Monday, January 30, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder (Hannah Swensen, #1), by Joanne Fluke

Overview (from Goodreads): Hannah Swenson already has her hands full trying to dodge her mother's attempts to marry her off while running The Cookie Jar, Lake Eden, Minnesota's most popular bakery. But once Ron LaSalle, the beloved delivery man from the Cozy Cow Dairy, is found murdered behind her bakery with Hannah's famous Chocolate Chip Crunchies scattered around him, her life just can't get any worse. Determined not to let her cookies get a bad reputation, she sets out to track down a killer.

Review: Well, it was entertaining, and kept me guessing, which is a must in a who-done-it for me. However, I find it irritating that the main character knows everything. There is absolutely no topic (except men) that she doesn't know about, and not vaguely. She knows about the most unimportant, obscure or rare things, details, information always! Also, I didn't like the fact that her brother in law is the police detective, and she, true to form, knows about detective work more than him. I don't mind her solving the crime, of course not; but I do mind her speaking with her brother in law and practically teaching him how to do his job.
I like intelligent, educated, smart main characters, but Hannah is just too much.
Overall, not a bad book, although I'm still debating whether to read the next or not.

Oh! One more thing, the recipes! Loved that part!

3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Saturday night my husband and I had to rush to the hospital with our two year old son, Ian, who was apparently having a fever induced seizure. Never in my life had I experienced such a scary, frightening, and sickening moment that left me feeling helpless, desperate and incredibly afraid for my son's life.
You always wish to be cooler, calmer and in control when something like this happens, but, as it turns out, it was not at all possible for me to do that, at least not at first. I mean not knowing what is going on, what is really happening to your kid, what damage can this do to him in the long run... It was a terrible state of mind.
Today, we still don't have a clear picture. Yes, we do know that he has a virus, but we have no idea which one. We are fairly certain that the seizure was caused by the fever, but until a pediatric neurologist sees him, we don't know for sure. This past couple of days I have felt, along with my husband, so powerless... Our son is doing great. He is doing better. He is still experiencing a little fever every now and then, but nothing to be too worried about. However, I can't shake the feeling that it could happen again, anytime, anywhere...
All along I have been "hearing" this little, persisting voice reminding me that I am NOT the one who is supposed to have control over this whole situation, I am NOT called to know exactly what is going on, and I am NOT expected to have a clear picture of anything, because I have my limits, because I am not all-knowing and because I am not all-powerful. But God is. The God that I trust, that I love and that I serve; He knows what's going on, He knows why this is happening, He knows what's coming next. So how can I just breathe, lift my hands and let go?
I guess it all comes down to trust. To trust that He who knows what's best will work all these things for my better good, for the good of my husband and my son. To trust that He who has control over everything can give me strength, peace and certainty in Him. To trust that He who has showed me how much He loves in many ways, many times, every day will take care of me and my family. So I'm letting go. God already took over.
Needless to say I have not finished reading anything, so there is nothing to report on that end, but I will soon enough. In the mean time, trust God and do not lean on your own understanding. He will lead the way.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A spotlight on author Virginia Smith

Virginia Smith is one of my favorite Christian fiction authors ever since I read Stuck in the Middle (Book #1 of the Sister to Sister series). She really is a great writer, meaning that her characters are well developed, and likable, the plots are well paced, well written, and well thought out and the Christian faith is nicely presented. She has written 12 Christian novels. Among them:

Stuck in the Middle (Sister to Sister 1): You can see my review on a previous post.
Age before Beauty (Sister to Sister 2)
Third Time's a Charm (Sister to Sister 3)
A Taste of Murder (The Classical Trio Series 1): It is a nicely written suspense novel. Although it is fairly predictable, it also is entertaining. It has suspense, but it is also lighthearted, and has a little bit of romance as well.
Murder at Eagle Summit (The Classical Trio Series 2)
Scent of Murder (The Classical Trio Series 3)
Murder by Mushroom

You can find more information on this wonderful author at
From this author, up next for me is reading Age before Beauty and Murder by Mushroom.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The ones that are better left hidden

Usually, you will see me commenting on books I love. Words are better used that way. But there are definitely quite a few books that I wish I would've never read; books that I have no idea how they were published in the first place. Books that make anyone think "Hey, I can be a writer, too!" Books that challenge you to finish them; that make you want to, not only quit, but warn everybody else not to waste their time. Books so incredibly bad that you are left baffled, speechless, and at a loss.
There are many reasons why books are bad: bad writing, incoherent, inconclusive or implausible plot, unsympathetic or unlikable characters, bad grammar, and bad or non-existing editing, to name a few. Well, I have had bad experiences, some worse than others, and below are a few of those. I know many people don't agree with me, and that's fine. For the sake of the writers and authors, it is a great blessing that tastes vary from one person to the next. Anyway, here's part of my list:

1. 13 Little Blue Envelopes, by Maureen Johnson:  Bad, oh so bad. I think one of the worst things about this one is that the author does not give us real insight into who the female lead, Ginny, is. She hardly ever speaks or interacts with the people around her and you are left wondering about her thought process, her intentions, what moves her, how she's feeling, what motivates her, because when reading this novel you are not her travel companion. You are a distant bystander who is not sure why you're following her.
Her aunt dies and asks her to travel around Europe (because as everyone knows, there is no way you can "discover who you are" in your own country, or hometown) to follow the route she took while she was there, to meet with strangers and people she knew while she lived there. She can't call her parents while she's there (she's 17), actually she can't communicate with anyone in any way from the States. She can't take money with her, either.
She goes through a lot, as you can imagine, being on her own for the first time, but nothing seems to get to her, except near the end when she learns a "shocking" truth, and she runs away. It was irritating, but I kept on reading because I knew there had to be something else, something better, a reason for everything. I mean, why did her aunt do this, ask her to do this? Well, the reason behind everything is so meh, blah, pfffft, that wasn't rewarding at all. Not worth it.

2. Face of Betrayal, by Lis Wiehl: "An FBI agent from Tennessee called Allison, speaking in a drawl so slow that she found herself gritting her teeth...
Allison wanted to crawl down the phone line and shake the agent."
My sentiments exactly towards the author. So I guess she knows the feeling well enough to describe it but not enough to avoid doing it to her readers. She just goes on and on about insignificant details (HD technology, a woman's love for boxing as an exercise, among many, many others). It took me forever to finish this novel just because I hated that. The writing is cheesy and pretty bad. You can throw away most of the first half of the book and still have it make sense. The ending, on the other hand, felt rushed and quite ridiculous and not at all unexpected.

3. Tuscan Holiday, by Holly Chamberlin: The characters are weak, not well written, and most of the dialogue is not believable: from the dialogues between the mother and the daughter to the dialogue between the lady from Chicago that the mother meets and the mother. Really disappointing. Also, although some chapters are narrated by the mother and others, by the daughter, the voice is essentially the same. It's hard to figure out who's narrating, until one refers to the other. And finally, at the beginning of each chapter there are different excerpts, quotes and the likes that add nothing to the story and are annoying and distracting. Really pretty bad.

4. The Potluck Club, by Linda Evans Shepherd: In  this one, most of the characters are very unlikable, starting with Evangeline and ending with her apparent nemesis, Donna. They are catty, gossipy, highly critical of one another, cliquish, and snobbish. They are supposed to be a prayer group, but they mostly gossip about others or talk behind each others back. And the few times they are actually praying as a group, they are interrupted almost immediately. They do get better by the end of the book, but barely.
There was a silver lining: Jan, the pastor's wife, and Lizzie were nice characters, as well as the story of Vonnie and Joe, and Leigh and Gary. The rest, no thank you. 

5. Fools Rush In, by Janice Thompson: Very, very bad. And it's a shame too because it has a nice premise.
The problem here for me was that the author tried too hard to be funny all the time, in almost very page. This tried to be a sort of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but with cowboys and Italians. However, it failed. It's supposed to be a romantic comedy, but the author should be aware that less is more. She had everything, from people fainting over silly and supposedly funny things to a foul mouthed parrot that some try to convert with sermons and the Bible on tape.
The main character, Bella, is 29 years old and very immature. She acts like a teenager. Also, the author feels the need to repeat herself a few too many times when translating Italian phrases and mentioning legal phrases, when giving the specials of Uncle Laz's restaurant, when stating that Bella has never worn cowboy boots nor listened to country music. Completely unnecessary.

6. Sweet Baklava, by Debby Mayne: Sadly, almost inedible. This is the story of a selfish girl who says she is still in love with the boyfriend who abandoned her to enlist in the Air Force, never to call or write to her again; as well as the story of a boy who comes home for vacation from his Air Force job or whatever, and is smitten by the girlfriend he left behind 10 years ago. He has always loved her, and she has always loved him. He never stopped loving her, ditto for her. He tries to win her back. And tries, and tries, and tries, and, yes, he tries some more. And she refuses, and refuses, and refuses. And he loves her even more because she is soooo determined. So again he tries, and tries, and tries. And she falters a little bit, but then refuses, and refuses, and refuses. And he can’t believe how much he loves her, and now loves her even more because she is soooo determined, but also kind, and smart, and speaks her mind. So once again he tries, and tries, and tries. And she kind of gives in, but not really, and then refuses, and refuses, and refuses. The boy's vacation is over, so he returns to his job. The girl realizes how selfish she has been so she finally gives in, and they (and everyone in their lives) live happily ever after. No big story, no big conflict, no big problem; just a few months in the life of this couple, this boring couple.

So there you have it. These are a few of the ones I really didn't like or just plainly disliked with a passion. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Stuck in the Middle, by Virginia Smith

Overview (from Goodreads): Joan Sanderson's life is stuck.
Her older sister, Allie, is starting a family, and her younger sister, Tori, has a budding career. Meanwhile, Joan is stuck at home with Mom and her aging grandmother. Not exactly a recipe for excitement--or romance.
When a hunky young doctor moves in next door, Joan sets out to catch his eye. But it won't be easy. Pretty Tori flirts relentlessly, and Joan is sure that she can't compete. But with a little help from God, Allie, and an enormous mutt with bad manners, Joan begins to find her way out of this rut and into the life she's been hiding from.

Review: Beautiful. And a real Christian fiction; it doesn't shy away from the Christian faith or message at all. It's a very light read, entertaining, simple, tender, funny at times, romantic at times, sweet and touching.
You wont find big conflicts or a great drama. The real conflict in this book for the main character, Joan, is spiritual. There's a bit of an emotional, family conflict, and, of course, the romantic side of the novel, but this really is about a spiritual awakening. And it was beautiful.
I would have given it 5 stars, but I felt the ending was too abrupt. The romantic part needed a bit more time, at least one more scene to seal the deal for me. But this is by far the best free ebook I have read. Check out if it's still free, but if it's not, I think it really is worth what you will pay for it.
I loved it.
4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, January 12, 2012

My definition of a good time

A good time is time well spent. Time well spent, for me, is spent with family and friends
My mornings start off pretty late, compare to others. I get up at 7:30am, pray, read my Bible, make myself a tall glass of warm chocolate milk (always with Bosco), and wake my son up at 8:30am. Everyday without fail, he asks for his father (who goes to work at 5:30am), and then I get him ready to take him to my parents' house (which is a few houses down) and then I get to work. I work from 9am to 5pm.
Those few (roughly 15 to 20 minutes) I spend alone with my son every morning are incredibly precious to me. We pray, we read a Bible verse, we laugh, we talk, we play. It is a great way to start my day, and a wonderfully great time.
My husband returns from work at 2:30pm. He picks up our son, and they come to pick me up together at 5pm. After that, we spend the next few hours together. Wherever my husband and I go, our son goes with us. We enjoy each others' company and can't wait to go out together, even if it is to the mall or the supermarket.
We also love our time spent with our family. We eat dinner at my parents' house, along with my sisters, my niece and my nephew. It's a loud and noisy dinnertime full with laughs and conversation. A good time indeed.
And last, but not least, time spent with the beautiful people from our church is a joy to us. We have meaningful conversations, a great Sunday worship, a wonderful Thursday night Bible study, and during the weekend, we enjoy playing dominoes, Uno, and "briscas" (don't know the word in English). We go out to eat, watch a movie, celebrate birthdays together, or just visit one another. Truly a great time.
Although I do enjoy some alone time and greatly appreciate it, my most memorable moments, those moments that have left a mark in my life, are the moments I have spent among the people who love me most and the people I love most in this world. Those are my good times.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Books to look forward to

A few years ago I read A Wife After God's Own Heart, by Elizabeth George, and really liked it. I loved how it helped put in perspective my role as a wife, a woman, and a child of God. I learned that my priorities were askew, and I learned how to set them straight. It changed my outlook in life, in my home, and in my job. It is a remarkable book if you're willing to let go of what you think should be right and are willing to accept what God expects of you. At least for me.
So now, I'm really looking forward to Mrs. George's new A Mom After God's Own Heart Devotional, out on February 1, 2012. It's filled with with her personal experiences and the Scripture's wisdom for parenting.
I am also very excited about A Perfect Square (out on March 6, 2012), by Vannetta Chapman. This is a sequel to Falling to Pieces, which I will be reading shortly. Although I haven't started reading the series, I just know that it must great because Mrs. Chapman is the author of the lovey A Simple Amish Christmas. That is a great debut novel, so I'm guessing her next books will be incredible, but either way, I'll let you know. As soon as I finish reading Falling to Pieces, I'll post my review.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Simple Amish Christmas, by Vannetta Chapman

Overview: After her time living with her English family (as part of her rumschpringe) comes to an abrupt end, Annie Weaver returns home. Now 20 years old and a RN, Annie feels lonely, somewhat out of place, and afraid to reveal what and who she really is. As she finds herself facing a budding romance with an Amish farmer, she has to make important decisions and come to terms with the life she may have to leave behind.

Review: A beautiful, excellent, very well written story. Annie is strong but also full of self-doubt and fears. Samuel, the Amish farmer and "doctor" who stirs very strong emotions in her (good and bad) has been suffering for years a terrible tragedy that has left him lonely and a recluse. He too feels strongly attracted to Annie but denies it to himself, at first. The interactions between these two characters are great; strong, with humor and affection. The novel as a whole is wonderful. Amish life is presented with precision and accuracy; with beautiful descriptions and details.
However, what made a great, and I mean GREAT, impact in my life, personally and spiritually, were Rebekah (Annie's mom) and what the Amish call the Second Christmas. Rebekah's insights and advices were extremely touching, wise and given so gently that it made me want to be like her, want to emulate her character. And the Second Christmas... I think that this is a very inspired Amish tradition. The fact that they don't exchange presents on the First Christmas (December 25th), but do so on the Second Christmas (December 26th) made me take a second look at the traditions in my home and think twice about what we do. The reason behind it is that in December 25th nothing takes away from what we're really celebrating: the birth of Jesus and what that means to us. So there's a second day to show our love and appreciation to one another by exchanging meaningful gifts. First, we appreciate what God did for us through Jesus, and then we appreciate those that God has put in our life. I thought it was a wonderful way to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas.
So, as you can see, this lovely novel is not only a fictional story; it also gives us a great view into Amish life and traditions. Not many novels can be entertaining, educational and inspiring. This is one of them. I loved it and recommend it to everyone.
5 out of 5 stars

Monday, January 9, 2012

The really great, the great and the greatly confused

Just got back from my Christmas vacation. Two whole weeks with my husband and son just walking around, enjoying each others company and having a great time. Here, we celebrate from December 24 Christmas Eve right up to Three Kings day in January 6, so there are lots of parties, get togethers, food, music, fireworks and fun to be had. And we had it all!
But now it's back to reality; back to work.
During my vacation I read the most beautiful Christmas novel, A Simple Amish Christmas, by Vannetta Chapman, which was excellent. Please, read the review. I highly recommend it.
I was also given the opportunity to review The Joy of Calvinism, by Greg Forster (Crossway publishing house), through NetGalley. This book will be out on February 29, 2012. I will be publishing my review as soon as I finish, but I can already say that it is a very good insight into what Calvinism really is.
Now, for the really confusing part of this post: I cannot figure out, not even if my life depended on it, how to add links on this page, but I don't want to add the address (you know, the No. I want to add the widget or logo from lets say Goodreads. It has been impossible! Not even when one of my goodreads and blog friends explained it to me in simple terms. There's no use. So be advised that for now this will remain a veeeeery simple blog, with none of the really cute stuff. I really am technically challenged.