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Lizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay

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Loveys, so this was the latest book club read over here! I really love to read so much that I wish I could read a book a month and get together to discuss. But amid the craziness of raising kids and doing life, I have to be careful with how much I take on. After the lovely chaos of the holidays, I started thinking it was time to find a book for book club. As usual, I get all my ideas from my sister Sara. She’s an amazing reader and always has a pile of books she’s reading. She recommended Lizzy and Jane to me a while back, and if Sara recommends it to me, it’s usually a very good read. So I emailed all the girls from book club to see who was up for it, and we got a good group together!

Here’s the scoop on this book (via Amazon):

Lizzy and Jane couldn’t be further from Jane Austen’s famous sisters for whom they are named. Elizabeth left her family’s home in Seattle fifteen years ago to pursue her lifelong dream—chefing her own restaurant in New York City. Jane stayed behind to raise a family. Estranged since their mother’s death many years ago, the circumstances of their lives are about to bring them together once again.

Known for her absolute command of her culinary domain, Elizabeth’s gifts in the kitchen have begun to elude her. And patrons and reviewers are noticing. In need of some rest and an opportunity to recover her passion for cooking, Elizabeth jumps at the excuse to rush to her sister’s bedside when Jane is diagnosed with cancer. After all, Elizabeth did the same for their mother. Perhaps this time, it will make a difference.

As Elizabeth pours her renewed energy into her sister’s care and into her burgeoning interest in Nick, Jane’s handsome coworker, her life begins to evolve from the singular pursuit of her own dream into the beautiful world of family, food, literature, and love that was shattered when she and Jane lost their mother. Will she stay and become Lizzy to her sister’s Jane—and Elizabeth to Nick’s Mr. Darcy—or will she return to the life she has worked so hard to create?

*My thoughts: I really enjoyed this story. It’s full of emotion (though sometimes you want to strangle the sisters!) and there are a lot of layers for discussion. For this reason, especially, I think it works well for book club. There are parts to love and parts to pick apart. I loved the food element woven throughout. One of the sisters is a chef, so food is almost a main character in the book. (Which I love!) When it came time for book club, I decided to host a potluck dinner. Last summer, our book club read 800 Grapes (good choice!) and wine was an important part of the book. So a night of appetizers and wine went well with book discussion. This time, a potluck dinner sounded super fun to me. So we sat around my table and, over pasta and salad and bread, talked about the complicated family relationships in the book, the decisions the sisters made, and more.

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Especially for Austen fans, you’ll enjoy the mentions of Austen’s novels and characters. For people who’ve experienced difficult illness, you’ll appreciate the family dynamics in conjunction with stress and hurt feelings. For foodie’s, you’ll love the ties to food and cooking.

More than anything, what I love about book club is simply coming together to share our perspective and our own stories. I’m very grateful to all the lovely ladies who took part. Good times. Can’t wait till next time!

For my reader friends, check out Lizzy and Jane!

Looks Like Love

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Loveys, I’m super excited to tell you that my novel Looks Like Love is ON SALE on Amazon Kindle. I’m buying it immediately and it’s my book! 🙂 Hop over and download it on your Kindle for $2.99. Whohoo! Very exciting! Click here for the link. And pretty please with a cherry on top, leave a review after you’ve read it. It’s so encouraging to get feedback from readers, and it means the world to me. If you’ve already read it but never left a review, please sign into your Amazon account (or Goodreads or B&N) and write up a review. Looks Like Love was the first novel I had published and will always be close to my heart. There’s romance, travel, adventure, and soul-searching. So I truly hope you’ll run to Amazon and try it out for $2.99. It’s the perfect book to read as we get closer to Valentine’s Day!

A Refuge at Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky

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Refuge-at-Highland-Hall1In A Refuge at Highland Hall, Penny Ramsey wants nothing more than to find a lasting love. Having been disappointed before, she’s a bit cautious when she meets pilot Alex Goodwin–but not that cautious. She’s bold enough to be the one to initiate writing letters to each other. The drama and chaos of World War One keeps Alex away fighting and takes Penny back to the magnificent Highland Hall, where she helps care for several orphan children. Right away, Penny’s letters become a lifeline to Alex. Both of them seem to grow attached to each other quickly, however, I think that is probably realistic to many relationships that formed during war-time. There are some twists and turns, and Alex is left very affected by events that happen while he’s at war. I thought the author did a good job with character development, especially with Alex. She also obviously did so much research to make the war events so realistic and true to circumstance. The cover of the book is gorgeous! Overall, it’s a very good read for fans of Christian historical fiction. The story is very faith-based. I do recommend reading the series in order, so you’re more familiar with the characters.

**I received an advance reader copy from the author for an honest review.

Finding Unauthorized Faith in Harry Potter by Nicole L Rivera

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41UIgwEIztL__SX322_BO1,204,203,200_So the very cool Nicole Rivera sent me a copy of her book Finding Unauthorized Faith in Harry Potter for an honest review. Nicole is the creative team manager for Mugglnet, which is, you know, awesome. If you know me, you know my love for Harry Potter is very real and very true. So I was thrilled to get the chance to read this book. And I really liked it! This book almost reads like a devotional. The chapters are mostly very short; it’s easy to read this in pieces. And the faith element is strong. Every section begins with a quote from one of the Harry Potter books (the quotes are great and lots of fun–C’mon, it’s HP. You can’t go wrong.) For believers who are fans of the Harry Potter series, this is a fun read, but it also has poignant faith observations. The theme is love throughout, which connects so well with Harry’s story. Check it out on Amazon!

http://www.amazon.com/Finding-Unauthorized-Faith-Harry-Potter-ebook/dp/B015BHRJ28/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1443580724&sr=8-1&keywords=finding+unauthorized+faith+in+harry+potter

The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren

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9781414326788_p0_v1_s192x300It’s Christmas in August over here, loveys. I’m reading a couple of holiday novellas. The other night while Jeff and the bigger kids were backyard camping, I was inside, weeping as I finished reading The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren. Gosh, this little novella was an emotional upheaval for me. Don’t get me wrong, it was a sweet, family-oriented holiday story and I enjoyed it, but something about the story of a mom who’s coming to grips with the fact that her kids are grown and Christmas will never quite be the same–I was a mess. Maybe because I know it goes fast. Maybe because my youngest sister is getting married in October and I didn’t realize last Christmas was the last one we’d have before she got married. Maybe because I’m a grown-up girl who understands that there comes a point where the Christmases of our youth end.

But the love never does. And that’s where the weeping comes in.

One part stuck in my mind. The mom’s college-aged son mentions that one of his favorite Christmases was one that was less traditional (I think they took a vacation). He said it made him realize that Christmas “isn’t just one way and one place,” that it could follow them wherever they went. What a great truth.

Christmas is my favorite. It’s awesome. But it looks different for different families. I love the thought of mixing it up, not holding our traditions too tightly, so that traditions become the focus and not Jesus.

Super fun, easy read–but you might be weeping at the end!

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

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eight-hundred-grapesSo Eight Hundred Grapes was my choice for summer book club. I would have enjoyed reading this one even just on my own, but it’s packed with family drama so it’s even better to read with friends and discuss. This was a quick read for me; with every chapter, more kept unfolding and I wanted to know what was going to happen so I found myself reading while standing at the kitchen island while the kids ate lunch, reading just one more chapter at bedtime, and reading while the kids watched Peppa Pig in the afternoon!

The family dynamics were my favorite. There were moments I gasped out loud when things happened with the brothers or with Georgia’s mom. I had a hunch where the author was going with the love interest from pretty early on. And I had very mixed feelings about Ben, Georgia’s fiancé. (No spoilers here.) Overall, I thought it was a really satisfying read. There were parts that stayed in my mind afterward. The family–though crazy complicated!–loves each other fiercely. I love stories with families like that. Because truly, life is complicated, but your family should be there for you no matter what. I thought the book was well paced, it definitely held my attention. I loved the wine/vineyard aspect of the story. I could picture the earthiness of the ground and the grapes and the harvest. It’s definitely good to read this book with a glass of wine nearby (and maybe some lasagna)!

This was an excellent read. Loved it!

Summer Book Club

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Every now and then, people need a good book party, don’t you think? Hosting a book club can be a little intimidating for some people (maybe people like me with very small children who tend to make a mess every fifteen minutes). When I decided to host book club once this summer, I dived into Pinterest for ideas (hence the book page table runner! Do not think I came up with that on my own, lovey). Now that book club night has passed, I figured I’d share the love on ideas for book clubs.

First off, I picked a book, Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (I’ll do a review later). I’d seen this title on summer to-read lists and a friend of mine who does book and movie reviews (that’s you, Christa Banister!) recommended it on Twitter, and I trust her taste. Book chosen. Next up, find friends who like to read! (This can be more challenging than it sounds!) Some of us are in regular book clubs so maybe it’s just your turn to host. In that case, you can skip this step. If not, just throw it out there that you want to do a book club–either an ongoing one or a one-time thing and see who responds. Be brave!

Once you’ve got your readers, choose a night to meet. Some people are in clubs that meet weekly or bi-weekly for book club and they discuss as they go through the book. This works well for nonfiction, but for fiction, that format doesn’t work for me. For one thing, when I’m sucked into a good book, I want to read the whole thing and talk about everything. Plus, meeting weekly can be difficult with schedules. Just see what works for you and your friends.

For me, this was a summer read. We took about six weeks to read the book, then landed on a date that worked for most of us (very rarely will you find a date that works for everyone. That’s okay). As we got closer, I sent out an evite. Even though we landed on a date earlier, the evite helped a lot. Guest list, address, time, what to bring–it’s one place where you can give out all the info (and it’s cute. What can I say? I like cute!).

Next up, food. Extremely important. Second only to wine.

Eight Hundred Grapes is about a family who owns a vineyard. So I knew I wanted to serve grapes (of course) and wine. Cheese was a perfect fit. I also made bruschetta, because, well, I love to eat it. Good stuff. Add in some simple chocolate desserts, and you’re good to go. foodI had trouble finding the discussion questions for the book online. True story. So I tweeted the author, who was totally cool and immediately sent me the link to the discussion questions, which I printed off. Excellent.

Obviously I was a crazy woman, cleaning and going nuts the day of the party. This always happens so I assume it’s normal. Finally the Jeffster left with the kids and I was at least able to be crazy by myself. I wanted to play music during the appetizer-part of the party. However, 90s music helps me clean. I was cleaning right until the door rang, which means I didn’t have time to turn it off. Nobody seemed to care. (Really, who doesn’t like Jann Arden’s Insensitive?) (P.S. I did switch the music later.)

Everyone arrived on time. Wine is a great icebreaker. Talking or eating first makes people nervous. Pouring a glass of wine never does. Anyway, so, I had a stack of plain notecards (actually, I couldn’t find mine. So I texted my next-door neighbor who was coming over and she brought some. Thx, Jessica!). The notecards were for people to hold on to and ask around for other book recommendations. The idea was that everyone should go home with three book recommendations (hopefully that they heard while talking to someone new!). This gave people new book ideas and also served as a conversation starter if they needed one.

IMG_2717We mingled and talked and ate for an hour or more before finally sitting down for discussion. Obviously, if time is a factor then you need to have a schedule. However, it was Friday night and all of us moms were finally kid-free and ready to party together!

I was so pleased with the book discussion! Everyone shared and I loved hearing the different opinions. I think it helps to sort of have a moderator because without that, people start only talking to the person next to them. Some of this is okay and to be expected, but if you want to discuss as one group, you have to keep things moving together. Having those discussion questions gave us a jumping off place, but it was totally fine for the conversation to go in all sorts of directions. When four hours and five bottles of wine later, friends are still laughing and talking–you know the night was a success.

Honestly, I loved every minute of book club night at my house. If you’re part of a regular club, don’t be afraid to host! And it doesn’t have to be fancy! This was my one-time hosting for summer, so I decided to make it into a party. There’s just something special about sharing our stories with each other. That’s the best part. We begin by talking about Eight Hundred Grapes, and that segues into sharing about Nancy’s life in Africa, or Ryanne’s time in SoCal, or Heather’s anniversary trip, or Danielle’s dad, and so on. Then we’re sharing pieces of us. When books bring people together, you know that’s a fabulous thing.

Summer book club. Go for it, lovey.