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Review & Giveaway: Stencil Craft by Margaret Peot

[ 2 ] July 31, 2015

stencil craft book coverPlease join Margaret Peot, author of Stencil Craft: Techniques for Fashion, Art and Home, as she tours the blogosphere with TLC Book Tours.

Enter to win a stenciling kit below!

Reviewed by Sarah McCubbin

Thinking back to childhood, my early exposure to stencils was a basic set of alphabet characters which my siblings and I enjoyed using to make cards and signs. They were simple, but even that limited artistic expression allowed us to make unique creations. When I was older, I tried a few stencils created by various companies in card making and scrapbooking, but I had never really considered stenciling as an art form. So, I was curious to learn more when I had a chance to read Stencil Craft by Margaret Peot.

While this is not a large volume, I found it to give a complete overview of this craft. It has chapters on basic stenciling, using them in home décor and fashion, and on paper. For those who are already familiar with stenciling,  her chapter on stencils for art offered more complex uses and collages. The book progresses from simple information to gradually cover more intricate uses for stencils, even how to design and make your own. The first thing that jumped out at me was the abundance of full color illustrations. Stenciling can have a somewhat abstract appearance, so having clear, vibrant photos to show the full process was extremely helpful. Whether she was demonstrating how to make a tablecloth or a custom stencil, instructions and photos were given for each step. In all, there were 14 step-by-step sets of directions!

The uses for stencils are almost endless. The overview presented in this book will provide inspiration for anyone with a crafty bent. Whether one chooses to use commercial or homemade stencils, or found objects, nearly any smooth surface can be turned into a canvas. However, it was especially helpful that the author lends her expertise to direct you toward projects, paints and fabrics that will yield the highest degree of success for a beginner. I personally liked her use of plain linens, aprons and pillow cases decorated with stenciled images. Some of her projects were easy enough for children and many of her ideas would make wonderful gifts. I recommend this book to anyone interested in stenciling or looking for a new way to customize their existing art. Whether you are a beginner or experienced, this book offers many wonderful ideas, sure to inspire.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

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 and giveaway copies were provided by North Light Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Giveaway: The Ogallala Road by Julene Bair

[ 6 ] July 30, 2015

the ogallala road book coverI have 1 copy of The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning by Julene Bair to give away! 

Open to US residents only

About the book

With elements of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, the work of Terry Tempest Williams, and Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, The Ogallala Road is a tough, tender memoir about love, family, and learning how to care for the places where we make our homes. Always a restless adventurer, with several failed relationships and not-quite-right cities in her rear view mirror, Bair has trouble readjusting when she comes home to Kansas, where she finds herself balancing life as a single mother with allegiances to her career and to the rest of her family. Enter a handsome rancher from Kansas’s beautiful Smoky Valley, and the problem seems to be solved. But events take a different turn as Bair learns the truth about the Ogallala Aquifer, her family’s use of the land they have held for generations, and the politics that divide the region amid the rapid and perilous changes to its treasured landscape.

The Ogallala Road was selected as a Readers’ Prize Pick in Elle and a Booklist Editors’ Choice title, was shortlisted for the Reading the West Book Award, and won the Colorado Author’s League Award.

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Blog Tour: The Curiosity Keeper by Sarah Ladd

[ 1 ] July 30, 2015

the curiosity keeper book coverPlease join Sarah Ladd, author of The Curiosity Keeper, as she tours the blogosphere with Litfuse Publicity!

Reviewed by Sarah McCubbin

What happens when greed overtakes the better instincts of men? Things like love, honor and courage are handed over in favor of a few more coins, better lodgings and finer clothes. Truly valuable treasures, like family, are discarded for temporary prosperity and long term heartache. Some men will choose the narrow path. It will cost them dearly, but in the end, they are richer for it. It is a story such as this that Sarah Ladd tells in her book, The Curiosity Keeper.

Some men collect treasures and trinkets from around the world. Ian Gilchrist is one such man. When his most prized possession, a large ruby known as The Bevoy, turns up stolen, he begins a quest to secure its return. Without it, he faces financial ruin. Sending his son Jonathan Gilchrist to discover its whereabouts, a journey begins where two worlds collide. At the same time, a run-down London shop and purveyor of treasures is being run by Camille Iverness and her father, James. While it appears to run as a legitimate business, things aren’t always as they seem.  James Iverness keeps his daughter in the dark about the many back-door transactions that never hit the books. When Camille is attacked in the shop in the evening hours, she is rescued by Jonathan as he is out investigating with a friend. This begins an unlikely relationship that eventually turns to friendship and holds the possibility of something more. When Jonathan has the opportunity to save the Bevoy and his own inheritance or save Camille, he chooses love over prosperity.

As the family desperately searches for the Bevoy, it becomes clear that it can easily represent anything that we expect to rescue us or that we value higher than family. Some people will pursue their dreams or money above all else and leave their loved ones in the dust, but there are others who realize you may have to actually give “The Bevoy” away to obtain what truly has value.

Some fiction tells a story and some paints a picture. The Curiosity Keeper falls into the latter category, while spinning a tale that was exciting and unexpected. Every scene was described in such detail that I felt like I was stepping into another world. The allegory for the Bevoy was present but not overbearing and the characters and their struggles were well developed and emotionally engaging. I highly recommend The Curiosity Keeper and hope to read more of Ladd’s work in the future.

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 by Thomas Nelson. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Illusionarium by Heather Dixon

[ 2 ] July 28, 2015

illusionarium book coverReviewed by Sarah Lelonek

I’m a fan of steampunk and of young adult literature, so it isn’t much of a surprise that I loved Illusionarium by Heather Dixon. I did not read Dixon’s first novel, Entwined, but I can say that Illusionarium is an enjoyable action-packed adventure. Dixon does a fantastic job of illustrating a new world full of well-rounded and likable characters.

The story begins in the aerial city of Fata Morgana where Jonathan leads a normal life, ready to escape the small city’s boundaries. All of that changes when the king appears with a request of Jonathan and his father – they must work together to cure the queen of a deadly plague afflicting women called Venen. Jonathan must convince his father to use an experimental drug called fantillium that induces accelerated shared dreams. Since the team only has five days to cure the queen before the disease claims her life, fantillium’s unique effects may hold the key to the antidote.

The writing style really stood out to me. Dixon ties the use of amusing footnotes combined with a distinct storytelling method that left me wanting to read more. But I’m not going to lie – it did take me a few chapters to really get into the writing style. I’m not sure what’s so different about how this book was written, but it definitely worked for me.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the direction Dixon took with the use of a plague. So many novels talk about the aftermath of a plague or the beginning of a plague. It was a good change of pace to read a book concerned with finding the cure rather than the effects. My only criticism would be the slight lag in the middle of the novel. However, I think readers will want to read on to know how everything ties together in the end.

Overall, I was very pleased with Illusionarium. I think this will be a memorable standalone addition to the young adult fiction genre. There are enough twists and turns to keep readers’ attention, and it was very nice to read a YA lit novel that wasn’t focused on romance.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Sarah Emily Lelonek has a BA in English Literature from Kent State University. She is currently enrolled at Tiffin University in their Master’s of Education program. She enjoys traveling and gaming while on breaks from working on her novel.

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: Unkept by Ericka Clay

[ 1 ] July 27, 2015

unkept book coverReviewed by Lauren Cannavino

All towns have secrets and in the small town of Burling Gates, the secrets of the past always remain near the top of the present, ready to boil over. For Vienna Oaks, working in the family business, at their funeral home, these secrets will never be buried like the dead. Vienna carries them all with her in an anxiety ridden, quietly chaotic life. For Vienna’s former rival, Heather Hammel, the secrets of her past will soon bleed into her present and the two women learn that they are more connected than they ever could have imagined. Unkept is broken into alternating viewpoints from Vienna and Heather and the distinction provides the reader with a continuous flow of the story and the progression of the characters. Author Ericka Clay explains the relationship between the two women through flashbacks that feed into the current plot nicely and both Vienna and Heather act as main characters and narrators. The different viewpoints of the action fill in gaps, show all sides of the story and also add more dimension to fringe characters. No details are left out of Vienna or Heather’s lives.

Life for Vienna has not been easy and her life is rife with family issues that include alcoholism, a deceased mother and an incarcerated grandfather. Vienna seems to waft through her life, quiet and beautiful, yet surrounded by so much emotional/personal noise. Her estranged grandmother and her reserved father, who has a difficult time with emotions, add to her family troubles. It often seems that her father’s bold girlfriend, Loretta who is a crazy cat lady, seems to be the most stable. Vienna holds onto the past to the point of a virtual obsession and turns the events over and over in her head. Not even her level headed friend Rosa, or an affair with the love of her life Wyland can pull her from her darkness. Wyland also happens to be the husband of Heather, who is very pregnant with their first child. For Heather, her darkness includes an absent father, a hoarder mother and a lifetime of being mean and heartless, particularly to Vienna in order to escape her home life and her own self confidence issues. Freshly moved back to Burling Gates, the paths of the two women eventually cross again, various truths emerge and an unlikely bond quietly, although not easily begins to emerge. As both Vienna and Heather confront their demons, current and in the past, the two begin to rise and come into their own power.

Unkept is dark, twisting and completely possible. The relationships, the secrets and all of the characters make the reader realize that so much transpires in life below the surface. Ericka Clay pushes these issues to the surface, uncomfortably at times, and makes it clear that everything often comes full circle in life. Her writing is rich, vivid and dramatic. Her characters are well-developed, reachable and the reader will be completely engrossed in the story.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.com.

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

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Review: China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

[ 6 ] July 24, 2015

china rich girlfriend book coverReviewed by Benish Khan

China Rich Girlfriend is the sequel for the phenomenal bestseller Crazy Rich Asians. China Rich Girlfriend takes off two years from where the previous novel left off.

Rachel Chu is upset on the eve of her wedding to the young heir and Asia’s most eligible bachelor, Nicholas Young. The characters are finally getting married after the scheming and plotting of Nick’s mother Eleanor in the previous book. The sequel is wickedly hilarious with even more twists and turns than the previous novel. Rachel is on another journey with Nick and this time around, they’re looking for her birth father. Rachel has all the things most women desire–a dream wedding with the perfect wedding dress, an Asscher-cut diamond from JAR, and even an amazing fiance who would sacrifice everything for her, including his inheritance. What’s lacking is a part of her family – her birth father – and Rachel mourns his absence and wishes he was there to walk her down the isle.

Readers will follow Rachel’s journey as she is shoved into the elite social scene of Hong Kong whether she actually wants to be there or not. This brings her to mainland China. Singapore sounded insane in the previous book but China is even more fascinating to read about. Readers will also get a glimpse of Michael and Astrid’s journey and their story. There are several other characters introduced in the story; I found Corrina in particular to be very likable. She’s a consultant who helps people “get into” the billionaire class.

The author Kevin Kwan delivers well in the comedy section. The novel does seem to poke fun of the wealthy Asians but it’s done in a way that is not meant to be offensive. Kwan also reveals that some of the stories are based on his previous experiences. The novel is balanced out with family conflict, drama, romance, and a plot many would enjoy. I do prefer the previous book, Crazy Rich Asians over the sequel, although this one is hilarious in its own way. You can’t help but root for Rachel and Nick–they’re made for each other. They’re the rate few sane people in this novel although, the others are quite entertaining. I’m also fond of Astrid who is Nick’s cousin; she is trying to save her marriage and is a woman many females will be able to relate to. The author has mentioned that there will be a third book and I definitely excited to give it a read.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Benish Khan has her B.A in Psychology and Religion from the University of New York. She’s a psychologist and artist by day, and a bookworm by night. She currently blogs at feministreflections.com.

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

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