Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Tiffany Girl book review

Tiffany Girl

Tiffany Girl

From the bestselling author of It Happened at the Fair and Fair Play comes a compelling historical novel about a progressive “New Woman”—the girl behind Tiffany’s chapel—and the love that threatens it all.

As preparations for the 1893 World’s Fair set Chicago and the nation on fire, Louis Tiffany—heir to the exclusive Fifth Avenue jewelry empire—seizes the opportunity to unveil his state-of-the-art, stained glass, mosaic chapel, the likes of which the world has never seen.

But when Louis’s dream is threatened by a glassworkers’ strike months before the Fair opens, he turns to an unforeseen source for help: the female students at the New York Art Institute. Eager for adventure, the young women pick up their skirts, move to boarding houses, take up steel cutters, and assume new identities as the “Tiffany Girls.”

Tiffany Girls is the heartwarming story of the impetuous Flossie Jayne, a beautiful, budding artist who is handpicked by Louis to help complete the Tiffany chapel. Though excited to live in a boarding house when most women stayed home, she quickly finds the world is less welcoming than anticipated. From a Casanova male, to an unconventional married couple, and a condescending singing master, she takes on a colorful cast of characters to transform the boarding house into a home while racing to complete the Tiffany chapel and make a name for herself in the art world.

As challenges mount, her ambitions become threatened from an unexpected quarter: her own heart. Who will claim victory? Her dreams or the captivating boarder next door?

My Review: 10/10
With this book, Ms. Gist is officially one of my favorite authors. One that I will wait impatiently for and preorder books months before they're released. This was not luck; this was not lightning striking twice. This was carefully researched, lovingly crafted. Though it saddens me that I can only expect one of her brilliant novels per year, as this book points out, quality is worth waiting for.

In my opinion, there is a large gap between the style of books that she used to write and the ones that are in this series. I am aware that she "switched publishers and went secular". That's not the change I'm referring to. Side note: apparently not being published by a Christian publisher means that you and your work are no longer Christian. (<- heavy sarcasm people) This could have been done for a million different reasons and all I really have to say about it is that I think Christian themes, questions, challenges etc, would have only made this book stronger.

But I digress. If you loved her previous novel, you will love this book too. This book deals with something I had wished for before: an average heroine. And better yet, she doesn't realize it until halfway through. So much to love. I loved the raw honesty, even the honest delusions. I loved that Ms. Gist gave her characters time apart (and didn't waste too much of the readers time in the process) and gave them reservations. I loved that I understood and agreed with where both of them were coming from. But the thing I loved the most was the growth. I loved the changes. I loved the maturity and the humility. I loved that Flossie made mistakes. So many mistakes, that anyone else could have easily made. I loved that she learned from them and became better for them. I loved that she was annoying sometimes. I loved that, through Reeve's eyes, we could love her anyway.

Wonderful characters and a wonderful storyline. What more could you want? Well for me, a heavy dose of time travel. Once again, Ms. Gist has so thoroughly researched and seamlessly written history into her pages that I found myself back in 1893. Fascinating. I thought I had been so immersed in her last book that I was pretty familiar with that year. Nope. Still so much to uncover. Oh and her author's notes are... ah just, again, fascinating for a history geek like me.

The only thing that I didn't get was Nan. I never understood why she balked at Flossie's mention of friendship. Or why she seemed personally out to put/keep her down. I didn't understand Elizabeth was called instead of Flossie; didn't they just say it was teams? Why didn't Flossie speak up and say, "um, actually, I'm Nan's partner?" And why was Nan so upset that she refused to join Flossie at the end of the speech? I didn't get hung up on these points but if I ever got the chance, I would ask the author for clarity. Other than those few minor issues, there's nothing lacking.

There are some who won't like this book because they're boycotting or very sensitive to any kind of written intimacy. I would just like to remind you though, that whatever your comfort level, that doesn't make a wedding night scene unbiblical. If that is your opinion, I suggest you read your Bible again and pay closer attention to Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs). What God created between husband and wife is beautiful. It is glorifying to Him. The brief scene was not at all graphic. On the contrary, it was very tasteful and sweet.

I can't wait until this book is officially released and I can get a copy for my mantle, because this is a book I will want to read again and again. In the meantime, I will be checking out some of the references Ms. Gist mentioned at the back of the book, in particular: A New Light On Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls (

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Why I Got a Degree That I Have No Immediate Plans to Use

Lately, gatherings with family and friends have brought about a question on my current studies and if I'm job searching. The short answer is that I graduated and no, I'm not job hunting.

The slightly longer explanation is that this was a back up plan, I did it for my family and myself, but unless circumstances force my hand, it's not really what I want for myself, day in, day out.

As that has gotten more bewildered looks and, "what?" or "um, *awkward chuckle* okay," responses, here is the more in depth explanation for inquiring minds:

As with most choices, my reasons for going to school to be an EFDA (Expanded Functions Dental Assistant, for those in the know, or rather, not) just 6 months on the heels of earning my Associate's Degree in science was layered.

I was getting a little bored being at home so much after steadily working about 30+ hours a week since my early teen years, and going to school full time for the last three years. I had gotten used to that pace and after one semester off (winter no less), with no one to keep me company but my four cats, I started to get restless. I could think of no job opportunities that appealed to me, in healthcare, secretary work, or even getting a cashiering job at a place I liked. And I had no interests in growing my degree into a Bachelor's just because I could. Up until then, thanks to grants, I actually got paid to go to school. But as I couldn't acquire a Bachelor's at my local community college, I'd have to transfer to a university and pay them. Unless something I was passsionate about required it, I wasn't going to throw my money and time away.

So after praying about it, a family member introduced me to the idea of working at a dental office. I did some research into positions and schooling and got hooked up with a shadowing opportunity to ask questions and see what typical days were like. I was interested and, unlike most other aspects of healthcare, could stomach the invasiveness. Being an expanded functions dental assistant, comparable to a nurse in my book, was a stable position with good income and fairly normal hours. So I picked a school, enrolled and started classes a few weeks later.

A lot transpired over the course of the year and I definitely learned a lot. In the end, I'm happy I stuck it out when I wanted to throw in the towel. I'm happy to have earned a diploma for something that I feel like I could support my family on if ever called to. But unless it was absolutely necessary, the dental field is not an environment that I would choose to place myself in longterm. Just like in medicine, this branch of doctors has reputations too, which I've witnessed the truth of firsthand. Though I would survive, with my personality type, I don't believe I would thrive.

Fortunately, after all of our sacrifice and hardwork, our family situation is not one that I need to work anymore. And though I'm American, I don't subscribe to the American ideals that define people and their worth by their careers, their rung on corporate ladders, their titles and their income. Being a teen mother, I had an insecurity about education, and as a result I worked my butt off earning my AS and now my dental assisting and xray certificates. But I feel like I've proved enough to myself and the world in general. I am not a statistic. I'm comfortable with myself, my abilities, and my choices.

I'm still waiting for God to reveal His plans for me. He has given me a glimpse of some opportunities that are not at all commonplace, but are formed for my heart. I hope they become a reality. I work hard to make myself spiritually and physically ready to answer His call whenever it comes, but I will likely always be a work in progress. And I try to keep my eyes open in the meantime for things He wants me to respond to. I have a few hobbies that bring in a small contribution to our family, but nothing that I would use to define myself the way our culture does with careers. Right now, the biggest resource I have to give is time, which is a nice change after all these years. I hope to be able to support my husband in different paths he pursues. I still take classes part time because I love to learn and because it costs me nothing and defers my student loans. But mainly, I spend my time pouring into people and supporting our family by being a stay at home mom. I don't expect it will be permanent, just like I don't expect whatever interests, hobbies or projects I take on later to be permanent. I'm okay with that. In fact, I welcome it. I've always loved change and new challenges. And I'm learning to embrace whatever season of life I'm in, be it calm or chaotic.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Fair Play book review

Fair Play (It Happened at the Fair, #2)

Fair  Play 

Saddled with a man’s name, the captivating Billy Jack Tate makes no apologies for pursuing a man’s profession. As a lady doctor at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, she is one step closer to having her very own medical practice--until she doctors an imposing man who threatens the fulfillment of her dream.

Hunter is one of the elite. A Texas Ranger and World’s Fair guard specifically chosen for his height, physique, character, and skill. Hailed as the toughest man west of any place east, he has no patience for big cities and women who aspire to walk in a man's shoes.

But the abandoned baby Hunter discovers at the Fair finds him teaming up with the good doctor to give the foundling a better future than the slums of Chicago, where the children play on flea-infested, garbage-strewn streets. AS Billy and Hunter fight for the foundling's welfare, their hearts warm to the precious child--and to each other. Soon their concern grows to encompass the Nineteenth Ward's burgeoning population of street children. In the interest of fair play, Billy and Hunter let nothing stand in their way as they labor to build a park for them, birthing Chicago's first playground and a national movement that will sweep the nation.

But the Fair is coming to an end, posing impossible decisions for Billy and the man who has won her heart. Will they become a footnote in the Fair's history books, or will what they discovered in Chicago be longer lasting than the World's Exhibition.

My Review: 9/10
Almost a year ago, I requested this book from Netgalley. I avoided reading it though, for a few reasons. I had just come off a Deanne Gist binge, the heroine sounded a lot like some of her other progressive characters (that I didn't completely get on with), and it appeared to be a sequel and I needed to track down and read the first book.

A couple of days ago, I was craving a good christian historical romantic fix, and decided to finally give it a shot, even though I'd never read the first book. Oh my goodness, I am SO glad I did. I think this is definitely the best book Ms. Gist has written, and oh- it was just. so. good.

Prepare yourself for some gushing.

Okay first, the best part- the history. This book fully transported me back in time in a way that no other book has ever done before. I had read about pretty much all of the subject matter at one time or another in other novels, but none of them ever affected me the way this book did. None of them ever really made me feel the gratitude all the way down to my toes for my ancestors, for the men and women who came before me and worked SO HARD to win the freedoms I take forgranted. Given my personality type and interests, I've always been happy to enjoy the freedom of having options and opportunities, but have also secretly believed I would have done just fine if I'd lived back then, because I don't really have the ambitions that many women today have. And maybe I would have done just fine... if I'd been born into a gentleman's family, one who loved and valued me at that. But probably not otherwise. More than likely, I would have been born into a poor immigrant family. What if I had been Alcee or one like her? I spent a lot of my time, when reading this book, imagining if I had been born into any of these circumstances, without the ability or hope to change things. The idea that one wrong move, one innocent mistake, could land a CHILD in jail at the tender age of 8, sharing utensils with disease ridden, violent, fully grown people. My daughter is 8. The horros of the jail and the judicial system hardly skimmed the surface, but I have a good enough imagination.

Also I LOVED the photos that were woven in throughout the book. So cool!

Ah, the romance. So well done. So, so well done. I loved the dialogue, really between all the characters, but especially between our hero and heroine. It was so realistic and so honest. I love it when I feel like both characters are right. I could easily understand where they both were coming from and felt they both had valid points. Simply compromising didn't seem like it would really fix anything, only breed resentment and frustration. But, over time the characters both changed, and so what they ultimately needed changed as well. I loved that the author allowed them both space from each other, to soften their hearts. I love that she allowed them to be wrong and make mistakes. I loved that she allowed them confusion, to not always know their own heart, because these are things I identify with.

I suppose I can understand how some people might have gotten hung up on flirtations, but it really didn't bother me. When a female character seems to think about nothing but kissing the male lead, I get annoyed that there is no attraction on a deeper level for her. The kissing, though intense, did not repeatedly happen, was not obsessed over, was not described in great detail and was used to bring the characters to a turning point in their relationship- was this just an attraction or were they serious about each other? As the reader, I appreciated that. It's irritating to me when characters are wishy-washy and go back and forth about what they want and what they think they deserve. I loved the fast-paced, direct approach. I wished more books did that.

Other than that, our female lead Billy Jack, thinks about her undergarments occasionally, but it was done in a way that showed her struggle of wanting to look and feel feminine but also strong and competent. She wanted to be taken seriously and respected but not have sacrifice being a woman and feeling attractive to do so. This is not smut. I'm sad that anyone got caught up on some of these minor details and missed the depth of all the moral and personal issues brought to light in this wonderful book.

Despite the heaviness of some parts of certain plotlines, there was also equal parts humor and joy. I laughed out loud at some of the things that happened, like the opening scene and then when Hunter blurted out "You're Miss Pantalets-Trousers!" HA!

The only thing that could have been improved on was the faith aspect. Though there were a few brief references to God, it seemed very subtle and vague. I wished there had been more faith building through seeking God and His plans in this book. I think if God had been given proper credit for changing their hearts and their circumstances (rather than it just being implied) it would have been an even stronger, more impactful book.

There was so much to love about this book. Don't write it off because someone else got hung up on the surface stuff.

Friday, March 13, 2015

An Uncertain Choice book review

An Uncertain Choice (An Uncertain Choice #1)An Uncertain Choice 

Due to her parents' promise at her birth, Lady Rosemarie has been prepared to become a nun on the day she turns eighteen. Then, a month before her birthday, a friend of her father's enters the kingdom and proclaims her parents' will left a second choice. If Rosemarie can marry before the eve of her eighteenth year, she will be exempt from the ancient vow.

Before long, Rosemarie is presented with the three most handsome and brave knights in the land. But when the competition for her heart seemingly results in a knight playing foul, she begins to wonder if the cloister is the best place after all. If only one of the knights the one who appears the most guilty had not already captured her heart.

My Review: 7/10

As I'm newer to Jody Hedlund's works, I'm not sure if she's done YA/Teen before. But I'm glad she is. I liked the morals and emphasis on character over looks (ewll, almost. I guess in that case, Rosemarie would have needed to believe that the man she was drawn to was NOT as attractive as his peers). I liked the christian themes, though there seemed to be more negative views than positive. But I always appreciate when authors approach the history of Christian religion, showing that there has been corruption in leaders- in flawed, imperfect people- but that does not mean that God is corrupt.

My only criticism is that I felt Rosemarie was dumbed down a little, perhaps for a younger audience? If that's the case, I think it's unnecessary and does more harm than good. Kids, teens, young adults rise to the occasion. Even as a teen, I preferred intelligent characters. If they were smarter than me, then I walked away having learned from them. Rosemarie, on the other hand, couldn't seem to figure out who the mysterious knight was, despite him mentioning his dagger and his talents with dogs. I mean, it was glaringly obvious pretty much immediately. Then there was her total lack of suspicion when characters started acting, well, suspicious and out of character. Innocence or naivete was not enough of an excuse for total lack of common sense. And she didn't seem as adverse to torture and she proclaimed; if she had been, she would have stopped at nothing less than running that sheriff out of town on his first offense. Really. If this is something you've had nightmares about for 4 years, something you can barely speak of, something you absolutely will not tolerate, you would not submit to your trusted advisor's mild mediation. This would be one issue you wouldn't back down from, if nothing else.

Other than those issues, it was a little graphic, heavy on the torture references, but again that's due to subject matter and time period. I didn't feel it was overly gorey.

Though I'll likely not read it again, it was still enjoyable and I hope to see more from this author in this genre.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Seeker book review

Seeker (Seeker, #1)


Quin Kincaid has been put through years of brutal training for what she thinks is the noble purpose of becoming a revered ‘Seeker’.

Only when it’s too late does she discover she will be using her new-found knowledge and training to become an assassin. Quin's new role will take her around the globe, from a remote estate in Scotland to a bustling, futuristic Hong Kong where the past she thought she had escaped will finally catch up with her.

My Review:
5/10 because I can't tell if I had problems with it because it's not my taste or because these are legitimate issues most people will have with it. I feel "disrupted."

I love dystopian novels and plenty of sci-fi and fantasy. And my standards are admittedly pretty low to be happy- honest characters (i.e. flawed, relatable etc), story line that makes sense, good triumphs. That's pretty much it. Throw in unique, interesting ideas, world building or history and I'm over the moon. However, I have no idea what this book was.

It took me over two months to read this because the beginning was just so slow. The first quarter of the book is about the characters making reference to this Big Secret(the elite club of Seekers). It was as annoying as when people around you keep making references to inside jokes, except in this case you can't walk away.

I was also confused and distracted by the setting. You don't even get concrete numbers until about 30% into the book. I know because it starts in Part 2. One character tells us it's the 15th century. Later she tells us that about 100 years have passed. Yet there are references to WWII. What? And then there seems to be both ancient and futuristic things taking place. It's just not making sense.

Then we get to the characters themselves. Most of the characters seem confused about their purpose and feelings, so naturally I am too. But also frustrated. John knows about the seekers and doesn't tell Quin. Bad move. Apparently, he doesn't have a conscience. He still wants to be a Seeker because he made a promise as a 7 year old.

And is anyone else fuzzy on what exactly a Seeker does? I heard mention of ancient tales of heroics, no specifics on their purpose. One of the characters who apparently started it all, actually points out the flaw in their vague purpose: their judgment is based on flawed human nature. Seems like too much power for too little gain.

And the romance. Despite my issues with John, Quin seems to jump ship with little reason. But I guess that's love between 15 year old kids. {side note- where did her "powers" come from?!} The romance with her third-half-cousin was made weirder by their constant fixation on their relation, the fact that they seem to have been raised as siblings, and that a romance actually started between them when they were like 9. Hmm.

What was the point of the fireworks? The family in Hong Kong? How did they pull that off, especially if Seekers are somehow bound to answer questions from Seeker to Seeker? Where are all the other Seeker Families and why are they not coming together to fight corrupt members? I have about a million other questions with unsatisfactory/nonexistant answers.

But my biggest issue was actually the pointless violence. This book had too much focus on gruesome body mutilations and torture, particularly those involving children.