Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book Review: Ember Island By Kimberley Freeman

A Novel

By: Kimberly Freeman

Published: April 15, 2014


If you love novels that give you stories from the past and the present, this novel is for you.  If you love novels with strong female characters, this novel is for you.  If you love novels with twists and surprises that will keep you guessing all the way to the end, this novel is for you.

If you were shopping for a book, wouldn't this cover just jump right out at you? I think covers are really important in the selection of a book.  It is the first thing that catches your eye and makes you want to find out more.  If I hadn't received this book in the mail, this is a book I would have picked up, for the cover alone.

In EMBER ISLAND we are given two stories set over 120 years apart.  Both stories are located on the same remote island off of Australia, called Ember Island.  We first meet Tilly who is currently caring for her dying grandfather after her quick marriage to her husband, Jasper.  After her grandfather dies, Tilly is finally able to join Jasper in their home, but finds their marriage isn't what she dreamed. After a horrific night, Tilly flees and finds a job as a governess on Ember Island for the precocious daughter of the prison superintendent.  The daugher, Eleanor, or Nell, is a bright 12-year old who finds herself eavesdropping on her father and Tilly more than studying her Latin.  This curiosity could cause her trouble or save them all.

We jump to 2012 and meet Nina, an established author with some serious writer's block.  She has retreated to Ember Island and her great-grandmother, Nell's home to find some inspiration.  While there she finds slips of paper tucked all over the house detailing stories of Nell's childhood.  Can these give her the inspiration she needs to write her next book?

Even though this book travels back and forth through the past and the present, it isn't done with every other chapter, but after several chapters, so you feel like you can really get into the story of the time and the characters involved. I didn't have any trouble following along with the different characters in each time period and found myself getting attached mostly to Tilly, whom the story is really about.

I think female readers will identify with Tilly since she is someone who truly cares about others, but due to some bad circumstance and bumps in the road, has found herself in situations that she can no longer control. Tilly's anger and frustrations got in the way of her best intentions and she becomes worried that those consequences will catch up to her.  Like Tilly, I think most of us can think of situations we would like the chance to "do over" and readers will identify with her guilt and pain over the choices she has made.

Nina has also found herself in a sticky situation that she isn't sure she can recover from as well.  The past may end up catching up with her but with the help of her best friend, Stacy, and Joe, the handyman, she may be able find herself on path she never could have imagined.

There were several great quotes from this novel that I loved so much, all from Tilly's character.

Her mind was out there, in the cane fields, with the prisoners chained, one to another, for their sins. She had chains for her sins too, attaching her forever to things she couldn't run from and no golden plant high enough to hid behind.  Page 211

"I left a world behind me, and I feel I haven't arrived in a new one yet. 
I have often thought an island is the perfect place for me. 
It's neither here nor there, it's somewhere in between other places."  Page 229

"There is no such thing as too much love," Tilly said, her voice growing hot. 
"One can't measure or control it. 
One must simply feel it. It is the only moral thing to do."  Page 351 

I think these snippets from EMBER ISLAND really share some great pieces of Tilly's character and why I found myself rooting for her all the way through.  Even though I was a huge fan of Tilly and the other two main characters, Nina, and Nell, there were also some equally interesting supporting characters.  Hettie, the female prison inmate has a huge impact on Tilly's life.  Sterling, Nell's father, was a man that I would love on one page and get angry at on the next one. Jasper, Tilly's husband, made my skin crawl. Joe, Nina's hired man, along with his son, bring a lightness to the novel at just the right time. Finally, Stacy, Nina's best friend, was the kind of friend every woman hopes to have.

EMBER ISLAND is the perfect novel for book clubs.  There are discussion questions included in the back of the book, but I think members would find much to discuss in the stories of Tilly, Nell, and Nina. Trust, loyalty, forgiveness, and love are central themes to EMBER ISLAND. The rich descriptions of the land and sea off the coast of Australia may just make you want to visit there.  You  can, at the very least, go there in your mind, thanks to the vivid pictures Freeman depicts in both the past and present part of the stories.

Kimberley Freeman - source
Kimberley Freeman is an Australian author of contemporary women's fiction, who has an alter-ego as a fantasy writer under her real name Kim Wilkins. She has a PhD in English and teaches on faculty at the University of Queensland. She lives in Brisbane with an assortment of children and pets. For more on Kimberley, visit her at You can also find her on Facebook, HERE, and Twitter, HERE

To purchase EMBER ISLAND, click the photo below:.

Thanks to Simon and Schuster for sending a copy of this novel for the purpose of this review.  This review is my honest opinion. I was not compensated in any way for this review. If you choose to purchase the novel through the above link, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase. Thanks for supporting reviews.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Book Review: Necessary Lies By Diane Chamberlain


By: Diane Chamberlain

Published: September 3, 2013


I am late to the Diane Chamberlain fan club.  I have heard others rave about her books, but haven't read any until now.  I can't wait to be sucked in to another one of her books.  If you like books that are written around a moral or ethical issue than this book is for you.

In NECESSARY LIES, we are taken to the south in the 1960's.  The area is full of tobacco farmers and poverty stricken families like the Harts.  Ivy Hart is a fifteen-year-old who has the weight of the world on her shoulders.  She helps take care of Nonnie, her elderly and diabetic grandma, her older sister, Mary Ella and Mary Ella's son, William.  They all live in a shack on a tobacco farm that they also work on.  After the family's current social worker breaks her leg, Jane, a newlywed who lives a much more privileged life with her doctor husband, is assigned to the family.  As Jane learns the role of being a social worker she is introduced to the Eugenics Sterilization Program, the sterilization of women who are deemed unfit to have children.

Jane has concerns about the sterilization program and her questions to the department are met with anger and a direct order to fill out the necessary forms.  Jane's husband, Robert is not happy about the fact that she is working and is worried about how that will appear to his professional friends. Jane ends up feeling alone and confused as she realizes she can't talk to her husband about her job and the concerns she has about the Eugenics Program.  As she gets to know Ivy and Mary Ella, Jane becomes emotionally involved in their lives. When Jane finds out secrets about the family and their lives on the tobacco farm, she has to decide if she is willing to risk her job and maybe her marriage to help Ivy and her family.

The very first chapter of NECESSARY LIES grabbed me and pulled me right on through the book rather quickly.  I am ashamed to admit that I had never heard of the Eugenics Program before and Chamberlain shared both sides of the issue through each character's opinions.  Reading along, you will be wrestling with your own opinions on welfare, social work, poverty, and sterilization. Chamberlain definitely gives you topics for discussion. This was our book club choice this month and we had plenty to discuss.

I had so many favorite lines from the book, it felt like I was highlighting all the time.  I'll feature just a few of my favorites:

"Well, I think when we lose somebody, 
maybe we owe it to that person to remember them. 
To hold on to the good memories." 
I thought about that for a minute and liked what she said. 
Nobody wanted to be forgotten. Page 126

"There are too many silly rules in our lives," she said, 
"and our lives are far too short to pay attention to them." Page 199

"Sometimes, coloring outside the lines can cost you," she said. 
"Only you can figure out if it's worth it." Page 305

Chamberlain took great care researching the time period, location, tobacco farming, and the Eugenics program. The reader will have a hard time believing this is a fictional story since the characters and their struggles seem so real. Ivy is completely devoted to her family and to her one true love, Henry.  Ivy and Henry must be very careful with their relationship and even though you know it is forbidden, you want to root for their happiness.   I cringed every time Robert criticized Jane and am thankful I grew up in a different era of marriage.  I also understood Jane's emotional attachment to the Hart family.  As a former social worker, there are clients that you feel more compelled to help and you naturally get emotionally involved.  Jane took that to a whole new level in NECESSARY LIES and kept the reader guessing what would happen next. Chamberlain keeps you on the edge of your emotions with numerous surprises throughout the story. She kept me questioning my original opinions and frequently drying my tears.

I have no doubt that book clubs, readers of social justice issues, and those who love historical fiction will find NECESSARY LIES to be a compelling story and one they won't soon forget.

Diane Chamberlain - source
Diane Chamberlain is an international best-selling author and has written twenty-one novels. She lives and writes in North Carolina, the state which has become her true home and has also spawned many settings for her stories. She lives with her significant other, John, a photographer, and two sweet Shetland Sheepdogs, Keeper and Cole. She has three grown stepdaughters, a couple of sons-in-law and four grandbabies. For more on Chamberlain, check out her website, You can also find her on Facebook, HERE and Twitter, HERE

To purchase NECESSARY LIES, click the photo below:

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Little Monday Inspiration

Today's inspiration is from a book that has had a big impact on me, SILENT IMPACT by Joe Schmit.  This book is full of life lessons and quotes that I have been sharing with you over the past few weeks.

"We make the biggest impressions 
when we are not trying to be impressive."

Joe Schmit, author, keynote speaker, and broadcaster

Joe shared this quote after telling the story of Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins MVP.  Mauer spent his life making an impact on the lives of many without realizing it. He did this with one small gesture when he was in high school, long before he became famous. That one act had a ripple effect that Mauer would have never imagined. 

We may never know the impressions we have on others.  Your kind word, deed, or smile just may have a ripple effect that could last a lifetime. 

To purchase this book and read Joe Mauer's story along with many others, click the photo below:

Friday, April 18, 2014

Silence for the Dead Winner

The winner of SILENCE FOR THE DEAD is..............................................................................................................................................................Ashley!

Thanks to everyone for entering the giveaway.  If you didn't win and would like to get your own copy, feel free to click the photo below!

A Mama's Love for 14 Years

On this day, 14 years ago, I became a mother.  Our "baby" Patrick is 14.  He isn't so much of a baby anymore, in fact he is taller than me.

Last week I babysat for a sweet 3 month old boy. His mama had to go back to work and their daycare wasn't available yet, so I offered to help out on her first day back to work.

Oh, my heart broke for this mama who didn't want to leave her sweet boy.  I remember not wanting to be separated from Patrick when he was born.  I took him everywhere and thankfully, I didn't have to go back to work and leave him at daycare.  My husband and I decided that I would stay home with our children and I left my social work career to be a full-time mom.  I know that isn't a choice for everyone, but it was our choice and I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Babysitting this sweet boy last week reminded me of a sweet boy 14 years ago.  Oh how those days rushed back to me.  I took books along that we read to Patrick.  I sang the songs we sang to Patrick while feeding and rocking him.  I soothed his cries the same way I did 14 years ago.

It also reminded me of that feeling of being a first time mom.  I was nervous to take him to Target the first time.  I think I put everything we owned in the diaper bag.  I remember fretting about driving alone with him. I worried about how to handle it if he cried while I was getting groceries.

I checked to make sure he was still breathing if his nap went longer than normal. I worried if he didn't poop every single day.  Since I struggled with breast feeding and not having enough milk for him, I also worried that he wasn't getting the "proper" nutrition.

As a new mom, there are so many uncertainties, first experiences, and questions we don't have all the answers to.  My dear new mama friend is struggling with many of those things.  I have offered advice and support, but have also listened to let her find her own way, just like I did.

Being a new mom is scary, I remember that feeling even though it was 14 years ago.  But, looking at this kid, I am guessing I did most everything right!  If you can't tell from these photos of Patrick, he has quite the personality.  He is talented musically and very bright.  He is growing like a weed.  I seriously can't believe he is taller than me! Anyway, as I look over these photos and relive the many memories with Patrick I guess I did something right.  Even though I was a scared mama 14 years ago, I figured it out.  I made mistakes, I learned from them and became a better mom for it.  Happy 14th Birthday Patrick!  I can't wait to see what life has in store for you!

If you know a new mama, be sure to offer her a hug, a few hours off, or a chat.  I am sure she will appreciate the support and the chance to brag and show off her new baby!

Patrick clearly isn't a baby anymore, but he will always be the baby that turned me into a Mama!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Some of My Favorite Things

Every once in awhile I like to share my favorite things that make me happy.  You might just find these make you happy too!

One song that I get excited to hear when it comes on the radio is THE WIRE by Haim from their CD Days Are Gone.

I just love the tune and how it just automatically makes you want to bounce along to the beat.  The video is kind of funny about the men who get dumped by the Haim gals.  They aren't taking the break-ups so well.

To keep talking about music, Martina McBride has a new CD out called Everlasting. The CD features covers of Soul and R&B singles from the past.  As a Martina fan, I am actually thrilled with her country twist on these classics.  Some of my favorites from the album are "Come See About Me" and "To Know Him is to Love Him" and her duet with Kelly Clarkson, "In the Basement" is super fun!

Finally, the last music related favorite is from iTunes Radio.  I have it on my iPhone and the app allows you to choose different stations like Rock Anthems, One Hit Wonders, Pure Pop, etc. My current favorite to put me in the best mood is "Frozen Radio".  It plays all the songs from your favorite Disney Movies such as "Just A Spoonful of Sugar" from MARY POPPINS, "Under the Sea" from LITTLE MERMAID, "Let It Go" from FROZEN, etc.  You really can't help smiling and singing along!

While I was in Minneapolis a few weeks ago, we went to a Thai restaurant.  I have been to a Thai restaurant several times and order within my usual genre of Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry.  Which is what I ordered, but my aunt and cousin were talking about getting Mango Sticky Rice for dessert, so I decided to order one too and try it.  Oh. My. Goodness.  It was amazing.  The rice was warm and gooey and the mango sliced on the top was sweet and cool and the perfect complement to the rice.  It is my new favorite treat.

My niece told me about a new app/game to try thinking we would like it. Well, I wish she wouldn't have told me because it sucks me in.  THREES is a tiny puzzle that grows on you, as the caption states.  By shuffling numbers on the board, you add the numbers and combine them thereby gaining more space on the board and adding up points.  1+2=3, 3+3=6, 6+6=12, 12+12=24, etc.  It is great for kids because it helps with those basic math skills and strategy in knowing which numbers to combine and when.  Check in out in your iTunes or Google Play app store.


My husband completely surprised me for our anniversary and gave me an iPad Mini with Retina Display! I was shocked and delighted.  I have been frustrated with my Kindle Fire for awhile kicking me out of websites and certain apps not always working right.  So, I was basically just using the Kindle Fire for reading and my phone for apps and web surfing.  I love the size of the iPad Mini and am using it exclusively for my eBook reading and then at night to play Scrabble, Words with Friends, and my other favorite social media sites.

My new favorite eye shadow that I wear nearly every single day is Mary Kay Shimmering Lilac Eye Shadow.  It has just the right amount of shimmer and is the perfect highlight when I am wearing blue, grey or black colors.

If I'm going to be in the car a long time, I like listening to Podcasts.  Some of my favorites are DEAR BOOK NERD, NUTRITION DIVA, THIS AMERICAN LIFE, and STUFF YOU SHOULD KNOW.  I love listening to people talk about books, so Dear Book Nerd fills that need. I've learned lots of interesting health tidbits from the Nutrition Diva, for example the nutrient that can help treat restless leg syndrome, and it has helped me. The stories on This American Life make me laugh and cry and I love them because they are about real people.  In Stuff You Should Know you can learn all sorts of things, like how mudslides work, how 3D printing works, etc.  The best part is if something in the podcast list doesn't interest you, you can delete it.  There are thousands of podcasts out there in all kinds of categories.  If you don't already have the app on your phone/device, download it and start searching for things that interest you.  You might just learn something new or find a great story to share with someone.

I hope you have enjoyed my favorites.  If I have shared something that is now your new favorite, please let me know.  Or if you have a favorite you think I might like, feel free to tell me about it in the comments! 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Featured Iowa Blogger

Today I'm the Featured Iowa Blogger at!  

I am so honored to be featured.  Jenni is hilarious and spot on when it comes to thoughts on life! I've read her blog for a long time and am thrilled that she is featuring me today. 

Check out her interview with me.  You just might learn something new about me!

Click HERE to read the interview.