Thursday, September 27, 2012

Last Chance to Enter the September Yarn-Lover's Contest!

If you haven't already, there's only a couple of days left to enter the September Yarn- Lover's Contest, here at My Real Life Reviews.
Don't miss out on your chance to win all four great prizes!
You can read about and enter the contest here.
Good luck everyone.

And do stop by the first week in October to find out if you're the lucky winner! A new (yummy!!!) contest coming up then too. :<)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

I only recently started reading the work of Canadian novelist: Louise Penny. I don't know how I missed this author's books in the past. She has written several best-selling novels and has a large international following. When I saw a recent review in one of our local newspapers about Ms. Penny's work, I decided to give one of her novels a try.
Ms. Penny's novels are written as a mystery series, featuring the main character: Chief Inspector Gamache. Most are set in the imaginary, small rural Quebec town of Three Pines.
In The Beautiful Mystery , Louise Penny's latest and much-anticipated novel, she has made an exception to that usual locale. And what an exceptional setting it is! I need to be engaged by where a story unfolds, to make any novel believable and interesting. In this regard, Ms. Penny did not disappoint.
The monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, is hidden deep in the wilderness of the Province of Quebec. Far from the prying eyes, noise and distractions of the rest of the world.
There, two dozen cloistered Roman Catholic monks have lived year after year, in brotherhood, peace and harmony. That is, until they are confronted with the unthinkable: the murder of their renowned choir director: Frere Mathieu. Reluctantly, but with no choice due to the gravity of the crime, the monks must open up their monastery and lives to the police and the investigation that follows.
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his long-time second-in-command/assistant Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Surete du Quebec are called to the scene of the crime. The trip takes them into an area that few people have ever visited. And to the monastery that is a well-guarded secret for the most part.
The opening chapters takes us along on their journey: by plane heading to the far north and then on a boat trip which ends in a small bay where they face the imposing and impressive sight of the monastery: a fortress-like building shaped in the form of a large cross. For two hundred years, it has been the secluded home to this order of cloistered monks. 
As the author so eloquently expresses the setting: "A harbor. A safe embrace in the wilderness." But now, in reality: a deception, as their quiet way of life is about to be turned upside down.
The story takes many twists and turns along the way. The reader is left to wonder and contemplate the murderer's identity, right up to the last chapter of the book. I won't spoil the plot by getting into too much detail but it took me a while to guess the real killer, with all the suspects that seemed probable along the way.
What I liked about this book:
A mysterious setting, a glimpse into the lifestyle of a very guarded and secretive religious order, the attention to detail the author shows in developing and sharing the good and also bad in each of the monks that the reader is introduced to along the way. All is not what it seems on the outside as the two police officers are quick to realize. In addition to the murderer, there are a plenty of undercurrents, intrigues and conflicts in regards to the monks; some long-festering and just now surfacing, in the wake of this crime. Not to mention the ones between the two police officers investigating the crime!
And, what I didn't like:
I found the book very compelling until I was about 1/2 way through it, then it started to get a bit repetitious. I thought the length of this novel detracted from it's overall appeal.
For me, there comes a point in any novel (usually fairly obvious too) where the entire story has been shared as far as required and then it's time to bring together all the red herrings and puzzle pieces and start "wrapping it up" to a satisfying conclusion. Going too far, revisiting the clues, the questions, the intrigues...too many times; detracts rather than adds to any novel. In this respect, I thought the story could have been streamlined a bit.
I also noted over at Amazon what diverse reviews there are for this book. Many 5 and 4 star reviews but also quite a few of the 1, 2 and 3's too.
A couple of points that other reviewers mentioned that caught my attention were concerns about the actual research that went into this book, in particular regarding the Gregorian chants that figure prominently in this story. I don't know much about historical religious music so I can't comment on that, but something that piqued my interest. Also, a comment about the author suggesting an unspoken but implied acceptance of homosexuality at this RC monastery. I noted that in the book as well and coming from a Roman Catholic upbringing myself, it was something that didn't ring true.
In spite of some misgivings about this book, I did find it enjoyable and engaging. I'm not sorry that I took the time to read it and I will definitely be checking out some of Louise Penny's other books.

This book is also available in an audiobook format from Macmillan Audio.  Click for a preview.  
Overall rating for this book: Good. 3 out of 5.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dancing on Broken Glass by Ka Hancock

I recently read Ka Hancock's debut novel: Dancing on Broken Glass after noting it in the new book section of our local library.  I was intrigued by the title of the book and it's beautiful cover.

And I couldn't agree more with the quote also included on the front cover: The best kind of love follows its own rules....So very true.

But when I actually got around to reading this book I wasn't sure if it was one I'd finish after I had read the first couple of chapters. I'm not a fan of any story that entails a lot of illness, medical interventions...but this author had such an engaging style of writing, I kept on reading.

Author, Ka Hancock has an extensive professional medical background including two nursing degrees and specialized work with psychiatric and substance-abuse patients. From this perspective, she has crafted a story about two people Lucy Houston, a cancer-survivor and Mickey Chandler who struggles with bi-polar disorder. Against the odds and the better judgement of themselves and their families Lucy and Mickey fall in love and eventually marry.

In spite of my misgivings about some of the subject matter in this book, I found myself continuing to turn page after page, wanting to know how the story would unfold. Ka Hancock has a real gift when it comes to bringing characters to life. I was swept into the love story of Lucy and Mickey and the lives of their families and friends.

A very sad story in many ways and the many tears I cried reading this book were a surprise to me. I'm not one to cry while reading or watching a takes a compelling story to get me to feel that emotional about any work of fiction. But cry I did, buckets actually. I put a couple of other projects on hold too, during the couple of days that it took me to finish this book.

I won't spoil the plot by going into details about the story but suffice to say it is: touching, heart-warming and heart-wrenching too.  I thoroughly enjoyed Dancing on Broken Glass, in spite of some of the negative reviews I had read online about this book, including this comment over at: Kirkus Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews re: Dancing on Broken Glass by Ka Hancock: A tidily crafted but treacly excavation of misery in the name of higher sentiments

Yes, it is a sentimental book but isn't that what true love is all about? I did not find it sugar-coated or "treacly" though. It is a story that touched my heart. With memorable characters and a rather unique plot about two people trying to make a go of a marriage while facing a number of life challenges that most of us can be happy to say that we are not burdened with, in addition to those of an everyday "normal" existence.

What I didn't like about this book was the ending. I thought it took away from the story overall and for me, did not ring true. I was a surprised by this conclusion to a story that had thoroughly held my attention, up to that point.  In spite of this, I'm still glad I read this book and I look forward to more books by Ka Hancock in the future. 

If you have read this book or do so in the future, I'd love to hear your opinion of the story and in particular what you thought of the ending.

Overall rating for this book: Good. 3 out of 5.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sea Glass Hearts by Josie Iselin


Now that summer is gone for another year, I find myself thinking about some of the many symbols and scenes that are equated with that season.
No, I don't miss the scorching heat that we endured here in BC week after week, in August. But it's nice to dwell on what makes summer unique and memorable: days at the beach, warm summer nights, walking in the sand collecting shells (if you're lucky!) or pretty stones, sea glass....lots of wonderful and beautiful images come to mind.

I'm also taking the time to enjoy a book I received as a gift a while back:
Sea Glass Hearts by Josie Iselin on an almost daily basis.
If you aren't familiar with this author/artist's work, she uses a process called Scannography (click to read more) and takes seemingly ordinary objects like stones and shells and transforms them into images, books, prints and collections that are uniquely beautiful. 
Sea Glass Hearts is a collection of sea glass and stone images with some lovely poems and poetic phrases to accompany many of the photos.

If you happen to be land-locked ;<) and have never seen any sea glass (click to read more at Wiki) it is pieces of broken glass that have been washed up along shorelines and polished and smoothed into shapes by the waves and sand.
In this particular book by Josie Iselin, the theme is all about heart-shapes. The special meanings of this symbol for so many people: the core of our being, the lifeforce and strength, the qualities we value and strive for...lovely and thought-provoking imagery to consider and savour, paging through this book.
Stop by the Amazon page for Sea Glass Hearts and click inside the book to enjoy a sample of the Josie Iselin's work. Each one a visual delight and work of art.
 For me, it has a calming, grounding effect to browse through the pages of this book, especially when I take the time to read the text that accompanies the breath-taking photos throughout.

Ms. Iselin has created magic with her photos and her words.
Speaking of Amazon, I noted that this book is on sale right now for only $10 and change... so a great time to pick up a copy for yourself and/or several as gifts. Christmas is just around the corner and this would certainly be a welcome gift to enjoy, in the depths of winter.
This book would make a special and memorable gift for someone you love or even as a special thank you or housewarming gift, to enjoy as a small "coffee table" book, in a new home.

I like to keep my copy close at hand so that I can pick it up when I'm feeling stressed and spend a few minutes in quiet contemplation, slowly savouring the pages.
Make sure to check out Josie's other books too.You can visit her beautiful blog here and/or join her over at her FaceBook and Twitter pages (links at the bottom of her blog's home page).
 You're in for a visual treat! :<)
Overall rating for this book: Excellent. 5 out of 5.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Ecover Grapefruit & Green Tea Dishwashing Liquid

I recently bought a bottle of: Ecover Grapefruit & Green Tea Dishwashing Liquid at our local food co-op as the brands I usually buy were all sold out. Checking out the ingredients on the bottle, it looked to be ok. Rather vague, but ok.

The ingredients as listed on the bottle:

Water, Anionic and non-ionic surfactants, Green tea extract, Citric acid, Salt,Fragrance (grapefruit). Biodegradable preservative.

I loved the idea of a grapefruit fragrance too, so into the shopping basket it went.

When I gave it a try at home, the first thing I noted was how much sudsier it was, when added to water, compared to some of the other natural dishsoaps I had tried recently.

And when it's sudsy, what comes to mind: Sodium laureth sulfate.

And we all know what a no-no that ingredient is, especially in terms of being included in a so-called natural/green product.

I then visited the Ecover website and here's what I found there, for the ingredient list for this product:

Complete ingredients list from their website:
  Sodium laureth sulfate
  Lauryl glucoside,
Sodium chloride
Sodium benzoate
Citric acid
Limonene (allergen)
Camellia sinensis leaf extract

Ahha....that would explain the suds. And SLS is second on the list, in order of ingredient quantities.

I don't know why companies are still trying to con customers with "trickery" like this. It's not like consumers can't do their own investigating online about most products now. But given the rather innocent-looking list of ingredients on the bottle itself, would most people bother to check further? I'm glad I did but I do think a lot of people would take the bottle ingredient list at face value and feel good about using this product.

This is just as bad as what I found out about: Seventh Generation dishwashing liquid. You can read my full review about that product here.

If a company is going the "green route" in terms of their product lines, they should be made accountable to do just that. Provide products that are truly as green as possible and without any "fudging" when it comes to what a consumer is actually using when they buy their products.

I won't be buying any Ecover products again, based on this experience. There are companies and  alternative brands that I feel a lot better about supporting.

 I only hope our local store doesn't run out of the better choices, next time I need dishwashing liquid in a hurry! I actually hope that they re-think some of the so-called "green products" they still have on the shelves.

We send a message to these companies, every time we don't buy a questionable green product. It's time that some of them started to pay attention!

Overall rating for this product: BAD. 0 out of 5.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

MRLR September Yarn-Lover's Contest


Ah...September has arrived and my favorite season of the year is almost here: Autumn. :<)

And what better time of year to get back to all kinds of creative pursuits, including yarn crafts.

So for September, I've got a wonderful giveaway, especially for all the kniters, crocheters...and yarn-craft wannabes out there.

Here are the four prizes in this month's contest:

A copy of the designer knitting book: The Ohio Knitting Mills Knitting Book. You can read my full review of this fabulous book here.



Prize number two is a feline-fabulous Mr. Cheddar coffee mug created by artist: Teri Casper from Teri's Painted Daisies.

With the inscription: "Okay, Okay. so I dropped a stitch or two" and signed with Mr. Cheddar's name.
 I'm lovin' this one and of course, so is the Chedster, who is btw, Teri's fav furry feline nephew!!!
These one of a kind mugs are already available at Teri's Zazzle store.
You can order them with or without Mr. Cheddar's name on them (click for ordering details) whatever your preference.
I'm planning to order one soon and it will certainly include the Mr. Cheddar signature!!! ;<)
The third prize is a gift certificate from Knitting Warehouse for $ 25.
This is a company I love to order from that I also reviewed here. Excellent prices and service for all your yarn craft needs: yarns, books, accessories....
I'm so glad I found out about Knitting Warehouse. My first online stop, when I need another yarn-fix! And that's quite often actually. LOL
And to stash all your new yarn goodies in, prize number four is a totebag from
I like to have a separate tote for each of my current craft projects. I have one of these big, sturdy totes that I use for crafts and shopping too and I just love it.
One lucky winner will win all four prizes, valued at approximately $80!
To enter, leave a comment below including what your favorite yarn-craft is: knitting, crocheting,looming...

If you are a wannabe yarn-crafter at this point, pick the type of craft you are planning to pursue, if you do win the contest.
Contest is open to Canadian and US residents. Exception: void in Quebec (sorry about this) you can read why I've had to add this to my contests. Provincial laws in Quebec regarding contests are hard to understand but I'm not able to by-pass these restrictions.
Contest closes September 30th.
Stop by the first week in October to see if you are the winner.
And another great contest (and this one yummy too) is on the way! Starts the first week in October.
No anonymous comments please. If possible, please sign in with a Blogger, Google or other blog account.
Winner will have two weeks to claim their prize. If not claimed within two weeks, another winner will be chosen.
 Good luck everyone. :<)
 Happy Autumn and Happy Crafting! 
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