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Christmas Toy Giveaway

[ 3 ] November 24, 2014

christmas toys

It’s my favorite time of the year and I’ve decided to play Santa once again (see the Christmas Book Giveaway here). I love nothing more than picking out gifts for kids so this giveaway will be all about them!

Here’s how this giveaway will work:

  • Comment on this post and tell me your child’s age (or grandchild, niece/nephew, etc.) and what type of toys they currently enjoy
  • Commenting will open up additional Rafflecopter entries – the more you enter, the higher your chances of winning
  • One lucky reader will receive a surprise package of 3 toys personally selected by me – just in time for Christmas!

Open to US residents only

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: Tinseltown by William Mann

[ 1 ] November 24, 2014

tinseltown book coverReviewed by A.D. Cole

I requested this book when I saw it being compared to The Devil In the White City by Erik Larson. It’s been a personal resolve of mine to broaden my reading horizons by picking up non-fiction once in a while. Erik Larson showed me that a well-written history can be every bit the entertaining page-turner that a novel can. I’d hoped Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood would be the same. And I was not disappointed.

Don’t know much about the age of silent movies? William J. Mann brings the setting to life before your very eyes. History, to me, is a bit of a black-and-white, flat image that reads like a textbook, until I open a book like Tinseltown. And now I see 1920’s New York with it’s ambitious men racing to build the highest skyscrapers; the emergence of the film industry from penny arcades to the full-length blockbusters of today; and a very familiar push and pull of politics and religion amidst the production of entertainment–censorship is an underlying villain throughout the book.

Ultimately, though, the story centers around a murder mystery. It opens with the discovery of film director William Desmond Taylor’s body. Following this, we go back sixteen months to witness the events leading up to the murder. Several factors come to play, including film mogul Adolph Zukor’s unending ambition and his battle against scandal and censorship; the characters of three very different young actresses, each uniquely connected to Taylor; and a Hollywood filled with secrets bubbling precariously beneath its shiny surface.

There are also Taylor’s own secrets. A wholesome façade may have been of utmost importance, but for the rich and famous then, as it is today, it wasn’t difficult to find fodder for their vices.

Tinseltown is secondarily a history of Prohibition-era Hollywood. At the end of the book, Mann is talking of one of the characters when he says, “People remembered Mary and her lacy, pipe-curled companions as saccharine and simplistic, hardly doing justice to the vibrant, passionate personalities of the era.” This is what books like this do for us. They enlighten our understanding and give us a more human connection with people from the past.

Amidst familiar names like Paramount, Mayer, Goldwyn…there were also unfamiliar names…the names of those men and women in the “heart shaped iris shots” whose identities have been buried at the bottom of a long and sensational century of history. Mann resurrects the personalities behind the images and he manages to do it without speculation, using an impressive array of primary sources.

Fans of mystery and non-fiction will enjoy this book. But I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a good read. I felt an element of that same voyeuristic curiosity that frequently has my eyes wandering to the tabloids in the grocery store aisle. Yet the book transcends sensationalism by illuminating an era of history that isn’t familiar to most of us. We can never go wrong reading something that broadens our connection to our shared past.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

A.D. Cole is a homeschooling mother and aspiring romance novelist. She lives in the Ozark foothills and spends her free time reading, writing, baking and pondering life’s little mysteries.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Mailbox Monday

[ 7 ] November 23, 2014

Welcome to Mailbox MondayMailbox Monday are hosted by Marcia at Mailbox Monday blog

Here are the books that made their way into my mailbox last week:

Paper Review Copies

reunion by libby morgan book covermom made us write this book coverundeniable book coverfinding zoe book coverthe marauders book coverhigh stakes book coveragnes cannon's war book coverdirty chick book covercaptivated by you book coverjailhouse doc book cover landingpagewarnurse-250x342nantucket five-spot book coveroracles of delphi book coverpassionate nutrition book covermary mary quite book cover

Digital Review Copies

the life intended book coverno strings book coverdark rooms book coverback to before book cover


consuelo and alva vanderbilt book cover

Additions to Personal Kindle Library

the trouble with goodbye book coverthe unearthly book coverfairytale book coverthe obituary book cover

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Review: The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern

[ 1 ] November 23, 2014

the greatest gift book coverReviewed by Sarah McCubbin

The Greatest Gift: A Christmas Tale by Philip Van Doren Stern shares a timeless Christmas tale sure to be enjoyed by people of all ages and all walks of life. In its pages, a story unfolds that most people would recognize for the movie it became instead of its humble pamphlet beginnings. Originally given as a Christmas card in 1943 to friends and acquaintances of the author, the story caught the eye of one Frank Capra who in 1946 made it into one of the most beloved films of all time: It’s A Wonderful Life.

Those familiar with the movie will know the basic story line of George, a man caught in despair and dwelling on his own insignificance during the holiday season. Despite a wife and children who love him, a reliable job and good health he is blinded by hopelessness perceiving his existence to be mundane and invaluable. While he is tempted to commit suicide and wishing he had never been born, a little man shows up who magically makes that wish a reality. George receives a chance to see what life is like for those he loves if he had never been born. Instead of people flourishing and happy, he sees sadness, brokenness and hurting…all because he had never lived. Realizing the value of his own life, George changes his mind and wants a chance to joyfully live with renewed appreciation and energy for the people and things that once looked so depressing.

I have long enjoyed It’s a Wonderful Life, but look forward to reading this story with our family as a new part of our Christmas celebration. This little book makes a great coffee table conversation piece especially since it includes an Afterword section written by the author’s daughter. Filled with little details, the reader discovers the origins of the story as well as the fascinating details about its its creation as a film, the actors and cultural influence. The overarching message of the value of each individual, hope and the gift of life makes this a book anyone can enjoy. This story is well known as a Christmas classic but it’s message should be shared every day of the year.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Sarah McCubbin is a homeschooling and foster mom in NE Ohio where she resides with her husband and 7 children. In addition to reading great books, she enjoys gardening, traveling and blogging at Living Unboxed.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Simon & Schuster. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Ride Away Home by William Wells

[ 1 ] November 23, 2014

ride away home book coverReviewed by Melanie Kline

Jack Turner, a tax attorney, is convinced that his daughter’s killer was her ex-boyfriend and sets out to find and confront him. He travels from Edina, Minnesota to Key West, Florida to afford himself the opportunity to do just that.

I made the mistake of reading the synopsis on the back of the book before actually reading the book. Bad, bad idea. Whoever wrote the synopsis was apparently not reading the same book I was. While I was promised action, adventure and liberating events, I was given the unbelievable, slow, boring and completely predictable yet absurd.

Jack buys a Harley Davidson off of the showroom floor because he likes the color and sets off on his first leg of the journey–never having ridden a motorcycle before. (Say what? Never going to happen.) After crashing the Harley (saw that one coming) he picks up a hitchhiking female who just happened to be left behind by her biker boyfriend. Whey they stop at a rest area for bathroom breaks, Jack decides that they need to take turns rather than leave the Harley unattended. (keys??) Jack takes the first break and leaves the woman alone with the bike (and the keys) and she steals it. (never saw that one coming….seriously?)

Luckily for Jack there just so happens to be a group of bikers at the rest area and they tell him to hop on; they will take him to his destination. (Again, really? We’ll take you where you were going? Strangers don’t act that way with other strangers and not many men would welcome another man onto the back of his bike) Jack gets to know these men pretty well and the story actually begins to show some potential until they part ways and we are back to the unbelievable predictability of the book.

I would not recommend this book to anyone. Ride Away Home needs to be overhauled completely. There is great potential for the story but I believe that it should have been much better thought out and executed. It is difficult to enjoy reading a novel that is completely predictable and unbelievable at the same time. On the plus side, it was a very short book and I was able to finish it quite quickly.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ 

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by The Permanent Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Married to the Military by Terry L. Rollins

[ 1 ] November 22, 2014

married to the military book coverReviewed by Alysia George

After reading Married to the Military, a short story collection by Terry L. Rollins, I have a new understanding and appreciation not only for the men and women who serve our country in the United States military, but also for their families – particularly their spouses. Rollins’ book is a compilation of 10 fictional accounts of military wives that read like mini memoirs. They are each so realistic that I checked more than once to ensure that the book really is a work of fiction. A military wife herself, the author’s voice is authentic and absolutely believable. I imagine that throughout her decades as a woman “married to the military”, Rollins likely knew women in real life who closely resemble her characters.

Each of the 10 stories that make up Married to the Military is about a different woman and a different military family, at various points of their lives and who live in a variety of time periods throughout the last few decades. They range from pregnant women with young families, to women dealing with loss, and those living beyond the years of service as retired military families. While each story is unique, they all share the common elements of strength and perseverance.

As I read through the fictional accounts of these 10 military families, I found myself laughing, crying, and marveling at what people are willing to endure for the sake of patriotism and dedication to the callings of their spouses. I often hear about the bravery of the men and women who serve, but I never hear about the courage of the families who support those remarkable public servants. Because when soldiers are being called into active duty, or simply in the course of their often dangerous jobs, their families are behind the scenes, offering support not only to their spouses and children, but also to their extended families and to the other military families they meet along the way.

Rollins does an excellent job of allowing her readers a glimpse of what it really means to be a part of a military family – of the sacrifices and dedication required, and the joys and heartache that comes with the territory.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Alysia lives in Metro Detroit with her husband and four children. She writes about family life, parenting issues, and other things of interest to her on her blog, Michigal.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Terry Rollins. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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