Monday, January 30, 2012

"The Housewife Assassin's Handbook" by Josie Brown

Five years ago, Donna Stone was your average housewife - two preschoolers, a baby on the way, an adoring husband named Carl, and a McMansion in Orange County. But all this came crashing to an end the night she delivered her baby when Carl's car blew up on the way to the hospital. It turns out Carl was a black-ops assassin for the Acme Corporation, hot on the heels of a terrorist cell known as Quorum. And he left behind something that they wanted badly.

To protect her family from Quorum and to avenge her husbands death, Donna joins Acme and becomes a top assassin, all the while juggling the fifth grade phone tree and carpool duty. But the terrorist group has planted a sleeper cell in her neighbourhood and things become a little too close for comfort. Will Donna be able to avenge her husbands death and stop Quorum before it's too late? And will she be able to get her son to his baseball game and pick up the cupcakes for the Father-Daughter dance?

The Housewife Assassin's Handbook by Josie Brown is a fun, sexy and intriguing mystery. Donna Stone is a great heroine - housewives can lead all sorts of double lives, but as an assassin? Who would have seen that one coming? Certainly not those in Donna's neighbourhood.

This book totally reminded me of the movie Mr & Mrs. Smith. Not that it is a copy of the movie, but that it has all of the thrills and enjoyment of the movie. It's a fast-paced read, the gadgets are awesome, and I could just picture Donna fighting off Russian gangsters and skinheads all the while having a pie at home cooling on the windowsill. As a housewife myself, this book was a fantastic escape that had me dreaming "if only" the whole way through. The book doesn't take itself too seriously, which makes for the perfect combination of mystery and humour.

A couple of quick warnings. There are descriptive sex scenes and strong language. I'm not a fan of either of the two, however they didn't bother me too much. Only a couple of times did I cringe at words that were used. And the Kindle edition did have some editing mistakes. They were more noticeable toward the end for me, but didn't take away from the book.

I highly enjoyed this book. It's not your typical assassin book as housewife assassins are not typical. Donna is a tough, feisty character who can take on anything or anyone that comes her way. Suspense and laughs are all rolled up into one in this book and you will find it difficult to put down. The handbook feel and household tips are a cute addition. Josie Brown is a creative and innovative writer and I look forward to what's to come in this series.

I would like to thank the author, Josie Brown, for providing me with a copy of the book. The opinions expressed above are purely my own.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Awesome Home Libraries

Lately I've been spending a lot of time on Pinterest. One thing that I absolutely love it for is drooling over the pictures of home libraries! I dream of the day I can have a full-fledged library in my house. I hope you enjoy the pictures as much as I do.

Friday, January 27, 2012

"Sinners & Saints" by Victoria Christopher Murray & ReShonda Tate Billingsley

Team Jasmine or Team Rachel? You might want to pick a side because these ladies are going to make sure they are the last woman standing.

Jasmine Cox Larson Bush and Rachel Jackson Adams are not your typical first ladies. But they have put their scandalous and drama-filled pasts behind them and are focused on supporting their husbands in their roles as Pastor. Naturally, when the position of president of the American Baptist Coalition opens up both women think their husband is perfect for the job. When they find out who they are up against, the women realize that they may have to reach into their old bag of tricks. But will it be enough when both women come up against the current first lady, who has a plan of her own for the coalition?

Sinners & Saints brings together two of the most devious and dramatic first ladies ever seen in Urban Christian fiction. ReShonda Tate Billingsley's Rachel grew up in the church but went seriously astray as a teen. She turned her life around and stepped into the role of first lady, but drama continues to follow her around. Victoria Christopher Murray's Jasmine did what she had to do growing up, including becoming a stripper. She didn't make great choices but when she married her pastor husband she vowed to live a better life even though it was far from drama free. They have similar stories but these two women definitely won't be coming together any time soon.

When I first heard of this book I was thrilled! Two of my favourite Christian authors getting together to write a book was so exciting. This book did not disappoint. They took two well-loved and well-developed characters and put them into one hot book. The chapters alternate between Rachel and Jasmine but this book flows seamlessly. I was very impressed at how the book felt as if it was written by just one author.

This book is a page-turner. Just when you think one lady isn't going to be able to top the other one, she pulls something out of her hat and things quickly get outrageous! You can't wait to find out what the women are going to do next. It's like you're watching a Christian soap opera! And what is even more fantastic about this book, is that there is a second instalment that will be released in 2013!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"I Got This" by Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson has achieved a lot in her life - appearing on American Idol, winning an Academy Award, releasing her own albums, marrying and having a child. But these days what she is well known for is losing over eighty pounds on the Weight Watchers diet plan. And now she is sharing this journey in a new book called I Got This: How I Changed My Ways and Lost What Weighed Me Down.

While at first glance you would think this book is a memoir it's actually more of an inspirational book. The first half of the book chronicles her life from her childhood to getting started in the entertainment industry and on to starting her family. However, it does seem to skip through this part of her life and she really only talks about these experiences from the perspective of her weight issues. The second half of the book is about her experience with Weight Watchers. She goes in-depth with the program, how it works, and how to do your best on the program. She shares the stories of some of her family members who also joined the program.

I picked up this book because I have liked Jennifer Hudson since her days on American Idol and I was looking forward to getting to know more about her and her experience in the industry. She has always seemed like a normal girl who has been able to stay true to her values. There wasn't much of this in the book. I probably should have realized that from the title. And if you're wondering, she doesn't address her family tragedy at all.

If you're interested in hearing about her weight loss journey, then you will enjoy this book, especially if you're familiar with the Weight Watchers program. It's very impressive that she was able to lose over eighty pounds through changing her eating habits and increasing her exercise. She did it in an easy way with no gimmicks and this book will be motivational for anyone who is trying to lose weight. Jennifer's story shows that if you stick to it and work hard, you can achieve what you set your mind to. Be warned though, at times this book definitely feels like a Weight Watchers infomercial.

Monday, January 23, 2012

"The Beach Cafe" by Lucy Diamond

Evie has always been the black sheep of the family. While her siblings were getting married and having children, Evie was floating around, trying her hand at everything that interested her. But eventually she realized she couldn't do that forever. And so she found herself in an office temp job from hell, living with a rather dull but dependable boyfriend, and planning to go to school to become a teacher, a career that didn't interest her but would provide stability. Just what everyone thought she needed.

Then Aunt Jo suddenly passes away and leaves her beach cafe in Cornwall to Evie, her favourite niece. Evie sees this as an opportunity to prove herself once and for all and dives in head first. But when she arrives in Cornwall, she finds the staff has gone crazy in the absence of a boss and the locals definitely don't want Evie running the cafe. With the help of a few close friends, Evie finds her way and the cafe soon becomes an integral part of village life. But it's definitely not without a few hiccups and maybe even a scandal along the way.

The Beach Cafe by Lucy Diamond is an enjoyable and delightful read. Evie Flynn is an adorable character and you find yourself cheering for her through the entire book. This is definitely a page-turner, one of those books that you just can't put down even though you know you have things you need to do! Diamond's writing flows easily and beautifully throughout the entire book.

This story will make you want to run off to the English coast to run your own beach cafe. Sure, like a lot of chick lit, this story is pretty much predictable. But that's what makes it so lovely. This is a book to curl up with on a rainy day under a warm blanket because you can be sure that you will instantly be transported away to your own cafe somewhere in the world on a beach. And who doesn't want that, if only a for a few hours?

Friday, January 20, 2012

"The Maid of Fairbourne Hall" by Julie Klassen

To escape her stepfathers pressure to marry a dishonourable man Margaret Macy flees London on a whim. If she can last only a few months on her own until her next birthday she will inherit a large sum of money from her aunt and along with it, independence. With no money and nowhere to go, Margaret reinvents herself as Nora Garret and takes a position as housemaid. She quickly discovers that the house she is working in belongs to Nathaniel Upchurch, a former suitor of Margaret's who she rejected in the failed hopes of attracting his older brother. Can Margaret remain hidden and pass as a servant under the noses of those who are looking for her?

The Maid of Fairbourne Hall is a fantastic work of historical Christian fiction. Julie Klassen is a skilled writer who instantly transports you back to the time and place and immediately draws you into the story, keeping you hooked until the very end. The book has mystery, romance, and faith all in one.

The book looks at two worlds of old English manors - the upper class people who live in the homes and the servants who keep the homes running. What I really appreciated about this book was that it focuses on many different characters and gives them fully developed story lines from the maids to the chef to the brothers and sister who own the home.

Margaret Macy is a heroine to cheer for. She sets off on an incredible journey, throwing herself into a world she knows about but doesn't understand just how difficult it is. Along the way her views and emotions change as she discovers that you can't judge by appearances and that everyone has a story behind them.

Julie Klassen has done a lot of research on the time period and it shows. You don't feel like you're reading a book about another place and time, you feel like you are there. One thing that I really enjoyed was the quotes she used at the beginning of each chapter from various books and resources on what life was like in that time period for the staff. It was an added bonus to help you understand the environment the book was set in.

I've been having a lot of success lately in finding good historical Christian fiction and it has continued with this book. If you like this genre, you'll love this book. I also highly recommend this book if you're a fan of television like Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs or if you're a fan of Jane Austen.

I received this book courtesy of Bethany House and Graf-Martin Communications. The opinions expressed above are purely my own.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"The Book of Negroes: Illustrated Edition" by Lawrence Hill

Abducted from her West African village at eleven-years-old, Aminata Diallo is forced into slavery on an indigo plantation in South Carolina. Trapped in a lifetime of slavery, Aminata draws on the strength of her ancestors and the skills she learned as young girl to improve her life as best as she can given the violence and constraints that surround her. Her determination lands her the opportunity to register her name in the Book of Negroes, a historic British military ledger allowing three thousand Black Loyalists passage on ships sailing from Manhattan to Nova Scotia.

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill takes the reader on an incredible journey from West Africa, to an American plantation, on to a small community in Nova Scotia, the coast of Sierra Leone in West Africa and finally to London, England. The journey belongs to fictional character Aminata Diallo but is that of the thousands of Africans forced into slavery.

This book is an incredible work of historical fiction. Having studied African History in university I was instantly drawn to this book and it did not disappoint. In fact, this is the best book, fiction or non-fiction, I have read on this subject. And the illustrated edition brings the book to life, making it an incredible keepsake edition.

The book contains over 100 images - early documents, maps, archival photos, period paintings and actual pages from the original handwritten Book of Negroes. These are the images that inspired Lawrence Hill and the ones he drew from to craft the story of Aminata.

If you enjoyed reading The Book of Negroes the first time around you will love this version as it brings the story to life. If you haven't read the book, you must pick it up. This is a fascinating story, one of depth and length that will keep you engrossed until the very last page. The illustrated version is a must-read for any history lover.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"Want to Go Private?" by Sarah Darer Littman

Abby is starting high school, one of the most exciting times of a teenagers life. But Abby isn't feeling very excited. She's having difficulty making new friends and her best friend is drifting away. Abby begins to wonder if anyone understands what she is going through.

Luke does. Luke is a 27-year-old Abby met online. At first Abby isn't sure about him. She knows all about internet safety and that she shouldn't be chatting with him, but he gets her. He understands her struggles with her family and friends. He thinks she's beautiful and smart.

Then Luke asks Abby to meet him in real life, which she does. But Luke isn't who he says he is, and Abby goes missing. The police race to find her as her friends and family wonder if they will ever see Abby again.

Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman is a young adult novel that gives a realistic portrayal of the dangers of internet chatting and meeting people online. It is a timely novel and one that all young girls should read. Yes, it has scary moments and gets a little graphic but it's what is necessary to get through to young adults about the dangers of the internet.

It is a tough world for teenagers today. I remember the angst and troubles of high school that we all felt. The internet wasn't popular until I was almost through high school (wow, did I just make myself feel old!) and we didn't have these worries. But todays teenagers have the internet, cell phones, webcams, social networking sites…the list goes on and a lot of parents don't have an understanding of the rapidly advancing technology. It's very easy for a stranger to exploit weaknesses in our children through the internet.

That is why I'm glad there are authors like Sarah Darer Littman who are writing these novels. Our kids are bombarded by internet safety messages these days. And what I really appreciated about this novel was the character of Abby saying she had heard all those messages but that wasn't her case, Luke was different. It's easy for kids to think "that can't happen to me" or "this isn't like that."

Sure, the writing in this novel may not be fantastic or the plot may seem predictable but that doesn't matter when it comes to this book. It portrays a very real possibility in a way that will reach both teenagers and parents. I highly recommend this book for parents who are looking to open up discussion with their children about internet usage and to help teenagers understand the mindset of the men and women who use the internet to take advantage of children.

Monday, January 9, 2012

"Slightly Suburban" by Wendy Markham

Tracey Spadolini Candell has had it with New York City. From the long hours at work, the subway rides home, the tiny but expensive apartment, her husbands best friend spending way too much time on their couch, the roach infestation in her building, and the unknown assailant leaving behind fresh piles of…umm…excrement in the hallways, she is officially done with the city and ready to head for the greener pastures of the suburbs.

But life in Westchester isn't as perfect as she thought it would be. First Tracey loses her job and then they find out that their dream fixer-upper is more like unfixable. Having nothing in common with the stay at home yoga moms, she finds herself missing her friends and her job. Will Tracey be able to survive the suburbs or will she find herself running back to the city?

Slightly Suburban by Wendy Markham is the fifth in the "Slightly" series, following main character Tracey through her life. While it is part of the series it does stand up on its own and you don't need to read the other four books first. However, if you want to give these books a go it is probably better to start at the beginning.

While this is a quick, light read it is a case of the actual book not being what you are expecting from the title of the book jacket. Most of the book is the lead-up to leaving the city and by the time they reach the suburbs the book is more than halfway done. The "stay at home yoga moms" were one who showed up once. I was expecting a lot more ups and downs in the suburbs which I didn't get.

That being said, it is still a quick and fluffy chick lit read. From what I have read on GoodReads, it seems that it is better to start at the beginning of the series and get yourself invested in the characters and their lives if you want some enjoyment out of the book.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

"The Bomber" by Liza Marklund

It's 3:22 a.m. when a call comes in for journalist Annika Bengtzon. A bomb has exploded in Stockholm's new Olympic arena just months before the Summer Games. Not only has it destroyed part of the arena but it has blown someone to pieces. Annika sets out to cover the story and she develops a hunch that this isn't an act of terrorism but a personal vendetta. Soon, another bomb has exploded and the hunt for the perpetrator intensifies. As Annika digs deeper, eager to get the biggest story of her career, she finds herself in the path of the bomber and her big scoop may be her last.

The Bomber by Liza Marklund is a Scandinavian thriller, one that conjures up the idea of curling up under a blanket while the wind whips cold outside. It is a part of the Annika Bengtzon series, following the lead character as she works her way up the ladder in the journalism world.

Annika is a tough but likeable character. She certainly has her flaws and you can't help but be a little annoyed at her for her some of her choices but she earns your respect as the tough head of the crime department at a major newspaper where many of her co-workers are out to get her. In addition to the mystery the book gives readers an interesting look at what goes on at a paper in the midst of a major news story.

My first thought of this book was "I wish I hadn't started this so late at night." It is most definitely a page-turner. Right from the first page you are drawn in and you won't want to put it down until you have figured out who the bomber is and why. The book did slow down a bit and begin to lag at the end but not enough to turn me off of the book at all.

Marklund is a fantastic writer. She pays attention to detail and brings Stockholm to life for readers who have never been there. Most importantly she has created an interesting, relatable and inspiring character in Annika Bengtzon. In the past I have shied away from these types of novels (mysteries/thrillers) but Marklund has definitely changed my mind on that. I look forward to reading more of her books.

I received this book courtesy of Random House. I received no compensation for the opinions expressed above.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Book Blogger Confessions #1

I just discovered this brand new meme, Book Blogger Confessions. It is co-hosted by Tiger of All-Consuming Books and Karen of For What It's Worth Reviews. The meme, running on the 1st and 3rd Monday of each month, is an opportunity for book bloggers to come together and discuss book blogging, it's ups and downs, the good and the bad.

The first question is: How has the "job" of book blogging changed your reading habits? Both pro and con.

Pros: I'm definitely reading a lot more! Before I would read when I felt like it, now I make time for reading. One of the best things to come out of book blogging for me is that I've been introduced to so many genres, books and authors I never would have touched before. After finishing university I was pretty tired of reading, and when I did pick up a book, it was almost always chick lit. Now I'm reading classics, mystery, young adult, even speculative fiction.

Cons: I find myself pushing through books I don't really care to read. I feel like if I'm reviewing the book I owe it to the author and publisher to get through the whole thing. Before this, I would just give up on a book and move on to the next one if I wasn't into it. I even felt that way with library books! If I posted on my blog I was reading it, then I needed to finish it! So I'm working on keeping the pressure off of me and remembering that this is a hobby, not a job.

Monday, January 2, 2012

"MWF Seeking BFF" by Rachel Bertsche

After spending years in different cities, Rachel Bertsche is thrilled to be living with her boyfriend. But soon after leaving her friends and work behind in New York and getting married and settling in Chicago she realizes that there is still something missing in her life - a best friend. Yes, she has lots of BFFs, but they live in other cities. And of course she has friends in Chicago, but no one she would feel comfortable enough with to call for a last minute brunch or reality TV marathon.

So Rachel devises a plan to find herself a Chicago BFF - over the course of a year she will go one fifty-two friend dates, one for each week of the year. What follows is a hilarious, often awkward and touching journey to finding out what a best friend really is and the important role friends play in our lives.

MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend is a recounting of Bertsche's yearlong search for a best friend. She originally chronicled the search in a blog and the book definitely has that sort of feel.

In the beginning, Rachel finds it easy to make friend dates. All she has to do is ask friends and colleagues if they have any friends they think she should meet. But after a while these connections run out and she still has many more dates to find. That's when she turns to book clubs, improv classes, and customer service personnel she has hit it off with in the past. Then she turns to online friend-matching websites. She even resorts to renting a friend. In the name of finding a BFF, Rachel covers all of the bases.

Interspersed with the friend dates are anecdotes and facts from various sources regarding relationships and current social trends. This was my least favourite part of the book. It reminded me of when I was writing papers in university and I would throw in random quotes or facts because my professors required a specific number of secondary sources. A lot of Bertche's secondary sources felt forced and unnecessary and for me they interrupted the flow of the book.

As a thirty-year-old stay at home mother of young children I find it difficult to find someone I can talk with about things other than Barbies and Justin Bieber. I understand what it's like to be in a different place than your friends you grew up with and I completely understand how hard it can be to make new friends as an adult. Everyone will see themselves in this book, whether you're new to town or just not sure how to strike up a friendship with someone you have recently met. No matter what your situation you will find yourself inspired to look for the opportunities to make a new friend in your own life.

As far as "I'm going to do an experiment and keep a blog of it for a year"-type books go, this one works. I'll admit, after reading a few not so great ones, I've found myself kind of tiring of the genre. But Bertsche writes with humour and honesty about a situation most adult women find themselves in at some point in their lives. We may never go to the extremes that she does, but she helps us see that friend-making doesn't end in school and is something that we all need in our lives.

I would like to thank Random House for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. I received no compensation for the opinions expressed above.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

The start of the year is always exciting here at Curled Up With a Good Book and a Cup of Tea not just because of the exciting reading that is ahead but also because it's my blogoversary! In two days, I'll have been blogging here for two years! It's been a whirlwind and tons of fun. I'm so happy to be a part of the book blogger community.

Yesterday I looked at how I did on my 2011 challenges. Now it's time to look ahead at my challenges for this year. I've decided to take a giant leap outside of my comfort zone and start reading some genres I've run away from in the past.

100 Books Read Challenge
This is the 3rd year I'm challenging myself to read 100 books and hopefully this year I'll make it!

Canadian Book Challenge 5
Love this challenge! I'm officially in love with CanLit. The challenge is from July 1-June 30. So far I've read 9 of 13 books.

Back to Classics Challenge
Now it's time for me to face those books I've always heard of but never got around to reading due to being scared off of them in school! The aim is 9 books.

Mixing It Up Challenge
The goal is 16 books for this one, each from a different genre. This is where I'm really going to be jumping out of my comfort zone and covering genres such as Manga, Horror, Science and Poetry.

Speculative Fiction Challenge
I've enjoyed Dystopian novels in the past so it's time for me to explore this genre further. I'm even going to read a Steampunk novel which I have to admit doesn't seem like anything I would care for. But I can't say for sure if I don't try it! I'm hoping to read 6 books for this challenge.

What are your plans for 2012?