Thursday, May 31, 2012

Five Miles South of Peculiar by Angela Hunt


Five Miles South of Peculiar by Angela Hunt, Howard Books (a division of Simon & Schuster Publishing)

From the publisher:
Darlene Caldwell has spent a lifetime tending Sycamores, an estate located five miles south of a small town called Peculiar. She raised a family in the spacious home that was her grandfather’s legacy, and she enjoys being a pillar of the community. Sycamores is the kingdom where she reigns as queen . . . until her limelight-stealing twin sister unexpectedly returns.


Carlene Caldwell, veteran of the Broadway stage, is devastated when she realizes that an unsuccessful throat surgery has spelled the end of her musical career. Searching for a new purpose in life, she retreats to Sycamores, her childhood home. She may not be able to sing, but she hopes to use her knowledge and experience to fashion a new life in Peculiar, the little town she left behind.


Haunted by a tragic romance, Magnolia Caldwell is the youngest of the Caldwell girls. Nolie has never wanted to live anywhere but Sycamores. She spends her days caring for her dogs and the magnificent gardens she’s created on the estate, but when she meets a man haunted by his own tragedy, she must find the courage to either deny her heart or cut the apron strings that tie her to a dear and familiar place.

Can these sisters discover who they are meant to be when life takes an unforeseen detour? In a season of destiny, three unique women reunite and take unexpected journeys of the heart.

***

I enjoyed this novel about the three Caldwell sisters.  The story itself was interesting as the family dynamics of hidden resentments come into play when Carlene (Darlene's fraternal twin) returns to the estate to claim her right to share it with her sisters after finding fame and fortune on stage.  Part of the angst stems from the fact that after Carlene left for Broadway, Darlene fell in love with and married Carlene's former boyfriend.  Nolie's story is not neglected but the main plot revolves around the twin sisters and whether they will be able to resolve the resentment they feel toward each other and come to a place of forgiveness.  There is also the element of romance thrown in to keep the reader guessing as to who and what each of the sisters will choose when it comes to following their hearts and pursuing their dreams while making peace with the past.

This is a great book to take along for a summer vacation.  It's easy to read with an interesting storyline and likeable characters.  I think middle-aged women will especially enjoy it since the main characters are also in their middle years.  The author does a good job keeping the focus on the three sisters while being able to develop secondary characters who are also important.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Gold by Chris Cleave



Gold by Chris Cleave, Simon & Schuster, $27.00 list price, hardcover

From the publisher:
What would you sacrifice for the people you love?

KATE AND ZOE met at nineteen when they both made the cut for the national training program in track cycling—a sport that demands intense focus, blinding exertion, and unwavering commitment. They are built to exploit the barest physical and psychological edge over equally skilled rivals, all of whom are fighting for the last one tenth of a second that separates triumph from despair.

Now at thirty-two, the women are facing their last and biggest race: the 2012 Olympics. Each wants desperately to win gold, and each has more than a medal to lose.

Kate is the more naturally gifted, but the demands of her life have a tendency to slow her down. Her eight-year-old daughter Sophie dreams of the Death Star and of battling alongside the Rebels as evil white blood cells ravage her personal galaxy—she is fighting a recurrence of the leukemia that nearly killed her three years ago. Sophie doesn’t want to stand in the way of her mum’s Olympic dreams, but each day the dark forces of the universe seem to be massing against her.

Devoted and self-sacrificing Kate knows her daughter is fragile, but at the height of her last frenzied months of training, might she be blind to the most terrible prognosis?

Intense, aloof Zoe has always hovered on the periphery of real human companionship, and her compulsive need to win at any cost has more than once threatened her friendship with Kate—and her own sanity. Will she allow her obsession, and the advantage she has over a harried, anguished mother, to sever the bond they have shared for more than a decade?

Echoing the adrenaline-fueled rush of a race around the Velodrome track, Gold is a triumph of superbly paced, heart-in-throat storytelling. With great humanity and glorious prose, Chris Cleave examines the values that lie at the heart of our most intimate relationships, and the choices we make when lives are at stake and everything is on the line.

****

Kate and Zoe are professional sprint cyclists who are rivals on the track and best friends off it.  Kate is married to Jack, also a professional cyclist, and their decisions about competing and training for the upcoming 2012 Olympics are complicated by the fact that their ten-year-old daughter, Sophie, is battling leukemia.  Zoe, on the other hand, although single and childless, is battling her own demons from the past and a somewhat tainted public image that threaten to interfere with her competitive edge.

The lives of Kate, Zoe, their coach Tom, and Jack and intertwined over 15 years of victories, disappointments, love lost and won, betrayal, and forgiveness.

I found the storyline about professional cycling and the Olympics interesting, but Sophie's story added a personal element that made it even better.  As a way to deal with leukemia, she envisions scenes from Star Wars in which her illness is represented by the Death Star, Darth Vader, the dark side of the Force, and Storm Troopers while her treatment and personal resolve to get well comes in the form of Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo, and the rebel forces who fight for good.  Kate and Jack are forced to make difficult decisions regarding balancing Sophie's care with the demands of training in a sport, and whether one or both should sacrifice an Olympic dream as Sophie's future is uncertain. 

This is the first book I've read by this author and I look forward to reading more.  It isn't an action-packed thriller but has a well-written storyline that that draws the reader into the lives of the characters and of course, one has to keep reading to find out who makes it to the Olympics, whether they win the gold medal or not, and whether Sophie wins the battle against the dark forces in her personal galaxy.

This is a great book to read in anticipation of the real 2012 Olympics coming up.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Life Without Parole: A Kate Conway Mystery by Clare O'Donohue



Life Without Parole: A Kate Conway Mystery by Clare O'Donohue, Plume Books (an imprint of Penguin Group Publishing), $15.00 list price, paperback.

Description from the publisher:

After the death of her ex-husband, things are finally returning to normal for Kate Conway-so normal that she's gotten a little bored. Out of the blue, the television producer is offered a documentary gig about lifers in a state prison. Kate jumps at the chance. The only problem is that she's also just been asked to produce a reality show about the opening of a new restaurant - one backed by Vera, her dead husband's mistress. Reluctantly, she agrees to both.  But when one of the restaurant's investors is murdered and Vera is the chief suspect, Kate must ride a treacherous psychological edge, relying on the minds of death row killers to help her solve the case.

This is the second book in the Kate Conway series and although I didn't read the first one, it wasn't hard to catch up on Kate's backstory or the regular cast of characters.  Kate is working on two assignments; one is a documenary about prisoners sentenced to life without parole and what life is like for them knowing they will never get out, and the other is a reality show about the opening of a new restaurant.  The two things that complicate Kate's jobs are the fact that she is tempted to break the unwritten rule to not care too much about prisoners she is interviewing for the documentary, and the fact that one of the restaurant investors happens to be Vera, Kate's late ex-husband's mistress who is now suspected of murdering one of the other investors.  In an unexpected twist, it turns out that the prisoners end up helping her solve the murder case with their unique insights into the mind of a criminal.

I did enjoy this story as my introduction to the series and the author and look forward to reading more as new titles are published.  For summer reading, this would be a good book to take along to the beach or on vacation.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

50 Days of Hope: Daily Inspiration for Your Journey Through Cancer by Lynn Eib


50 Days of Hope: Daily Inspiration for Your Journey Through Cancer by Lynn Eib, Tyndale House Publishers, $13.99 list price, soft cover.

Lynn Eib is a cancer survivor and oncology patient advocate.  From her own experience with colon cancer, she knows what those receiving a cancer diagnosis want most is to know that everything will be ok.  In this book, she writes from what she has learned from her journey as a patient and as a Christian about the hope that is there when God and cancer meet.

I have not traveled this journey myself but I know others who have and the book is helpful in that regard as well, offering words of encouragement from someone who has been there. 

The devotional format of the book is a series of 50 daily readings offering personal insights from the author as well as other cancer survivors, scripture, and a prayer at the end of each one.  Some of the topics include An Unwelcome Intruder, Taken By Surprise, Defying the Verdict, Hurry Up and Wait, Surrounded by Hope, and The Reason for Cancer, to name a few.

What I've read in this book so far shows me that it would be a valuable resource that could bring comfort to anyone dealing with a cancer diagnosis, whether personally or as family member or friend.  It is one I will gladly share with others.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Baby Times: 24 Handmade Treasures for Baby and Mom


Baby Times: 24 Handmade Treasures for Baby and Mom by Abbey Lane Quilts, Stash Books (an imprint of C&T Publishing), $21.95 list price, paperback.

This book makes me smile with all the adorable projects for babies...cute hats, nursery decor, sweet little shoes, bibs, a fabric storage box, and so much more.  The two things that make this book great besides the projects themselves are the many color photographs and two large pull-out pages of full-size patterns so the user doesn't have to guess at dimensions or enlarge a pattern.  I also like the modern tone to the fabrics used that inspire getting away from the typical pastels and ginghams and instead trying brighter colors, bold polka-dots, etc.

Besides the expected projects such as bibs, quilts, booties, burp cloths, and hats, there are also fun items such as baby washcloth "candies" and "lollipops" for a different shower gift presentation, a changing pad, nursing cover, baby car seat canopy, diaper bag, soft toys, elastic flower headbands, and a unique diaper clutch bag for those times when a full diaper bag isn't needed.

The book does assume that the user has some sewing experience but there are projects that even beginners will be able to make, with clear instructions and diagrams.

This is a wonderful resource for unique and personalized gifts any new mom would love.