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Blog Tour & Giveaway: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

[ 28 ] September 22, 2014

Bitter Greens(1)Please join Kate Forsyth, author of Bitter Greens, as she tours the blogosphere with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours!

Enter to win a copy below – open to US residents only

Reviewed by Marisa Deshaies

An intimate look at the livelihoods of those who are willing to sacrifice life and limb for survival, Bitter Greens weaves the story of the Rapunzel fairy-tale with the true-life account of one of its first storytellers. Author Kate Forsyth uses the power of word-weaving, detailed historical facts, and three braided storylines to bring to life one of the lesser-known fairy-tales of storytelling lore.

Told from the perspective of three very different women, Bitter Greens brings readers into Venice, Paris, and Versailles. Charlotte-Rose de la Force is a scandalous woman of her time.  Banished from the court of King Louis XIV, Charlotte-Rose is imprisoned in a nunnery for a love affair that did not please the king. While locked away in her prison, Charlotte-Rose becomes enamored by a nun, who takes it upon herself to help Charlotte through her imprisonment by retelling the story of Rapunzel. Margherita—the name Forsyth gives her Rapunzel figure—is given away by her parents at a young age after her father steals a handful of bitter greens from Selena Leonelli’s garden. Selena, a beautiful courtesan from Venice, is the muse of the Venetian artist Tiziano.  For sixty-four years she has enamored Tiziano, but along the way Selena has decided that everlasting youth and beauty—and thus the unfortunate repercussions for children—are more powerful than love. Equal parts the stories of Selena, Margherita, and Charlotte-Rose, Forsyth’s novel is captivating with its historical research that demonstrates that the concepts of black-and-white are not always applicable when circumstances—rather than individual choices—dictate decisions.

Forsyth excels in her ability to utilize emotions and description in Bitter Greens. Despite her characters’ flaws and sometimes-unfortunate choices, all three women are endearing, compelling, and likable. Forsyth spans her braided plotlines through paralleling the women’s stories: their desires and the challenges they face are ultimately controlled by others. Even with their strengths—determination, passion, talent, and bravery amongst others—Selena, Charlotte-Rose, and Margherita are forced to abandon their hopes and dreams for lives dependent upon dark magic, revenge, and power.  The descriptions of the settings provide a strong backdrop for the characters’ actions. Forsyth’s evocative language brings Venice, Paris, and Versailles to life—almost as if the settings were characters themselves.

Bitter Greens is much more than a fairy-tale retelling; this novel is historical in its facts, compelling in its writing, thorough in its research, and approachable in its characterization. In its five-hundred-some pages, Forsyth reaches out to readers through multiple means that touch emotions, intellectual stimulation, and historical stirrings that will captivate readers of novels of all genres. This novel is recommended for readers who enjoy history, fairy-tale retellings, and contemporary women’s fiction.

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

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Mailbox Monday

[ 15 ] September 21, 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

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Digital Review Copies

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Additions to Personal Kindle Library

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Books by Carole P. Roman

[ 3 ] September 21, 2014

4pagesReviewed by Alyssa Katanic

So, have you checked out any of Carole P. Roman’s works for the children in your life yet? If not, you are missing out! She has added some great new volumes to her Captain No Beard series (which is a MUST for every Pirate loving boy and girl!), and her geography series If You Were Me and Lived In… She is even presenting a book that was written and illustrated by her five year old grandson, Alexander Luke, called Whaley’s Big Adventure that is excellent!

Whaley’s Big Adventure is not only a cute story about a blue whale who swims out to meet and visit with other whale friends, it also contains facts about whales in general, and introduces readers to a few specific species of whales by giving a little bit of information about each one as Whaley meets them on his adventure. The illustrations are VERY well done on what may have originally been construction paper, with water colors and markers. Not only did my children enjoy the book itself, but they were excited and inspired by the fact that the author/illustrator was just five years old!

Whaley’s Big Adventure is perfect for sea loving children and a great way to help our children learn more about whales.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

A Couple more “sea worthy” tales by Carole Roman are her latest additions to her Captain No Beard Series: The Treasure of Snake Island and The Crew Goes Coconuts!

In The Treasure of Snake Island, the crew of the Flying Dragon begins their day by admiring the red sunrise. It is beautiful, but Polly the Parrot reminds them that a “red sky at morning” warns sailors of oncoming storms. How does she know this? “I read it in a book!… That is how I learn everything, by reading!” (Music to this homeschooling momma’s ears!) Sure enough, it storms, but, thanks to Polly’s reading and warning the others, they had plenty of time to prepare. After the storm, Polly tells them more about books being “wondrous things” and Captain No Beard is reminded of a treasure map that he has tucked into his pocket. The last place First Mate Hallie would want to go is a place called “Snake Island”, she’s afraid of snakes, but there is a promise of treasure there! Can you guess what that treasure is?

Rating: ★★★★★ 

The Crew Goes Coconuts! find the crew of the Flying Dragon out on another adventure. Captain No Beard is out of sight, but there is a new crew member, Matie the Goat. First Mate Hallie and Cabin Girl Cayla adore her, but the rest of the crew is teasing Matie because of her name and the way that she talks. They are really upset with her for drinking the last of the juice on a hot dry day and they refuse to be nice. However, just because they cannot see their captain, does not mean that they are out of his sight!

When Captain No Beard steps in, he has a creative way of showing his crew that there are good and not so good things in everyone’s character, but no one likes to be treated badly. The crew all apologize to poor Matie, and go about a better way of letting Matie know that they were angry because they were thirsty after she had finished drinking all of the juice. Matie hadn’t been able to stop them from picking on her before, but she knows how to quench their thirst! All she has to do is to use her head! You will have to read the book to find out how! You and the children in your life will be glad you did!

Rating: ★★★★★ 

If-you-were-me-and-lived-in-Portugal-by-Carole-RomanWhat do Portugal, Russia, and India have in common? They are the next hop, skip, and jump around the world in Roman’s wonderful geography and culture series for young children, If You Were Me and Lived In…

My children have all loved this series from book one, and have come to know what categories to expect as Roman describes what life would be like in each country. They love the list of boys and girls popular names from each country and will call out things like, “My Indian name is Anoop! You can be Nikita!” They look forward to hearing about the different types of foods eaten in each country, like Russia’s caviar, “Ewww, it says they ‘pop in your mouth when you eat them’. I wouldn’t try that!” “Neither would I! But I wish we could have some piroshky (you know, those potato filled pastas)! Those are awesome!” And they all crowd around to see the illustrations that depict the vacation spots, games, and festivals enjoyed in each country, like Portugal’s “Carnevale”, which they learned means to “put away the meat”. It is very much like Mardi Gras, with which many of us are familiar, as it is a feasting and costumed festival that takes place before Lent.

If you have not yet explored a new country through Roman’s series, If You Were Me and Lived In…, I highly encourage you to wait no longer! Each book in the series is definitely rated 5 stars!

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Get out there and pick up any of Carole P. Roman’s latest books and enjoy a trip under the sea with Whaley’s Big Adventure, on top of the sea with Captain No Beard and the crew of the Flying Dragon, or across the sea with the If You Were Me and Lived In… series. We can never take our children on too many literary adventures! In the words of Polly the Parrot, “Books are wondrous things!”

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 Carole P. Roman. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Surrounded by Sharks by Michael Northrop

[ 2 ] September 20, 2014

51wBXoWn7qL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Reviewed by Carrie Ardoin

Surrounded By Sharks is the first book I’ve ever read that had anything to do with frightening sea creatures, but upon reading the synopsis of this book I was excited to give it a shot. Sharks have become a well-known symbol in pop culture, with the culmination of the much anticipated Shark Week series that the Discovery Channel showcases every year.

In Surrounded by Sharks, by young adult author Michael Northrop, the main character is indeed in the middle of a number of the predators. But to me, the more immediate danger would have been not the animals, but any number of other things that could have killed the boy: exposure, exhaustion, thirst, and above all, drowning. Whatever antagonism Davey experiences, Surrounded by Sharks is a thrilling novel that is sure to keep teenagers engaged with its danger and suspense.

The book starts off a bit slowly, but once the main character disappears, everything moves quickly. Davey is a thirteen-year-old boy on vacation with his family on a tiny private island resort in Florida. A smart and deeply private boy, he is less than thrilled that he has to share one room with his little brother and parents. On the first day of their vacation, Davey wakes up early and decides to take a walk around the resort to try to find a quiet reading spot. He finds that spot in a hidden beach cove, but he decides to ignore the “No Swimming” sign and wades into the ocean a little anyway. Before he can do anything, he is swept away by the waves and ends up drifting more than two miles away from shore.

Davey’s younger brother Brandon had noticed he was gone from the hotel room not long after he left, but he didn’t inform his parents of this immediately.

Probably the main thing that irritated me about the plot of the book is that there were so many mix ups, mistakes, and missed opportunities that I felt like Davey could have been rescued much sooner. I understand that this writing technique is a plot device to make younger readers feel more of a sense of danger and urgency, but for an adult who can put this book away in just a couple of hours, it’s more annoying than anything.

As I said before, the sharks are present in the book, but for myself I didn’t feel like they were as menacing as the author intended them to be. Up until the last couple of chapters  the sharks just swim in circles below Davey. It seems they are nothing but curious about him; however, readers know it is highly unlikely that any person could survive surrounded by sharks for a long period of time.  To a thirteen-year-old kid lost in the vast sea, though, the motivation of the sharks is meaningless—the child just wants to survive the ordeal.

I think middle grade readers will enjoy this read; it is split up into short, easy–to-read chapters and often the chapters end on a menacing note. I also believe it might make the kids who read it think twice about the consequences before they break any rules!

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Carrie runs the blog Sweet Southern Home, and is a stay at home wife and mom to one little boy. When she’s not reading, she’s usually watching Netflix with her husband, playing outside with her son, or baking. Her family would describe her as sometimes annoyingly sarcastic, but mostly lovable. 

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

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Review: Smart Change by Art Markman, PhD

[ 2 ] September 19, 2014

Reviewed by Poppy Johnson

Are you ready for a smart change?

It is possible to make valuable changes in our lives–I am sure of it after reading this book. Smart Change highlights an easy step-by-step-guide to a better you. In Smart Change, Markman writes about the psychological mechanisms that influence the habits that influence our every behavior. In addition, he offers relatable and compelling advice that every person can easily adapt to if they desire to make positive changes in their life.

All of us have a “go” system that is the basis of our own personal habits; this is the automatic way that most of us live our lives. The go system helps us find valuable goals to pursue in our daily lives by making us more aware of our environment–thus using it to our advantage. The go system teaches us to become more aware of our surroundings so we are better able to recognize the triggers of our habits and adapt our behaviors for positive outcomes. In recognizing these triggers we are then able to pursue valuable goals on a daily basis. We are encouraged to keep a journal on our daily thoughts, actions, obstacles, signs, goals, habits, and anything that will help us to monitor and change our own behavior to further our goals in life. The “stop” system, a parallel to Markman’s “go” system, teaches people how to deal with the different stressors and challenges in life that hinder the creation and development of positive habits. By being aware of our behavior we can make effective changes, which is a smart change in itself.

Chapters in Smart Change explain how we can work to make beneficial and achievable adjustments in our lives. We can utilize behavior changes; sustain good behavior; learn ways to optimize our goals; tame our go system; utilize a harness on our stop system; and learn to manage our environment and engage with others. There are break-out sessions throughout the book that offer smart-change journal questions on how to review our current habits and motivations, and the book gives advice on how to begin a new program on change. The author utilizes scientific evidence to show that change can happen with the right attitude.

In following Markman’s suggestion that exercise is an excellent stress reducer, I used the tips offered in the book to begin a new exercise routine to walk ten-thousand steps each day. I kept the end goals in mind, created new exercise habits to allow the go system to operate automatically, and strove to repeat the same behavior. This worked for about two full weeks. I then stopped working towards this goal and even forgot about it until a friend stated that she was working on the same goal. By using the ideas in the book I was able to start a new routine, but I had to use my own power to keep the routine going, of course.

I think that there is a place for smart change in everyone’s life. However, it is difficult to make any change, even with the best of intentions.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

After a decade of working in several NYC law departments and teaching, Poppy decided she enjoyed writing full-time. She currently works as a freelance writing consultant, and lives with her husband and sons on the East Coast.

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

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Review: The Gods of Second Chances by Dan Berne

[ 3 ] 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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