Monthly Recap: December

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I hope everyone had a merry Christmas and spent time with family! I can’t believe 2013 is over! Here’s a recap of what December looked like around Bookshelves & Windows:

Books I Read:

     

Book Reviews:
3 mini-reviews: The Grand Tour Series by Lisa T. Bergren
A December Bride by Denise Hunter

Other Posts:
The Lion King musical review
My Favorite Reads of 2013
TBR List: 2014 Releases
1 year blog anniversary
End of the Year Post 2013

So how was everyone else’s December? Happy New Year, everyone!

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End of the Year Post 2013

With the end of the year comes reflection, and as a result of that reflection, change. So what changes can you expect to see around this blog?

Things I’m really excited about:

First, I want to start responding to comments more often. I haven’t been very good at this, but I want to interact more with you and get involved. This doesn’t necessarily mean responding to every comment, but I want to promote conversation. And not only here, but I want to be more active in commenting on other blogs that have interesting things to say.

On that same note, I want to write more discussion posts. This last year, I wrote a post on how we write reviews while balancing honesty with respect for the author. It has to be one of my favorite posts because I got a lot of responses from my readers with their opinions on the topic. So, I have a few ideas in the works and hope to write discussion topics more consistently.

I also have an exciting new goal for myself this year. I want to be an Inspys judge. The Inspys are an award given to faith-driven literature by book bloggers. It is really exciting, and I hope to be a part of it this year. To learn more about these awards, you can visit the website here.

So Long, Farewell:

Remember when I joined The Classics Club? I was really hopeful about this and I wanted to start reading more classic literature. But, it isn’t going well. It has been a disaster, really. I have tried a few classics, and I have failed miserably every time. And now it feels like a chore, and this blog is meant to be fun and something I want to do. So, even though I only joined last June (yikes, I lasted barely 6 months), I will no longer have this as a part of my blog. To see my original post on this, click here.

Help wanted:

I am interested in changing the design of my blog, but here’s the thing: I have no idea what I’m doing and I need help. Does anyone know how to make a good blog design/header? Any help and tips are welcome. I would like a design that is simple, classy, and sophisticated.

Also, social media. I have a Facebook page for this blog, but I’m wondering, what social media outlets do you want to see Bookshelves & Windows on? Where do I start? Twitter? Goodreads? Tips please!

Lastly, I’m thinking about having guest posts this year. I haven’t planned much beyond that initial thought, but I think it would be fun to possibly have other bloggers come share on my blog from time to time. Would any of you be interested in that?

Feedback is encouraged, so I would love to hear from you about anything in this post. Add your two cents!

One Year Blogging!

A year ago today, I started this blog. Today is my 1-year blog anniversary!

I have so enjoyed writing for this blog and interacting with you, my readers. This blog has brought me a great sense of pride and accomplishment. I have put a lot of time and hard work and thinking into this blog, and I have had a blast thus far.

I am excited to continue on and refine things around here at Bookshelves & Windows. I’m thinking about changes around here: taking things away and adding new things instead, but more on that in a few days.

I think 2013 has been one of the best years of my life. I graduated from college and got my first post-graduation job. I experienced Wicked and The Lion King. I saw Taylor Swift and Michael Buble in concert. And I’m only just beginning to discover what is next for me.  And my blog.

So stick around. There’s more to come.

I’ve already updated my About pages, so click the Welcome tab at the top of the page to see some new content.

On My TBR List: 2014 Releases

Welcome to the 2014 edition of my To Be Read List! I am so excited to share the 2014 releases that I am most looking forward to this coming year! Links go to the Goodreads page for each book for more info.

1. The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen, Bethany House, January 2014

2. Princess Ever After by Rachel Hauck, Zondervan, February 2014
The Royal Wedding Series #2

3. A March Bride by Rachel Hauck, Zondervan, March 2014
A Year of Weddings Novella

4. The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn by Lori Benton, Waterbrook Press, April 2014

5. A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander, Bethany House, April 2014
A Belmont Mansion Novel #2

6. Here To Stay by Melissa Tagg, Bethany House, May 2014
Where Love Begins #2

7. Captured by Love by Jody Hedlund, Bethany House, July 2014

8. In Perfect Time by Sarah Sundin, Revell, August 2014
Wings of the Nightingale #3

[not pictured]:

9. Lizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay, Thomas Nelson, October 2014

10. Love’s Fortune by Laura Frantz, Bethany House, [release date unknown]
The Ballantyne Legacy #3

Your turn! What are your most anticipated reads for the new year?

My Favorite Reads of 2013

Can you believe that the end of the year is almost here? I feel like it snuck up on me!

Because things are winding down, there are many end-of-the-year topics that need to be discussed. What that means is no more book reviews will be posted until January; instead, I will be summing up this wonderful year of life and books and blogging in the next week and a half! So without further ado, I present to you my favorite reads of 2013, in no particular order.

Burning Sky by Lori Benton
Courting Morrow Little by Laura Frantz

Made to Last by Melissa Tagg
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

With Every Letter by Sarah Sundin
On Distant Shores by Sarah Sundin

Rebellious Heart by Jody Hedlund
Once Upon a Prince by Rachel Hauck

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay
A Lasting Impression by Tamera Alexander [review coming in January]

What made your list of favorites this year?

UPDATE: I just finished Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden and loved it. It would have made my top 10, so I’m putting it here as honorable mention since I read it after this was posted!

Review: A December Bride by Denise Hunter

A December Bride by Denise Hunter
A Year of Weddings Novella
Zondervan, 2013

Summary:
Layla O’Reiley needs a date to a wedding. And not just any wedding. It’s her ex-fiance’s wedding to her cousin. But last minute, her date can’t make it and she’s stuck with Seth Murphy, the man she blames for introducing her ex-fiance to her cousin. Not exactly who she had in mind as her date.

Seth comes to Layla’s aid, but takes it a little too far when he reveals that he and Layla are engaged to be married- and in less than four weeks, no less! Layla is horrified, but when her fake engagement to Seth opens a door of great opportunity for her future, how long will Layla and Seth keep up the ruse of their engagement? How long will they have to pretend they are engaged? And will they develop real feelings for each other?

Will Layla be a December bride?

My Thoughts:
This novella was a fun, quick read. I enjoyed reading this simple story, which is the first in A Year of Weddings novella series.

Layla is a character who has a lot of hurt in her past. She doesn’t come from the model family. Her dad is a recovering alcoholic, but the past has affected her present. People don’t always look at her with respect or understanding. She feels less than others. And to top it all off, she has to attend her ex-fiance’s wedding to her cousin. How awful is that?

Despite the hurt Layla carries, she is a strong, independent woman. She knows where she has come from, but she is also motivated to make her dream of the future become a reality.

I also enjoyed Seth’s character, who has secretly loved Layla for years. His attempt to protect Layla, although honorable, has unintended consequences. As he tries to win Layla’s heart, he has to help her see that she is worthy of a great life. She is special. To what lengths will he go to win her heart? Their engagement may be fake, but Seth would do just about anything to make it real.

Rating: 4 stars

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com® <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Mini-Reviews: The Grand Tour Series

The Grand Tour Series by Lisa T. Bergren
David C Cook, 2012/2013

Glamourous Illusions, Book 1

“The question isn’t how society defines you, nor how I define you, but rather how God defines you, and in turn, how you yourself want to be defined” (202).

In book one of the Grand Tour Series, we are introduced to Cora, a young girl who is soon to have her life turned upside-down. She learns the truth of her parentage- her father is not the man of simple means who she grew up with. Rather, her father is the wealthy copper king. Cora is swept out of her world and into the world of money and luxury. As she goes on the Grand Tour with her half siblings, Cora struggles to adjust to the changes that have been thrust upon her. Finding who she is amidst new people and circumstances stretches Cora in ways she could not have anticipated. Will Cora find herself, or get lost in the illusion of wealth? Can she learn to reconcile the life she knew with the new family she has been introduced to?

This book was difficult for me to get into at first, but I ended up enjoying it towards the end. I loved the masked ball and everything that happened from that point on in the book.

 

Grave Consequences, Book 2

“I felt a part of them now, able to make my way among them. But not truly one with them” (297).

In the second installment of The Grand Tour Series, Cora continues on the journey with her new family, as things get more complicated. The complications don’t just end with finding her place in this new family, but the group has the additional problem of trouble lurking in their presence. Danger is following Cora and her family on their tour, and every way they turn poses a threat. Difficult decisions must be made that affect everyone. Will they ever be safe to enjoy the tour without looking over their shoulders?

In the midst of this danger, Cora has now been accepted into the Kensington circle, but she is still trying to figure out who she is. She is determined to go back to her old life and make her own decisions, yet she cannot deny that she has changed. Will Cora willingly immerse herself in this new life or struggle to hold onto the identity she left behind in Montana?  How does her past affect her future? And will she ever embrace her new life without longing for the old one?

 

Glittering Promises, Book 3

“This will forever be the summer I lost everything I thought I had…But it will also be the summer that God used the tour to rebuild all of that into something eternal, regardless of what happens in the future” (420).

In the third and final book in The Grand Tour Series, Cora faces real and imminent changes in her life. With her new found wealth, will Cora become accustomed to living with money, or stay true to her roots? As she navigates her new life, she must be strong to face the challenges that lie ahead of her. Will she be an independent decision maker, or will she submit to following her father’s rules? And, which man will she choose: Will or Pierre?

This conclusion of The Grand Tour Series follows Cora as she finds her footing in her new life and continues to escape the danger that surrounds her. Where will she find herself when the tour comes to an end?

Overall, I had my likes and dislikes about this series. I loved reading about the adventures Cora went on throughout her Grand Tour journey and how her relationships with her family grew and changed. I disliked how repetitive the drama became- and how the same issues were revisited multiple times- it became tiresome.  I would have loved to see Cora’s dynamic with her parents at the end of the tour and see how her interactions with them would change. Although it is not my favorite, this is an enjoyable series overall.

Rating: 3 stars

Remember who you are, Simba

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Today I am excited to share my experience of seeing The Lion King. It was a fun show that my mom and I had the opportunity to see. We had a wonderful time watching this musical unfold right before our eyes.

There was so much to see on the stage! The colors, the dancers, the costumes, were all amazing. The music will transport you back to your childhood, as you hear the first notes of “Circle of Life”. The music was wonderful, as it always is to hear a live orchestra at a musical.

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One thing I really loved about this musical is that there are several languages spoken throughout. It was interesting to hear different languages and get a glimpse into different cultures on the stage. The dancing was one of my favorite aspects of the musical. It was beautiful to watch the dancers move so fluidly and together.

And the costumes! Where do I start? How do I explain? The costumes were incredible. Actors are dressed as animals and it is mesmerizing: giraffes, gazelles, lions, hyenas, elephants, and other animals are represented on the stage. What must it be like to wear those costumes and learn how to move and perform in them? The costumes alone are like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

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With all that said, I have to say that the acting and singing was not my favorite. Part of the reason for this was that Mufasa and Scar were played by understudies, and it showed. I feel like the singing and acting lacked the strength and power you would expect in the characters. Although there was a lot of potential, the singing lacked conviction and emotion, and I did not feel inspired by it.

Brown Lindiwe Mkhize, who played Rafiki, stole the show. I completely loved how she portrayed this character. In the movie (and musical), Rafiki acts as an anchor-like character, who redirects and guides Simba to take his rightful place and claim his true destiny. Mkhize is able to bring this character to life and shine. She plays this role with the perfect blend of wisdom and eccentric flair. She delivered a truly memorable performance, and it was thrilling to hear her sing with such a strong and piercing voice.

What are your thoughts? Have you seen/plan to see The Lion King? What did you think of the musical?

Monthly Recap: November

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Happy December, everyone! I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving with your loved ones. It’s time for my November recap!

What I Read:

  
 

Book Reviews:
The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck
Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

Other Posts:
On my TBR List: Sarah’s Sundin’s In Perfect Time
On my TBR List: Jody Hedlund’s Captured by Love
Mailbox Surprise: Grand Tour Series

Favorite posts from around the blogosphere:
Rissi wrote a review on Dear Mr. Knightley and had an interview with the author
Author Melissa Tagg also interviewed Katherine Reay
Jamie reviewed The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck & Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay
(can you tell that Dear Mr. Knightley was a favorite of mine this month?)
Leah reviewed A Talent for Trouble by Jen Turano
Author Julie Klassen gives us a look behind the scenes of designing a book cover

What did you read this month? And don’t forget to follow me on Facebook (check out the link in the right sidebar)!