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I'm a writer and library worker who wears many hats. I believe a good book and a good piece of chocolate are the keys to a happy life.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum

I bring lots of goodies home with me from the Storymaker’s conference, but I think The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum was my favorite this year. I knew to expect good things from Lisa, but I didn’t know how good until I got pulled into Dante and Abby’s world. Let me tell you, it’s an awesome place to lose yourself for a while.

I purposely held off on reading it until I could clear my schedule. I highly suspected that once I started I would not want to stop, and I was right. I was completely enamored by the end of chapter one and I ended up having to carve out some extra reading time in order to finish faster than I’d first planned. I’m a big fan of good writing in general but as I’ve mentioned before-- it’s the books that grab you so powerfully that you can’t let go even when you should be doing something else that really make my day.

Here, let me sum it up for you:

Totally hot guy

Time travel

Cool music

Great villains

Sweet romance, oh and did I mention

Totally hot guy (I picture him as the teenage version of Josh Groban, nuf’ said) ;)

I’ve also made a mental note to learn Italian. It definitely beats out French as the language of love after reading The Hourglass Door.

I’ve always been a big fan of Leonardo DaVinci and loved the way Lisa wove him into the tale as well. I was however a little bit bummed to realize he didn’t have quite as active roll in the story as I was hoping she was hinting at. (How’s that for an awkward sentence?) What she did instead was completely satisfying, but I still had an “Awe man! It would have been so cool, if. . . ” moment. I won’t say anymore in case it gives something away for you.

Okay, now here’s my shameful confession. I fully remember reading Dante’s Inferno in high school, but, um, somehow I missed the fact that there was a girl involved. Kudos to Lisa for using such intriguing elements as DaVinci’s inventions and classic literature to weave a very engaging tale.

If you, or someone you know, are a Twilight fan you’ll find an awesome, clean “what-to-read-next” option in The Hourglass Door. In fact, don’t tell my teenage daughter I have this book. If she gets her hands on it I’ll never see it again. It’s mine I tell you! Maybe I’ll buy her a copy for Christmas.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

This week is turning out to be a little difficult for me. I recently learned that someone I knew many years ago passed away. I have not spoken to him for years, but I should have. A part of me realized that the relationship deserved attention but it would have been difficult to do so. Things passed between us that made it uncomfortable for me to be around him. I know that I owed him more than a cursory “We’ll keep in touch.” But, I never got around to making it happen.

Oh, I made a few attempts, some more serious than others, to find him and reconnect but life always got in the way. It seemed unimportant. It was uncomfortable to consider. I didn’t want to take that risk. It was easier just to keep things the way they were. I was sure there would be time and opportunity to set things right someday. Now there are no more somedays for me to count on.

I learned from his family that he felt almost the same way. He wanted to continue our relationship; our parting was hurtful for him as well. Probably more so than for me. He thought about trying to find me, but he didn’t want to rock the boat. He didn’t want to bring back bad feelings instead of taking the chance that we could erase them and start over.

There are things I should have said to him, “I’m sorry” being one of them. I was too scared and too comfortable in my life to say them. I wonder if at the time of his passing he looked down to check on me and realized that I still harbored my own sense of self-righteousness toward him. I still wanted to blame him and only him, even though I knew full well the blame was not his alone. It’s not easy to look in the mirror and realize there should have been repentance and restitution long ago. I thought I was doing the right thing by just letting it go and trying to leave it in the past. I was still counting on someday and dreading the very thought of it in the same moment.

Not that too late repentance is the best way to go about things, but I hope he checks back and realizes I really was sorry. I just didn’t know how to say it or what to do about it. I was too scared of being hurt again. Yes, I had scars that weren’t easy to heal but I forgot that while I was going on with my life, he was too. Only maybe, just maybe, his scars weren’t healing at all. My choices cost him happiness he could have had. Do I know that for sure? I can’t. I made a different choice and that is the path of consequences I now walk. I do know that it’s taught me that there are some things that just shouldn’t be put off, no matter how difficult they may be.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Pickup Games by Marcia Mickelson

Here’s a nice, quick read for those of you who have an interest in sports and romance, Pickup Games by Marcia Mickelson. It will be of particular interest for those of you who live in Utah because, you guessed it that’s where the story takes place and those are the teams Marcia focuses on.

Pickup Games is a follow-up novel to Marcia’s highly-praised Reasonable Doubt. Pickup Games does stand alone, but it carries over elements and characters to show them in a new light. Pickup Games tells the story of two newscasters, Mick and Cara, who really don’t see much to like about each other. However, they have one thing in common that makes them a perfect match for a new show. They are both basketball fanatics and previous college players with a lot of potential. Hence sparks of all kinds are flying every time these two interact. You know they’re going to end up together, but like any good romance you still enjoy the journey it takes to get there. Pickup Games is a totally cute and totally perfect name for this one!

I have two personal grumpies about Pickup Games. One may throw you off for a moment, but I’m pretty sure the other is an “Alison is weird” thing so take it for what it’s worth. First the tiny whine. The storyline and characters are well developed, it’s an engaging read. But, one of the minor characters in the book gives Mick some very valuable advice. When he does it feels completely out of character for him. It was advice Mick needed, and he wouldn’t have turned to any other source to get it, but the way the character presented it was far too serious for what I’d come to expect from him. It threw me off for a moment.

Now, here’s my confession that goes with my biggest whine about the book. See, I’ve had Reasonable Doubt on my “to-read” list since it came out. I love a good mystery and the cover intrigues me. But, that cover is also the reason Reasonable Doubt kept getting pushed back. See, I’m not a sports person. At all. Unless they someday make marathon napping an Olympic event the whole attraction of sports and competition is totally lost on me. Anyway, even though Pickup Games can and does stand alone, I think it hurt me personally not to have read Reasonable Doubt first. Why?

Because I really, really, hated Mick. Yes, I could read and understand why he was the way he was. I could appreciate that he grew and changed. But all in all he was not a guy I’d ever care to know—friend or date. That’s just a personal thing. He’s not a bad character, I just have little patience with his basic personality type in real life, thus I took it out on Mick. I really think that if I would have built a reader-relationship with him in Reasonable Doubt I would have liked him better in Pickup Games. ;)

On the other hand, I really liked Cara. She was someone I could admire and relate to. She has spunk, poise, and a great attitude. I’d also love to know Pablo and Julie, they can have me over to dinner any time.

There’s one more thing that I took away from Pickup Games that really made it worthwhile for me: the contemplative message Mick and Cara receive from one of the coaches they are interviewing. Basically, there are more things to consider in life than just money and prestige. A career can be just as successful for the big time or little time player depending on what they bring to the table and what they want to take away when it’s all said and done. Good food for thought and something I definitely needed to be reminded of these past few weeks.

Now, the basketball element. How did that work out for me? It honestly wasn’t as painful as I feared (sorry Marcia). The games and information addressed weren’t just thrown in to try and create a different angle. They were there as every good story element should be: to advance the story and help you understand the characters better. Marcia didn’t overwhelm every page with description that someone who doesn’t watch or participate in the sport would find foreign or distracting. I made it through in just a few days and came out the other side satisfied with what I’d read. I think I really do need to repent and pick up a copy of Reasonable Doubt, though.

Here’s the long and short of it: Love sports and love romance? Pickup Games is a good book for you. Loved Reasonable Doubt and care about what happens to Mick? Pickup Games is definitely for you. Love romance but sports, not so much? Don’t let the basketball on the cover scare you away. It may not become your favorite book, but you won’t be disappointed by the interpersonal aspects of the story.

Friday, June 12, 2009

I Can’t Believe It’s Food Storage by Crystal Godfrey

Here’s a fun new food storage recipe book. Wait! Wait! Before you flip to another blog let me explain why. See, I know a few of those happy homemaker women whose wheat grinder has a place of honor in their kitchen and everything they make is totally healthy and just a little bit . . . weird.

Admit it. You know a few of them, too. They’re the ladies who actually have their year, two year, whatever supply of food, bake their own bread every day and know how to can anything that doesn’t walk and talk. They make the rest of us (who have never made a cake without the little cardboard box- I mean really, why should you?) feel just a little bit bad. Plus, we know for sure our children would never stand for wheat berry skillet dinner in place of their hamburger helper. It just ain’t going to happen. Food storage just gets a bad rap, commandment or not.

So, why would I be excited about I Can’t Believe It’s Food Storage by Crystal Godfrey? Because the very first recipe that caught my eye was for Blender Wheat Pancakes. See, Crystal’s recipe called for simply dump all the ingredients (including the whole wheat grain) into a blender, mix and go. Yep. This was a girl who knew how to speak my language.

I don’t own a wheat grinder. I’d never take the time to use it I did, plus I’d never clean up the mess after using it. So, I dutifully buy sacks of whole grain flour at the store and ignore the cans of wheat in my basement. But, here was someone telling me it didn’t matter. I could still use that darn wheat without giving myself nightmares. I liked her all ready. J Yes, they are still whole wheat pancakes and if your family can’t stomach a completely whole wheat breakfast this isn’t the place to start getting them used to it. But hey, just having the option alone made me feel a world better about all those #10 cans taking up space in my basement.

Her no-stress approach to figuring out what really makes sense to store and how to use it every day really does earn Crystal her nickname as the “Rock Star of Food Storage”. I spent several weeks testing about half the recipes in I Can’t Believe It’s Food Storage. (My family looked at me funny the whole time. They’re not used to seeing mom in the kitchen that much.) I had a great time reading through all the helpful, normal hints that Crystal gives as well as trying out the recipes and getting to taste-test what I’d created.

Yes, I even broke out a can of whole egg powder my mother-in-law gave me yyyeeeaaaars ago for the occasion. Guess what? They worked! Admittedly, the recipe the can gave to equal one egg was different than what Crystal gave. She gave a formula for medium, large and extra-large eggs and I just used whatever amount she told me to in the recipe. I think I’d probably have to do some more experimenting with my own favorite recipes to make sure I’d get it right. But, then again, given the weird way I cook all ready it might not make any difference.

So, here’s my overall assessment: Not bad.

There are a lot of recipes that you really won’t be able to tell you’ve used food storage in and very few that have a cringe factor. Yes, the timeless pinto bean fudge is in there. Still haven’t gotten up the nerve to try it yet. But, that’s actually the rarity. You’ll find recipes for awesome versions of hamburger helper, bean dip, hot fudge sauce, German chocolate brownies, super easy white sauce, you name it. There wasn’t anything that I shook my head at and said, “Nope, sorry too complicated, too much work.” My current favorite comfort food has become her recipe for chocolate pudding—love it warm with whipped cream.

If you read my review of the “Sneaky” cookbooks, Crystal does favor some of these methods to make your recipes cheaper and healthier, but they really aren’t bad. Well, except maybe that fudge thing. My family ate things with beans hidden in them that I’d never dared try before. She also converted me to the ways of powdered milk use. No, I haven’t had the nerve to try her recipe for a drinkable version, but she has made it totally easy for me to use it in my cooking and never know the difference. That by itself has been a huge pocketbook saver.

I did notice a smattering of typos that could effect your cooking if you’re not paying attention, but nothing really horrific. It’s still a place I’d recommend going if you want someone down-to-earth to help you ease into the scary world of food storage. Pick up a copy. Thus saith the Alison. :)

In fact, if you enter this contest: http://jdp-news.blogspot.com/2009/05/welcome-to-our-summer-treasure-hunt-dig.html you could win a copy of I Can’t Believe It’s Food Storage for yourself. A little bird told me that Crystal will be doing other giveaways on her website as well. I highly recommend checking her site often, anyway. There is a ton of very useful stuff to glean right there and it will give you a pretty good idea if I Can’t Believe It’s Food Storage would work for you as well.

Crystal was also recently featured in the Provo Daily Herald http://www.heraldextra.com/content/view/306512/149/. She’s is very willing to do classes and presentations if you live in her area. You can contact her at everydayfoodstorage@gmail.com to arrange those. She is also available for blog tours and to be a guest blogger. Crystal also teaches food storage cooking classes at the Lehi Macey’s grocery store.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Agent In Old Lace by Tristi Pinkston

Hurray for Tristi Pinkston! I’m a big fan of her personally and have great respect for Tristi’s writing ability. So, when she asked if I would like to review her new book Agent in Old Lace all I could do was give a little happy dance and electronically shout *gimmeee, gimmeee,. gimmeee!* at her. I embarrass myself sometimes.

Tristi has a deep spiritual and intellectual side, but her basic personality is warm, bubbly, and fun. Now, I have enjoyed Tristi’s previous historical fiction, but it was just, so, so, serious. . . I wondered when she’d let her personal nature shine through in her work. Let me just say that she really did that with Agent in Old Lace. To me, it felt like she’d finally given herself permission to just have fun with her creative talent and that made the story really shine for me.

When you pick up Agent in Old Lace you’ll find a compelling story in which Shannon’s boyfriend suddenly switches from loving, “Let’s get married” mode to “I’ll just kill you instead” mode. Suddenly you’re off and running with Shannon biting your nails and trying to figure out how in the world she’ll get out alive. Turns out she does, else it would be a very short book. But, staying alive is a far cry from being out of danger. The FBI makes plans to protect her by giving her an undercover live in companion. The only problem is the best woman for the job just happens to be a man. Not only will he have to be undercover, but also under wig, slip, skirt, and support hose (well, okay maybe they’re more like tights) as well. The make up lessons Shannon gives him are hoot and I loved their heart to heart talk about true beauty, it’s priceless.

I can honestly say that no matter what genre is your favorite: suspense, romance, or comedy, you’ll find a lot to love about Agent in Old Lace. It’s a quick, easy read that’s perfect for a day in the sun. Make sure you add it to your summer reading list.

I also take pride in the fact that there is a “whatshername” Palmer in the book. I know, I know, it’s a lame attempt at telling myself I’m famous. Hey, when you have such cool friends you try to claim that connection anyway you can. :)

Okay, so you don’t think I’m totally biased, I would have liked Shannon to have a moment when she looked back on her relationship with the ex-boyfriend and the lights went on about a weird behavior towards her personally. Not something that would have tipped her off that he was a psycho at the moment, but the lights would go on when she got to thinking about it afterwards. It would have been appropriate for her pick up on that and feel she should have seen the clues that he wasn’t as perfect as he appeared. Nobody’s that good of an actor all the time.

Now, here’s my biggest whine about the book: I loved the cover, but when I got into the story I quickly figured out that the image I had of Shannon in my mind from the cover was totally not what Tristi describes her looking like. I know she had no control over the cover art and it does its job of drawing the eye, but it also caused a little jolt for me when I had to replace my image of the heroine. I haven’t watched soap operas since I was a young teenager and hung out with someone who watched them. But, it kind of reminded me of what would happen when one actor would leave the show and they’d pull in someone else to play that role. All the other characters act like Sara has always been a tall red head, when last week she was a petite blond. It was just a “what happened to the other girl?” moment. :)

Tristi will be gallivanting all over the web this month on blog tour promoting Agent in Old Lace, track her down and see how she’s doing from www.tristipinkston.blogspot.com.