Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Train to Potevka - Mike Ramsdell

Title: A Train to Potevka
Author: Mike Ramsdell
Publisher: Zhivago Press
Published date: 2006
Paperback: 327 pages
FTC: Bought at library book sale

I have a fascination with Russian history. I'm not sure if it's because my mom's side of the family are Germans from Russia or because I lived in Alaska and love reading about the cold Russian winters. Not sure. But when I saw the cover of this book I thought it would be an interesting read. I was not wrong.

About the author:

Mike Ramsdell grew up in the small town of Bear River, Utah. He attended Utah State University, the University of Utah Law School, and the Russian Language Institute in Washington D.C. His career specialty in Russian/Soviet counterintelligence has taken him on missions throughout Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, and to Asia.

My thoughts:

This book was such a fun read. It's told in a fictional style but the narrator is Mike Ramsdell and it's very obviously a biographical account of his time in the Soviet Union, basically as a spy, during the Cold War circa 1988-2002.  This book was such a cozy easy read. I've been culling my bookshelves so if any book doesn't immediately grab my attention, I chuck it out to donate. So it says something that I enjoyed this book beginning to end.  Imagine meeting a person and learning they used to be a spy in Russia during the Cold War.  Imagine sitting in a cozy setting while they told you interesting real life stories. This is just like that. His stories include a run in with the Russian mob, an escape on the train to Potevka where for days he had no food, and relevant anecdotes of his son and family. The author is a likable person so it's easy to become invested in his story. Now I'm scouring my shelves for more Russian themed books. This one might be next:

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Powers That Be - Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

Title: Powers That Be (Petaybee #1)
Author: Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Paperback: 374 pages
Publisher: Del Rey
Published Date: 1993
FTC: From my dad

It's been a while since I've blogged. That doesn't mean that I've stopped reading. I've just found that with three little boys I have a harder time sitting down and doing anything. But I was reading Carl's post about his annual Sci-Fi Experience which I love and decided it was the perfect time to read and blog.

I've been in a huge purging mode at home and decided it was time to read a few Anne McCaffrey books I've had for forever. My dad loved science fiction and we used used to watch Star Trek together and when he passed away in 1998 I hung on to quite a few of his books. This was one of them. I felt that the cover was perfect for a winter read. By the way, the paperback cover is kind of gorgeous. You can't really tell in the photo but portions of the picture are raised and it's just kind of cool. And there's a unicorn...

When I first started reading this, the entire atmosphere of the novel seemed familiar. The setting reminded me of living in Fairbanks, Alaska. After a hundred or so pages I flipped to the back and read about the collaboration between Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. AHA!  Anne McCaffrey visited Elizabeth Ann Scarborough when she was living in Fairbanks, Alaska. Later they decided to write a story set on an icy planet called Petaybee. I'm sending this book on to my friend from Alaska to see if she gets the same Fairbanks feeling like I did.

So enough about me...what about the book? Well, you've got two award winning authors so of course it's going to be a good read. I totally enjoyed the story and while some of it could be a little hippy for me, it was overall a fun science fiction read.  A total comfort read. My dad didn't have the other two books in the series so I will have to check them out at some point if I can.

Back of the book:

Strange things were happening on the icy planet called Petaybee. Unauthorized genetically engineered species had been spotted. Geologic survey teams sent to locate newly detected mineral deposits were either coming up empty - or disappearing altogether. And the locals weren't talking - especially not to the company bent on exploiting the planet.

Disabled combat veteran Yanaba Maddock seemed to the company to be the ideal spy: the frailty that made her no further use to the military would be a perfect blind to allow her to get close to the Petaybean natives. But miraculously, with her relocation to the arctic planet came a return of Yana's health and strength. And the more she got to know the people of Petaybee, the more determined she became to protect her new home.

For something strange and wonderful truly was happening on Petaybee. Something worth fighting for, or even dying for - but, especially, something worth living for...

Other covers:

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

One Amazing Thing - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Title: One Amazing Thing
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Paperback: 220 pages (my version ARC)
Publisher: Hyperion/Hachette Books
Published date: 2010
FTC: Received ARC from publisher

I became a fan of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni back in college when I read her novels Sister of My Heart and The Vine of Desire. I then I bought and read The Mistress of Spices which I enjoyed as well. I've had the ARC of One Amazing Thing for way too long. I'll blame it on the fact that in 2010 I became pregnant and life just gets in the way. I can't believe I haven't read this before now. It's a short novel, quick and well-written. I love the premise of the story: "I don't believe anyone can go through life without encountering at least one amazing thing."

Back of the book:

A punk teenager with an unexpected gift. An upper-class Caucasian couple whose relationship is falling apart. A young Muslim- American man struggling with the fallout of 9/11. A graduate student haunted by a question about love. An African-American ex-soldier searching for redemption. A Chinese grandmother with a secret past. And two visa office workers on the verge of an adulterous affair. When these nine disparate people are trapped together in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake, their struggle to survive is captivating enough-- but award-winning novelist Chitra Divakaruni takes their situation to the next level, as each of the nine takes a turn sharing "one amazing thing" from his or her own life.

My thoughts:

The story starts out with a bunch of strangers in an Indian consulate office in an American city when a disastrous earthquake hits and traps them all underground. To buoy spirits, it's suggested that everyone tell a personal story. This novel reads quick because really it is a series of short stories about each of these nine characters with the backdrop of the earthquake. 

I find it's a such a great scenario because I believe all of us could find a moment like this where we are surrounded by strangers: on a bus, doctor's office, DMV, you name it. This novel makes you more aware that everyone has their stories, their amazing things as well as their sadness and pains. Opening up and telling our stories is something that helps us get past the strangeness and make us realize that we all have more in common than we realize. As each story unfolds, each character's idiosyncrasies were made clear and understood.  Isn't it odd that for many of us, opening up is one of the hardest things to do, with strangers or even with people we closely love. My Bible study group was talking about something similar recently - about reviewing our life and finding the amazing things...finding God at work in our lives.

One Amazing Thing would be a great book club read. I think it's short enough that people could realistically read it and my ARC came with some fabulous discussion questions. For instance: If you were to tell the story of one amazing thing that happened in your life, what would it be? What did you learn about some of the cultures and religions explored in the book? If you've read the book, what did you think about the ending? Have you read One Amazing Thing? What did you think?


"Looking back, I could not point to one special time and say, There! That's what is amazing. We can change completely and not recognize it. We think terrible events have made us into stone. But love slips in like a chisel - and suddenly it is an ax, breaking us into pieces from the inside."

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Portrait of Emily Price - Katherine Reay

Title: A Portrait of Emily Price
Author: Katherine Reay
Paperback: 341 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Published date: 2016
FTC: Received from publisher to review

Katherine Reay is one of my top favorite authors. I have been having to clean out some of my book hoard because three little boys bring lots of things into our house, but I will always keep my Katherine Reay books. I even got to interview her once (eeep!!). I just know that whatever she writes I am going to curl up and savor - enjoying the way she describes food and books. Why do those go so well together?


Art restorer Emily Price has never encountered anything she can’t fix—until she meets Ben, an Italian chef, who seems just right. But when Emily follows Ben home to Italy, she learns that his family is another matter . . .

Emily Price—fix-it girl extraordinaire and would-be artist—dreams of having a gallery show of her own. There is no time for distractions, especially not the ultimate distraction of falling in love.

But Chef Benito Vassallo’s relentless pursuit proves hard to resist. Visiting from Italy, Ben works to breathe new life into his aunt and uncle’s faded restaurant, Piccollo. Soon after their first meeting, he works to win Emily as well—inviting her into his world and into his heart.

Emily astonishes everyone when she accepts Ben’s proposal and follows him home. But instead of allowing the land, culture, and people of Monterello to transform her, Emily interferes with everyone and everything around her, alienating Ben’s tightly knit family. Only Ben’s father, Lucio, gives Emily the understanding she needs to lay down her guard. Soon, Emily’s life and art begin to blossom, and Italy’s beauty and rhythm take hold of her spirit.

Yet when she unearths long-buried family secrets, Emily wonders if she really fits into Ben’s world. Will the joys of Italy become just a memory, or will Emily share in the freedom and grace that her life with Ben has shown her are possible?

My thoughts:

Are you serious? Art...Italy...Italian food....SOLD!

Emily is in art restoration (super cool) and I just fell in love with her and her story. I'll admit that unlike most of Katherine Reay's books, this took me a few more pages to get invested in the story than normal. I think it's because for the first part of the novel we get more of a quick romance. She meets Ben, falls in love, they flirt, they woo, they get married. But this story doesn't end with the's just the beginning. Emily moves with Ben to Italy and that's where I fall in love with the story. 

This novel - as with all of Katherine Reay's novels - are touted as romance but they are so much more. A Portrait of Emily Price is about love, yes, but about all the different types of love. Oh how I wish English had more words for love. Emily falls in love with Ben's family, with Ben's Italy, and comes to understand more about herself than ever before. I love the part of the novel where Emily is trying to paint and always gets stuck on the eyes. As her life and love changes, so is her ability to paint depth into her portraits. 

As always, I fall in love with Katherine Reay's writing which involves multiple senses. I love her food descriptions and her inclusions of book titles. How Ben's father is always thrusting books at people instead of talking. I need to start making book lists (and food lists) as I'm reading her books. And it may sound superficial but I LOVE the book covers of her novels. Whoever does these book covers deserves a huge raise. I adore them.

Check out my reviews of her previous novels:

Dear Mr Knightly
Lizzy & Jane
And I haven't reviewed The Bronte Plot!!! What?! I must go back and do that. I adore that novel.
My interview with Katherine Reay. Totally bragging here again.
Her next novel is called The Austen Escape. Eeeepp!! 

I also love that she knows author Kristy Cambron who I am rapidly becoming a fan of. I will be reviewing a couple of her novels soon. Love her books.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The View from the Cheap Seats - Neil Gaiman

Title: The View from the Cheap Seats
Author: Neil Gaiman
Hardback: 522 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Published date: May 2016
FTC: I requested to review from publisher

Have you ever been asked the question "If you were to go dinner with your favorite author, who would it be?" Well, this is kind of like being granted that wish. The first Neil Gaiman book I read was an eBook of Neverwhere back when I was a receptionist out of college and it was ok that I was working and reading books at the same time. I was hooked. Then I read Stardust. Then Coraline and Anansi Boys. And I fell hard for The Graveyard Book. Who hasn't? Even my kids love Chu (who doesn't love a cute sneezing Panda).

So sitting down to read The View from the Cheap Seats is how I would imagine sitting down with Neil Gaiman would be. Ok ok. In reality I know that 1) it would never actually happen and if it did 2) we'd probably be talking more about our kids and spouses. (I think Amanda is fabulous and not just because we share the same name.) That and if I was magically granted a night out with someone to dinner I honestly would pick my husband. Goodness, I treasure my date nights with him like a greedy pirate (and yes, I've been watching too many kid TV shows).  But seriously, sometimes as a stay-at-home mom I just want a dose of adultness (I know that's not a word) and adult conversation. So I pour myself a cup of coffee and enjoy reading Neil Gaiman's thoughts and ponderings and it is like hanging out with a friend who enjoys reading, libraries, Doctor Who, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, science fiction, Tori Amos, fairy tales, and basically good art.

I haven't finished the entire book. It's something I don't want to rush through. I read a few section a day and I savor it like chocolate. I also jump around reading sections because, well, it's my book and sometimes I like to throw off my linear self. While reading I've come across many authors I've never heard of and want to read, authors I've heard of and never read, and authors I've read that we both love. Can you believe I've never read Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Because I can't quote the entire book, just go out and buy it. It's one you need to own. But here's a few examples:

   "The magic and the danger of fiction is this: it allows us to see through other eyes. It takes us to places we have never been, allows us to care about, worry about, laugh with, cry for, people who do not, outside of the story, exist.
   There are people who think that things that happen in fiction do not really happen. These people are wrong." p415

   "I believe I have the right to think and say the wrong things. I believe your remedy for that should be to argue with me or to ignore me, and that I should have the same remedy for the wrong things that I believe you think.
   I believe that you have the absolute right to think things that I find offensive, stupid, preposterous or dangerous, and that you have the right to speak, write, or distribute these things, and that I do not have the right to kill you, maim you, hurt you, or take away your liberty or property because I find your ideas threatening or insulting or downright disgusting. You probably think some of my ideas are pretty vile too."  p4

You also have to go and read Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming. It's required reading...or at least it should be.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Hope Unfolding - Becky Thompson

Title: Hope Unfolding
Author: Becky Thompson
Paperback: 209 pages
Publisher: Waterbrook Press
Published date: March 2016
FTC: Received to review from Blogging for Books

I am the proud mommy of three beautiful boys ages 5 to six months. My youngest was just a few months old when I somehow came across Becky Thompson's book Hope Unfolding. I think it was Facebook or an ad from a publisher? Anyhow, I was struggling. I am a stay at home mom, which I love, but it can be tough sometimes. Baby number three was a surprise - we were about to call it quits and be happy with two kiddos when God had other plans. I called him Baby Joy before I knew who he was and that is exactly his personality. The most joyful baby I've ever met. But I was still struggling with two rambunctious boys and a new baby and basically I needed a reminder of Hope. I was about to order Becky Thompson's book on Amazon when I checked out Blogging for Books and it was available to review! Um, yes! Let me just say that I recommend this book for any mommas out there who are just struggling or need a pick-me-up. Big or little. And at some point we all do. We all do.

Back of the book:

God’s love, plans, and promises for you are forever unfolding.

 I get it, Momma. I totally get it.
 Every day you wake up and try your very best. You love, give, and pour out your life for the ones who call you Momma. But no matter how much you offer, there are still days you feel as though you come up short. You worry, Am I loving these babies enough? Is this ever going to get easier? Why does it seem like I am the only one who cannot balance it all?

Sometimes, we just need hope (and maybe a long uninterrupted nap). We need someone to help tune our hearts to the voice of the Father and to remind us that He has not forgotten about us.
In Hope Unfolding, Becky Thompson is a friend who reminds you that you aren’t alone, and that God is still writing your story. She guides you to encounter the Truth of God’s presence that not only fuels you with strength, but also a fresh confidence. And beyond gaining faith that tomorrow could be different, you find hope and purpose where you are standing today.

My thoughts:

I read this book in the mornings while eating breakfast and drinking my coffee. It was like sitting down for a chat with a fellow mom who's been there and gets it. Since then, I've started following Becky Thompson's Facebook page and seriously, you can't help but loving her. She often has Live posts and recently has been posting Live sessions going through her book. I'm excited about her recent news that she's coming out with a book called Love Unending, a twenty-one day journey to help focus on your marriage during this hard time of raising little ones. I will be buying that one.

But going back to Hope Unfolding, this book is an example of what I call "cheaper than therapy." Ha! I don't think I learned anything spectacularly new but I definitely needed to start my day in a frame of mind that it's ok momma, I am enough for these boys. I will have ups and downs but God made me their momma and I don't have to prove myself to God or these little ones. Just like they will never have to earn their love from me or God. So I'm going to put down my to-do list, put down my phone, and allow myself to just be. 

Cheaper Than Therapy
Coloring, a good book, and coffee (not pictured)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Girl Waits with Gun - Amy Stewart

Title: Girl Waits with Gun (Kopp Sisters #1)
Author: Amy Stewart
Hardcover: 408 pages (my version eBook)
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Published date: 2015
FTC: Rented from the library eBook collection

Title + cover = awesome. I am sold. I basically didn't have to know much about this book to want to read it. But then I saw that Amy Stewart wrote it. I am dying to get my hands on books Wicked Bugs, Wicked Plants, and The Drunken Botanist. I also just saw they came out with a coloring book from The Drunken Botanist. Ok ok I am getting off topic. I'm eagerly awaiting her next book in this series.

Back of the book:

A novel based on the forgotten true story of one of the nation’s first female deputy sheriffs.

Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family — and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared. 

My thoughts:

I loved this book. The characters and the writing were superb. For some reason I could envision this world so perfectly. But I think what I loved about the book was the three sisters. I adore Constance Kopp. She is the perfect heroine/protagonist/person I just want to cheer for. One sister is a bird fanatic and is perfectly happy being a hermit and taking care of birds. She is constantly reading the newspaper and sends Constance torn out headlines via carrier pigeons. I love that. Her much younger sister is a fashion fanatic. I'm torn about wanting to see these characters in a television show - a la a well made PBS/BBC version but would be nervous they'd mess it up. I was so excited to find that book two will be out soon. More Kopp sisters please!

I'm pretty picky about giving books five stars on Goodreads but this one deserved it. I can't wait to read Lady Cop Makes Trouble.


At the end of the book, Amy Stewart mentions that she got the idea of the Kopp Sisters series from real life Kopp sisters.  Seriously, truth is usually crazier than fiction.  Head over to Amy Stewart's website to check out her Q&A and see photos of the Kopp sisters. As a history major, I loved her attention to detail, her historical research, and the authenticity of her writing.