a burned-out chapel, India discovers a trail of dark secrets that lead back to Philip, secrets that ultimately may hold the key to her freedom. If only he will believe her.

My thoughts:

I enjoy receiving books to review like this because I wouldn't have normally picked this one up on my own. It was a historical fiction crime mystery with dashes of romance that was perfect for me. I was reading it when I was eight months pregnant and it was the exact book I needed to read at night when I couldn't sleep.

I love the Southern setting. In the Author's Note at the end of the book, she points out that while Indigo Point is fictional, she based it on a real plantation called King's Retreat on the southern tip of St. Simons Island. I loved her descriptions of the island and just the beautiful southern flora. I want to visit somewhere like this.
Retreat on St Simon's Island

I also loved that she based her character, India Hartley, on a real historical actress named Frances "Fanny" Anne Kemble.  The real Fanny Kemble's story is actually quite fascinating. I'd love to read a book or watch a movie of her life!  Slavery is an issue covered in this novel and it was something that concerned the real Fanny Kemble as well. I also think it's so interesting that while today actors/actresses are quite huge celebrities, back in the day it wasn't quite respectable to be an actress.  You must check out Dorothy Love's Pinterest board for A Respectable Actress.  The clothes!!
Fanny Kemble

I really enjoyed A Respectable Actress and love the author's attention to historical detail and research. I will definitely check out more of her novels in the future.  In particular, The Bracelet looks so interesting.

Ooo and on Dorothy Love's website, her newest one looks interesting! The relationship between Robert E. Lee's wife and her slave.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

If I Run - Terri Blackstock

Title: If I Run
Author: Terri Blackstock
Paperback: 300 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
Published date: February 2016
FTC: Received from publisher

I had never read a Terri Blackstock book and so when I cracked open this one I was pleasantly surprised.  I've checked out on Goodreads that she has quite a few books so I'll have to check more of her books out. I would label her, well this book, as a Christian suspense/crime thriller. Pick this one up if you like stories more character driven than mystery driven. There wasn't really any twists, at least to me, in the story and it was kind of predictable, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the story and the characters. Right now I am enjoying a six week old baby and am a mom to three boys, so this was the perfect novel to just suck me in during my me time.

Warning: This is book one of a series. I did not know this wasn't a stand-alone book. I almost wanted to throw the book at the end because, well, there isn't really an end. I'm going to have to wait until book #2. Not sure how many she is planning in the series.

Back of the book:

Casey knows the truth.

But it won’t set her free.

Casey Cox’s DNA is all over the crime scene. There’s no use talking to police; they have failed her abysmally before. She has to flee before she’s arrested . . . or worse. The truth doesn’t matter anymore.

But what is the truth? That’s the question haunting Dylan Roberts, the war-weary veteran hired to find Casey. PTSD has marked him damaged goods, but bringing Casey back can redeem him. Though the crime scene seems to tell the whole story, details of the murder aren’t adding up. Casey Cox doesn’t fit the profile of a killer. But are Dylan’s skewed perceptions keeping him from being objective? If she isn’t guilty, why did she run?

Unraveling her past and the evidence that condemns her will take more time than he has, but as Dylan’s damaged soul intersects with hers, he is faced with two choices. The girl who occupies his every thought is a psychopathic killer . . . or a selfless hero. And the truth could be the most deadly weapon yet.

My thoughts:

I had never read a Terri Blackstock book before but after reading If I Run, I will be checking out more of her books. Like I said, I had no clue this was book one in a series so I'll definitely be reading book two because now I need to know the conclusion.

The weird thing about If I Run, is that while the story is fairly predictable and it kind of reminds me of Nicholas Sparks' Safe Haven (I watched the movie but haven't read the book) without the romance, but it still pulled me into the story and I was invested in the characters. I really enjoyed the duel perspectives of Casey and Dylan. I liked that there were multiple stories and themes going on in the novel. I don't want to give away all of them but, for instance, Dylan is going through PTSD as a war veteran and my heart just went out to his character and people who are struggling with this. There's also a lot of instances where we question why do bad things happen to good people? It's a great theme to delve into as a Christian book. My only complaint is that I didn't know it was first in a series and I'm still a little confused as to why she couldn't just write a bit longer and wrap it all up. So I'm interested in checking out where she is taking the story next and why it's meant to be a series. 

Have you read any of Terri Blackstock's books? If so, any recommendations of what I should read of hers next?

Check out the book trailer for If I Run and check out TNZ's website:

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Girl from the Train - Irma Joubert

Title: The Girl from the Train
Author: Irma Joubert
Paperback: 370 pages (my version ARC)
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Published date: 2015
FTC: Received to review from publisher

I love WWII stories. Irma Joubert's The Girl from the Train would be a book I would have picked up to read whether I had received it to review or not.  As the cover states, it was an international bestseller (South Africa and The Netherlands) and was Target's Book Club Pick for November last year.  So it would have been on my radar. Overall I'd say I liked the book but somewhere in the middle it started dragging. Not sure if it was the book's fault or just where I was in my life.

Back of the book:

Six-year-old Gretl Schmidt is on a train bound for Aushwitz. Jakob Kowalski is planting a bomb on the tracks.

As World War II draws to a close, Jakob fights with the Polish resistance against the crushing forces of Germany and Russia. They intend to destroy a German troop transport, but Gretl's unscheduled train reaches the bomb first.

Gretl is the only survivor. Though spared from the concentration camp, the orphaned German Jew finds herself lost in a country hostile to her people. When Jakob discovers her, guilt and fatherly compassion prompt him to take her in. For three years, the young man and the little girl form a bond over the secrets they must hide from his Catholic family.

But she can't stay with him forever. Jakob sends Gretl to South Africa, where German war orphans are promised bright futures with adoptive Protestant families - so long as Gretl's Jewish roots, Catholic education, and connections to communist Poland are never discovered.

Separated by continents, politics, religion, language, and years, Jakob and Gretl will likely never see each other again. But the events they have both survived and their belief that the human spirit can triumph over the ravages of war have formed a bond of love that no circumstances can overcome.

My thoughts:

Overall, The Girl from the Train was a great book. I am always intrigued by books that were originally written in a different language.  It was translated from Afrikaans by Elsa Silke and she did a wonderful job.  It makes me want to read more books that take place in South Africa - past or present. Have any of you read any good Afrikaans literature?

Joubert's book is all about characters and relationships. You can't but help fall in love with Gretl and wonder how she can manage to end up so sane. It reminded me of another book Broken Birds: The story of my momila which really shows how even though people survived the war they still carried heavy emotional scars.  Jakob is a beautifully written character. I love that people like him are out in the world. You can't help but fall in love with Gretl and Jakob.

Somewhere in the middle of the story, while Gretl is growing up in South Africa, I felt the story dragged just a bit. I'm not sure if it's because I was prepared for more of a WWII story, less of a love story, or just felt that part was overly long...maybe it was just because I was pregnant and got tired easily. Who knows. Still, it's a great story and would make for an interesting book club selection.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Tears of Dark Water - Corban Addison

Title: The Tears of Dark Water
Author: Corban Addison
Hardcover: 439 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Published date: October 2015
FTC: Received to review from publisher

Wow. I loved this book. One of my favorite things about getting review books is finding and loving stories and authors that I normally would never have checked out. Corban Addison's The Tears of Dark Water is one of these.  I loved his writing and the story is one that will stick with you for a long long time. This is a must read.

Back of the book:

Daniel and Vanessa Parker are an American success story. He is a Washington, DC, power broker, and she is a physician with a thriving practice. But behind the gilded facade, their marriage is a shambles, and their teenage son, Quentin, is self-destructing. In desperation, Daniel dusts off a long-delayed dream a sailing trip around the world. Little does he know, the voyage he hopes will save them may destroy them instead.

Half a world away on the lawless coast of Somalia, Ismail Adan Ibrahim is living a life of crime in violation of everything he was raised to believe except for the love and loyalty driving him to hijack ships for ransom and plot the rescue of his sister, Yasmin, from the man who murdered their father. There is nothing he will not do to save her, even if it means taking innocent lives.

Paul Derrick is the FBI s top hostage negotiator. His twin sister, Megan, is a celebrated defense attorney. They have reached the summit of their careers by savvy, grit, and a secret determination to escape the memory of the day their family died. When Paul is dispatched to handle a hostage crisis at sea, he has no idea how far it will take him and Megan into the past or the chance it will give them to redeem the future.

Across continents and oceans, through storms and civil wars, the paths of these individuals converge in a single, explosive moment. It is a moment that will test them and break them, but it will also leave behind an unexpected glimmer of hope that out of the ashes of tragedy and misfortune, the seeds of justice and reconciliation can grow.

My thoughts:

There are so many characters and relationships in this novel that can be explored. Corban Addison has multiple characters narrate to really get you sucked into the story.  First there's the failing relationship but possibly hopeful reconciliation between Daniel and Vanessa Parker.  It's one of those marriages that probably look perfect in the family photo but in reality is a crumbling mess.  Quentin is their only child and is in the throes of serious self-destruction.  I found it absolutely awesome that Daniel felt that his son and their relationship was so important that while the family was well off, they did make sacrifices for father and son to travel and bond.  But of course, my two favorite characters were Ismail, the Somalian pirate and Paul, the FBI negotiator.  Ismail is awesomely portrayed not as a terrorist, pirate, or ethnic stereotype but as a sympathetic character who's situation and plight are almost unfathomable to much of the Western world. Paul Derrick's character makes me wish this story was made into a movie. He's one of those characters that has me thinking who would be cast to play his character.

I am going to start following Corban Addison as an author and check out more of his novels. The writing is superb, the story absorbing, and the characters moving. I dare you not to get emotionally involved in this story. Dare you not to shove this book on someone else to read. I'm keeping this one to share with my husband.

Side note: Just read on Corban Addison's Goodreads site that The Tears of Dark Water was listed as John Grisham's favorite reads of 2015. Very cool!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Hiding Places - Erin Healy

Title: Hiding Places
Author: Erin Healy
Paperback: 351 pages
Published date: September 2015
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
FTC: Received from publisher

I love when I receive review books that I wouldn't normally have picked up and I end up really enjoying them. I tend to gravitate towards historical fiction, even in my suspense or mystery category. But Erin Healy's Hiding Places reminded me to branch out more often. I was also excited that Erin Healy lives in Colorado, which is where I am from, and the story takes place there. Yay!

Back of the book:

Eleven-year old Kate keeps her knowledge to herself - one sister's stash of marijuana, the other's petty cash pilfering, her grandfather's contraband candy bars. She protects her mother and Gran, too, screening out critical comments from the hotel suggestions box. But suddenly the stakes are raised; her grandfather's best friend is murdered the day after Kate heard the two men arguing.

At the same time, far from the quiet mountain resort, a homeless man flees a robbery gone wrong...a gang member seeks revenge for the death of his son...and a boy chooses the worst time to wield spray paint on a store window. In a strange and spiraling sequence of events, their disparate worlds collide at Harrison Lodge.

Kate offers shelter to one of them, unaware of the terrible consequences to the family she loves. But people can hide in all kinds of ways, sometimes even in plain sight...and some secrets are just waiting to be exposed.

My thoughts:

I've probably mentioned this before, but I love when an author shows events unfold through a child's point of view and it actually works and sounds authentic.  I loved the character of Kate. You can tell that she's very smart, self-aware, and able to take care of herself. She's trying to make sense of it all without seeing things through adult eyes but also not completely naive.

Erin Healy also shows the points of view of a couple other characters, including Charlie a young adult who left an abusive home situation and has been homeless for a few years. And then there's the Fox, a man who's torn between life as a gang member and his role as a caring father who is trying to keep his son from following the same path. He was such an interesting character because while he made a lot of bad decisions, he was such a sympathetic character. Well done! Then there's Pearl who is Kate's great-grandmother and who is kind of used to pretending to be crazy and staying out of the way. I liked that she has this awakening of realization that she needs to be more involved in her life and her family.

Hiding Places is technically a Christian fiction book but there really isn't a big Christian theme that I could notice.  I do like that it shows real world people who aren't "bad" or "good" but just living life as it is dealt...making good decisions and bad but once you get into their heads and stories, while you might not agree, there is an understanding. People don't often get up one day and think to themselves, this is the day I'm going to mess up my life.  Often, events and things just spiral out of control.  But then you see people who could make the easy decision and way out but decide to do the right thing and it's amazing.

Again, I liked that the whole story took place in Colorado - Denver and a fictional mountain lodge. I mean we all know that the underbelly of the world exists but to read about it in a familiar setting just makes it hit home a little bit more.

I haven't read anything else by Erin Healy but I will be checking her books out in the future.

Check out Erin Healy's website and Facebook page