Saturday, October 18, 2014

Book Review: Where Treetops Glisten

*I received this book for free from Litfuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review of the book. All opinions are my own.

About the book: 
The crunch of newly fallen snow, the weight of wartime
Siblings forging new paths and finding love in three stories, filled with the wonder of Christmas

Turn back the clock to a different time, listen to Bing Crosby sing of sleigh bells in the snow, as the realities of America's involvement in the Second World War change the lives of the Turner family in Lafayette, Indiana.
In Cara Putman's White Christmas, Abigail Turner is holding down the Home Front as a college student and a part-time employee at a one-of-a-kind candy shop. Loss of a beau to the war has Abigail skittish about romantic entanglements---until a hard-working young man with a serious problem needs her help.
Abigail's brother Pete is a fighter pilot hero returned from the European Theater in Sarah Sundin's I'll Be Home for Christmas, trying to recapture the hope and peace his time at war has eroded. But when he encounters a precocious little girl in need of Pete's friendship, can he convince her widowed mother that he's no longer the bully she once knew?
In Tricia Goyer's Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Meredith Turner, "Merry" to those who know her best, is using her skills as a combat nurse on the frontline in the Netherlands. Halfway around the world from home, Merry never expects to face her deepest betrayal head on, but that's precisely what God has in mind to redeem her broken heart.
The Turner family believes in God's providence during such a tumultuous time. Can they absorb the miracle of Christ's birth and His plan for a future?
My Review:
 This is the perfect, feel-good book to warm the heart at Christmas time! I normally am not a fan of novellas but I thought the authors did a good job of bringing the stories together without the storyline feeling rushed, as well as making the characters consistent throughout each book, even though they were written by different authors. My favorite was Sarah Sundin's I'll Be Home for Christmas.  While it's not the most intriguing and complex story-line I enjoyed the writing and characters. So if you're looking for an easy, holiday romance to read this year then grab Where Treetops Glisten and curl up by the fireplace. Maybe even whip up a batch of Pete's Favorite Peanut Butter Cookies to go with your hot cocoa...I loved how they included recipes in the back of the book :)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Book Review: The Mason Jar

*I received this book for free from Litfuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review of the book. All opinions are my own.

About the Book:

What if your old college roommate called, raving about a book someone sent her, calling it the most beautiful book she's ever read? "But," she said, "it's about you." The author is your college ex.
In The Mason Jar, Clayton Fincannon is a Tennessee farm boy raised at the feet of his grandfather. He and his grandfather leave letters for each other in a Mason jar on his grandfather's desk---letters of counsel and affirmation. When Clayton attends college in Southern California, he meets and falls in love with a dark debutante from Colorado. However, when an unmentioned past resurrects in her life and she leaves, Clayton is left with unanswered questions.
Clayton goes on to serve as a missionary in Africa, while he and his grandfather continue their tradition of writing letters. When Clayton returns home five years later to bury his grandfather, he searches for answers pertaining to the loss of the young woman he once loved. Little does Clayton know, the answers await him in the broken Mason jar.
A story about a girl who vanished, a former love who wrote a book about her, and a reunion they never imagined.

My Review:
First off, let me just start by saying that when I sign up for books to review I really try and only pick ones that I think I will honestly enjoy.  I don't enjoy writing negative reviews, but I have such high standards for what a book should be that I'm not going to sugar-coat it.

With that being said...I absolutely did not like this book, and if I hadn't had to review it I wouldn't have even finished reading it.  When The Mason Jar arrived in the mail I was so excited to read it, but within the first few pages my excitement turned to disappointment, and then my disappointment turned to exasperation.  Those standards I was talking about? You know...things like basic editing, a plot, storyline that flows, characters with depth, dialogue that actually adds something to the storyline...yeah, not happening here! 
I'll outline those points in a moment, but I think what disappointed me most was that I felt deceived by what was written on the back cover and what the story was actually about.  I thought the story was going to be a coming-of-age tale revolving around letters(left in a mason jar) and written between a boy and his wise grandfather, with his story of love and heartbreak woven in. I mean, after all, it is titled The Mason Jar. Wrong! I counted...the total number of letters between him and his grandfather throughout the entire book? Five...and most were not even a full page.

Instead the story reads more like a memoir (honestly, if you go to the author's website, this book is his life) about a man's obsession over a girl he barely dated ( but forgive me, they had a connection, it was true love!) and how he can't grow up and get over her when she suddenly up and leaves during college. So he returns to Africa to do "missions work" which apparently means being a "good person", having a "good heart" and helping people, making out with girls(to get over said true love), and drinking whiskey...but has nothing to do with sharing the love of Jesus.  Nothing irks me more than books being marketed as "Christian" just because they happen to mention God or faith, yet in no way portraying the Christian walk or having any redemption of characters.
So now back to my other issues with this book...basic editing:

1. On the back cover it says Finn falls in love with a girl named Savannah...nope, her name is Eden. There is no Savannah in the book, apparently the author changed the character's name but didn't bother to change it on the back cover.

2. on pg. 5 it introduces the character as Eden Valmont, then when talking about the book Finn wrote about her they say "he changed your name though, to Eden Valmont" hmmm...that sounds like the exact same name...again, its just poor editing. There were several other editing things along these lines sprinkled throughout the entire book, that really took away from it for me.

3. Parts of the book had beautifully written, poetic descriptions, but then the majority of it seemed stilted and disjointed. The points of view and time frames jumped back and forth between memories, what was actually happening, and the "book within a book" as Eden read through it, and for me it seemed choppy and poorly written

4. There were just too many unrealistic/underdeveloped plot points, that made me feel as if I was reading a rough 1st draft of a novel, not a completed work. For example:
       Finn wants them to keep their relationship secret so that others can't come between them(1st off    that's super paranoid and weird, not romantic)...and yet they lay on a blanket in the middle of        campus and make out where everyone can see them....hmmm, that seems contradictory
     2nd: Her parents seem all happy to meet Finn when he comes for dinner, then her Dad seems all angry and literally drags her off home to marry some other guy. years later she has a perfectly fine relationship with her dad...what?? Also, why did she have to keep her marriage to him such a secret, and people break engagements all the time, just because someone has cancer doesn't mean you have to marry them!
    3rd: The fact that Eden "disappeared" from college, no one knew where she went, and yet 5 years later she's back talking to her college roommate like nothing happened?
    4th: Katie...what is this girl's deal?? and why is she still obsessed with Finn five years later and has yet to move on even when they never dated?? I felt as though all the characters acted like they were in highschool, not college graduates.

The characters in this book were just too wrapped up in the idea of true love, and yet all of their actions spoke otherwise to me. I could go on and on about all the other things I disliked in this book, but I won't.  I apologize for the review being so long, but I wanted to specifically illustrate why I said I did not like it. I know plenty of people loved this book, but this is just how I honestly felt about The Mason Jar.
Catch the spark by entering James' Kindle Fire giveaway!
One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire
  • The Mason Jar by James Russell Lingerfelt
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on October 19th. Winner will be announced October 20th at James Russell's blog, Love Story from the Male Perspective.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

3rd Annual OMG Reunion!

 This past weekend all my college roomies and their husbands gathered together in Blacksburg for our 3rd Annual OMG reunion. (You can read more about the OMG and last year's reunion here.)  The very first year after we graduated Amanda Mae, Melanie, and I were all living in Northern VA so the rest of the girls traveled up for the weekend. I remember them sleeping on our living room floor, going thrifting, eating delicious food, and doing yoga videos on YouTube :) Not much has changed since that first year in one sense and yet so much has changed all at the same time!
In the past year Britt and Ryan have gotten married, Amanda Mae and Melanie are both pregnant, and the rest of us have all bought/are in the process of buying our first home!  Where did the time go?!

The weather was rainy and overcast all weekend long but that didn't stop us from making the most of our time together.  The weekend included apple picking at Doe Creek Farm, followed by a picnic lunch, the girls did a little shopping while the boys watched football, a spontaneous late-night trip to Cookout for milkshakes, and visiting all our old haunts on VT's campus. We crammed around Dave & Em's kitchen table for dinner, elbow's bumping as the food was passed, laughter overflowing as we broke bread together and shared in one another's lives, and as I looked around the table I couldn't help but think this is the church, this right here is fellowship and friendship and grace lived out in the everyday.  What a blessing this past weekend was, it did my soul good to have my people all under one roof again and I can't wait till next year!

Britt &Ry, Emily &Dave, Me &Jonathan, Melanie&Colin( and baby Reilly :), Amanda Mae &Josh(and baby Caroline Mae), Linds &Lewis

Friday, October 3, 2014

Books Through the Seasons

Last week I came home from work in the mood to read a comfort book, with temps in the 60s, dinner in the crockpot, and my Autumn candle burning nothing sounded better at the moment!

Comfort books are a real thing in case you didn't know. They exist just as much as comfort food does.  They're books you have partially memorized with creased spines, finger-worn edges, and probably a few wrinkled pages from being dropped in the bathtub, and yet you come back to them over and over again.  The characters are like old friends and the familiar story-lines bring as much comfort as Granny's homemade biscuits. 

As I was pondering which book to read I realized that in every season there are certain books that I gravitate towards again and again, so I thought it would be fun to take a look at what books I read through the seasons!

Around Autumn it's inevitable that at some point I'll read L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Windy Poplars(which happens to be the book I chose this time) or Anne of the Island.  I think I'm drawn to these because in the latter she's in college, and the former she has become a teacher herself so the school-atmosphere of these books lends itself to Fall.

Every Christmas for about the past 8 years or so I've read Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.  I'm not sure if it's because the story starts out on Christmas morning or just because there is something so comforting about all the sisters growing up together in their worn but comfortable and love-filled home with Marmee.  And I think we all want to think of love-filled homes at Christmas time.

During the long winter months when I can't get outside to exercise my body, I tend to exercise my mind more by reading longer books or series such as Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice or C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.  And wintertime also calls for a few comfort reads by Janette Oke, especially her Canadian West series!  There's just something about reading of frontier life in the far north that makes me even more grateful to be snuggled up inside my warm house.

When the weather turns warmer and Spring beckons me to enjoy some carefree hours outside, I once again reach for L.M. Montgomery but this time I tend to choose the classic Anne of Green Gables. Anne's wild imagination and childish wonder at the world is just what I need on a lazy Spring day when all the world is new again.

In the Summer, when days are longer and my schedule is freer I tend to check out new authors or books I haven't read before, but you can bet there are some more Anne stories mingled throughout as well as Robin Jones Gunn's Glenbrooke Series.

So there you have it, my comfort books through the seasons! What are your comfort books? Are there ones you read at particular times in the year?  I'd love to hear about them if you wouldn't mind dropping a comment below!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Everetts Go to Europe, Part 4 {Stratford & Scotland}

This is the last and final post about our trip!  Click here to see part 1, part 2, and part 3.  On Thursday Jonathan and I went to Stratford-Upon-Avon by ourselves, while Aimee stayed at home to get some work done. Stratford ended up being one of our favorite places to meander around, and I'm sure it was helped by the fact that I had the best sandwich of my life...crusty baguette stuffed with roasted chicken, soft brie cheese, and cranberry sauce..I'm still looking for a way to recreate it at home.  At the beginning of our time there we took a wrong turn and ended up far away from all the touristy things and more in the heart of Stratford itself. We stumbled upon this old cemetery and I loved it, there is something so sacred about graveyards.

At the side of the cemetery were about 90 graves from airmen during WWII who died in a battle around Stratford.  A majority of the airmen were Canadian so Canada sent Maple trees to the cemetery and they are now planted there in a ring of remembrance. I'm so glad we stumbled upon this little out of the way graveyard, if for this sight alone.
Shakespeare's grave and stained glass windows inside Holy Trinity Church where we took refuge from a rain shower, and listened to the local prayer service.
A Bible from the 1600s.

We spent much of our time strolling along the river Avon, and found this back entrance into the grounds of Holy Trinity Church.  It reminded me of the door in the wall that Eustace & Jill went through to get into Narnia :)

Holy Trinity Church
Shakespeare's daughter's house

Monday-Tuesday Jonathan and I took a 4 hour train ride through English and Scottish countryside to spend some time in Edinburgh, Scotland before we flew home to the states on Wednesday.  Of course I woke up with a cold on Monday morning and felt just awful by the time we arrived in Edinburgh.  We stopped for lunch at the Elephant House Cafe ,where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book, and I felt so bad that I didn't even take any pictures while we were there!  Jonathan took me back to our hotel where I promptly cried over the fact that I was sick while we were in Scotland. He wisely let me nap for a little while and then I was determined that we not waste our time so we set off to hike Arthur's Seat, which overlooks the city of Edinburgh.  At this point not only was I sick with a cold, but I was a little homesick as well. So we called it a night, picked up Subway on the way back to our hotel, then sat on the floor watching Mission Impossible while we ate before hitting the bed early.  Nothing like a little taste of home, even if it is Subway and cheesy Tom Cruise movies :)

On Tuesday morning we set out to explore and I sniffled and sneezed my way through the rest of Edinburgh :)
Us on top of Calton Hill, and the Observatory and National Monument(also known as Edinburgh's Disgrace because they didn't have enough money to finish it during the 1800s) pictured below

The above picture is one of my favorites from our time in Scotland, we were walking down Calton Hill and back into the city of Edinburgh.

Inside the grounds of Edinburgh Castle!

We spent a few hours touring the castle, browsed the shops up and down the Royal Mile, and ended with dinner in Princes Street Gardens before catching the train back home.  Where we spent a late night packing everything up before we left for the States in the morning!  We had a wonderful time traveling all over England and getting to experience Aimee's life, but when it's all said and done I am more than content to be back home in little ol' southwest VA :)

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