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LuxuryReading.com on The Mia Connect Power Chat

[ 1 ] September 15, 2014

Hey All! This Friday, September 19th, I will be joining the awesome Mia Voss on her on-air program Power Chat to talk all about book blogs! 

The program will take place on Google Hangout at 12pm EST. Click here for more information and to register to attend!

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Review: The Gods of Second Chances by Dan Berne

[ 2 ] September 18, 2014

Reviewed by Alisha Churbe

Dan Berne’s The Gods of Second Chances is truly extraordinary.  From the description, you may not be intrigued by a story set in Alaska and formed around a grandfather, who is single handedly raising his granddaughter and is a fisherman by trade. But you would be wrong about this book and you would miss out on all it has packed within its pages.

Family circumstances have left Ray, a widower, with no other choice than to raise his granddaughter on his own.  Ray lost his wife years before when their granddaughter, Sitka, was just a baby. They’d been fighting for the sobriety of Jenny, their daughter, and years later Ray still seems to feel unresolved about his wife’s death. Their daughter left just as her mom’s ashes were scattered in to the sea.

Ray is also a fisherman whose job takes him into dangerous waters but pays to make ends meet and for unexpected repairs, setbacks, and mistakes. Although this job is challenging and frustrating, just as his family is at times, Ray tends to focus more on his business woes to avoid confronting those with his daughter.  Ray’s life is ordinary, as ordinary as it can be, until one day his once-strung-out, drug-addicted daughter writes him of her return to his life and the life of her daughter’s many years after her departure and supposedly three years of sobriety. He’s skeptical. Not even the ad-libbed prayers of his best friend and rituals performed on a regular basis are enough to fix the problems Jenny brings upon her return from prison. Jenny’s been unreliable and destructive in the past. His main focus is his Sitka’s safety and well-being. Jenny’s return brings danger and uncertainty to Ray’s home. But can he actually turn away when his daughter needs protection?

The novel is quiet but textured with emotions and themes. The characters will touch your soul and remind you that family life is never easy, nor is it ever what it may seem.  Berne’s characters are lively and likable. They make mistakes and rally through them. In the novel, Ray learns that family issues are rarely black-and-white; he also learns the hard truth that there are two sides to every story, and both could easily be the true version of past events. Berne relates a family like no other but with familiarity to everyone.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.

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

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Review: One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

[ 2 ] September 17, 2014

Reviewed by Rachel Mann

One Plus One is the first Jojo Moyes book I’ve read, and to borrow a cliché, it absolutely won’t be the last. This book is entertaining, well written, and captivating. It would fit perfectly on a shelf alongside books by Maeve Binchy or Marian Keyes. If you enjoy reading about characters from different walks of life that connect in unusual ways or spending time on vivid portrayals of specific small-town lives in the UK, then you’ll probably like One Plus One, too.

The book kicks off with a bang as we meet one of the main characters, Ed, who has stumbled into some legal and financial problems. Soon after come other characters with problems of their own: Jess, a young mother and house cleaner/bartender/odd jobber, and her two unique children, her stepson, Nicky, and her daughter, Tanzie. Nicky and Tanzie’s father is almost non-existent in their lives, which has left his ex-wife and children all facing various dilemmas. Nicky is a mascara-wearing misunderstood teen whose kindness doesn’t save him from neighborhood bullying; his younger sister, Tanzie, is a child prodigy with a gift for mathematics struggling to attend a once-in-a-lifetime scholarly Olympiad. (The three also have a giant dog, Norman, who’s got a personality as big as his size.)

The book’s third-person narrative shifts among these four protagonists as their paths come together and they become involved in each other’s lives. Each character’s voice is believable and distinct. I found myself rooting for and empathizing with each of them in turn. It’s hard to decide who is the most interesting, brave, or troubled: Ed, Jess, Nicky, and Tanzie all have their own troubles to bear and tough decisions to make. What’s more, their emotional responses to their dilemmas—and their actions—seem so real.

Moyes’ book took me totally out of myself. I was hooked from the first page, when my stomach sank with sympathy for Ed, and I tore through the rest of the story. I felt for each of these people and cried for them—and I was sorry to leave them behind at the end.

I can’t believe it’s taken this long to start reading Moyes’ work. I’m thrilled to have discovered her books, and I’ll be reading another as soon as possible.

Rating: ★★★★★ 


Rachel, who has a Ph.D. in English, is a freelance writer/editor and a voracious reader. You can talk to her about books at http://twitter.com/writehandmann.

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

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Review: It’s an Orange Aardvark! by Michael Hall

[ 2 ] September 17, 2014

Reviewed by Alyssa Katanic

It’s an Orange Aardvark! by New York Times best-selling author Michael Hall is an adventure in colors that includes some imaginative ants with great personality.

It is a stormy day. Five little carpenter ants are snuggled up in an old tree trunk when thunder rumbles! One of them decides to drill a few holes into the trunk to see what could be making that rumbling sound. There is a little bit of fear of the unknown… but some excitement, too. What could be there? With every hole the ants see a new color and imagine new possibilities. Hole #1: It’s the color orange! A ripe, juice, sweet treat? Or maybe it is a big orange aardvark that is hungry for ants! Excitement builds with every hole the ants drill.

The artwork of It’s an Orange Aardvark!, also by Hall, is very much reminiscent of Eric Carle’s style of bold, bright, and somewhat chunky shades of color. The reader gets to see the gray inside of the tree trunk, the peephole “drilled” through the page to reveal a new color (again, very much in the style of Eric Carle), and (turn the page) the rainbow of colors of what the fearful ant imagines to be lurking outside.

Unlike many overly simplistic “Learn your colors, kids!” type of books, Hall has created a fun way for kids to explore color recognition without them realizing how much they are learning. He has even included some character development, as three ants remain positive, adventurous, and excited, another remains very fearful throughout, while the fifth must choose if he will remain fearful and miss out on the adventure, or brave the big, bold beautiful world.

Unlike many color-teaching books, It’s an Orange Aardvark! is one that both parent and child will enjoy reading together multiple times.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Alyssa Katanic is a wife and homeschooling mother of 7 children under 11 years old. She loves reading and collecting great books to share with others and knows that one can never have too many!

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

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Review: Hannah and Emil by Belinda Castles

[ 1 ] September 16, 2014

{74FF26E8-A5B0-467C-B5AD-36EFAED4A2A9}Img400Reviewed by Marisa Deshaies

Readers love war stories—the glory, the heroism, the action, the romance, the idea of fighting for the greater good. All of these themes, in conjunction with the inspirational notion that war eventually leads to the betterment of a people and its society, make for stories in which readers can revel in good versus evil. All war stories are appealing for these themes, but publishers and authors alike recognize that stories set during the World War II time period are fan favorites.

I admit, as a reviewer and reader, that I fall into the category of readers who gravitate towards these novels. Ever since I discovered the movie Pearl Harbor in 2001 I have diligently read and watched every book and movie on World War II history that I could get my hands on. Hannah & Emil, a novel of a couple who find themselves in the midst of the European crisis during World War II, is now a novel added to my section of war stories from which I both learned new facts about this time period and relished in the heroism and romance of the Greatest Generation.

Hannah & Emil, from author Belinda Castles, is a fictionalized story of the author’s grandparents’ adventures, misfortunes, and triumphs during the European crisis of World War II. Castles takes real-life accounts of her grandparents’ lives but is careful to fictionalize details, characters, and dialog for her family’s privacy. The novel is a story of Hannah and Emil, two young adults whose lives are forever altered by the political turmoil of the European continent during the first half of the nineteenth century. Beginning with the main characters’ childhoods in England and Germany, respectively, Castles shows how backgrounds inevitably influence the present. Hannah, the daughter of a well-off British emigrant from Russia, is offered every luxury imaginable while growing up. She appreciates education, becomes a translationist and writer, and travels all across the Continent publishing political pieces advocating for equality. Emil, the son of working class parents from Germany, is shown as a blue-collar boy who deeply loves his country but feels discontent with his homeland upon returning broken and battered from the First World War.

Amongst the political turmoil of the Continent Hannah and Emil emerge as characters with ideas and ideals about the direction the world around them is going. Hannah, involved in the Labour party from a young age, desires to travel the world to write about her surroundings; Emil joins his father in protesting the spread of Nazism in Germany but quickly finds out the protestors are not kindly taken upon. Upon a particularly violent protest in which Emil participates, he finds himself displaced in Brussels, Belgium as a refugee and unable to ever return to Germany for fear of certain death. Here he meets Hannah, who has taken a job as a translator in Brussels after completing college in London and teaching in Paris. The two meet and begin a relationship about halfway through Hannah & Emil, which is in my opinion when the pacing of the novel quickens after a slow beginning that does not always cover necessary or intriguing discussion to the story. The latter half of the novel covers the 1930s-1970s; Hannah and Emil’s employment as hostel owners, his displacement to Australia and her adventure after him, and their return to England upon the end of the war. Any further details will spoil the story, but suffice to say that those readers who choose this novel for its World War II history should find the latter half of the story more fulfilling than the beginning because of the displacement plotline.

Regardless of any alterations to her grandparents’ story, any reader—World War II aficionado or otherwise—will appreciate the unique approach taken to the events in the novel. Nevertheless, Hannah & Emil is not the typical World War II novel: yes there is romance, yes there is discussion over Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, yes there is mention of the persecution of the Jewish people; but, Hannah & Emil is not a story about the handsome soldier who goes off to war and leaves his young bride-to-be to find satisfaction in work at home. Hannah & Emil is also not a story of a brave young adult who takes in a refugee against her parents’ wishes or one who is persecuted in a concentration camp but survives against all odds. Castles’ novel is a story set during World War II, but very little of the novel actually deals with the intricacies or history of this time period. Readers who desire complete immersion into a World War II setting, as I assumed I would be from reading the back copy of this book, will be disappointed in the limited details that come across in Hannah & Emil.

Castles’ writing style and the structure of the novel also leave something to be desired in this book. Hannah & Emil spans many years, alters each chapter through each character and a point of view, and does not always utilize complete sentences. The results of these choices on Castles’ part make for a novel that lacks in characterization and feels choppy in its prose. Hannah, in my opinion is the more interesting character out of the two protagonists; her desire to consistently push herself in her education and employment is unique for women of that time period. She is also stubborn—I enjoyed her refusal to take no for an answer as she fought to be reunited with Emil. Readers also know Hannah better because her point of view is first person, so novel literally reads as if it is her diary. Readers do not, unfortunately, know Emil as well because his story is so disjointed over his years of war-time fighting, displacement, and hospitalized visits. Neither character ever truly shares their emotions or explains to readers why any decision was made for personal reasons or within historical context. For example, readers who do not know much about socialism or fascism in Europe during World War II will have difficulty understanding why Emil is displaced to Australia or how he became such a well-known figure to the Nazis.

I did find Hannah and Emil’s romance inspiring in its characters’ determination and genuine feeling for each other; these two fought for their livelihood and their relationships. The fact that this novel is based upon events that actually occurred brings this story to life and reminds readers that events such as these happened and could happen again. Nevertheless, I will not re-read Hannah & Emil because I felt that the first half of the book read slowly and did not add much value to the story. The backstory to these characters’ lives was interesting at a bare minimum, and I would have much preferred more detail about the historical context and plot to the war and displacement camp aspects of Castles’ story.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

An alumna of the University of Delaware’s English department, Marisa holds a Master’s degree in professional writing from New England College. Her dream job is to work as an editor for a publishing company. A voracious reader of all types of literature, her favorite genres include the classics, contemporary and historical fiction, Christian fiction, and women’s “chick-lit”.

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

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Review: The Number Neighborhood by Esther Kehl

[ 2 ] September 16, 2014

616mmpYYpaL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Reviewed by Alyssa Katanic

“One wears a bun… one, one, one!” My four year old keeps chanting this from her car seat in the far back bench of our twelve passenger van. “Two shines her shoe… two, two, two!” Chimes in my eight year old from the bench in front of her. “Hey!” Shouts back the five year old behind me, “You forgot Zero!” And so they all start over together! Eventually the “big kids” (ages nine and eleven) give in and join. They might as well, really. They have until “Nineteen meets the queen… nineteen, nineteen, nineteen!” Thanks to Esther Kehl, creator of the previously reviewed Amazing Action Alphabet, my littles have found a fun way to count while learning and remembering what each number looks like and how many each represents.

The Number Neighborhood, written by Esther Kehl, illustrated by Andy Carlson, uses a “whole brain approach to teaching number names and number values.” Most of us have heard that children learn through playing. We can also observe that different children enjoy different types of play. Some like to sing and dance, while others enjoy story time, and still others enjoy looking at pictures and coloring or building. Going on my eighth year of home educating, and planning to begin my second wave of teaching littles to read, write, and recognize numbers and values, I know that each of mine are different, and I am glad to have an easy to use resource that teaches number recognition and value in a way that can draw everyone in and get them learning.

Kehl has created an excellent, heavy stock, top edge spiral bound flip book that parents, caregivers, or teachers can hold up for the child or group to see a creative and brightly colored number character, while being able to read the character’s story on the back. The story helps to express the value of the number represented by the character and contains a repeated, rhyming phrase that the children can lock into their memories and continue to chant/sing, and thus reinforce, as my children were doing on our outing.

I could just display and read The Number Neighborhood to my children, but Kehl has also designed these cute number stories to come alive and be acted out. She knows that children learn best when they can incorporate what they see and hear with action! So she adds a bit of direction at the end of each story to help the children lock in what they are learning to their kinesthetic, or body movement, memory bank. For instance: “An action that helps us to remember the number one is: Use one finger and touch the top of your head. Now whisper, ‘One wears a bun… one, one, one!'” And, yes, my children were doing all of the actions as we drove down the street. We may have looked a bit wild to passing cars, but we were learning and having fun doing it!

I have a feeling that, between the Amazing Action Alphabet and The Number Neighborhood, my family is going to be spending a lot of (fun learning) time with Esther Kehl this school year! If there is a little one in your life, I would encourage you to check out the Neighborhood, too!

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Alyssa Katanic is a wife and homeschooling mother of 7 children under 11 years old. She loves reading and collecting great books to share with others and knows that one can never have too many!

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

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