Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Something New

A long time ago, I attended college at Trinity University in San Antonio. I entered college with some pretty negative opinions about the Greek system. My only examples of Greeks growing up were the cookie cutter girls from SMU.  Trinity has a local Greek system and does not do pledging until the Spring. The fall of my freshman year, I noticed some sophomore girls in my anthropology class who just seemed unbearably cool. They were confident and intelligent and interesting. You could have knocked me over with a feather when, on Jersey Day, every single one of those women showed up wearing a red Greek jersey.  I couldn't wrap my mind around it. How could women this cool belong to a sorority? Maybe I needed to rethink this whole Greek thing.  And maybe I needed to find out which sorority wore red jerseys.

I did my due diligence and, to my amazement, Zeta Chi welcomed me into their ranks in the Spring of 1994.

(That's me on the left!)
I met a lot of amazing women in my time with Zeta Chi but, over the years, I lost touch with almost all of them. This is one of the reasons why I am so thankful for Facebook. Because of Facebook, I managed to reconnect with many of the women of Zeta Chi.  Some of them I even got to know better through Facebook than I ever did in college.  One of these women is Lydia.  Lydia is also an avid reader and she and I definitely share the same taste in books. I am humbled by the fact that Lydia has been enjoying this little blog and has gotten some good book recommendations from it.  As hard as I try, however, I can't always hit the many terrific books that come out each year on my blog.

So.....

Lydia is going to be a guest poster on my blog doing a new feature called "Not New But Notable."  She'll be checking in with some titles that I may have missed so we can cover more ground with reviews here on Life by Candlelight. She already has some great ideas for reviews and I can't wait to share them with you!

Stay tuned for Now New But Notable with Lydia!


Thursday, February 12, 2015

On the Wish List: A Little Free Library

I have a milestone birthday coming up. This May, I turn 40 years old.  Wow.  How did THAT happen?!

For several years now, I have been wanting to put up a Little Free Library in my front yard. I live in a neighborhood with an interesting mix of people.  We get lots of foot traffic going by our house. I love the idea that people could stop by and get a free book right in front of my house.  The next best thing to my dream of owning a brick-and-mortar bookstore!

(Photo borrowed from and owned by Little Free Library)


My problem has been that these Little Free Libraries are usually $300-$350.  If only I had the woodworking skills and tools to make my own!  I am not going to give up though.  What better gift to my neighborhood than the gift of free books?  This is why I think print books are not going to go away.  A print book requires no technology beyond itself. And it can be shared again and again. 

I think this is a great goal for my 40th year.  What do you think?

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

THE FIFTH GOSPEL by Ian Caldwell





( I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.)

Ian Caldwell has not written in a book in ten years since he co-authored THE RULE OF FOUR with Dustin Thomason.  It is clear that a lot of thought and research went into this new book. The book will draw inevitable comparisons to DA VINCI CODE but I would caution readers about looking for a new Dan Brown story within Caldwell's work.  On the literary spectrum, I would say Caldwell falls closer on the scale to Umberto Eco than Dan Brown. While Dan Brown is a good storyteller, he isn't much of a writer.

THE FIFTH GOSPEL takes place in 2004 as the end of Pope John Paul II's reign.  Father Alex Andreou is a Greek (Eastern) Catholic priest who lives inside the Vatican walls with his young son.  Father Alex teaches the gospels to young men hoping to someday become priests.  Father Alex's brother is Father Simon Andreou who is a Catholic priest holding a prestigious position high in the Secretariat. The two brothers have grown up with close ties to the Catholic church with a father who was a Greek Catholic priest and an uncle who holds a position high within the Church. The brothers embody the split between Western Catholics and Eastern Orthodox that came from a great schism within the church hundreds of years ago. Both of them are closely involved with a mysterious exhibit that is about to take place in the Vatican Museums.  The curator, Ugolino Nogara, claims to have made an important discovery regarding the Shroud of Turin. Before Nogara can open his exhibit, he is found in Castel Gandolfo dead from a gunshot wound.  Simon is fingered as the killer and Alex must figure out who is framing his brother and why.  As he attempts to discover what other secrets the exhibit may have been carrying, Alex must figure out who to trust and how to protect his family.

This is a very difficult book to summarize. There is A LOT going on here.  There is a murder mystery and a secret exhibit with a possible coverup within the Church. We see Pope John Paul's final days as the leader of the Catholic Church and his attempt at building a legacy.  There are two brothers and the intricacies of the relationship as well as the legacy of their family.  There is Alex who struggles not only with his complex feelings surrounding his brother but also with his life as a solo parent in the aftermath of his wife walking out five years before.  There is the difficult relationship between the Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholics and all the history that surrounds that relationship.  Whew! It is hard to keep track of everything! 

Caldwell is a careful writer who takes him his time in allowing his story to unfold. He offers a lot of detail about the history of the Church and the Shroud.   While DA VINCI CODE was a fast-paced thriller where every single chapter ended on a cliffhanger, THE FIFTH GOSPEL does not need to resort to that kind of plot device.  Caldwell allows his story to unfold slowly and methodically. He takes his time with his characters so that we know and understand them all very well.  We get a lot of back story not only of the characters but of the Church as well. While the story of the exhibit and Shroud take center stage, the relationship between the two brothers and their family is just as important.

There was so much going on in the book that I sometimes found it difficult to follow what was happening. There were a lot of characters to keep track of!  Still, I really enjoyed the book. It was thought-provoking and interesting.  The best part for me was the story of this unique family and their complicated bonds. I found it even more compelling than the mystery of the exhibit and Nogara's death. Fans of the DA VINCI CODE may be disappointed if they come here looking for more of the same. This isn't a fast-paced conspiracy-driven thriller.  It is much more thoughtful. Instead, I would recommend this book to individuals fascinated with religion and Catholic Church history.  Reading this book definitely made me want to go and do my own research about Church history and the Shroud of Turin.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.  Ignore all comparison to the DA VINCI CODE. This book stands on its own as a well-researched and well-written story of the history of the Catholic and Orthodox churches and the Shroud of Turin.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I have been very attracted to suspense/thriller novels lately.  Maybe it's the time of year.  This particular book has been compared to Hitchcock and GONE GIRL so I was especially excited to read it.

Rachel is an alcoholic.  She has never recovered from her divorce two years ago and the subsequent loss of her job due to her alcohol problem. Each day, she takes the train into London in order to appear to others as if nothing has changed.  As she rides the train, she finds herself looking at the window at her old house where she had lived so happily with her husband. Now, he is making a new life there with a new wife.  A few doors down, Rachel notices another happy couple.  She names them Jess and Jason and creates a fantasy life around them. One day, Rachel notices "Jess" kissing another man and her fantasy life falls apart.  She decides to get off the train in her old neighborhood and confront someone in her unhappiness. The next day, Rachel cannot remember anything that happened. But she sees in the newspaper that a woman named Megan ("Jess") has gone missing.  Rachel finds herself drawn into the drama of Megan's disappearance as she tries desperately to remember what happened that night.

I absolutely loved the setup of this novel.  It definitely has a "Rear Window" feel.  The fact that Rachel is an alcoholic who blacks out definitely adds something to the drama. Overall, however, this book did not work for me.  Every single character was completely unlikeable.  I could never emotionally connect with the story. It also appeared fairly obvious to me early on as to what was going to happen. Hawkins is a bit heavy-handed with her clues. I feel like Rachel got too directly involved in drama to make the suspense really work. I also found the ending dissatisfying.  I am baffled by the GONE GIRL comparisons. There was never an "AHA!" moment in GIRL ON THE TRAIN. I never really felt the dramatic twist worked since it was so obvious what was going to happen.

BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended.  This book had a lot of potential but it just didn't work for me. I was hoping for so much more!

Monday, January 05, 2015

Best of 2014

2014 was full of calamity for me.  Although I did a lot of reading, I had trouble keeping up my reviews. Mostly because I did so much reading from a sick bed.  Here are some of my favorite reads from 2014 (in no particular order):

1. US by David Nicholls--I think this book found me at the right time. I just loved it. Much much more than ONE DAY.

2. THE BOY WHO DREW MONSTERS by Keith Donohue--Think of M. Night Shyamalan in book form.

3. THE STORIED LIFE OF AJ FIKRY by Gabrielle Zevin--Incredibly sweet book reminiscent of SILAS MARNER.

4. CHAPLIN AND COMPANY by Mave Fellowes--Full of quirky characters!

5. THE BOOK OF YOU by Claire Kendal--The scariest thing I have read in a long time!

6. THE BOOK OF LIFE by Deborah Harkness--A fun ending to a great trilogy.

7. DOLLBABY by Laura Lane McNeal--Think Fannie Flagg crossed with THE HELP.

8. THE VISITORS by Sally Beauman--I have had a hard time convincing anyone to read this.  This is an old-school novel where you have to take your time.  It is worth it!

9.  CLOSE YOUR EYES, HOLD HANDS by Chris Bohjalian--Bohjalian does it again!

10. AND THE DARK SACRED NIGHT by Julia Glass--I am not usually a Glass fan but I really loved this one!

I tried to include only those books published in 2014 on this list.  I also read some great books that will be coming out this year.  So much to look forward to!  Happy Reading!

Monday, December 08, 2014

Stocking Stuffer Idea!

Quirk Book has released two new sets of novelty postcards that might just be the perfect stocking stuffer for someone on your gift list!

Each set of 30 postcards comes in a nicely packaged folder and retails for $9.95.

The first set is called STARS AND SWIPES: 30 POSTCARDS OF AWKWARD AMERICANA:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/search/ref=as_li_qf_sp_sr_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&index=aps&keywords=stars%20and%20swipes&linkCode=ur2&tag=lifebycand-20&linkId=HN6BWZQMS3GBGRWS




The collection opens up nicely with a foldout cover:



Here is an example of one of the postcards:


The second collection is called HUGS AND MISSES: 30 POSTCARDS OF AWKWARD ROMANCE:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1594747334/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1594747334&linkCode=as2&tag=lifebycand-20&linkId=EPZ7CPOKAZ4FPLVX 
You could even save this one for an anti-Valentine's gift!



 Although I found the humor of most of the postcards a bit silly and not to my taste, I could immediately think of someone who would appreciate them!  Everyone has a friend or family member would LOVE a silly little gift this these!  Another easy way to knock a gift off your list!  Click on the covers to purchase.


(I received copies of these item from the publisher for review)

Monday, December 01, 2014

Barefoot Books Sale!



I am an Ambassador for Barefoot Books and a strong believer in their missions of publishing books with a strong emphasis in storytelling and multiculturalism.

Now through Wednesday, Barefoot is having a sitewide sale.  Get 20% off your entire order by using the code TOGETHER20 and get free shipping on orders over $60. Click on any of the cover images to shop!

Here are some of my favorite Barefoot titles:

1. My son received his first Barefoot Book at age 3. It is a singalong called ANIMAL BOOGIE. It has a fun catchy tune that encourages children to get up and move around like animals.  The book comes with a music CD that you can put into your computer to see animation.

store.barefootbooks.com/the-animal-boogie-6.html/?bf_affiliate_000-1e3u

2. I absolutely love the new release OUT OF THE BLUE. This wordless book encourages children to narrate their own story.  The illustrations are beautifully detailed and I love the message of compassion.

store.barefootbooks.com/out-of-the-blue.html/?bf_affiliate_000-1e3u

3.HERB THE VEGETARIAN DRAGON is a charming story about a dragon who just wants to be himself.  A great message about compassion and acceptance.

store.barefootbooks.com/herb-the-vegetarian-dragon-3.html/?bf_affiliate_000-1e3u


There are so many more that I can't list them all! We have fantastic singalongs, adorable board books, terrific early chapter books (especially with some non-traditional princesses) and much more!  Hurry now to shop before the sale ends!

Go here to shop: 
 http://www.dancingbarefootwithamy.com

Sale ends on December 3!



LOST AND FOUND by Brooke Davis





Review coming soon!

Calamity

Although I have been doing a lot of reading, I am behind in posting. I was recently in a car accident that totaled my car and left me with injuries I am still recovering from.  The whole episode has created quite the mess in my life that I am struggling to get in order. I am so grateful that the accident wasn't worse and that my son was no in the car.

As I have been recovering, I have been doing a lot of reading.  I have a few reviews to post but I am starting to move on to Spring titles and those reviews will come out close to publication date.  Read HAUSFRAU by Jill Alexander Essbaum last week.  Wow.  Definitely watch for this one in March!

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Friday, October 31, 2014

US by David Nicholls

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I have to admit that I was a bit lukewarm on ONE DAY.  I just didn't connect with it.  I think Nicholls' caught me at just the right moment with US.  Doug Petersen has a pretty decent life.  He has a good job, a wife he adores, a comfortable home, and an almost-grown son.  Through his 17-year-old son Albie is bit moody and unpleasant, he is about to leave for school and Doug has planned one last family trip of a Grand Tour around Europe.  Right before the trip, Doug's wife Connie wakes him up and tells him she doesn't want to be married to him anymore.  The pronouncement shakes Doug's world and he decides that the Grand Tour will now be a trip to reconnect with and save his family.

Although I still have awhile to go before I am Doug's age, something about his story really connected with me. Since I also have an only child who is a son, the story made me wonder what the future holds for my child and my relationships. As we follow Doug and his family on their disastrous trip, the story manages to be both humorous and heartbreaking.  Doug must confront facts about his family and who they really are and must take ownership of his own failings as a husband and father. Even so, you can't help rooting for this family to weather the storm and survive.  There were moments when I laughed out loud and others that nearly brought me to tears. Told in both the present tense and in flashbacks, the reader gets a clear idea of who these people are and the stresses of family life that led Doug, Connie and Albie to this point. I found it incredibly moving and well done.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. This may end up being one of my favorite books this year.  A wonderful story about a family in distress against the backdrop of European travels.