Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

Best wishes in the New Year to all our new book blogging friends. We wish you a safe and happy New Year's Eve and a year full of wonderful books - shared with someone special.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year Reading Resolution

We have been seeing lots of posts in our reader this week concerning New Year's Resolutions, which got us to wondering if we should make some of our own. I (Tami) don't usually make resolutions because I've never kept one in my life, except for the resolution to not further burden myself with the guilt of making more resolutions I won't keep. However, we have learned a few lessons in our brief time as part of the blogging world and these lessons led us (mainly Tami, since she's most guilty) to make one promise for the new year. It is so easy to get sucked into the vortex of challenges, memes, contests, lists, special events, reading blogs and reviews, and planning for what we're going to read, that there is no time left to actually read. Therefore, our resolution is simple - to keep it about the books. We're not in this for fame and glory, we're just sharing our enthusiasm for a good book and making some new friends along the way. While you will see us participating in all these fun activities from time to time, we resolve to fight the lure of participating to the exclusion of real reading time. We wish you all a Happy New Year and a year full of wonderful stories.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald

I received an advance copy of this fascinating book in an on-line drawing (Thanks Random House!) and loved the bright yellow cover and the line-up of ladies in 50's-style garb, so I chose it as my "Pick a Book by It's Cover" entry in the Take-a-Chance Challenge at the library where I work. Henry House is one of a string of orphaned babies raised in a "practice house" as part of a college home economics program. The fact that these houses actually existed fifty years ago to help teach young ladies the fine art of housekeeping and childrearing adds a whole other level of fascination to an already compelling story.

We follow Henry from his arrival at the house as an infant, through adolescence and into adult-hood as he struggles to form attachments after being raised to believe that people, including mothers, are interchangeable and temporary. Henry also wrestles with choices -after all he was taught to love and treat all his mothers equally; to never pick one thing or person above another.

The pop culture references as the story moves through the 50's and 60's are fun and add depth to the narritive. We even get a glimpse behind the scenes in the world of Disney animation. Unfortunately, the cover art I liked so much will be replaced with this more mundane cover when the hardcover edition is published in March 2010, but the story will still be unique. I recommend you add this one to your TBR stack for the new year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Old Dogs: Movie Review

Pair up John Travolta and Robin Williams and there can be no result except side-splitting humor. I'm thrilled to see John continue his recent turn to comedies. Although I've enjoyed a lot of his more serious roles, his unique comic style is my favorite. The plot is the standard "guy who doesn't handle kids finds out he has children from a previous relationship" and I'll let you guess at how that turns out. However, this movie has three things that I thought made it special: 1. Big name actors who aren't afraid to admit their age. 2. The interaction between Travolta and Williams. Combining Mork from Ork and Vincent from Pulp Fiction seemed like an incredibly odd pairing, but both actors kept their own personality while still creating a believable friendship. 3. It's just FUNNY! Even if the story has been done a million times, their antics and mishaps are hilarious. We both highly recommend this movie for a fun time that the whole family can see.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Grace

We received this encouraging e-mail from Nancy K. Grace and couldn't wait to share it with all of you. We got to know Nancy as our pastor's wife about 10 years ago. Nancy is a gifted speaker and shares her insights with women's groups and at marriage encounters. We encourage you to visit her web site - - and sign up for her monthly inspirational e-mail. Her words cut right to the center of the holiday rush and stress. We hope you find them as comforting as we did.
Overwhelmed or Overjoyed
The line at the post office wasn't too long, considering it was the first of December. Anytime I step into the post office I wonder how long it will take. Waiting gave me opportunity to read the signs about post office products. One caught my eye.
In large print, the poster read, "Turn Overwhelmed into Overjoyed." I realize the intent is to get you to use the Post Office for shipping this season, but I laughed to think that was what it would take to go from being overwhelmed to overjoyed. Most likely, for many of us, it would take a miracle.
That miracle happened over 2000 years ago, when God broke into our world in a quiet, yet dramatic way. He took the form of a helpless baby in a manger to change the world. Joseph and Mary, overwhelmed with the long trip, the need for housing, and the impending delivery, became overjoyed with the birth of Jesus. Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds were overwhelmed by the angelic proclamation, but became overjoyed when they went to Bethlehem. They moved closer to the manger, glorifying and praising God for what they had heard and seen. (see Luke 2: 19-20)
It is easy for us to become overwhelmed with December demands. The only way to go from being overwhelmed to becoming overjoyed is to look in the manger to see what God has done for your redemption.
"When the time had fully come,
God sent his Son, born of woman,
born under the law,
to redeem those under the law
that we might receive full rights as sons."
(Galatians 4: 4-5)
Reflect on the silent night God broke into history. Move from overwhelmed to overjoyed by coming closer to the manger.
I pray that in the days leading to Christmas, you will become overjoyed by the presence of God.
"You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand." Psalm 16:11

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Top Ten Reads of 2009

A few years ago, my sister and I began doing our own version of Oprah's Favorites List. We each listed 10 discoveries we had made during the year - could be a product, a recipe, a web site, a tv show... anything that we hadn't tried before but really liked (such as making your own Lime Diet Coke with real limes rather than the tinny tasting stuff in the can - yum-o!).
In 2007, I decided to add my selection for favorite book of the year. The books of Sarah Addison Allen - Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen - have taken the first two prizes. Unfortunately publication of Ms. Allen's third book, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, was delayed until March of 2010, so she's not in the running this year.
After reviewing my Goodreads account, I can't come up with a clear winner, so I have decided to list my 10 favorites in no particular order - plus a couple of Honorable Mentions:
1. Revenge of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz
2. Who killed the Robins Family by Bill Adler
3. True Blue by David Baldacci
4. The Lumby Lines by Gail Frazer
5. Cemetery Dance by Douglas Preston
6. Look Again by Lisa Scottoline
7. Loitering with Intent by Stuart Woods
8. Pursuit by Karen Robards
9. Running Hot by Jayne Ann Krentz
10. Black Hills by Nora Roberts

Honorable Mention:
Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich
Finger Lickin’ 15 by Janet Evanovich
Installments 4, 5 and 6 of the Body Movers series by Stephanie Bond
And two final addendums:
Under the Dome by Stephen King* - If a fraction of a book can win the award - and who's making up the rules here? - the third of this monster that we have completed would be a hands-down winner. With 10 hours of road trip coming up for Christmas, there is a chance that we will finish before the end of the year, so I am including it as the Roger Maris of my list - It's got the record, but with an asterisk.
The Irresistable Henry House by Lisa Grunwald. I am nearly through with this remarkable book and it would surely make the list, but since it will not actually be published till March 2010, it appears here with it's own proviso.

What were your favorite reads of 2009? Share them and maybe they'll make our list for next year.

A Kidnapped Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum

I tracked this book down out of curiosity over a Christmas story written by the mind that created The Wizard of Oz. What I found was a gem of a story with a current moral, even though the story originally appeared in a magazine in 1904. It was first published in book form in an anthology of Christmas tales in 1915.
The Demons of Selfishness, Envy, Hatred and Malice live in the mountains surrounding Laughing Valley, home of Santa Claus. Naturally, they dislike Santa for his example of happiness and generosity, so they vist St. Nick one by one, attempting to lure the kindly man into their habits.
When this plan fails, they conspire to kidnap Santa on Christmas Eve so that he can not spread cheer, thus leading the world's children into the cave's of the Demons. Santa's helpers - fairies, ryls and knooks in this version - work together to deliver the Christmas gifts even without Santa to guide them, then set out to rescue their leader.
Before they can complete their mission, the Demon of Repentance begins to feel shame for his part in the crime and arranges Santa's escape. Even after being reunited with Santa, the rescue team wants to continue their hunt for the Demons to mete out their vengence. Santa intercedes and warns them, "It is useless to pursue the Demons. They have their place in the world and can never be destroyed. But that is a great pity, nevertheless."
The message of how our sins compound - selfishness leads to envy, envy leads to hatred, and hatred leads to malice - as well as Santa's illustration of contentment and happiness in the face of deliberate attack, is a great one for all ages.
The language of the book may be a little advanced for younger readers - demon spelled daemon, for example - and few kids today are familiar with ryls and knooks. The edition I was able to borrow was published in 1969 and the illustrations are not very good (my apologies to the illustrator) - pencil drawings done in black, white and red. If I were to purchase this book for my grandkids, I would look for an updated version with more attractive pictures, but I still recommend it for all children.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Merry, Merry Ghost by Carolyn Hart

Christmas is a time for family and giving, and a wealthy woman in Adelaide, Oklahoma, is about to embrace both. Discovering that she has a young grandson, the dowager decides to change her will to leave the bulk of her fortune to the young boy—an alteration that stuns the rest of her family. But a scrooge of a determined heir makes sure she never signs the new document. When she is found dead, it's up to that irrepressible spirit Bailey Ruth, on assignment from Wiggins and Heaven's Department of Good Intentions, to protect a little boy, foil a murderer, and save Christmas. (synopsis from Barnes & Noble)
The second installment in the Bailey Ruth series by Caroyln Hart is a joy. Dearly departed Bailey Ruth returns to Earth to solve another mystery and spread a little Christmas cheer.
The cast of potential heirs/murderers is a quirky bunch - each with their own fears and secrets that keep you guessing till the end. Bailey Ruth is a change of pace from the usual cozy mystery character and her other-worldly powers get her into some comical situations that make for a unique story.
I've been a fan of Ms. Hart's Death on Demand series for years and her new sleuth is just as well-written and entertaining.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Take Another Chance Challenge

Jenners at Find Your Next Book Here is giving us the opportunity to "Take Another Chance". Her original Take-A-Chance Challenge really grabbed my attention and I adapted it to use here at the library. It has been a huge success, so when we saw that she was creating a second round, we jumped right in. Since we're joining as a team we are going to enter at the Moderate level - or 6 books in 12 months. We're looking forward to a fun challenge.

Fantasy Football

This post has nothing at all to do with books, but yesterday I stumbled across this post on The Bumbles Blog and I laughed so hard at Molly's fantasy football antics, that I just had to share my own. College son wanted to start a fantasy football league and invited his dad and several other guys from work (Son works for Hubby when not in school, but that's neither here nor there). They were one team short of a league (which I've been saying for years) so he finally broke down and asked Mom to participate. He said "I hate to ask you to join cause you are going to pick your players by who's cutest or who has the prettiest uniforms or the neatest name, and then you'll beat us all." After that warm welcome there was no doubt that I had to do just that. My original team name, Team Tampon, was vetoed by the league commissioner (son) so I went with Team Chupa (which is Spanish for suck, cause I figured I would). I even designed lovely pink helmets with lavender lettering and face guards and my team has become lovingly (?) referred to as The Pink, as in "I lost to The Pink again!" Football is my favorite sport, but I can't really say I know much about the game beyond the basics - but......wait for know what's coming.......I won the league! And, no, I didn't pick my players by their uniform color - although those pewter-colored pants that the Bucaneers wear are striking - I actually had an intricate, complex and detailed system which I would be glad to share with all of you (just don't tell Hubby or Son). 1. Use as many players from the Broncos as possible. 2. Use as many former K-State players as possible. 3. NEVER pick a player who attended, played for, lived near, or has heard of the University of Nebraska. (To any Husker fans who may read this: I grew up just a few miles south of the Neb/Ks line so the rivalry has been there since birth - then Hubby and I moved to Nebraska for 12 years where we struggled to show our Purple Pride in the midst of the Osborne glory years. Nothing personal, it's just in ingrained thing for me. Well, it is actually personal with a few of you.)
4. Never pick a player from the Chiefs. 5. In all other situations, trust the guy in charge of making the predictions on ESPN's website - He is a trained professional! To celebrate my success in the regular season, Hubby and one of his colleagues are now working in office's adorned with stylish pink helmets declaring their win/loss record against The Pink (0-3 and 0-2-1 respectively).
So ladies, if you haven't tried fantasy football, give it a shot next year. It's been a lot of fun. I'll keep you posted on the playoffs and you are all invited to my Super Bowl Victory Party.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Virtual Advent Tour

Merry Christmas and welcome to our blog! We're happy to share with you a piece of our Christmas. In our family, December brings Grandma's Sugar Cookies. This tradition is now into it's 5th generation. Beginning with my Great-Grandmother, Carrie, baking and decorating sugar cookies has become an established part of our Christmas celebration. As young housewives around the turn of the last century, Carrie and her neighbor began collecting cookie cutters - passing the collection back and forth between the two households during the holiday season. My grandmother, Rosa, helped with the baking and garnishing, and eventually taught her daughters to do the same.

I remember many cold, winter days gathered around Grandma's table, shaking colored sprinkles onto all shapes of cookies, licking my fingers (and, yes, then touching all the cookies), and arguing with my sisters over who used up all the red sugar. When Grandma and Grandpa retired and were frequently traveling at Christmas, Mom took over the baking duties. Naturally, as time passed we all moved away and began our own families and in time grandchildren visited to help out.

Last year, Mom decided that since 7 of her 8 grandkids were 16 or older, the cookie tradition was on hiatus until the next generation was ready to take over. The uproar from the kids was so loud that she drug the cookie cutters back out this year and continued the custom. Seems high school and college students still like to gather at Grandma's.

Dave and I now have two grandsons who live in Albuquerque (a seven hour drive from us) and schedules don't usually allow for two visits in December, so we have yet to share this experience with them, but our empty-nest years are just around the corner and I'm sure we will continue the fun with them and the many other grandchildren (granddaughters?) we're hoping to have.

The cutters my mom uses are the original collection, with some additions of her own. I wish now that I could ask Grandma about the beginning of this piece of my heritage. Some of the cutters look hand-made - who made them? What did they use for decorations in her youth? Were candy Jimmies and Sprinkles available in the early part of the 20th century? Did she have friends or cousins who took part? Family legend has it that the collection began with a few cutters that were brought from Germany by my great-great grandparents, is that true? As with many things, it didn't seem important when I had the opportunity to ask and, now that I realize how precious this tradition is, Grandma's no longer here to answer my questions, but the memories we made in her kitchen will last for generations.

Below is Grandma's sugar cookie recipe. It's probably not much different than the one in your recipe box, with the exception of the "sour milk". To make sour milk, stir 1 T. vinegar into 1 cup of milk and let sit for 5 minutes. Whatever recipe you use, we wish you a Merry Christmas and lot's of holiday memories.

Rosa's Sugar Cookies:
2 c. sugar
1 c. shortening (I prefer butter-flavored Crisco)
2 eggs - beat lightly and fill to 1 cup with sour milk
1 t. baking soda
5 c. flour
Cream shortening and sugar, add eggs and vanilla, then dry ingredients. Chill in refrigerator, roll out and cut. Bake at 375 for 11 minutes.
Join the Virtual Advent Tour at

Home in Time for Christmas by Heather Graham

Home in Time for Christmas is a charming story of time-travel, star-crossed romances and family. I love Heather Graham's books for her ability to put a supernatural twist on a standard story and transform it into something special. I must admit, I had some concern about overlapping the occult and Christmas, but this time the twist is more magical than spectral.
Jake, a Revolutionary War hero, is transported through time just as the British hangman's noose is tightening around his neck. Unluckily, he arrives in 2009 on a slippery road, in front of Melody Tarleton's car. Or maybe it's not so unlucky - Melody takes him into her home, family and heart.
Melody's attempts to discover Jake's identity and teach him about 200 years of American history naturally bring them closer and, even though their romance may be the obvious next step, it's well-written and sweet. Melody's off-beat parents add a quirkiness to the story that is fun. The family relationships, both in 1776 and 2009, are realistic and add an extra heart-warming element to the story.
The only character I would change is Mark, Melody's ex-boyfriend. He's understandably unlikeable through most of the story so that we root for Melody to be with Jake instead, but I needed a little more insight into him to accept his conversion later in the story.
This tale of magic potions and time travel is told with a credible "suspension of disbelief" right up to the end, then I think it runs off the rails just a bit. There is a limit to how long the reader can put aside rationality and believe in magic. I think Ms. Graham drug her story just past that limit - and unnecessarily so. One less "bewitching" moment and a little more drama surrounding the necessary ones would have been a better ending for me. Even so, I recommend this book for a fun, entertaining holiday break.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

True Blue by David Baldacci

Mace Perry is just out of a two-year prison stint for a crime she didn't commit. She immediately embarks on a scheme to clear her name and be reinstated on the police force. I had a tough time empathizing with her at first - her obsession was running full blast within an hour of being released. It seemed strange that she didn't pause even long enough to say thank you to her sister for arranging her early release or to enjoy her freedom. But then, I've never been falsely imprisoned (or rightly imprisoned, for that matter), so what do I know? Mace's plan is to solve a major crime on her own, thus proving to the powers-that-be that she deserves another chance as a police officer, so she jumps into a murder investigaion and naturally runs afoul of the federal and local authorities, including her sister, the D.C. Chief of Police. Her quest leads her into a relationship with Roy, the attorney who discovered the body and is representing the homeless veteran accused of the killing. By mid-way through the story, the various agents from the FBI, CIA, NSA and other sundry initialed groups began to run together - lots of characters to keep track of - and some of the events toward the end stretch the boundries of credibility, but over-all it's a first-rate thriller with all the right ingredients: gripping plot, fast pacing, engrossing characters, interesting relationships and an exciting ending. There are enough questions left unanswered to leave room for imagination (or a sequel?) while still resolving all the major plot points. I hate to admit that this was my first Baldacci book, but it definitely won't be my last. Thanks again to Grand Central Publishing for sending me a copy and hooking me on a new author.