Wednesday, August 28, 2013

When Mountains Move

When Mountains Move by Julie Cantrell

I received an advance review copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

My review:

This is a sequel to Into the Free, which I have not read. It's Mississippi, 1943, and Millie is marrying veterinarian Bump Anderson and moving West to help him start a ranching operation for their boss, Cauy Tucker. She is haunted by memories of a horrible experience a month before her wedding, and that secret taints the early months of her marriage. Her relationship with Bump is also rocked by many and varied external challenges.

A knowledge of the backstory is not necessary to follow the events, but it would certainly be helpful. While the main thread of the novel is Millie's struggling young marriage, there are multiple secondary story lines that contribute to the stress placed on their relationship. It is an ambitious amount of complexity for such a brief book, but Cantrell carries it off pretty well. Some characters do make unconvincingly convenient appearances and exits, however, which are all the more noticeable in the supposedly isolated ranch setting.

Some outcomes were just not plausible. Millie accepts (and apparently the reader is supposed to also accept) several flimsy explanations and even refusals to explain suspicious actions. There is a great deal of emphasis placed on "trust," but there is precious little earning of that trust.

Conservative Christian readers may be uncomfortable with the integration of Native American spiritual beliefs. As for Christianity, the faith element is integrated frequently but vaguely, making this truly more "inspirational fiction" than "Christian fiction."

Recommended for readers of faith-based fiction who enjoy novels centered in marital themes.

Stars: 3

Objective stars:3.5

I just don't like books about marital discord. My husband has noticed that I get testy with him when I'm mad at the husband or boyfriend in the book I'm reading. Obviously this means that books about struggling marriages are not a favorite in my household.

I was also disappointed by the way Millie handled many things relating to her marital problems. Because she was such a young bride and came from such a difficult background, it was more realistic, but I spent most of the book wanting to step in and tell her to grow a spine and whip her life into shape.

Monday, August 26, 2013


Serena by Ron Rash

I borrowed the hardcover from my local public library.

My review:

It's the Smokies in the Depression and life is tough. So are Henry and Serena Pemberton, who are determined to make a killing in the timber business-- even if they have to do some actual killing to get it done.

Serena is not a feel-good book, but it is beautifully written and has a cast of compelling, nuanced characters. It's obvious that Rash has deep ties to the region. Though much of the subject matter is bleak and there are very few sympathetic characters, this is a novel that will reward the read for those who don't shy away from the phrase "stone-cold killer."


Stars: 4

This was my first book by Ron Rash and I will be reading his work again. Serena was a chilling but fascinating character, and hardscrabble mountain life was the perfect backdrop for this ruthless tale. I also liked how Rash included a few significant events that were not drawn in detail; the reader is allowed the latitude to supply the missing information with his or her preferred conjecture to make the story even more grim or, alternatively, to instill a little joy.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Week in Winter

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

I downloaded the audiobook from the public library's OverDrive service.

My review:

A Week in Winter is almost a collection of cozy, intertwined short stories as much as it is a novel. A motley collection of folks find their lives intersecting in an old house in western Ireland and transforming it into a welcoming, old-fashioned inn. In the first week of business, an even more eclectic group of guests gather around the farmhouse table. The book tells the story of each one.

This book is an encouraging, comforting perspective on some of the most difficult things that life has to offer-- heartbreak, betrayal, death, and dreams that never came to be. Each character encounters serious problems and setbacks, but the tone of the book is unfailingly hopeful and healing. It would be a perfect read for a fall or winter evening by the fire, but it will lend itself well to any time of year and could provide a soothing escape to someone going through a difficult season in life.

Stars: 4
Runability: 1

I just couldn't run to this one. The book was delightful, the audioproduction was excellent, but it was just too cozy to run to. I tried, but I never made it far before I switched to an upbeat musical playlist instead. It was a perfect commuting book, and I want to go live at Stone House. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Running Update

My running update today is more aspirational than inspirational; my last true run was six days ago and was only 3.5 miles. It was a good run, though!

It's the beginning of a new academic year, which is always busy, and there have been some unexpected urgent chores and family/friend demands, which have put a damper on my exercise in the past couple of weeks.

I'm going to get back into the swing of things as soon as possible... though right now "as soon as possible" is looking like it might be Sunday!

To motivate me, I have this shiny beauty, a birthday gift from my supportive husband:

A Garmin Forerunner 110!

I tried to take it out for a spin on Monday evening, but I hadn't realized that it doesn't go into powersave mode all by itself. At least I'm assuming that's why it had a low battery a couple of days after being completely charged. I made it a quarter of a mile when its battery and mine died at the same time and I decided to go home and freeze tomatoes.

Monday, August 19, 2013

How to Look Expensive

How to Look Expensive by Andrea Pomerantz Lustig

I borrowed the hardcover from the public library.

My review:

Andrea Lustig is the beauty editor at Glamour magazine and has years and years of experience and lots and lots of contacts in the biz. In How to Look Expensive, she distills all of that knowledge into one slim volume that's packed with effective, straightforward, and money-saving beauty advice.

Readers who are passionately devoted to beauty blogs and women's magazines may not find a great deal new here, but for those whose interest is more casual, this book is an efficient guide to upgrading your look. The best aspect of this book is that it names specific products and colors from particular brands. For every high-priced item, Andrea also recommends a comparable alternative at a lower price point. She also explains what makes each choice a good one, so if her recommendations don't suit you for some reason, you can easily look for something similar that is available in your area or preferred brand.

Early in the book, she outlines four "luxe personas": Park Avenue Pretty, Hollywood Boho, Glam Globe-Trotter, and Modern Movie Star. Each persona is illustrated with contemporary celebrities (and photographs of them!). From that point forward, every section, be it hair cut, makeup style, or fragrance choice, will have recommendations tailored to the various personas to help you figure out a cohesive style. 

At the end of most sections, there is a "Work Your ___ Budget" guide that tells you how to maximize the impact of whatever cash you have to devote to this aspect of your budget. If you have $20 to spend on makeup, she tells you where to put it; if your budget is more like $50 or $100 or more, she has advice for you, too.

Each section also concludes with a comparison of what makes people look like they "Don't Have a Dime" and the contrasting characteristics that make you "Look Like a Million Bucks" to sum up the look you're going for... and the one you're not.

Highly recommended for women who want to upgrade their look without devoting their whole lives or wallets to personal upkeep.

Stars: 5

I'm probably going to buy my own copy of this book just because I found it THAT helpful.

Friday, August 16, 2013


Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning

I borrowed the audiobook from the public library.

My review:

There's a lot going on in this final volume of the Fever series; almost a little too much. There are also rapid shifts and surprises and reveals at every turn, making Shadowfever a fast-paced ride. Mac spends most of the book preoccupied with the big worries and has less time for her more trivial musings.

One character shift in particular is significant and not entirely believable. The ultimate conclusion is not very clearly drawn. Still, this is a mostly-satisfying conclusion to a brilliant series.

Stars: 4

Runability: 5

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Art of the Handwritten Note

The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication by Margaret Shepherd

I purchased a used copy from Better World Books.

My review:

The Art of the Handwritten Note is sort of a love-letter to the practice of sending brief messages in your own handwriting. It encourages picking up a pen instead of shooting out an email whenever possible, and it gives tips for those unsure where or how to start.

The author is a professional calligrapher and apparently an opinionated one. She is pretty adamant about which kinds of paper and pens one should purchase, and she lays out a lot of rules about practically every note-writing situation. In some cases these are helpful, in some cases they are just common-sense, and in still others giving her personal preferences the weight of law is simply silly.

Helpful for those who struggle to say the "right thing" in a sympathy card or those who never received training in writing a proper thank-you note. There are a couple of good examples here and there for various occasions. Otherwise there is little of substance that is not adequately covered by Emily Post.

Stars: 2.5

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Going Clear

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

I borrowed the ebook from the Free Library of Philadelphia.

My review:

I first heard of this book on Julie's Book Hooked Blog last month and placed a hold on it immediately.
I'm fascinated by religions and theology, and who isn't a little intrigued by the mysterious organization that claims communion with aliens and which boasts John Travolta and Tom Cruise as members?

Wright did his research thoroughly; footnotes are scrupulously appended to especially controversial claims. And there are a lot of controversial claims that the Church of Scientology doesn't like one little bit, including stories of horrific abuse of Sea Org members at the hand of church leadership.

Despite the research and cross-referencing, this account of L. Ron Hubbard's life and of the development of the church following his death is perfectly readable. Those who adhere to no religion will be chilled at how so many non-believers were drawn into the church by the "scientific" self-help programs that seem to work so well. Thoughtful readers who are devout in an established religion will find themselves asking uncomfortable questions about their own belief systems.

This would be a good book to recommend to readers who enjoy entertaining nonfiction.

Stars: 5

My eyebrows were halfway up my forehead for most of the time I was reading this book. The claims of abuse in the church are horrifying. Almost more chilling is the claim that so many people in the punishment sectors stay willingly, either because they truly believe or because they fear the repercussions of leaving. Most frightening of all is that so many others who did attempt to escape the church have been hunted down across the country when they fled and that those who have opposed the church have been calculatedly stalked and driven to ruin.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


Dreamfever by Karen Marie Moning

I borrowed the audiobook from the public library.

My review:

After the more cerebral pursuits of Faefever, Mac is back in real action. Dreamfever is the most action-packed volume in the entire Fever series, which is lots of fun. There's plenty going on beneath the surface level, as well, and some crucial relationships are definitely changing in very enjoyable ways.

A few sections are narrated by Dani instead of Mac, and that is the only real weakness of this book. Dani's voice, particularly in the audiobook, grates on me. Fortunately, the Dani passages are only temporary and Mac does resume telling her own tale.

An important note about the audio production of the book is that Dreamfever and the next and last book of the series, Shadowfever, are read by Natalie Ross and Phil Gigante. Phil Gigante does a great job with almost all of the male characters, but I prefer Joyce Bean (from the first three books) as Mac and the other females. Natalie Ross is good, but Joyce Bean is better.

Still, Dreamfever may be my favorite of the series, which is saying a lot.

Stars: 5

Runability: 5