Book Brief: Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

Pope Joan

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

  • Audible Audio Edition
  • Listening Length: 19 hours and 24 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Recorded Books
  • Release Date: September 24, 2009

Barbara Rosenblat (Narrator)

My Review (3 Stars: Liked it)

I listened to Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross.  It is about a women, in the 9th century who becomes the Pope.  It is historical fiction that has gotten high marks, but I struggled getting started with it.  However, even though it has difficult vocabulary and even many words in Latin, I enjoyed the story and wondered how much of it is based on believed truths.  Almost toward the end, I was compelled to look up information about this pope and got a clue to how the story ended.

At the center of this novel is the stark contrast between men and women’s places in society.

The narrator had a gruff voice and I wasn’t sure I liked it.  However, she did represent the various character’s voices distinctly which helped in following the narration.

There is a movie based on this novel, that got less than stellar marks.

Movie Trailer

Continue reading “Book Brief: Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross”

Book Review: The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck

The Wedding Dress

My Review (3 Stars: Liked it!)

The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck is fairly predictable, but still enjoyable.  It is a ‘Christian’ based novel.  I found the religious undertones to be distracting.  I think the story would have stood better on its own without some of the ‘preaching’.

Instead of magic, there is divine intervention that takes place with a wedding dress sewn with gold thread that is beautiful, timeless and fits every bride who wears it (without alterations).


(purchase from amazon)
  • Audible Audio Edition
  • Listening Length: 9 hours and 50 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Oasis Audio
  • Release Date: April 13, 2012

I tagged this review with Romance and Light Reads. This novel is not too complicated. It was a pleasant read I think, especially because of its predictability.

There is some meat to the novel as it switches between present day Birmingham Alabama,  and 1912.  I always like going back in time.  The examination of relationships leading to marriage is also entertaining.

I enjoyed the southern setting.  The narrator, Eleni Pappageorge, does a good job with the southern accent and representing both male and female characters.

So, if you like romance, light reading and can take a little preaching to, this would be a novel to enjoy.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck”

Review: Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum (audiobook)

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum (audiobook)

  • Audible Audio Edition
  • Listening Length: 15 hours and 56 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Recorded Books
  • Release Date: September 15, 2009

My Review (3 Stars: Liked it!)

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum is a Jewish holocaust story focused on the question of the culpability of Germain citizens.  The author uses great vocabulary and descriptions.  However, like these stories are, it was upsetting and disturbing to listen to.  These descriptive stories of atrocities tend to make me sleep less well.

The narrator, Suzanne Toren, has a pleasant voice and added a nice touch of reality, using the German language and accent in different parts.

While listening to the ~16 hours, I fell asleep a couple of times and needed to backtrack.  The story goes back and forth in time.  My audible version of this novel does not have chapters label correctly, which made it difficult to  backtrack.

First Paragraph

HarcourtBooks, 2004 (from my local library)


Trudy and Anna, 1993

The funeral is well attended, the New Heidelberg Lutheran Church packed to capacity with farmers and their families who have come to bid farewell to one of their own.  Since every seat is full, they also line the walls and crowd the vestibule.  The men are comically unfamiliar in dark suits; they don’t get this dressed up for regular services.  The women, however, wear what the do every Sunday no matter what the weather, skirt-and-sweater sets with hose and pumps.  Their parkas, which are puffy and incongruous and signify the imminent return to life’s practicalities, are their sole concession to the cold.  …

Anna and Max,

Weimar, 1939-1940


The evening is typical enough until the dog begins to choke.  And even then, at first, Anna doesn’t both to turn from the Rouladen she is stuffing for the dinner that she and her father, Gerhard, will share, for the dachshund’s energetic gagging doesn’t strike her as anything unusual.  The dog, Spaetzle, is forever eating something he shouldn’t, savaging chicken carcasses and consuming heels of bread without chewing, and such greed is inevitable followed by retching.  Privately, Anna thinks him a horrid little creature and has ever since he was first presented to her five years ago on her fourteenth birthday, a gift from her father just after her mother’s death, as if in compensation.  It is perhaps unfair to resent Spaetzle for this, he is also chronically ill-tempered, snapping with his yellowed fangs at everyone except Gerhard; he is really her father’s pet.  And grossly fat, as Gerhard is always slipping him tidbits, despite his hallowed admonitions to Anna of Do not! Feed!  The dog!  From!  The table!

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Review: Before The Fall by Noah Hawley


Before the Fall By Noah Hawley

Grand Central Publishing, 2016

My Review (3 Stars: Liked it!)

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley got off to a good start with a private plane crash and the dramatic survival of two passengers, a man and a boy.

About two-thirds of the way into the story, I felt it had stalled (the story, not the plane) and almost put it down.

The main characters, dimly connected, included those who were on the plane, the boy’s aunt and uncle, those investigating the crash and a reporter.  Many of the individual characters’ backstories and life perspectives are in-part looked at.  Since most of their stories, individually, were interesting and I was curious to see what or who caused the plane crash, I continued to read/listen to the end.

I consider this book to be more of a mystery than a suspense.

Book Trailer

What Others Are Saying

“Opening with the plane crash, the book works backwards and forwards to tell the stories of each passenger and those close to the crash’s aftermath. As with some other books that worked for me lately (The Expatriates, Only Love Can Break Your Heart), the mystery (i.e. why the plane crashed) serves as a catalyst to explore human emotions and behavior. The crux of this story is more about the people on the plane and what today’s media can do to a tragic story than the crash itself.” – Sarah @ Sarah’s Book Shelves

About The Author (from amazon)

Noah HawleyNoah Hawley is an Emmy, Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, and Peabody Award-winning author, screenwriter and producer. He has published four novels and penned the script for the feature film Lies and Alibis. He created, executive produced and served as showrunner for ABC’s My Generation and The Unusuals and was a writer and producer on the hit series Bones. Hawley is currently executive producer, writer, and showrunner on FX’s award-winning series, Fargo.


Click on Image to Read More or Purchase from Amazon



Before The Fall is a SheReads Summer 2016 book selection.  Click here to find links to other blogger’s book reviews for Before The Fall.  I’d like to thank the publisher, Grand Central Publishing and the SheReads organization for sending me this book, free of charge for review.

 Disclosure of Material Connection: 

NetGalleyBadgeI received this book (ARC) free from the publisher, Grand Central Publishing, Hatchette Book Group as a member of the SheReads blog network.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.  As I have been preferring audiobooks lately, I purchased this book when it became available and listened to it instead of reading it.  NetGalley also provided me with an electronic copy for review.

Review: Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health by William Davis, MD

My Review (3 Stars: Liked It!)

Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health by William Davis, MD

Rodale Inc., 2014

(Trade paperback first published by Rodale Inc. in June 2014)

Author William Davis, MD, explains why so many Americans have ‘wheat belly’ and describes the detrimental effects of wheat consumption on health.  He also describes how to live wheat-free.

While I skimmed some of the book, as it was somewhat technical at times, I felt it was very informative.

Wheat Belly has caused me to be more cognizant in my choices.

Will I eliminate wheat totally? – No, not completely.  I will cut back considerably and actively seek out alternatives.

As described in this book, there are detrimental health effects caused by wheat consumption.  Dr. Davis presents reasons for those with these health issues to seriously consider giving up wheat all together.

However, I believe diet should be based on individual needs.  Each person is different.  I don’t believe one diet fits all.

I’ve included the table of contents below to give you a greater idea of issues discussed.

Continue reading “Review: Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health by William Davis, MD”

Review: The Stranger by Harlan Coben


The Stranger by Harlan Coben

Dutton (est. 1852), Published by the Penguin Group, A Penguin Random House Company, 2015

My Review (3 Stars: Liked It!)

Author, Harlan Coben writes many catchy observations or short commentaries about mundane upper middle-class living and not so mundane events throughout The Stranger.  His writing is filled with one interesting sentence after the next.

The story is basically a mystery.  A stranger reveals a secret to Adam Price about his wife.  Soon after being confronted by Adam, his wife Corrine disappears leaving a text message, saying that she needs some time apart…just a few days.

Coben raises the question, How far will anyone go to protect their family?

Continue reading “Review: The Stranger by Harlan Coben”

Review, Author Interview & Giveaway: Stop The Diet, I Want To Get Off! by Lisa Tillinger Johansen, MS, RD

Stop the Diet, I Want to Get Off! by Lisa Tillinger Johansen, MS, RD

Tillinger Johansen Publishing, LLC, 2015

Giveaway Contest Below

Win 1 of 10 copies of Stop the Diet

(one winner will also win a $25 Amazon gift card) (open to USA & Canada)

My Review (3 Stars: Liked it!)

When it comes to eating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, knowledge is power. Stop the Diet, I Want to Get Off! by Lisa Tillinger Johansen, MS, RD is packed with information.

After many years of yo-yo dieting, my personal belief is that my goal should be to make good lifestyle changes by choosing better foods and exercising.  In order to do this, I need to learn and become more aware of what is good for me.  So, when iRead Book Tours offered this book for review, I was excited to read it.

There is so much detail in this book, that I must admit, I skimmed some of it.

There are two parts to this book: Part I: The Skinny and Part Two: The Plan.

In the first part of the book, author Lisa Tillinger Johansen, gives a thorough overview of a large number of diets, including famous, fad & celebrity diets.  She goes into great detail about each one and discusses the pros and cons.  She interjects humor into her discussion which makes me think I would like her to be my dietitian.  It is obvious that a lot of research went into this part.

Part two goes into ‘The Plan’.

“Because what’s the takeaway here?  Fad diets aren’t good.  They’re not a long-term plan and they can be detrimental to our health.” p. 163

For a general idea of what to eat, we look at the plate:  Using her slightly different plate model as a guide, author Lisa Tillinger Johansen discusses how to select the best types of foods and presents many helpful and specific tips.


Portion size is also highlighted.  This plate, mentally, should be 9″.  Most real plates today are larger.  In this book we are shown visuals to give us ideas about better portion size.  For example,

“A deck of cards equals approximately 3 ounces of meat, poultry or fish.” p.187

The importance of being hydrated and fluid consumption is discussed.  Nutrition labels and nutrients are discussed.

Tips on better eating habits are given.  My husband and I eat out frequently.  I was glad to see the section on how to make better choices.  There is a section devoted to the stages of change we go through when making changes in our lives.

“I tell my clients that we don’t have to change everything overnight.  I’ve already touched on a lot of things you may want to tweak, including portion control, healthier food picks, and engaging in physical activity.  Start with a few things and then build on those.  Mix simpler ones like reading nutrition fact labels with more challenging ones.  Keep it going.  Small steps lead to big changes.” p. 275

The author mentions some diet plans that may be helpful for additional support and guidance, such as the reversal diet, the DASH diet, and the Mediterranean diet as well as Weight Watchers and Volumetrics.

I only touched on a handful of the many topics discussed.  This book will most likely become a go-to reference and reinforcement source when I have questions about my diet choices.

Continue reading “Review, Author Interview & Giveaway: Stop The Diet, I Want To Get Off! by Lisa Tillinger Johansen, MS, RD”

Review: Prodigal Son by Danielle Steel

Prodigal Son: A Novel by Danielle Steel

Delacorte Press and imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York, 2015

My Review (3 Stars: Liked It!)

Prodigal Son was a short, quick read for me.  Since I haven’t read any other novels  by Danielle Steel (see list below), I can’t make comparisons.  I can see why she is popular though.  Her writing style flows very well.

This review will be short.  The story is mainly about a sociopath, his wife and children and his twin brother.  It is very straight forward, yet interesting.

In the interview below, Danielle Steel suggest that we’ve all come across a sociopath at some point in our lives.  I can’t recall meeting anyone who I would categorize that way.  I guess, like characters in this novel, I may have unknowingly run into one.  How about you?

Continue reading “Review: Prodigal Son by Danielle Steel”

Review: Gray Mountain by John Grisham

Gray Mountain: A Novel by John Grisham

Doubleday, a division of Random House LLC, 2014

My Review (3 Stars: Liked it!)

Gray Mountain: A Novel by John Grisham was a pleasant read over the course of a few days.  It is easy to see why Grisham is so popular.  The story was fast paced and his writing style is fluid.

I’ve categorized Gray Mountain as Historical Fiction as it takes place in 2008.  The recession has hit Wall Street law firms and, third year attorney,  Samantha Koefer is escorted out of her office.  She goes to work, without pay, for a legal aid clinic in a small town in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia.

Samantha along with others, tackle litigation involved in fighting the giant coal companies who are strip mining the beautiful mountains in Appalachia.

Samantha encounters several cases depicting struggles of some of the locals.  For Samantha, these cases have much more meaning than the work she was doing for a big law firm in New York.  Grisham, brings a hometown country feeling to the story with other characters and descriptions of the area.

There is another lawyer in town, handsome Donovan Gray, whose family lost so much to the coal companies in the past.  He does everything in his power to defeat them, even if, like the coal companies, he has to cheat.

Overall, Gray Mountain was an enjoyable read about an important topic.

First Paragraph

“The horror was in the waiting – the unknown, the insomnia, the ulcers.  Co-workers ignored each other and hid behind locked doors. Secretaries and paralegals passed along the rumors and refused eye contact.  Everyone was on edge, wondering, “Who might be next?”  The partners, the big boys, appeared shell-shocked and wanted no contact with their underlings.  They might soon be ordered to slaughter them.”

Also By John Grisham

The Theodore Boone Books

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer

Theodore Boone: The Abduction

Theodore Boon: The Accused

Theodore Boon: The Activist

Review: The Other Life by Ellen Meister

The Other Life by Ellen Meister

A Berkley Book

Published by Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2011

Description (from the author’s website)

What if you could return to the road not taken?

Quinn Braverman is keeping two secrets from her loving husband, Lewis. One is that the real reason she chose him over Eugene, her neurotic, semi-famous ex-boyfriend, was to prove to her mother that she couldhave a happy, stable relationship with the guy next door.

The other is that Quinn knows another life exists in which she made the other choice and stayed with Eugene. The two lives run in parallel lines, like highways on opposite sides of a mountain. There, on the other side, the Quinn who stayed with Eugene is speeding through her high-drama, childless life in Manhattan. Here, the Quinn who married Lewis lives in the suburbs, drives a Volvo, and has an adorable young son with another baby on the way.

But the important part of the secret—the part that terrifies and thrills her—is that she knows it’s possible to cross from one life to the other. So far she’s played it safe, never venturing over to see what’s on the other side. Then a shocking turn of events rattles Quinn to her very core, and she makes the reckless choice to finally see what she’s been missing.

There, she not only rediscovers her exciting single life, but meets the one person she thought she’d lost forever. Her mother.

But Quinn can’t have both lives. Soon, she must decide which she really wants—the one she has…or the other life?

My Review (3 Stars: Liked it!)

Thirty-four year old, Quinn, housewife and mother, has a secret.  She can escape her current life and enter a portal, not to the past or future, but to an alternate life and then return.  In her current life she is expecting a new baby with potential birth defects.  She decides to pass through the portal and discovers her mother who had committed suicide is there.  Also, in this alternate life she is carrying on with her old boyfriend, the one she left to marry her current husband.  So, from that short description, you might see, that many questions are raised while reading this story.

I enjoyed reading about the events occurring in both Quinn’s current life and her alternate life.  Questions always remain when a loved one commits suicide.  Quinn is able to ask her mother about it.  The portal begins to close, and Quinn has to decide which life to stay with.

At the end of the book, there are discussion questions which would help to create a lively bookclub discussion.

Continue reading “Review: The Other Life by Ellen Meister”

Review: Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker

Mercy Snow: A Novel by Tiffany Baker

Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group, First Trade edition: January, 2015

Reading Group Guide, 2015

Description (from amazon)

In the tiny town of Titan Falls, New Hampshire, the paper mill dictates a quiet, steady rhythm of life. But one day a tragic bus accident sets two families on a course toward destruction, irrevocably altering the lives of everyone in their wake.

June McAllister is the wife of the local mill owner and undisputed first lady in town. But the Snow family, a group of itinerant ne’er-do-wells who live on a decrepit and cursed property, have brought her–and the town–nothing but grief.

June will do anything to cover up a dark secret she discovers after the crash, one that threatens to upend her picture-perfect life, even if it means driving the Snow family out of town. But she has never gone up against a force as fierce as the young Mercy Snow. Mercy is determined to protect her rebellious brother, whom the town blames for the accident, despite his innocence. And she has a secret of her own. When an old skeleton is discovered not far from the crash, it beckons Mercy to solve a mystery buried deep within the town’s past.

 My Review (3 Stars: Liked it!)

Mercy Snow is a somber, philosophical story.  It’s setting is in New Hampshire, along the Androscoggin River (Wikipedia), during the 1990’s.

June McAllister thought she had everything she ever wanted.  Her husband  was the owner of  the Titan Falls paper mill.  The paper mill was central to the survival of almost everyone in this backwoods town.  This made the McAllister’s a very prominent family.  Three extremely poor, orphaned, Snow children, Mercy, Zeke and Hannah, reclaim their nearby property and everything changes.

The author, Tiffany Baker, provides rich descriptions of the area and the filthy, dangerous river.  She richly describes the poor Snow family’s pitiful living conditions and struggle to survive during the brutal winter in contrast to the McAllister’s comfortable life.

This story pivots around June’s husband and Mercy Snow’s brother being involved in a deathly bus accident.  The two women are at odds with each other.  In the end they both get some of what they wished for, but for a price.  Mercy Snow reminds me of the idiom: Be careful of what you wish for, because you just might get it.  (What does Be Careful What You Wish For Mean? (WiseGeek))

A bright spot in this story is Hazel, the bus driver’s wife, who like Mercy, is a survivor.  She raises sheep and unlike most of the people in the area, is not dependent on the paper mill.  Another bright spot is that Mercy Snow seems to have inherited her mother’s healing ability which adds a certain bit of magic to the plot.

There are many facets to this story and interesting characters which made Mercy Snow an enjoyable read.

I would like to thank author, Tiffany Baker, the She Reads Organization and the publisher,  Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group,  for providing me with this book, free of charge, for review.

Other books by Tiffany Baker

The Gilly Salt Sisters

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County

Visit Shereads’ page to read more about their winter selections  @ 2015 She Reads’ Books of Winter.

Disclosure of Material Connection: 

I received this book free from the publisher, Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group, as a member of the She Reads Network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: To Hold The Sun by Chas Watkins

Copyright: Charles Watkins, Published: 1st March 2013, 2nd Edition

Cover and internal photographs, copyright, Shawn Jackson,

Description (from iRead Book Tours):

This delightful and engaging story outlines the experiences of a young, poor, and disillusioned reporter who is enticed to do a series of articles about Paul, an unconventional philosopher and motivational speaker. In lieu of payment, he gets to travel to and dive on Roatan, arguably one of the most beautiful, pristine islands in the Caribbean. Through a series of meetings, the reporter gets to know Paul’s innermost philosophies. He learns an alternate way of living from a man who strives to perfect handstands on a dock and practices the art of happiness.

The author developed the book as a guide to help his children live their lives in a way that would allow them to enjoy the journey. Drawing on wildly diverse disciplines including stoicism, neuroscience, skepticism, behavioral economics, and spirituality; the reader is taken on a journey that exposes the author’s philosophy of life. He demonstrates that happiness is indeed a choice.

My Review (3 Stars: Liked it!)

The reporter of this fictional story has an assignment to conduct a series of interviews, with Paul, on the picturesque Caribbean Island, Roatan.  Paul and the reporter, talk about approaches to life and how to be happy and healthy.

Below are only some of the topics presented.

Paul starts with explaining steps in visualization exercises to replace negative emotions and later discusses meditation in greater detail.

Also, Paul explains that the best way to bring about change is to make accomplishments one at a time. Each success will have a “ripple effect.”  He explains ways to lessen the need for willpower by creating habits. He uses health and lifestyle in his examples.

Paul presents the reporter with questions guiding him to be introspective about his beliefs and discusses the concept of free will.

Paul then discusses “foundation principles”:

“These are basic principles, that if we understand and accept, are meant to help us build the positive changes we all want in our lives.” p. 59

“Conscious Growth.” p.59

“You can’t control what happens to you, so condition yourself on how to react.” p. 62 

“Frame the situation correctly and ask empowering questions.” p.77-78 

“Time will change us, so choose the change.” p. 91

How to deal with biases that affect us, such as when shopping or watching the news are discussed.

Additional extra points are discussed:

“Simplify your life – Wants are not needs”  p. 129

“Embrace difference – Live with contradiction” p.130 

“Live without regret – Mistakes are just growing pains” p. 131 

“Health matters – Exercise each day, eat well and sleep” p.132 

“Be selfish – By serving others!” p. 133 

If you are struggling with negative emotions or the inability to make lifestyle changes, this book is encouraging and provides helpful methods and strategies.  It is written in a conversational tone.  Many examples and analogies are presented.
We also get a feel for the beautiful island, Roatan as many aspects of it are described.  My paperback copy of the book included black and white photos of the island before each chapter as well.  Roatan looks/sounds like a wonderful place to visit or live and go diving.
The author Chas Watkins wrote this book as a guide for his children and has generously shared his advice with others.  I would like to thank Chas Watkins and iRead Book Tours for providing me with this book free of charge for review.

About The Author (from iRead Book Tours)

Chas Watkins was born and raised in England and is a naturalized Australian. His children are all American, which Chas-Watkinshe finds very confusing. He moved to Roatan nine years ago. He has an unused degree in electronics from Hull University in England and has somehow managed to work for many fine and good companies without being fired.

After the raging madness of the dotcom world in California, he moved to Roatan to settle with his family. Chas currently pretends to work as a Realtor and Radio DJ. He reads an awful lot, watches the sunrise and sunset every day and consumes way too much coffee. He runs on the beach in the mornings, practices handstands, and lives happily on Roatan with his cat Gary and the children who have not yet deserted him.
Even on his best day he is nothing like his character Paul, but strives to be so.
Occasionally he “likes to dance as if no one is watching” which is ironic as his dancing makes people stare. If you are really unlucky, you may meet him, and whatever you do, don’t offer him a drink as he is a very rude and uninteresting person.

Connect with Chas here:

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book, To Hold The Sun by Chas Watkins, free from Author Marketing Experts and iReadBookTours.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

If you would like to read more about this book, click here for other tour stops.