Tag Archives: first-reads

The Bake-off by Beth Kendrick

Thanks to the “First Reads” program on Goodreads.com I was given an Advanced Readers Copy of The Bake-off by Beth Kendrick. This book is the subject of my next review.

The Bake-off book coverSuburban soccer mom Amy has always wanted to stand out from the crowd. Former child prodigy Linnie just wants to fit in. The two sisters have been estranged for years, but thanks to a series of personal crises and their wily grandmother, they’ve teamed up to enter a national bake-off in the hopes of winning some serious cash. Armed with the top-secret recipe for Grammy’s apple pie, they should be unstoppable. Sure, neither one of them has ever baked anything more complicated than brownie mix, but it’s just pie-how hard could it be?

I previously won and reviewed Second Time Around by this author, a book I thoroughly enjoyed. When I saw that The Bake-off was being given away on Goodreads.com, I made sure to enter. I was thrilled to find out a won a free copy of the book to review. My previous experience with the author meant I started the book with high expectations.

My first reaction to the book was to the cover. I appreciated how the cover image is very different and original. In my opinion this helps it really stand out amongst other books. In a row of new releases, I would pick up this book for a second look–I loved that!

I enjoyed the relationships that the author depicted in Second Time Around. I found myself loving those in The Bake-off even more. Like Amy and Linnie, I have a sister who is close in age. This enables me to relate to the different feelings that exist between siblings. Kendrick captures these emotions on the page, creating a story that I found myself easily identifying with.

The story told in this novel supports the great characters. The main theme of the plot–sisters competing in a bake-off–is as original as the cover. The situations they encounter made me want to continue reading. I couldn’t wait to see how the sisters worked their way out of some of the trouble they ended up in. The creative story kept my interest throughout. I was almost sorry to get to the last page!

Review: Great book!!! I thoroughly enjoyed it. Kendrick’s great storytelling created a page-turner that I hated to put down. I found the characters interesting and real. The story was funny and entertaining. I can’t wait until this book is released so others can enjoy it!

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2010 Year in Review

I completed Ready or Not by Meg Cabot on December 28, 2010. This marked the 78th book I read that year, and I met my goal of reading 78 books! In celebration I will be highlighting some of my favorite–and one least favorite–of 2010.

Favorite Pregnancy Read

Nominees: Knocked Up: Confessions of a Hip Mother-to-be by Rebecca Eckler and Baby Bargains, 8th Edition: Secrets to Saving 20% to 50% on Baby Furniture, Gear, Clothes, Toys, Maternity Wear and Much, Much More! by Denise Fields, Alan Fields
Winner: Baby Bargains, 8th Edition by Denise Fields, Alan Fields
Book Cover for Baby Bargains, 8th Edition by Denise Fields & Alan FieldsI judged this category based on which book I felt prepared me the best for my impending motherhood. These two books are very different from each other, which made it difficult to choose a favorite. Knocked Up was an entertaining and realistic tale about the journey of pregnancy; it is a great memoir. Baby Bargains wins the category, however. This book helped me prepare for the new baby the most. As a first time mom, I know nothing about the products available for a newborn. This book was invaluable in helping figure out which items I needed and which I didn’t. I loved how this information was all in one place for easy reference. This is such a great book that I recommend it for all new parents.

Favorite Series

Nominees: Airhead Series by Meg Cabot, Gallagher Girls by Ally Carter, The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins, and Mediator Series by Meg Cabot
Winner: Mediator Series by Meg Cabot
Cover of Shadowland (Mediator #1) by Meg CabotI didn’t realize how many great book series I read this year until I tried to pick a winner. All four series were full of five-star books. In order to pick my favorite, it came down to one fact: which series was the most consistent throughout. Two of these series–Airhead and Hunger Games–started off strong but the series’ finales left me disappointed. To some extent this also happened with the latest Gallagher Girls book. This was not the case in the Mediator books. Each book had a consistency that I enjoyed. I picked up the first and finished the last within forty-eight hours. The entire time I was interested and engaged in the plot. I enjoyed how Cabot was able to tell Suze’s story over six books while keeping the plot connected and entertaining. Note: While the Mediator series wins this category, all four series are “Must Reads” in my book.

Favorite Goodreads “First-Read”

Nominees: Second Time Around by Beth Kendrick, The Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness, and the Men Who Could Be Me by Bruce Feiler, Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling by Beth Raymer
Winner: Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling by Beth Raymer
Lay The Favorite book cover What I like most about Goodreads giveaways is that they give me a chance to read a book I wouldn’t normally pick up. This is true of all ten books I have won. I appreciated all but one of them, with Lay the Favorite being the one I enjoyed the most. The fact that I had nothing in common with the main character, yet still was still entertained by her story, made the book more interesting for me. The book was a real page-turner that had me interested throughout. I never would have purchased this book, but am really glad that Goodreads gave me the opportunity to read it.

Worst Book of 2010

Nominees: Rich Again by Anna Maxted, The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell, The Gift by Cecelia Ahern
Winner: Rich Again by Anna Maxted
Book Cover of Rich Again by Anna Maxted I previously mentioned that I picked up this book solely based on its cover. The bright colors and shopping bags made me believe the story was a typical Chick Lit plot with a bit more conflict. Instead I found a book with a confusing setup, unlikeable characters, and morbid plot. There was not one enjoyable aspect in this story. I have never before been unable to finish a book and was only able to complete this one because I heavily skimmed it. Such a bad book all around.

Favorite Memior

Nominees: Sliding Into Home by Kendra Wilkinson, My Fair Lazy: One Reality Television Addict’s Attempt to Discover If Not Being A Dumb Ass Is the New Black; Or, A Culture-Up Manifesto by Jen Lancaster, Didn’t I Feed You Yesterday?: A Mother’s Guide to Sanity in Stilettos by Laura Bennett
Winner: Sliding Into Home by Kendra Wilkinson
Book Cover of Sliding Into Home by Kendra WilkinsonSo, I have a confession to make. I have a small obsession with all things related to the original Girls Next Door; Holly Madison, Kendra Wilkinson, and Bridget Marquardt. I was very excited when I heard that Wilkinson was going to be releasing a memoir. I figured this book would give me a little extra insight into what went on behind the scenes of the TV show. I was also interested in learning a bit more about what Wilkinson’s life was life before her time at the mansion and what brought her there. Apparently I wasn’t the only one interested, as it was impossible for me to get my hands on a copy of the book until a week after it had been released! Once I was able to start reading, I found myself enjoying the pace and flow of the story. Her truthful tale was the perfect mix of history and humor that defines her. This book may not be on the same level as some of the other five-star books I read this year, but it served as a needed escape. It was the perfect way to get some “guilty pleasure” time in and getaway from the insanity that can be real life.

Favorite Chick Lit Novel

Nominees: Second Time Around by Beth Kendrick, The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes, Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin
Winner: Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin
The cover of Emily Giffin's now book "Heart of the Matter"Most of the Chick Lit stories I read in previous years were fun and flighty. They involved a single girl shopping her way around town while looking for the right guy. This year I discovered that authors were moving away from this type of story in favor of serious tales. Emilly Giffin was able to successfully tell the tale of the challenges of marriage after writing great “boy meets girl” stories. There was very little about this book that didn’t work. I highly recommend it to all of my Chick Lit blog readers.

Favorite YA Novel

Nominees: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green, David Levithan, Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, The Hunger Games & Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Winner: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Book Cover of Before I Fall by Lauren OliverIt was a great year for me in terms of YA books. A quick look at a summary of YA books I read least year shows that a high percentage of the them rated four or five stars. It was hard to narrow this list down to the nominees. It was even harder to pick a winner! After much deliberation I picked Before I Fall. I started reading the book with no expectations. Lauren Oliver was a new author who was not from the usual circle of authors I read. I finished the book with a changed attitude. The way in which Oliver discussed the life and death of the main character was inspiring. I find myself often recommending this book to friends and strangers. Such an amazing book.

So, those are some of my favorite books of 2010. What were some of your favorite reads?

Countdown by Deborah Wiles

I have always enjoyed reading books about American History, yet very few history books make it into my “to-read” pile. I was excited when I won a copy of Countdown on goodreads as it allowed me to read a bit more about the history of the United States.

From goodreads.com

Book Cover of Countdown by Deborah Wiles It’s 1962, and it seems everyone is living in fear. Twelve-year-old Franny Chapman lives with her family in Washington, DC, during the days surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis. Amidst the pervasive threat of nuclear war, Franny must face the tension between herself and her younger brother, figure out where she fits in with her family, and look beyond outward appearances. For Franny, as for all Americans, it’s going to be a formative year.

Before starting this book, I knew very little about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Throughout the story I found myself getting more familiar with the topic. The author conveyed the historical information in a way that made it feel like a conversation instead of a lecture. She did this by delivering the facts through the main character; a eleven year old. The details about this past event were seamlessly woven into the story between talks of the daily woes of a seventh grader. This style allowed the author to successfully convey the information she needed about the Missile Crisis and the main characters life in an interesting way.

The young age of the narrator did concern me at first. The intended audience for this book–ages nine to twelve–is much younger than the YA books I usually read. I wondered if I would be able to relate to a character whose daily concerns involved things such as who to play with in the playground. In the end, these types of issues took up little of the story. Instead much of the plot focused on larger issues. I found I could relate to issues such as dealing with family dynamics. The author’s ability to put me in the character’s shoes quickly eased any concerns I had about the age difference between the protagonist and myself.

I was interested to find out that this book is the first in a trilogy. I am very curious to see what topics the remaining two books cover. I am hoping that the author chooses to focus on two historical events for the subjects of the remaining books. Her ability to make history entertaining has me excited for these releases.

Review: This book is one I would love to see any middle school aged student reading. It is a great book that many will find entertaining. The authors ability to keep the story interesting while still informing made for an enjoyable story. I can’t wait to see what topics Wiles tackles next!

Everything Christmas by David Bordon, Tom Winters

I am someone who firmly believes that Christmas celebration should not start until the day after (American) Thanksgiving. So why am I reviewing a Christmas book in October? I won Everything Christmas as a goodreads giveaway and wanted to review it ASAP.

From goodreads.com

Book Cover of Everything Christmas by David Bordon & Tom WintersOpening this book is like opening a box full of Christmas cheer.

Christmas is a time of celebration and wonder, a time to embrace longstanding traditions and establish new ones. It’s a time for meals made of memories and heartwarming stories shared around the fireplace. It’s a time for worship, reflection, and remembrance of God’s greatest gift.

Everything Christmas brings all the best ideas for the holiday season together in one volume. In this book, you’ll find your favorite classic Christmas stories and a few new ones destined to join them. You’ll discover the most delectable holiday recipes, enjoy the words to treasured hymns and carols, be encouraged by inspirational Christmas poems, and find renewed joy in the Nativity story. From decoration ideas to Christmas trivia and humor – it’s all here!

Growing up, Christmastime was a big celebration for my family. My younger sister and I spent the day after Thanksgiving decorating our parents house for Christmas. This was a massive all-day effort. The Christmas festivity continued on throughout the holiday season. These experiences have made me realize how important Christmas traditions are.

My husband and I will soon be starting our own family. This is a chance for us to start our own holiday rituals. We will borrow from our childhood for some customs, while also trying to incorporate new ones. I found Everything Christmas was a great place to start looking for new traditions.

It was impossible to read this book and not start to feel some holiday spirit. This book is set up to be used as an Advent Calendar. There are 24 chapters in this book, one for each day leading up to Christmas. The chapters each center on things such as holiday recipes, crafts, carols, poems, and holiday stories. The stories were so enjoyable that I had a hard time putting the book down.

The book served as both entertainment and a great Christmas resource. In its pages are the words to most of the classic Christmas Carols, as well as stories of their origins. If you are looking for a recipe for your holiday table, this book has you covered. The craft ideas had me itching for a trip to my local Michael’s to pick up supplies. After reading I was left wishing it was December!

Review: I was a bit uncertain about this book when I won it, but am now very glad I had the opportunity to read it. I enjoyed many of the stories, poems, and jokes found in its pages. My husband and I were inspired by the recipes and plan on trying some for the upcoming holidays. Everything Christmas is the perfect book to put you in the holiday mood.

Don’t Stop Believin’: The Unofficial Guide to Glee by Erin Balser, Suzanne Gardner

The next book I am going to review is Don’t Stop Believin’: The Unofficial Guide to Glee by Erin Balser and Suzanne Gardner. I won a free copy of this book through the goodreads.com giveaway program.

From goodreads.com

 Don't Stop Believin': The Unofficial Guide to Glee by Erin Balser, Suzanne Gardner The kids in McKinley’s high school’s glee club “New Directions” might not be the most popular in school. For every chart-topping song “New Directions” belts out at practice the glee kids are liable to get a slushie tossed in their face by a football player or harassed online by the creme-de-la-creme of the school, one of McKinley’s “Cheerio” cheerleaders. But fictional popularity aside, the television show Glee is unquestionably a runaway hit, and audiences can’t get enough of their story: from the songs to the students, and especially the wacky teachers.

Don’t Stop Believin’: The Unofficial Guide to Glee is for Glee fans who demand more once the curtain falls. From information about the stars, the music, the trivia, and the in-jokes, to analysis of each relationship and fashion choice, Don’t Stop Believin’: The Unofficial Guide to Glee is the go-to guide for all things Glee. The book is thorough enough to satiate even the most dedicated of fans, yet accessible enough that a casual viewer can enjoy it.

Based on the description of this book, I gathered that it would be pages of large glossy pictures with small amounts of text, which made me hesitant to spend ten dollars on the book. The fact that I could sign up to win this book for free, however, was very appealing. The goodreads giveaway allowed me to not have to spend money on what I felt would be a glorified fan magazine, yet still get some Glee gossip to tide me over until the new season premiered.

Upon getting my hands on a copy of the book I was excited to find out my impression was way off. The text-to-picture ratio made me realize my fears of the book being mostly fluff were unfounded. I enjoyed the colored pictures featured in the insert. I found the rest of the pictures were used thoughtfully throughout the book.

Overall the guide was arranged very well. It started off with a background of how Glee came to be. There was great insight into the people who had a hand in the creation of the show. This section was followed by in-depth discussion of a good deal of the main and supporting cast of season one. I was afraid that this information would all just be recycled interviews and quotes with little new information; this was not the case. Although I have read many stories and articles about the cast, I still found much of the information in this section to be new and filled with many interesting facts.

The second half of the book was dedicated to an in-depth discussion of each episode. Each recap featured fourteen categories that were used to discuss the episode. I found that many of these small sections worked well. The summaries were useful in reminding me about some of the details of the episodes without being too long. The “Behind the Music,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” and “Center Stage” sections provided great information about the various song choices or Broadway references in each episode. I really enjoyed the great Sue Sylvester quotes that ended each recap, as these are often the highlight of an episode.

Two of the recap sections didn’t really work for me. As I had never previously watched Executive Producer Ryan Murphy’s TV show Popular, I had no use for the sections comparing that show and Glee. As a result I found myself skipping over these paragraphs. The “Low Note” section was also one I could have done without. This section felt too judgmental and critical of a show that should not be taken too seriously.

Review: I am not the type of person who would spend money on a unofficial guide to a TV series. The reasonable price of this book–$10 to $14 dollars depending on where you look–would help to change my mind. This book is full of new facts that even avid Glee fans will find interesting. Even the two small subsections I did not enjoy could not take away from my enjoyment of this book

The Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness, and the Men Who Could Be Me by Bruce Feiler

The next book up for review is The Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness, and the Men Who Could Be Me by Bruce Feiler. This book was another first-read from goodreads.com.

From Goodreads.com

The Council Of Dads book coverBestselling author Bruce Feiler was a young father when he was diagnosed with cancer. He instantly worried what his daughters’ lives would be like without him. “Would they wonder who I was? Would they wonder what I thought? Would they yearn for my approval, my love, my voice?”

Three days later he came up with a stirring idea of how he might give them that voice. He would reach out to six men from all the passages in his life, and ask them to be present in the passages in his daughters’ lives. And he would call this group “The Council of Dads.”

“I believe my daughters will have plenty of opportunities in their lives,” he wrote to these men. “They’ll have loving families. They’ll have each other. But they may not have me. They may not have their dad. Will you help be their dad?”

The Council of Dads is the inspiring story of what happened next. Feiler introduces the men in his Council and captures the life lesson he wants each to convey to his daughters–how to see, how to travel, how to question, how to dream. He mixes these with an intimate, highly personal chronicle of his experience battling cancer while raising young children, along with vivid portraits of his father, his two grandfathers, and various father figures in his life that explore the changing role of fathers in America.

This is the work of a master storyteller confronting the most difficult experience of his life and emerging with wisdom and hope. The Council of Dads is a touching, funny, and ultimately deeply moving book on how to live life, how the human spirit can respond to adversity, and how to deepen and cherish the friendships that enrich our lives.

Just by reading the description of this story I knew it was going to be a tearjerker. The book did not disappoint. Right from the first chapter, I found myself emotionally attached the the author and his family. I needed to read more to find out how they survived during the author’s year-long ordeal.

One of the things I enjoyed about this book was the chapter layout. The first chapter in this pattern was a letter written by the author to his friends and family. This was followed by a chapter introducing one of the “dads” to the reader. The last chapter was one in which the “dad” and Feiler discussed what that dad would pass along to the author’s children if he passed. While it was possible for these chapters to feel disjointed, each worked well together to tell a complete story.

The chapters consisting of the letters were my favorite. One of the reasons I enjoyed these so much is that they were able to give an update about the author’s condition with a human touch. They discussed things such as Feiler’s heath and how his family had been coping with his illness. I found these chapters were a a great tool to help pace the story. They were a great way to quickly cover several months worth of time while still keeping the reader informed.

As the author was telling a very personal story, I could of easily felt like an outsider throughout the book. The lack of experience I have with dealing with cancer in my family could of made it hard to relate to the journey told. Neither of these things was a problem. The author does such a fantastic job telling his story that you feel like you are right there with him. You celebrate his highs as if they are your own. When he is suffering you wish that you were there to support him. The author’s ability to make his journey your own helps make this book a must read.

Review: This was a fantastic read that was impossible to put down. The author had my interest and I was riveted throughout his year long battle. Despite the fact I had little in common with the author, I found myself often relating to his situation and enjoying his story.

An Education by Lynn Barber

I’ve been lucky recently and won a few goodreads.com giveaways recently. This review of An Education by Lynn Barber is another such book. As is the case with Lay the Favorite, I would not have read this book had I not won it on goodreads.

From Goodreads.com

Book cover of "An Education" by Lynn BarberLynn Barber’s true story is now a major film of the same name scripted by Nick Hornby. At 16, Lynn Barber was an ambitious schoolgirl working towards a place at Oxford, when she was picked up at a bus-stop by an attractive older man in a sports car. So began a relationship that almost wrecked her life. Barber’s fascinating memoir takes us beyond this bizarre episode, revealing how it left her with an abiding mistrust of men which paradoxically led her to a promiscuous life-style at university until she met her husband-to-be. “An Education” tells how she went on to work for seven years at daring (for the times) men’s magazine “Penthouse’ before beginning her starry days as the Demon Barber – Britain’s most entertaining and most feared interviewer. The book ends with an extraordinarily moving account of the early death of her husband. Her writing is refreshingly frank and funny.

I first became aware of An Education during the last Academy Awards ceremony. I found the clips and description of the movie very interesting, and made a mental note to watch the movie someday. I didn’t think of the movie again until noticing a book titled An Education listed as a goodreads.com giveaway. After a bit of research, I found that the movie had been based on this book Remembering that the movie had caught my attention, I checked out the book’s description. The description and my previous interest in the movie after the Oscars led me to sign up for the giveaway.

While I don’t usually discuss the book covers in my blogs, the publishers did such a great job designing the cover for this book that I can’t help but mention it. I felt as if this cover was a good representation of the book. The publishing company could have gone with a glossy cover with a photo-shopped model, but they didn’t. While this that kind of cover may have had more “shelf-appeal,” it would not have matched the story that’s being told. The simple cover featuring a younger image of the author was quite fitting. In my opinion this cover represented the story about Barber’s life very well.

At first I was unable to get into this book. The first chapter was necessary to give me background information on the author’s life, but it felt a bit slow. I did find myself getting more interested as I read., and I soon was unable to put the book down. Barber lead an interesting life and it translates into a engaging book.

I did feel a bit of a handicap as a US reader as opposed to someone from Barber’s native country. Some things like the discussion of England’s school system were confusing to me. The mention of certain prominent figures in the United Kingdom were lost on me as well since I did not know who they were. As a result, I felt that I was unable to grasp the importance of her interaction with these people. While this did take away my ability to relate to the character in some parts, it did not have much of an impact on my overall enjoyment or the story.

Review: I found this book interesting and engaging. It was a quick read that entertained me for an afternoon. I especially appreciated the way the author described her feelings and relationships with her family, and showed how those feelings educated her in her life.