Review: The Underside of Joy


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Why I Picked It: The rarely explored theme of stepmotherhood captured my interest, and I wanted to see how it was tackled in this “not a fairy tale” book by Seré Prince Halverson.

Synopsis: Set against the backdrop of redwood forests and shimmering vineyards, Seré Prince Halverson’s compelling debut tells the story of two women, bound by an unspeakable loss, who each claims to be the mother of the same two children.

To Ella Beene, happiness means living in the northern California river town of Elbow with her husband, Joe, and his two young children. Yet one summer day Joe breaks his own rule–never turn your back on the ocean–and a sleeper wave strikes him down, drowning not only the man but his many secrets.

For three years, Ella has been the only mother the kids have known and has believed that their biological mother, Paige, abandoned them. But when Paige shows up at the funeral, intent on reclaiming the children, Ella soon realizes there may be more to Paige and Joe’s story. “Ella’s the best thing that’s happened to this family,” say her Italian-American in-laws, for generations the proprietors of a local market. But their devotion quickly falters when the custody fight between mother and stepmother urgently and powerfully collides with Ella’s quest for truth.

The Underside of Joy is not a fairy-tale version of stepmotherhood pitting good Ella against evil Paige, but an exploration of the complex relationship of two mothers. Their conflict uncovers a map of scars–both physical and emotional–to the families’ deeply buried tragedies, including Italian internment camps during World War II and postpartum psychosis.

Weaving a rich fictional tapestry abundantly alive with the natural beauty of the novel’s setting, Halverson is a captivating guide through the flora and fauna of human emotions.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Reading this book made me feel like I was watching one of our local afternoon soap operas. What drama (and I don’t mean that in a bad way)! I admire how the author was able to deliver the intense emotions with just words – I was already crying within the first quarter of the book. If you think the story is too cheesy for you, it is. But reading this will be totally worth your time; it’s great to once in a while get in touch with your inner drama queen (or king).

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Library


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Do you believe in New Year’s Resolutions?  If yes, 2012 is just five days away… have you made your list?

I have signed up for the DailyMile 1,000 mile challenge. That’s it… so far.

Can I start a resolution Feb 1? I am interested in trying to run 365 consecutive days but realistically… I can’t do this until Feb 1 (previous commitments rule this out before the year starts).

My Checkpoint! for the week:

–  Last week: I had a light week, running just 17 miles.  I ate too many sweets and tortured myself Christmas day by getting on the scale only to discover that I didn’t gain one pound (woohoo).
–  DailyMile December 100 mile challenge: 87 miles
–  Stretching: fair
–  Nutrition: Surprisingly well considering it’s Christmas week.  That said, I can’t wait to get all the sweets and snacks out of the house.

Fitness challenges:  I need to find a way to fit in 15-30 minutes of stretching.  I’m only in week two of training and my left hipflexor is extremely tight (the entire leg actually).

This week: Training officially kicks off this week.  Training plan: 4, 5, 6, 8, 5

This is a weekly post through March (race day is March 24th).  Leave a comment with an update on your week or leave your blog/post link below.  I will cheer you on!

A Virtual Cookie Exchange


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I have been joyfully busy this holiday season, spending time with friends, meeting for lunch, shopping, trips to the city, running, spa days, entertaining, hosting…  having a wonderful time.

While I have been enjoying life, I have forgotten to bake!

We have been invited to friend’s for Christmas Eve this year. I would like to bring some homemade cookies with us, I would also like to deliver some to our neighbors to celebrate the holiday’s.

I need ideas – cookies, bars, any favorite treat!

When: December 12 – 20

Bloggers: Post a recipe to your blog and add your post link below.
Email readers: Please join in by simply replying with a cookie recipe. I will gather the recipes for a weekend post to share with everyone.

For those who don’t like to bake, the best part is that you don’t have to bake anything, just post a favorite cookie recipe. I can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with!

Be sure to look at the comments, tons of recipes have posted there.  ~Enjoy!

My families favorite holiday cookie: The frosted sugar cookie.  The World Traveler likes them lightly sugared while our son enjoys them ‘smashed’ with every topping available.  I pass on this cookie.

My favorite cookie: I love Biscotti, so does my family.  It’s also a great gift.

Confession: I’ve never made Biscotti before so I’m looking to Martha Stewart for help. 

I will try a few different versions but… with my new found love for figs (thanks to my vacation in Australia earlier this year) I plan to try this recipe:

Holiday Fig Walnut Biscotti


1 cup whole-wheat flour (spooned and leveled)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
3/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 teaspoon anise seed, chopped
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest (from 1 large orange)
1 cup coarsely chopped dried Calimyrna figs (6 ounces)
1 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
Nonstick cooking spray


1.Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and anise. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs until they’re pale yellow and hold a ribbon for 1 second when whisk is lifted, about 5 minutes. Whisk in zest.

2.Fold egg mixture into flour mixture until combined. Fold in figs and walnuts. Lightly spray a parchment-lined baking sheet with cooking spray. Divide dough in half on parchment. Spray hands with cooking spray; form each piece of dough into a 2 1/2-inch-wide log. Bake until dough is firm but gives slightly when pressed, about 25 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack and let logs cool 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

3.Cut each log on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices; place slices, cut side up, on sheet. Bake 7 minutes, flip biscotti, and bake 7 minutes more. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Review: Emily and Einstein

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Why I picked it:  I picked this book up at the library, thinking it would be a great book to listen to while commuting to work last month.

Synopsis: Emily and her husband Sandy Portman seemed to live a gracious if busy life in an old-world, Upper West Side apartment in the famous Dakota building. But one night on the way to meet Emily, Sandy dies in a tragic accident. The funeral isn’t even over before Emily learns she is on the verge of being evicted from their apartment. But worse than the possibility of losing her home, Emily is stunned when she discovers that her marriage was made up of lies.

Suddenly Emily is forced on a journey to find out who her husband really was . . . all the while feeling that somehow he isn’t really gone. Angry, hurt, and sometimes betrayed by loving memories of the man she lost, Emily finds comfort in a scruffy dog named Einstein. But is Einstein’s seemingly odd determination that she save herself enough to make Emily confront her own past? Can he help her find a future—even after she meets a new man?

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: What a delightful story, unexpected.

Sandy’s born into a wealthy family and is used to getting what he wants in life. Emily is a sweet woman with a big heart, all she wants is to build a life for herself and to love someone. Sandy is killed in an accident and is given a second chance when he comes back to life as a dog, Einstein. This story is told by both Emily and Sandy/Einstein. It’s more than chick-lit, it’s filled with funny moments as Sandy adjusts to Einstein’s four legged body, seeing Emily grieve, discover secrets about Sandy and rebuilt her life.

Emily adopts Einstein and starts talking to him, not realizing that Einstein is Sandy. I enjoyed the banter with all of the characters and the personal growth that Emily experiences. This is a fun, quick read that I’m happy I read.

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Library, Audiobook

Review: Jerusalem Maiden

Why I picked it: This is my kind of book.  I enjoy reading about new cultures, making this a good choice for me.

From author’s website: Inspired by my ten-generation family roots in Jerusalem, I wrote a “what-if” alternate life for my grandmother and her untapped artistic genius. Please read “The Story Behind The Story.

Synopsis: Esther Kaminsky knows that her duty is to marry young and produce many sons to help hasten the Messiah’s arrival: that is what is expected of young ultra-Orthodox women in Jerusalem at the end of the Ottoman Empire’s rule. But when her French teacher catches Esther’s extraordinary doodling and gives her colored pencils and art lessons, Esther wonders if God has a special destiny for her: maybe she is meant to be an artist, not a mother; maybe she is meant to travel to Paris, not stay in Jerusalem.

In the coming years, as Esther sacrifices her yearning for painting and devotes herself instead to following God’s path as an obedient “Jerusalem maiden,” she suppresses her desires—until a surprising opportunity forces itself into her pre-ordained path. When her beliefs clash with the surging passions she has staved off her entire life, Esther must confront the hard questions: What is faith? Is there such a thing as destiny? And to whom must she be true, to God or to herself?

Type: Historical Fiction

Quick Take: In one word, I would describe this book as riveting.  I learned so much about a culture and time I knew nothing about… something I love to do while reading.

Esther isn’t comfortable with the cultural expectations put on her as a young girl approaching adulthood, creating an internal struggle that is explored throughout the novel.

She makes life challenging for her parents as she pushes the boundaries of that is expected of a young girl living in the time and faith she was born into. Esther feels responsible for something that happens at her family home while she’s off enjoying her secret hobby, forcing her life to head in a different direction… one she may not have chosen for herself.

If you enjoyed The Red Tent, or The Diva and the Doctor you will love this book.  I couldn’t put it down, and the ending left me wanting more.

Rating: 5/5 stars
Country: Israel/France
Source: NetGalley

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Meme: books, books and more books!

I’m enjoying a quiet weekend, catching up on email and all things ‘book related’ while hiding out inside to escape the heatwave. I have written eight reviews, secured a few books for the MMBC and am feeling a sense of accomplishment.  I’m catching up and it feels great!

Early June I read the questionnaire below on Helen’s Book Blog – I love reading her blog and thought it would be fun to share my answers.

I would love to hear your answers to any/all of the questions below, leave a comment or link (if you decide to share your answers on your blog).

Here we go!
Which book has been on your shelf the longest? Good to a Fault (2008 release).  I bought this novel while traveling to Canada a few years ago, I find the best books when I travel to Canada (well written/crafted).  It’s a cancer story, M was in remission when I bought it but I haven’t been able to read it.  I hope to read it one day since I hear it’s beautifully written.

What is your current read, your last read and the book you’ll read next? I’m reading Rules of Civility (enjoying it), just finished Jerusalem Maiden (loved it), and can’t wait to read A Year and Six Seconds (memoir, sequel to Happens Every Day).

What book did everyone like and you hated? This may surprise you but I didn’t finish Cutting for Stone.  I wish I didn’t waste my time reading One Day but will most likely see the movie, I’m interested to see how they tell a story told just one day a year, over years and years…. I can’t imagine how they will do it and stay true to the book.

Which book do you keep telling yourself you’ll read, but you probably won’t? I have been meaning to read all of Jane Austen’s novels but after reading Sense and Sensibility…. I don’t think I will read more. A book needs more than beautiful writing to keep me engaged and since I have seen the movies… I’m just not interested. Gasp!

Last page: read it first or wait till the end? I have never thought to read the last page first.  I knew a gal from book club who always read the last page before starting a book.  I never understood why and she wasn’t able to explain it to me. 🙂

Acknowledgements: waste of ink and paper or interesting aside? I read the acknowledgments and often discover something about the author or novel along the way.

Which book character would you switch places with? It’s a nonfiction book so… she’s not a character.  I admire Lisa Shannon from A Thousand Sisters.   I hope when I look back on life that I’m am to say I made a difference in someones life.

Do you have a book that reminds you of something specific in your life (a person, a place, a time)? I have strong emotions to books with mothers who leave/abandon families, something I don’t need to relive again and again. I also had a strong reaction to the first several chapters of The Pilot’s Wife, which I read just after a traumatic experience in my family.

Which book has been with you to the most places?Words to Live By travels with me everywhere. My copy is five/six years old, stuffed with notes and photos.  A treasure that keeps me grounded.

Any “required reading” you hated in high school that wasn’t so bad ten years later? Since I have only reread one book, The Poisonwood Bible, I can’t answer this question but I can tell you that I didn’t enjoy Animal Farm one bit.  I’m sure I would still feel the same way today.

Used or brand new? I prefer new but will read gently used.

Stephen King: Literary genius or opiate of the masses? I haven’t read any of his novels, or watched his movies….

Have you ever seen a movie you liked better than the book? Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Gasp… dare I say I loved the latest version with Keira Knightly so much more that the version with Colin Firth!

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Review: Little Princes

Why I picked it: I have been meaning to read/listen this book for a while, it’s been on my ipod for months.  I think I had it on my ipod when I traveled to Australia earlier this year….

Earlier this year I wrote a post explaining that I’m trying to find a way to pay it forward, this memoir makes me realize I can do more. I can’t pack up and move to Nepal but I can find a way to help. I will find a way.

Synopsis: One Person Can Make a Difference.  In search of adventure, twenty-nine-year-old Conor Grennan traded his day job for a year-long trip around the globe, a journey that began with a three-month stint volunteering at the Little Princes Children’s Home, an orphanage in war-torn Nepal.

Conor was initially reluctant to volunteer, unsure whether he had the proper skill, or enough passion, to get involved in a developing country in the middle of a civil war. But he was soon overcome by the herd of rambunctious, resilient children who would challenge and reward him in a way that he had never imagined. When Conor learned the unthinkable truth about their situation, he was stunned: The children were not orphans at all. Child traffickers were promising families in remote villages to protect their children from the civil war—for a huge fee—by taking them to safety. They would then abandon the children far from home, in the chaos of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.

For Conor, what began as a footloose adventure becomes a commitment to reunite the children he had grown to love with their families, but this would be no small task. He would risk his life on a journey through the legendary mountains of Nepal, facing the dangers of a bloody civil war and a debilitating injury. Waiting for Conor back in Kathmandu, and hopeful he would make it out before being trapped in by snow, was the woman who would eventually become his wife and share his life’s work.

Little Princes is a true story of families and children, and what one person is capable of when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. At turns tragic, joyful, and hilarious, Little Princes is a testament to the power of faith and the ability of love to carry us beyond our wildest expectations.

Type: Memoir

Quick Take: The author narrated the book and he made me want to keep walking/running, to hear more of his story. It’s amazing to hear how one person can make a difference.  Grennan starts the book explaining why he wanted to volunteer, he didn’t expect to have a connection to the children so quickly but they won him over.
This is a moving story about how one man is making a difference in the world.  Click here to learn more about Next Generation Nepal (photo source: NGN website).
It’s heartbreaking to read how the children become orphans but if you haven’t read this book, read it.  It’s an important story that everyone should read.

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Audio (iTunes)
Country: Nepal
Challenge: Teresa’s Audiobook Challange, Devourer of Books Friday Audio Meme

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Review: A Very Long Engagement

Why I picked it: I saw this novel listed on Ti’s (Book Chatter) book club list as an upcoming selection.  Her book club tends to read books that are much deeper/more serious than my book club so I was pleased to find a title that sounded interesting to me.

Synopsis: Set during and after the First World War, A Very Long Engagement tells the story of a young woman’s search for her fiancé, whom she believes might still be alive despite having officially been reported as “killed in the line of duty.” Unable to walk since childhood, fearless Mathilde Donnay is undeterred in her quest as she scours the country for information about five wounded French soldiers who were brutally abandoned by their own troops. A Very Long Engagement is a mystery, a love story, and an extraordinary portrait of life in France before and after the War.

Type: Historical Fiction

Quick Take: A beautifully written story worth reading… just know that you will read the tale of a soldier’s last day about twenty times (letters from different soldiers).

I learned quite a bit while reading this book… how hard life was for families of the soldiers, the involvement of the French in WWI and the cruelty towards soldiers by their own countrymen. At the core of this story is a woman who is desperate to find out what happened to her fiance.  She’s been told he’s dead and sets out to discover exactly what happened to him.  She receives letters from men who claim to have witnessed the event, taking her on several journeys throughout the novel in hopes to discover what really happened.  This book is worth reading if you like historical fiction.  I didn’t see the ending coming, which is always a welcome surprise.

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Audio (Library)
Country: France

Challenge: Teresa’s Audiobook Challenge

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2011 – Paying it Forward

Until moving to New Jersey last summer my life had been in a state of flux for over two years. I didn’t know when I would moving or where I would be moving to but I knew I was moving somewhere.  I don’t have a sad story to share… but I can tell you that living life with the pause button pressed was mentally challenging at times.

With the move behind me and uncertainty gone I’m struggling to find the peace I was hoping for post move.  If I’m honest, I feel a little guilty to be lucky enough to live a blessed life and it’s time for me start giving back (even if it’s just a tiny step).

I have designated 2011 as my year to start paying it forward.  I have added a page to my blog where I will provide updates from time to time – don’t worry… I won’t preach/bore you with information but as 2010 comes to a close and my goal of running an Ultra Marathon is coming to an end I need to find a new focus.

After researching organizations to find the criteria important to me, I have found two that I want to support. The organizations below are grassroots/volunteer organizations – 90% of every dollar donated goes directly to the woman/community designated.

Women for Women International:  I am sponsoring a woman from Rwanda or the Diplomatic Republic of the Congo, I will introduce my ‘sister’ once I have her information. As part of this rewarding program I get to communicate with my sister after she learns to read and write – how exciting!

Mahila Partnership:  Angela (Mahila’s founder) is making the world a better place for women and children – I hope to start taking tiny steps in the same direction in 2011.

An example: while visiting Haiti shortly after the earthquake, Angela was told the local women didn’t have any personal hygiene items.  She delivered hygiene kits and coordinated the education needed to teach women how to turn a husk into a cloth type material.

Isn’t that amazing? Feel free to read more at my website at

Review: Hummingbirds

Why I picked it: Hummingbird’s is a TLC Book Tour selection.  This book sounded intriguing, a NYC prep school story that included the faculty and the secrets that surround an all girls school with a token male teacher.

Synopsis: A wonderfully compelling novel about the intertwining—and darkly surprising—relationships between the teachers and students at an all-girl prep school, Hummingbirds marks the debut of author Joshua Gaylord, a prep school teacher himself on New York City’s Upper East Side. Spanning a year at the Carmine-Casey School for Girls, this intimate private school community becomes tempestuous and dangerously incestuous as the rivalries and secrets of teachers and students interact, intersect, and eventually collide. Ultimately, Hummingbirds poses a fascinating question: who are the adults and who are the children?

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Recommend – This may sound odd but this story reminded me of Glee, the storyline cirlces around Mr. Leo Binhammer and his female student Dixie Doyle but stops there. Dixie is the popular girl in school, has a crush on Binhammer and is a bit of snob.  Leo revels in knowing he is an icon at school (everyone loves him).  This book is hard to discuss without sharing plot twists (good twists) but I will tell you there are plenty of twists in the book to keep you wanting to know what will happen.

The story is mostly told from the adult/teachers vantage but with a good mix of teen girl mixed in for good measure.  It’s a story of many messed up lives but I confess I did enjoy reading it.

Click here to read an author Q&A with Helen’s Book Blog

Source: Thank you TLC Book Tours for supplying my review copy.  Click here for details of the Hummingbird’s book tour and to read more reviews.

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