Monday, September 28, 2009

FPD Color Challenge - week of 9/28

Come join in the fun and check out this week’s FPD COLOR CHALLENGE! It’s a fun one and I just know you’ll have fun playing along. You can get the details HERE!


And here's my page for the challenge ...

Credits:  Everything by PurpleColourz Playful & Fun kit and Oh Happy Day kit

Hope to see you over at the forums! And have a great week!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Swagbucks ... Have you joined yet?

Not long ago I heard about the program and heard great things. I've joined and already gotten two $5 gift cards just for searching the web.  This site is an online portal that helps you earn digital dollars called "Swag Bucks," which can be redeemed for exclusive merchandise at the swagbucks site. Basically, you do your internet searching via the search engine (and you can do it from their site or by getting a swagbucks toolbar which makes searching super easy. Your results will come in from Google and As you search the web, you earn swagbucks. Then, you simply redeem those swagbucks for products and/or gift cards in their online store. Very cool and very effortless. There are other ways to earn swagbucks as well but the searching piece is the primary way that I earn them. There are special promotions all the time that give you extra opportunities to win, etc. I'm enjoying it and finding it so easy!  If you want to check it out, visit their site. But, if you decide to join, please consider joining with my referral link (HERE) as it will help me earn some extra swagbucks! I strongly recommend the program as I've had great luck earning some extra stuff! I love easy ways to get some extra cash/stuff!

Again, if you're interested, feel free to join with my referral link - HERE - it's a great program!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Template Musings #2

I have another template for you this week ... I hope you like it!

This one is based on a layout that I did a few weeks ago ... here's the layout in case it helps to see the template at work!

You can pick it up here! Let me know what you think! And keep checking in because there will be more to come ...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Book Review Musings: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Be prepared to meet three unforgettable women:

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women—mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends—view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.

This is without a doubt one of my favorite books of the year. It didn't take long for the book to grab me and once it did, it didn't let go. It ended up being one of those novels you want to read constantly yet also want to read as slowly as possible so that it doesn't end.

I'm not sure where to start because there is so much about this novel that I adored. First, the characters were amazing. So well written that I felt as if I now know them personally. They literally came alive for me. The details and richness that Kathryn Stockett gave them made them some of my all time favorite literary characters.

The time and place were wonderfully written, made real through the wonderful writing. I felt like the novel really made the civil rights movement and Jackson, Mississippi come alive. They were in many ways their own characters in this novel. The novels shows the full spectrum of relationships in that time, particularly as they were impacted by racism and sexism. There was hate, ignorance and ugliness swirling right in with the love and attachment of the time/situation.

The story felt so real to me and truly touched something deep inside me. It embarrassed me to read the blatant ignorance shown in the book and that same embarrassment made me think long and hard about the impact of race on relationships, today and in the 1960's.

I adored the writing style chosen by Kathryn Stockett. The realism of the language and the style she chose really made the book come alive and the characters jump off the page. 

The novel is ultimately the story of a white woman writing true accounts of black maids which gives the reader picture of life in that place and time ... through their stories and their experiences. The depth of the stories told in this book is amazing. They may appear to be one thing on the surface but are often so much more in the end.

Although the novel is steeped in race and feminism, it is so much more. The storytelling is amazing in and of itself. It made me care about these women and their lives. And, most of all, it made me examine my own thoughts and feelings about racism and sexism. That was the true gift of the novel, in my opinion. As someone who grew up in the South and had grandparents and great-grandparents who spent their fundamental years steeped in the all too common ignorance and hatred of race relations of the 40s/50s/60s, I often had a difficult time understanding the things that I'd hear people around me say when it came to race. Intelligent people, people that I loved, spewing such hatred and ugliness for no reason other than the color of someone's skin. It just never made sense to me, given that I grew up in a different time, with different beliefs. The magic of this book was it helped me to understand that ignorance. Not to excuse it but maybe to understand where it came from and how it came to be. It gave me a different perspective on something that I'd struggled with when I was younger but never truly came to terms with as I grew up.

I loved this book and think it is an amazing book that really helped to capture my own feelings about race relations ... As one character in the novel stated "We are just two people. Not that much separates us." Instead of getting bogged down in the differences, why not celebrate the similarities AND the wonderful things that differences can bring into our lives.

That is what this book did for me and I hope that others enjoy it and get something out of it as I did ...

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Reading Musings

I've read a number of books recently that I thought I'd share my thoughts on in case you're interested in any of them ...

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrich
Goodreads description:
Rural Wisconsin, 1909. In the bitter cold, Ralph Truitt, a successful businessman, stands alone on a train platform waiting for the woman who answered his newspaper advertisement for "a reliable wife." But when Catherine Land steps off the train from Chicago, she's not the "simple, honest woman" that Ralph is expecting. She is both complex and devious, haunted by a terrible past and motivated by greed. Her plan is simple: she will win this man's devotion, and then, ever so slowly, she will poison him and leave Wisconsin a wealthy widow. What she has not counted on, though, is that Truitt — a passionate man with his own dark secrets —has plans of his own for his new wife. Isolated on a remote estate and imprisoned by relentless snow, the story of Ralph and Catherine unfolds in unimaginable ways. With echoes of Wuthering Heights and Rebecca, Robert Goolrick's intoxicating debut novel delivers a classic tale of suspenseful seduction, set in a world that seems to have gone temporarily off its axis.

My review:
Although I can see why this is not a book that would be enjoyed by everyone, I really did enjoy every moment of reading it. It was very dark, very twisted and relatively sexual but it was really well written with interesting characters that leapt off the page for me. The writing just pulled me into each and every scene, the author made the places he described come alive. I found the story itself riveting, sad and very suspenseful. I love that the novel was so accessible yet very suspenseful. I didn't find the 'twist(s)' particularly innovating and I did see them coming in many ways BUT that did not take away from the overall feel and impact of the novel.
4 out of 5 stars 

On Writing by Stephen King
Goodreads description:
Short and snappy as it is, Stephen King's On Writing really contains two books: a fondly sardonic autobiography and a tough-love lesson for aspiring novelists. The memoir is terrific stuff, a vivid description of how a writer grew out of a misbehaving kid. You're right there with the young author as he's tormented by poison ivy, gas-passing babysitters, uptight schoolmarms, and a laundry job nastier than Jack London's. It's a ripping yarn that casts a sharp light on his fiction. This was a child who dug Yvette Vickers from Attack of the Giant Leeches, not Sandra Dee. "I wanted monsters that ate whole cities, radioactive corpses that came out of the ocean and ate surfers, and girls in black bras who looked like trailer trash." But massive reading on all literary levels was a craving just as crucial, and soon King was the published author of "I Was a Teen-Age Graverobber." As a young adult raising a family in a trailer, King started a story inspired by his stint as a janitor cleaning a high-school girls locker room. He crumpled it up, but his writer wife retrieved it from the trash, and using her advice about the girl milieu and his own memories of two reviled teenage classmates who died young, he came up with Carrie. King gives us lots of revelations about his life and work. The kidnapper character in Misery, the mind-possessing monsters in The Tommyknockers, and the haunting of the blocked writer in The Shining symbolized his cocaine and booze addiction (overcome thanks to his wife's intervention, which he describes). "There's one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing."
King also evokes his college days and his recovery from the van crash that nearly killed him, but the focus is always on what it all means to the craft. He gives you a whole writer's "tool kit": a reading list, writing assignments, a corrected story, and nuts-and-bolts advice on dollars and cents, plot and character, the basic building block of the paragraph, and literary models. He shows what you can learn from H.P. Lovecraft's arcane vocabulary, Hemingway's leanness, Grisham's authenticity, Richard Dooling's artful obscenity, Jonathan Kellerman's sentence fragments. He explains why Hart's War is a great story marred by a tin ear for dialogue, and how Elmore Leonard's Be Cool could be the antidote.

My review:
 I really enjoyed this one. I wasn't sure if I would so it was a nice surprise. I felt the book had lots of great advice for those truly interested in writing. Although many would say that King is not a great writer, I would disagree. I think he is very talented at the craft and I enjoyed hearing his perspective on writing. 
4 of 5 stars

 That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

Goodreads description:
Following Bridge of Sighs—a national best seller hailed by The Boston Globe as “an astounding achievement . . . a masterpiece”—Richard Russo now tells the story of a marriage, and all the other ties that bind, from parents and in-laws to children and the promises of youth.

Thirty years ago, on their Cape Cod honeymoon, Jack and Joy Griffin made a plan for their future that has largely been fulfilled. He left Los Angeles behind for the sort of New England college his parents had aspired to, and now the two of them are back on the Cape—where he’d also spent his childhood vacations—to celebrate the marriage of their daughter Laura’s best friend. Sure, Jack’s been driving around with his father’s ashes in the trunk, though his mother’s very much alive and often on his cell phone. Laura’s boyfriend seems promising, but be careful what you pray for, especially if it happens to come true. A year later, at her wedding, Jack has another urn in the car, and both he and Joy have brought new dates. Full of every family feeling imaginable, wonderfully comic and profoundly involving, That Old Cape Magic is surprising, uplifting and unlike anything this Pulitzer Prize winner has ever written.

My review:  
Let me start out by saying that I'm a HUGE Russo fan. I love it all. Every single word he writes is magic. And this book is good, not his best but definitely good. I love how adept he is at creating characters that you get to know inside and out. Lovely. The themes of this book are wonderful and keep you engaged throughout the novel. Although not his best, this book is still ten times better than most other novels just for being written by Russo. I enjoyed every moment. 
4 out of 5 stars

I See You Everwhere by Julia Glass
Goodreads description:
From the author of the best-selling Three Junes comes an intimate new work of fiction: a tale of two sisters, together and apart, told in their alternating voices over twenty-five years.

Louisa Jardine is the older one, the conscientious student, precise and careful: the one who years for a good marriage, an artistic career, a family. Clem, the archetypal youngest, is the rebel: uncontainable, iconoclastic, committed to her work but not to the men who fall for her daring nature. Louisa resents that the charismatic Clem has always been the favorite; yet as Clem puts it, "On the other side of the fence–mine–every expectation you fulfill...puts you one stop closer to that Grand Canyon rim from which you could one day rule the world–or plummet in very grand style."

In this vivid, heartrending story of what we can and cannot do for those we love, the sisters grow closer as they move farther apart. Louisa settles in New York while Clem, a wildlife biologist, moves restlessly about until she lands in the Rocky Mountains. Their complex bond, Louisa observes, is "like a double helix, two souls coiling around a common axis, joined yet never touching."

Alive with all the sensual detail and riveting characterization that mark Glass's previous work, I See You Everywhere is a piercingly candid story of life and death, companionship and sorrow, and the nature of sisterhood itself. 

My review:
I started this book with great expectations. Although I wasn't a fan of Three Junes, I hoped that this one would WOW me. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. Overall, the book was good. I liked it. For the most part. Nothing breathtaking, nothing outstanding. Just good. The story was not particularly inspiring - the characters were difficult for me to feel anything for ... it wasn't even that I didn't like them but more that they were very much like cardboard cut outs to me with very little substance. I kept hoping that some life would begin to show in the character development but it never really came. The big 'twist' came out of nowhere for me and didn't seem to really flow well. I think this was in part because of the way the story is told - each chapter a different character. It made the novel (and therefore the story) feel very dull in some way. I kept reading, hoping that it would pick up, that I'd see some glimmer of that something we all look for in a great novel. Unfortunately, it just never came for me. So, in the end, I liked the book but it wasn't particularly impactful to me as a reader.
3 out of 4 stars  

The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong 
Goodreads description:
 Book II in the Darkest Powers trilogy takes us deeper into a world where the supernatural intrudes on the everyday with riveting effect.

If you had met me a few weeks ago, you probably would have described me as an average teenage girl—someone normal. Now my life has changed forever and I'm as far away from normal as it gets. A living science experiment—not only can I see ghosts, but I was genetically altered by a group of people who call themselves The Edison Group. What does that mean? For starters, I’m a teenage necromancer whose powers are out of control: I raise the dead without even trying. Trust me, that is not a power you want to have. Ever.

I'm running for my life with three of my supernatural friends—a charming sorcerer, a cynical werewolf, and a disgruntled witch—and we have to find someone who can help us gain our freedom back before The Edison Group finds us first. Or die trying.

My review:
I think this novel was even better than the first, building on the first book and taking the story to the next level. The characters are amazing and the story is fantastic. I love Kelley Armstrong and she's done an amazing job with this series. I can't wait to read number 3!
5 out of 5 stars  

What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman   
Goodreads description:
Thirty years ago two sisters disappeared from a shopping mall. Their bodies were never found and those familiar with the case have always been tortured by these questions: How do you kidnap two girls? Who—or what—could have lured the two sisters away from a busy mall on a Saturday afternoon without leaving behind a single clue or witness?
Now a clearly disoriented woman involved in a rush-hour hit-and-run claims to be the younger of the long-gone Bethany sisters. But her involuntary admission and subsequent attempt to stonewall investigators only deepens the mystery. Where has she been? Why has she waited so long to come forward? Could her abductor truly be a beloved Baltimore cop? There isn't a shred of evidence to support her story, and every lead she gives the police seems to be another dead end—a dying, incoherent man, a razed house, a missing grave, and a family that disintegrated long ago, torn apart not only by the crime but by the fissures the tragedy revealed in what appeared to be the perfect household.
In a story that moves back and forth across the decades, there is only one person who dares to be skeptical of a woman who wants to claim the identity of one Bethany sister without revealing the fate of the other. Will he be able to discover the truth? 

My review:
I think the premise of this novel is very interesting and gave Laura Lippman a great deal of material to work with ... However, the novel never really reached the heights that it could have. I figured out the big twist in the middle of the book and really only kept reading to see if I was right (and I was). That was disappointing. I just kept feeling as if something was missing but I still cannot put my finger on exactly what was missing. I liked the novel overall but it definitely wasn't an outstanding read.
3 out of 5 stars

The Space Between Before and After by Jean Reynolds Page
Goodreads description:
Forty-two and divorced, Holli Templeton has just begun to realize the pleasures of owning her life for the first time. But the experience is short-lived. Her son Conner has unexpectedly fled college in Rhode Island and moved to Texas with his troubled girlfriend, Kilian. This alone is difficult to handle, but as Holli begins to understand the depth of the girl's problems, concern turns to crisis.
Conner's situation is worsening, and as if that's not enough, Holli notices signs of serious decline in the beloved Texas grandmother who raised her. She has no choice but to leave the comfort zone of life in New York and return to her hometown in Texas to care for the people she loves.
In the tight space between these two generations, Holli initially feels lost. The journey back stirs so many unresolved hurts from her childhood. But something else happens in this uneasy homecoming. Comfort arrives in the ethereal presence of the mother long lost to her, and Holli is surprised to find that as she struggles to help her son and grandmother, the wounds of her own past begin to heal.
The space between before and after—easily the most challenging place she has ever known—begins to reveal an unanticipated hope for what the future might hold. 

My review:
I struggled with whether or not to give this 3 or 4 stars. I'd prefer 3.5 to be honest. I enjoyed the book - good story, nice characterizations, interesting plot, etc. However, it must not have been particularly engaging as I sat it down for over a month as I read some other items that I got from the library. I think that the writing is definitely reminiscent of Jodi Picoult but not nearly as engaging. The novel focused on character development and did an amazing job of it with the weaving in and out of the present and past for the characters of the story. I really thought that the family dynamics were interesting and well written. Overall, I enjoyed it and will be looking at some of Page's other novels in the future.
3.5 stars out of 5 

Books I've got in my hands now to read (so be ready for reviews to come ...) include:

1. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
2. Columbine by Dave Cullen  
3. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
4. South of Broad by Pat Conroy
5. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry 
6. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
7. July, July by Tim O'Brien

Monday, September 21, 2009

FPD Color Challenge - week of 9/21

It's Monday and time for a brand new Color Challenge over at the Funky Playground. This week I have a great color scheme for us to play with! Come by the Forums to check it out. Don't forget, you can possibly win $5 in FPD goodies just for playing along! I can't wait to see what you all come up with this week!

 And here is my layout using lots of Jessica Bolton's wonderful goodies!


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Family Fun Musings

Last weekend we spent the afternoon at Des Pere Park (which is a GREAT park, by the way, if you live in the St. Louis area). They have fantastic play areas for the kids as well as a great lake area for fishing (catch and release). And of course, a walking rail that goes all through the park! We had a blast! Here are some photos from our afternoon ...

First some photos from earlier in the day, as the kids were playing outside. Meighan loves that she has this sailor dress and a matching dress for her baby!

 Alex loves his bike and spending time riding back and forth, over and over.


 And now, photos from the park. It was difficult to get many photos of the kids at the playland - they run around so much its hard to get a photo. But, I did get this one of Alex climbing. He's definitely a climber!

 Paul and the kids heading down to the lake ...


My little family minus our Sami (although Sami's presence was missed, as always - by the way, Sami is doing GREAT with her first year of high school. She made the cheerleading team & spends a lot of time practicing and getting ready for the football season. She's getting ready to go to Homecoming with a boy! When did she get old enough to go to HOMECOMING!  lol   She sounds very excited! We miss her so much but are glad she's doing so well!)

And I finally got out from behind the camera and let Paul take a photo of me and the kiddos ...

 The kids loved the ducks and how they came right over looking for food  ... next time, we'll be better prepared and come with some bread!


 And another of me ... by the way, I got a TON of my hair chopped off the day after this photo was taken. So did Meighan. I got a very short bob (cut off about 3-4 inches) and I love it!

 The lake ...
 As I followed Paul and the kids, I heard him teaching them all about algae which they were fascinated with ...

 As soon as we saw this big hill, we asked the kids if they wanted to roll down the hill. They's apparently never done that. So, Paul tried to teach them what to do ...


They were having trouble just letting go so I suggested that Paul show them how it's done. I'm so glad I married a man who is always game for stuff like rolling down a hill!

And he successfully rolled down the hill, teaching our kids how to do it effectively. And off they went, rolling down the hill!


 And then we had some fun on the exercise areas periodically showing up on the walking trail.



It was such a nice day together! We're thinking we might head back over there today. If so, you'll get to see our new haircuts! 

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Template Musings #1

I've always loved templates ... I think they are a great starting place and give you some options for creating a layout. It never ceases to amaze me how versatile one template can be - hundreds of possibilities exist by just slightly changing a template. I typically create a template with any layout that I do - it just helps organize my thoughts around the design that I'm working towards. So, I thought I might share some of those templates with you guys. Please let me know what you think of them - do you like them? Are there particular things you'd like to see in future templates? Any feedback is appreciated!  I'm going to be trying to offer at least one a week here on the blog ... maybe more if I'm feeling particularly creative!  I hope you like them!

Here's this week's template ...

And you can download it here.  Please leave me a comment if you want! I'd love to know if you like it! And please come back and link me up in the comments of this post if you use it, I'd LOVE to see what you do with it!  Enjoy!

Monday, September 07, 2009

FPD Color Challenge - week of 9/7

It's Monday and time for a brand new Color Challenge over at the Funky Playground. This week I am going back to a traditional color challenge this week. Come by the Forums HERE to check it out. Don't forget, you can possibly win $5 in FPD goodies just for playing along! I can't wait to see what you all come up with this week!

And here is my layout for the challenge using lots of Wendy Page's products ...

Everything by Wendy Page -
Caliente kit
Pretty Funky Brackets
Label Lines

Review Musings

Goodreads description of the book:
The electrifying follow-up to the phenomenal best seller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ("An intelligent, ingeniously plotted, utterly engrossing thriller" –The Washington Post), and this time it is Lisbeth Salander, the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker, who is the focus and fierce heart of the story.

Mikael Blomkvist—crusading journalist and publisher of the magazine Millennium—has decided to publish a story exposing an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government.

On the eve of publication, the two reporters responsible for the story are brutally murdered. But perhaps more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander.

Now, as Blomkvist—alone in his belief in her innocence—plunges into his own investigation of the slayings, Salander is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all.
WOW.  I loved The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (the first book in this series) but this book blew that one away. Amazing. I'm not even sure I can do the book justice by reviewing it but I'll give it a whirl. I couldn't put this one down. I stayed up until almost 4 a.m. to finish it. And, then I was sad that it was ending. I was on the edge of my seat for the entire book. Lisbeth Salander is an amazing character that just leaps off the page. I loved this book and can't wait for book 3. Just amazing. Run to pick up a copy ... you won't be sorry!  See more on the book at Goodreads here. I find it very sad that there will be just one more book by Stieg Larsson as he passed away in 2004. He was an amazing writer and I can only imagine what he would have brought to us if he'd lived.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Reading Musings

As most of you know, I'm an avid reader. I spend a great deal of my free time reading. So, I thought I'd share a few of the books I've read recently in case you're interested in checking them out ... And I'll probably continue to do this on occasion.   I'm going to intentionally include a variety of genres from literary to mystery to paranormal to young adult and so on. That way there will be something for everyone!

First, I wanted to tell you about an incredible podcast about books and reading that I absolutely LOVE. I look forward to their weekly discussions and if you're a reader, I suspect you'll enjoy their perspective as well. The podcast is done by Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman who work in the publishing industry.Their passion for books is evident and I've loved every single recommendation that I've tried from their podcost. The Books on the Nightstand website has regular blog posts about books as well as posts about each podcast. You can access the podcasts at their site or via I-Tunes. I definitely recommend that you check them out.

Secondly, I spend a gerat deal of time at Goodreads which is an amazing site for those who love books and reading. It is how I track my reading lists - what I've read, what I want to read. I also participate in a number of book groups over at the site which has been great since I no longer participate in a book group since moving to Missouri.  Goodreads describes itself this way: "Goodreads is the largest social network for readers in the world. We have over 2,400,000 members who have added over 57,000,000 books to their shelves. A place for casual readers and bona-fide bookworms alike, Goodreads members recommend books, compare what they are reading, keep track of what they've read and would like to read, form book clubs and much more. Goodreads was launched in December 2006."  So, I definitely recommend that you check it out if you enjoy books and reading.

Okay, onto some books that I recommend ...

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

As described on Goodreads -
"Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany.

When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover—then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder."

I read this book just last week in part because I want to see the movie that was recently made of the book (and I hate seeing movies based on books without reading the book first!). I'm a huge Kate Winslet fan and she received a lot of accolades about her role in the film. Anyway, I really enjoyed the book. It's written in a very straighforward, sparse style which added to the experience of the novel. It was very thought provoking but it definitely wasn't as heavy as it could have been given the Holocaust theme.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

As described by Good reads -
"Chloe Saunders sees dead people. Yes, like in the films. The problem is, in real life saying you see ghosts gets you a one-way ticket to the psych ward. And at 15, all Chloe wants to do is fit in at school and maybe get a boy to notice her. But when a particularly violent ghost haunts her, she gets noticed for all the wrong reasons. Her seemingly crazed behaviour earns her a trip to Lyle House, a centre for 'disturbed teens'. At first Chloe is determined to keep her head down. But then her room mate disappears after confessing she has a poltergeist, and some of the other patients also seem to be manifesting paranormal behaviour. Could that be a coincidence? Or is Lyle House not quite what it seems...? Chloe realizes that if she doesn't uncover the truth, she could be destined for a lifetime in a psychiatric hospital. Or could her fate be even worse...? Can she trust her fellow students, and does she dare reveal her dark secret?"
I listened to this book by audiobook on my way to and from work each day. First and foremost, this is a young adult series with a paranormal focus. I'm a huge fan of Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series and was intrigued at the idea of her writing a young adult series. I really enjoyed this story and absolutely adored every moment. I was literally sad when it was over.  The narrator was excellent. The first 20 minutes of the book felt 'off' but as soon as I got past that I was intrigued and amazed. I The characters were wonderful - very well thought out and engaging! Kelley Armstrong made each character come ALIVE! The best part ... its a series so I just picked up the Awakening which I plan to begin listening to immediately!
 My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

As described at Goodreads:
"One day in early spring, Dorrit Weger is checked into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. She is promised a nicely furnished apartment inside the Unit, where she will make new friends, enjoy the state-of-the art recreation facilities, and live the few remaining days of her life in comfort with people who are just like her. Here, women over the age of fifty and men over sixty--single, childless, and without jobs in progressive industries--are sequestered for their final few years; they are considered outsiders. In the Unit they are expected to contribute themselves for drug and psychological testing, and ultimately donate their organs, little by little, until the final donation. Despite the ruthless nature of this practice, the ethos of this near-future society and the Unit is to take care of others, and Dorrit finds herself living under very pleasant conditions: well-housed, well-fed, and well-attended. She is resigned to her fate and discovers her days there to be rather consoling and peaceful. But when she meets a man inside the Unit and falls in love, the extraordinary becomes a reality and life suddenly turns unbearable. Dorrit is faced with compliance or escape, and...well, then what?

The Unit is a gripping exploration of a society in the throes of a system geared toward eliminating those who don't contribute by conventional means, in which the "dispensable" ones are convinced under gentle coercion of the importance of sacrificing for the "necessary" ones. It also looks deeply into the nature of the female psyche, at its resilience and creativity under dire conditions. Ninni Holmqvist has created a debut novel of humor, sorrow, and rage, that explores love, the close bonds of friendship, and a cynical, utilitarian way of thinking disguised as care."

This was a book that was recommended by Books on the Nightstand during a podcast about dystopic novels. I tend to be drawn to those novels and the worlds that they create (other excellent dystopic novels that I would recommend include The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood). I found this particular social dystopia novel to be wonderful. I didn't want to put it down. It was fascinating reading. The concept was interesting and intriguing. The world created by Ninni Holmqvist was striking in part because of the detachment inherent in society and the Unit. The prose was very sparse and not particularly elaborate but I felt it added to the overall feeling of the novel effectively. The entire idea of being dispensable gave me a great deal to think about ... the relationships among those on the Unit were heartwarming and interesting. I really became engaged in their world, feeling as if I were walking those halls and experiencing it all myself. Overall, a very touching and thought provoking novel.  
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

As described by Goodreads - 
"A publishing sensation across Europe—two million copies sold and months at the top of best-seller lists. A spellbinding amalgam of murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue.

It’s about the disappearance forty years ago of Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden . . . and about her octogenarian uncle, Henrik, determined to know the truth about what he believes was her murder.

And it’s about Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently at the wrong end of a libel case, hired by Henrik to get to the bottom of Harriet’s disappearance . . . and about Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four-year-old, pierced, tattooed genius hacker, possessed of the hard-earned wisdom of someone twice her age—and a terrifying capacity for ruthlessness—who assists Blomkvist with the investigation. This unlikely team discovers a vein of nearly unfathomable iniquity running through the Vanger family, an astonishing corruption at the highest echelon of Swedish industrialism—and a surprising connection between themselves.

A contagiously exciting, stunningly intelligent novel about society at its most hidden, and about the intimate lives of a brilliantly realized cast of characters, all of whom must face the darker aspects of their world and of their own lives."

This is another Books on the Nightstand recommendation and it may be one of my favorite books of the year. This was so well written and each character just came alive until I truly felt as if I knew them. I'm so glad that I found this book. And I'm thrilled that this is the first of a trilogy so that I can revisit this world again in the next two books. Although I loved this book, I've just begun the second book of the trilogy and I'm loving it even more than this one ... which is saying a great deal. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in a book that is within the mystery genre but it so well written and intelligent that it blows most mystery novels out of the water!
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Layout Musings

I've gotten crazy behind on getting any layouts posted so this will be a long one ... I'm going to try to post them more frequently since they are often a good indication of what we've been up to ...