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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Book Review of Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson



I absolutely loved reading Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson! It has so much depth and passion and romance and suspense and mystery all rolled up into one! There is a perfect balance of tragedy intermingled with the sweet love that is thinly veiled within the stubborn heart of a young woman trying to find her place in the world. What Kate’s heart longs for is always obscured beneath what she thinks she wants and what she knows is expected of her. Set in northern England in the 1820’s, Blackmoore is a house, more of a castle, perched precariously between the moors and the ocean. The cold, foreboding nature to the structure is suppressed by Kate’s love for the home she sees in her dreams. But Blackmoore is not all she expected. Having longed to go there all her life, she keeps a romantic notion in her heart of what it will be like. The unenthusiastic welcome she experiences at Blackmoore barely overshadows her excitement. Even as she is mistreated by the haughty guests, she finds solace and excitement by exploring the many rooms and secret passageways just as she had always imagined. What I hadn’t expected about the story was how many layers there were to the characters. Expertly taking the reader deep into the characters’ pasts, Julianne Donaldson gradually shows the reader why Kate behaves the way she does. The reader watches as Kate plunges through experiences she doesn’t want to relive and wishes she could forget. I cried several times while feeling Kate’s pain and struggles. I cringed as she was hurting and felt the passion she slowly allowed to flow between herself and her childhood friend, Henry. The tension is palpable throughout the book as the reader experiences Henry’s unrequited love for Kate. But the story itself is nearly lost in Julianne’s writing. The images she creates with her words are exquisite. I was swept away into Kate’s world for just a few short days since I couldn’t put the book down! I can’t wait to read it again! Have you read Blackmoore? What’s your opinion? -Julie L. Spencer

Read Julianne Donaldson's other novel Edenbrooke.



Read my book review of Edenbrooke here: Book Review of Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson.

I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer

Book Review of Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson



In no uncertain terms, I absolutely loved Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson! I read it twice back-to-back! That doesn’t happen to me very often because I almost always have a stack of books waiting for me. I loved the relationship between Marianne and Philip from the first time they met to the final pages. He is the type of guy that every girl dreams to someday meet, and she is vulnerable and stubborn and clumsy and normal. She thinks that she is everything he would never want in a future wife and yet those qualities are what draws him to her. Although the book in and of itself was a little predictable, there were twists in turns in the plot which kept the story interesting. There was also a healthy use of foreshadowing to help the reader piece together what led up to the final harrowing climax. But it didn’t end there as it very well could have. Julianne did a great job of wrapping the ending up with a neat little bow and making the reader feel comforted. It promoted a feeling that love does exist in the world, that chivalry is not far away, and that the good guy can win in the end. There were parts where I was moved nearly to tears, parts where I was afraid for the safety of my favorite characters, and parts where I was drawn in to the romance and was able to lose myself in Marianne’s world. I loved the complexity of Marianne’s relationship with her maid Betsy. It was like Marianne didn’t come to realize how closely she needed Betsy’s friendship until she was rejected by those who she thought she could count on. Even though Betsy annoyed her in the beginning of the story, she came to love her more as a sister and realized that Betsy was one of the only girls who stood by her through all the ups and downs. I loved the way Marianne realized in the end that she was brave and beautiful and confident even though it took breaking through her own insecurities and feelings of inadequacies in order for her to get to that point. I loved the way she concluded that she didn’t have to change who she was in order to find real happiness, and that being a refined young lady wasn’t all that it was seemed on the surface. This is only the second book I’ve read by Julianne Donaldson and I look forward to many years of her future writings. Have you read Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson? What’s your opinion? -Julie L. Spencer

Read Julianne Donaldson's other novel, Blackmoore:


Read my book review of Blackmoore here: Book Review of Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson.



I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer

Friday, December 13, 2013

Secrets to My Success with Take Shape for Life

Here are some of the things that have helped me along my journey using Medifast meals and the Take Shape for Life plan:

• I have a big green lunch bag that I take to work with me everyday and I bring my Medifast meals along wherever I go. Last week I did something a little extra. I wrote down every meal that I’m planning to eat for the next several weeks. I was trying to plan my next shipment of food and wanted to make sure I had enough of the right kinds of foods. Then I put exactly my planned meals in my green bag and now I don’t have to think about “What am I hungry for?” I just look at my little sticky note that says “Breakfast = Blueberry Oatmeal, Snack = Chili Nacho Cheese Puffs, Lunch = Chicken with Wild Rice Soup, Snack = Lemon Meringue Crunch Bar, and Evening Snack = Brownie Soft Bake.” Then I pull out the right meal and eat it! Voila!

• I don’t try to make any of the fancy recipes! I eat my five Medifast meals a day just as they are. They are made to taste great, to fill us up, and to be easy. Every time I’ve tried one of the weird and exciting-sounding recipes, they have just frustrated me and never turn out right. And I consider myself a pretty good cook!

• I don’t make a bunch of fancy Lean & Green meals! I pile a bunch of salad on a plate (mix of Field Greens & Spinach – it comes in a handy recyclable box as a 50/50 mix), pour on a little Light dressing, slice some radishes, mushrooms and green onions, and put a hunk of meat next to it (not an easy feat for me considering I normally live pretty close to vegetarian). Then I eat it with enthusiasm. I’ve grown to really love these meals, although I look forward to having some form of pinto or other dry beans rather than meat (in the future) (and no, I don’t like tofu so don’t go there).

• I make myself a nice, steaming cup of hot cocoa using two packets of stevia and ½ tablespoon of Hersey’s Unsweetened Cocoa. I put the water in the microwave for a minute & a half, add the ingredients, then microwave it for another 30 seconds (it sort of ‘melts’ the cocoa). This calms my craving for chocolate and provides me with a calorie-free treat first thing in the morning and after lunch.

• I carry bars with me in my purse all the time for those unexpected occasions throughout the day when I am out & about and don’t have time to cook something or prepare a shake.

• I make sure I have at least one lunch-type meal (at lunch time), like one of the soups, stews or chili, have at least one salty snack like the puffs or pretzels, have at least one chocolate meal, and (I’ve learned that it helps to have) a hearty breakfast-type food at breakfast such as the oatmeal or pancakes.

• I’m conscious of what my family is eating for snacks and try to match my snacks with similar items. If they’re having popcorn, I have some puffs or pretzels. If they’re having pie I have either the cinnamon pretzels or the lemon meringue bar. If they’re having cookies, I have a Softbake. If they’re having brownies – duh, the brownie Softbake is divine! If they want smoothies, I can make myself a Medifast smoothie or shake. It makes me feel part of the normal enjoyment of treats.

• I’m conscious of my medical needs. I am on thyroid medicine; therefore I can’t have anything with soy in it for at least 1-2 hours after taking my meds. So, I keep track of that in the morning and wait to eat my first meal until after that time. I have to take the medicine on an empty stomach so I take it immediately when I first wake up. If I must eat very soon after awakening because of the time at which I have to leave the house, I save the Medifast hot cocoa (which doesn’t contain soy) and have it soon after taking my meds. I also have to take blood pressure medicine and an anti-seizure medicine (for my bi-polar disorder) and I wait to take those until I’m having my first ‘meal’ of the day.

• I keep a giant water jug that I bought from the gas station (to get cheap refills on Diet Coke) and fill it with water & ice and it has a long straw sticking out of it. I sip on it all day long and refill it about three times a day. Then when I get home I have a smaller (but still large) green cup with a handle & I always have a straw in it, and I keep it filled with water all the time too. I carry them with me wherever I go, even if it’s upstairs to grab a pair of socks from my drawer or drive down to the bank. I sip on them all day long. I never have a hard time getting enough water into my diet!

The other thing I just thought of is: avoid taking even ONE bite of anything! I was totally fine all day on Thanksgiving until the next day when we had more company over and I made a beautiful apple pie. I tried just one bite to make sure it tasted okay and it almost made my eyes roll back into my head it tasted so good. I had to lay my head down on the table and I almost felt like crying. I wanted that pie so bad. Yesterday my husband wanted me to try one bite of the amazing jar of peaches he had opened (that I had canned in the summer). I told him no! Just one bite? They're so sweet & yummy! and I said NO! Not even one bite. Just hold on to that thought the whole time you're on Phase One: Not even one bite! You can do this! WE can all do this! Let's share our success after as we go, shall we. Good luck!!

Do you have any secrets for your success? What’s your opinion? –Julie

Want to know more about the Take Shape for Life program, check out my Profile!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Book Review of Pocket Full of Posies by Julie Coulter Bellon



I just finished reading Pocket Full of Posies by Julie Coulter Bellon and I loved it! I loved the writing style and fell in love with the characters, even the bad guys. Sometimes the good guys & the bad guys can get blurred in a story because there is good in all of us, even when we are making bad choices. I’m not sure if this was an underlying message that Julie intended to share, but it was an impression I took away from the story. Although I was able to predict the ending, there were a lot of neat little twists & turns in the plot that took me along the characters’ journey. I liked how Julie bounced back and forth between Bart’s perspective and Lucy’s perspective. It was a bit like reading Twilight & Midnight Sun at the same time (which I’ve done and found it to be very fun! Do you think Stephanie Meyer will ever finish writing Midnight Sun?!) I’m not going to tell you much about who the main characters are in Pocket Full of Posies, or I will give away the plot before you have a chance to read it. Suffice it to say that it is obvious to the reader from the first time Bart hears Lucy’s name that they will fall in love. I like it that it took a lot of back & forth struggle between their circumstances, their personalities, what they think about one another’s lifestyles, and their own stubbornness before they finally admit their feelings…but not too long! I liked it that Julie allowed the reader to experience the two character’s attraction to one another and that there were a lot of little bits of romance leading up to a dramatic first kiss. I love first kisses! And they should be dramatic. Wasn’t your first kiss dramatic? My husband kissed me on our first date…on my forehead. It was amazingly frustrating! And I’ll never forget the way it made me feel. But, back to the book; I’m getting all off track! I liked taking a peak into the world of drug lords and terrorists and corruption and tropical island paradises. These are worlds I’ll never see in real life. Maybe a tropical island paradise someday, I don’t know. It seems far away from my little paradise in central Michigan, so I’m glad to have the chance to be transported there through Julie’s words. I think I’ll read this book again very soon. This is the kind of book I’d love to see made into a movie! Have you read Pocket Full of Posies yet? What's your opinion? –Julie L. Spencer

Other books by Julie Coulter Bellon:


Read my book review of All Fall Down here.



Read the whole Hostage Negotiation series:













Want to read about the first kiss that some of my characters have had in my books The Cove and The Farmer's Daughter? Check them out here:

First Kiss...Excerpt from The Cove.

Excerpt from The Farmer's Daughter...I told you that I tip well.

Read more excerpts from my novels here:
Excerpts from My Novels.

I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer

Friday, October 18, 2013

Book Review of Seeking Persephone by Sarah M. Eden



Sarah M. Eden is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors! What a sweet story. I loved reading Seeking Persephone from the first page to the end. As it is with most books that I read, it was a bit predictable. But it didn’t in any way detract from my enjoyment. The story quickly launches into the wedding and then weaves the character descriptions into the story rather than starting with character development. I liked that. Persephone is from a family of very limited means and felt it was in her best interest to accept a marriage proposal from a wealthy Duke named Adam who had never so much as seen her face nor heard her name. He began criticizing her before the wedding was even completed. When he finds out that her name is Persephone, he thinks that it is a ridiculous name and tells her as much. When he discovers that she is young and beautiful, he is not happy and makes his feelings obvious. Because she doesn’t understand the underlying reason why he’s not happy, she assumes that he considers her ugly and beneath him. What she doesn’t realize is that he never really wanted a wife to begin with, but felt pressured to produce an heir to carry on the family name. He had one of his staff choose him a wife who was desperate for a way out of her current situation so that she would appreciate him rescuing her. He had hoped for an older, ugly woman who wouldn’t be tempted to leave him because she knew that she would never have the chance to marry anyone else. Adam was used to being feared and used to commanding everyone around him to do as he says. But he has visible scars from a series of surgeries in his youth, and underlying scars because of rejection from his mother and his peers. He despises being pitied and loses respect for those who feel sorry for him. When Persephone figures this out, she stands up to him and treats him like she would any other man, and he gains immediate respect for her because of it. She refuses to let him bully her and goes out of her way to weave herself into his sheltered, private world. Gradually he grows to like her, feels a strong need to protect her, and eventually realizes that he loves her – although he fights it to the end. While the story begins as a Beauty & the Beast type of tale, it ends as a sweet love story with a prince and his true love ready to take on the world side-by-side with confidence. I loved it, I couldn’t put it down, and I would read it again – which is a good sign. Have you read Seeking Persephone? What’s your opinion? –Julie L. Spencer

Other books by Sarah M. Eden:



Check out my book review of Glimmer of Hope here.













I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What Is the Tea Party?

I was in attendance at the very first Tea Party in Michigan where I laid a tea bag on the steps of the Capitol building in Lansing along with several thousand other individuals on April 15th, 2009 (tax day). I can only tell you MY opinion of what it means to attend a Tea Party rally. We are NOT Republican/Democrat/Liberal/Conservative or any other political party. We are Americans who feel that we should be free to live our lives without government interference. TEA has come to represent the phrase Taxed Enough Already, but the original movement began because we, the people didn't feel as if the government was representing us (all of us). We want to return to the fundamentals of what this country was founded to achieve, basically freedom from controlling government and representation from the people who do serve in the government offices. We are NOT radicals and are not trying to take down the framework of the government. On the contrary, we want to peacefully demonstrate the way that our government has strayed from its original intent. Trying to associate the Tea Party with the Republican party is pretty silly, since most of us disagree with many things the Republicans are doing (just like we disagree with what the Democrats are doing). So few people in the government actually listen to what the Tea Party patriots say that most of them will probably be thrown out in the next election. If people criticize the Tea Party but have never actually attended a Tea Party rally, they are not seeing the whole picture; they are only seeing what the main-stream media wants them to see. I challenge you to learn more about what we represent rather than associate us with what is being done in Washington D.C. or what is being portrayed in the media. Have you ever attended a Tea Party rally? What's your opinion? -Julie L. Spencer

I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book Review of The Overton Window by Glenn Beck



As a whole, I liked The Overton Window by Glenn Beck. It took me a little while to get into it, but about half way through it I got to the point where I couldn’t put it down and looked forward to getting home from work so that I could take a few minutes to read. That’s one of the ways I judge a book. One of the other ways I judge a book (or movie) is whether I can predict the ending. Unfortunately, this was a pretty predictable book. That being said, I do look forward to reading the sequel, The Eye of Moloch by Glenn Beck. This was the original reason why I read The Overton Window in the first place. I heard a radio interview where Glenn was talking to someone about his new book and I was drawn to it immediately. When I got The Eye of Moloch, I realized that it was a sequel, so I had to go out and get The Overton Window.

I liked Noah Gardner, the main character. He was a likeable guy who (predictably) falls for the main female character, Molly Ross who is a patriot activist and part of a group of people who are trying to change the world. Or save the world, depending on how you look at it. Noah bounces back and forth between the life of luxury he is accustomed to, and the world where Molly lives. He is torn (briefly) between what his father is trying to accomplish and what Molly is passionate about. It seems that Noah has already become disillusioned by his father’s business, and although he seems entrenched in it, he really isn’t. Near the beginning of the book it is obvious that he is more of a glorified gopher within his father’s business, and is truly unaware of just how corrupt his father is. It doesn’t take a lot of prodding for the manipulative patriot to convince Noah to take her straight to his father’s office and hack into the system to show her all of his father’s secrets. This seemed a little far-fetched to me. Most people wouldn’t break into someone else’s office for any reason, even for a pretty girl.

The cover describes The Overton Window as a Thriller. I certainly didn’t agree with this statement until I got about half way through it. The inside of the jacket cover also describes how an “unprecedented attack on U.S. soil shakes the country to the core…” Well, the attack didn’t happen until right at the end of the book and took place out in the middle of the desert where no one really knew about it. The book even describes how no one got a picture of it and that the mushroom cloud had to be hand-drawn by reporters in order to share the story.

The reader feels the pull between the two worlds of the very, very rich and the patriots. It is never implied that the patriots are poor in any way, more that they are not ultra wealthy. There is an underlying theme that the rich can pretty much do anything they want or get anything they want just by calling the right people and flashing a little money around. Noah learns that being rich allows him the ability to help his new ‘friends’ in advancing their cause. I once read a book written by Donald Trump and Robert Kiyosaki called Why We Want You to Be Rich wherein it is taught that it is much easier to help others if you have money yourself. Think about it, when was the last time someone on welfare was able to offer you a job at the business he just started? Whereas, if you are rich and have the capital to start a business, you can offer that person on welfare a job, thus lifting him up and helping him get off welfare. It’s a powerful upward cycle. The rich provide jobs and purchase goods & services, helping others to earn money and then those people can purchase goods & services, helping other businesses earn money, and the cycle goes on and on. Also, if you are rich, you are able to donate to causes you believe in, participate in local school fundraisers, give to the local library or art museum, support a local politician, etc. But it’s very difficult to support causes you believe in if you’re living paycheck to paycheck and can barely take care of yourself and your family. One of these days I’ll have to write a book review on Why We Want You to Be Rich! But in the book The Overton Window, the rich people are ultimately portrayed as the bad guys and, dare I say, the evil guys. This is an extreme example though, and obviously fiction. Let’s hope so anyway!

Like I said, all in all I liked the book and would probably read it again. That’s a good sign! There were a lot of unanswered questions and a bit of a cliff hanger at the end making me all the more excited to read The Eye of Moloch. Have you read The Overton Window? What’s your opinion? –Julie L. Spencer

Other books by Glenn Beck:



























I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Book Review of All Fall Down by Julie Coulter Bellon



I just finished reading All Fall Down by Julie Coulter Bellon and I must say that I liked it quite a lot. It was the kind of book that I looked forward to reading. The kind of book that I wanted to leave work early so that I could get home and read some more. I liked the writing style and the story was engaging. I also have a soft spot in my heart for military men & women willing to put their lives on the line to protect Americans, and the main characters were mostly military men and one strong female detective. I liked her. Claire Michaels was in my mind a cross between Detective Joss Carter in the television series Person of Interest, and Detective Teresa Lisbon in the television series The Mentalist (two of my favorite television shows). Claire is tough and strong, yet has a sensitive side that she doesn’t want to show, especially to the men who surround her. The male lead in the story, Rafe Kelly reminded me immediately of Channing Tatum’s portrayal of the character John Tyree in the movie version of the novel Dear John by Nicholas Sparks. If you’ve ever seen or read Dear John, you would know that John is a very desirable, yet mysterious and guarded man. The story in All Fall Down is a wild chase trying to outrun several government officials in two different countries, and trying to elude an enemy who is veiled and mysterious. One of the initial characters warns Rafe not to trust anyone and it ultimately predicts the antagonist, a man who turns out to be just vulnerable enough to make the reader feel sorry for him even as he is putting the rest of the team in perilous danger. On a side note, All Fall Down was a little predictable and cliché, but most books/movies are for me. Unfortunately, I tend to judge a book, not by its cover, but by its predictability. If a book or movie can shock me with a twist or surprise ending, that’s impressive. This one did not, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment. I’d read it again, and that’s a good sign. Have you read All Fall Down by Julie Coulter Bellon? What’s your opinion? –Julie L. Spencer

In case you've never read Dear John by Nicholas Sparks, here are a couple of links to the book and movie:





Here are some other books by Julie Coulter Bellon:

















I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer

Sunday, September 22, 2013

How NOT to Make Homemade Apple Cider

Well, I think I can now write a book on what NOT to do when attempting to make homemade apple cider! At the end of two plus hours of slicing apples, several more hours of trying to run the things through my food mill, giving up, cooking the apples just slightly (to soften them), running them back through the food mill creating applesauce, squeezing the applesauce through a towel (since I couldn't find cheese cloth at Wal-Mart today-thanks Wal-Mart!), throwing out the rancid tasting apple juice, putting the next batch of apple sauce through the sieve without the towel this time, creating apple juice instead of apple cider (which doesn't taste that bad considering I don't really like apple juice), remembering that the kind Mennonite farmer who tried to teach me how to make apple cider told me NOT to cook the apples or we'd have apple juice instead of apple cider, cutting MORE apples, pulverizing them in the food processor, decided that they weren't pulverized enough so I put them in the blender (which did absolutely nothing except frustrate me further), put the pulverized apples into a different sieve (since the other one is still occupied trying to make apple JUICE), squeezed the heck out of it with my kitchen gloves protecting my beautiful nails, I now have (okay, HAD - I drank it already) exactly 1/2 cup of apple cider (which was pretty good, not great), about two cups of apple juice, two large bowls of compost (apple cores & seeds), three large stock pots coated in syrupy apple parts, a sticky blender, a sticky food processor, a sticky food mill, two sieves full of what looks like dehydrated apple sauce, two sticky large slotted spoons, three sticky mixing bowls, two sticky rubber spatulas, sticky sinks and counters...and it's way past my bedtime. I need a magic wand to clean this mess up so I can go to bed. And I'm not sure I can look at another apple for a long, long, long time. Should I try again tomorrow? I still have a LOT of apples!

This is my favorite food mill...which did NOT work for this particular project, but makes great apple sauce, tomato paste, etc.



This food mill is one of the best investments I've ever bought for my kitchen. I love it! Just not for making apple cider. Have you ever tried to make homemade apple cider? What's your opinion? -Julie L. Spencer

I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Book Review of The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

The Lost Symbol starts off much like every other Dan Brown story chronicling the adventures of Robert Langdon: a creepy guy, a secret ritual, a visual description of Robert that captures his personality by describing his clothes, traveling to an exciting city late in the evening having been called there by some mysterious rich friend with the allusion that he is there to help solve a mystery, a story about Robert’s fear of elevators and flashback to some traumatic childhood event with the hint that this story will be essential to the plot, and obelisks. Always there is an obelisk. But maybe that’s what we really, really like about Dan Brown novels. He knows how to tell a story. This one’s a page turner. It has a lot of cliff-hangers. I kind of like cliff hangers, but I think it’s a little over-done. Just when you get into the story, it stops and leaves you wondering what’s going to happen next and then the story switches to another part of the plot.

I love how Dan Brown novels have a healthy dose of intense, cutting edge science that makes me want to go out and study whatever topic he’s describing. In the case of The Lost Symbol, Noetic science is discussed in just enough detail to pique my interest and make me want to learn more. I actually did some searching and found some interesting websites about it. There is also a good deal of religious teachings that are so close to being right, yet are missing key points of the truth so that I wanted to yell and say “Wait! There’s more to that than what he’s telling you!” Also, with regards to religion, Robert is always such a skeptic; to the point of being repetitive. If he really trusts this old, wise friend of his, then why does he not believe him when the truth is explained to him? Robert is a scientist and thus has to question everything religious. Or does he? Science and religion prove one another. Isn’t that what science does? Prove that something is real or not real? If there is proof right in front of him, how can he not trust it? And what does religion do? Bring to a clear understanding the true nature of God. Thus religion makes science understandable.

Dan Brown novels also include multiple villains, or perceived villains, and chases involving law enforcement agencies with seemingly endless resources at their disposal. It is very difficult to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys and there is a constant sense of ‘who is really trying to help Robert’ and ‘who is actually out to hurt him.’ In The Lost Symbol, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) gets involved within a few chapters and spends much of the rest of the novel chasing Robert Langdon. It is obvious to the reader who the true villain is, yet also obvious that multiple people in the story are actually working with the villain rather than against him. It makes the reader question the integrity of the characters and see conspiracy theories and hidden agendas throughout the story.

The symbols and imagery throughout the book are great, but I’d love to be able to see all of the art and buildings and maps that he describes. I’d like to read an illustrated version of the book.

There are a few really profound quotes from the book that I enjoyed. I’ll share a few of them here:

These were the thoughts of the (fictional) Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, the Reverend Dr. Colin Galloway: “From the Crusades, to the Inquisition, to American politics – the name Jesus had been hijacked as an ally in all kinds of power struggles. Since the beginning of time, the ignorant had always screamed the loudest, herding the unsuspecting masses and forcing them to do their bidding. They defended their worldly desires by citing Scripture they did not understand. They celebrated their intolerance as proof of their convictions. Now, after all these years, mankind had finally managed to utterly erode everything that had once been so beautiful about Jesus.”

These are the words of Peter Solomon while speaking to a lecture hall full of college students: “Truth has power. And if we all gravitate toward similar ideas, maybe we do so because those ideas are true…written deep within us. And when we hear the truth, even if we don’t understand it, we feel that truth resonate within us…vibrating with our unconscious wisdom. Perhaps the truth is not learned by us, but rather, the truth is re-called…remembered…re-cognized…as that which is already inside us.”

Have you read The Lost Symbol? What’s your opinion? –Julie



I'd like to read it again alongside the illustrated guide!



Other Books by Dan Brown:

His latest novel: Inferno (which I'm reading right now! I'll share a review later!)



The first in the Robert Langdon series: Angels & Demons



Dan's most famous novel: The Davinci Code



I've read Deception Point, but I don't remember what it's about. Guess I'm going to have to read it again!



Digital Fortress is different than other Dan Brown novels in that it mostly takes place in one location; the main character doesn't travel the world like in others of his novels.



Several of Dan Brown's novels have been made into movies! The Davinci Code and Angels & Demons





I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer

Book Review of Glimmer of Hope by Sarah M. Eden



I love Sarah’s writing style! It’s not very often that I find a good book written in a third-person omniscient narration. It’s how I always write, and I love it because I can express the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters and how they relate to one another. But back to Sarah! I liked the high level of romance in Glimmer of Hope. It felt like the whole book revolved around Carter and Miranda’s relationship. It wasn’t a story that contained characters; it was characters with a story swirling around them. The story was the characters. One of the first things I noticed was an underlying hint of Miranda’s illness. It was obvious in the way she mentioned several times being tired, even though she was quite young. It was also evident from the beginning of the story that although she was living a life of luxury, she was kind to her hired workers and even tried to improve their lives. I was glad that Sarah introduced both main characters right away. I also liked how they didn’t mess around with being angry at each other for too long before they were drawn to one another. They stayed angry for a long time, yet they couldn’t stop seeing each other. It was an interesting dynamic, having a married couple separated yet living (if only briefly) in the same house. Again, I’m glad that Sarah chose to share the story with us from Carter’s perspective as well as Miranda’s because had I not known his thoughts I would have thought he was a heartless jerk who was borderline abusive. Knowing why he was acting the way he was, and realizing how hurt he was by the thought that she had left him, helped me as the reader to feel some compassion for him. I thought it was funny that someone else had to point out to Carter how mean his mom was to his wife. Typical male! Did I say that out loud? Anyway, as a whole I liked the book and it has drawn me to want to read the rest of Sarah’s books. Put ‘em on the ever-growing list! Have you read Glimmer of Hope? What’s your opinion? -Julie L. Spencer

Other books by Sarah M. Eden:



Check out my book review of Seeking Persephone here.













I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer

Friday, August 9, 2013

Excerpt from The Cove: Chapter One

            “Why did you do that?” she demanded, standing in his lit doorway, dripping wet in her designer swimsuit. He stood with the screen door still closed between them, a look of confusion and anger across his face. Gail pushed the door opened and stomped into his house, not really caring that she was leaving water all across his linoleum floor. He silently grabbed the kitchen towel from the handle on the stove and stooped down to wipe up the mess. Out of spite, she grabbed her long hair in her hands and wrung the water from it so that it left an even bigger pool of water beside her. He just took a deep breath, as if to calm himself into not getting angry, and wiped up that mess as well. When he stood up, he tossed the towel at her chest.
            “Dry yourself off,” Todd snapped at her. “You’re making a mess in my kitchen.” He walked back over to the counter where he had been making himself a sandwich. The thought occurred to her that she didn’t know how he could possibly be hungry after the huge buffet he’d had access to for the last few hours. It passed quickly when she reminded herself how angry she was with him.
            “Why did you have to show up there anyway?” she asked, a little less fiercely but still with intended bitterness.
            “I was invited!” He turned back to her with fierceness in his eyes. “By your fiancé!” He spat the words at her and she flinched back from his accusing eyes. He stepped away from the counter and crossed the room to her. She was kind of glad that he had put down the knife he had been using to cut the salami for his sandwich. Not that she thought he would ever really get that mad that he might hurt her, it just would have felt a little more threatening. “Do you have any idea how much Patrick loves you? How much it’s going to hurt him when he finds out that you’re engaged to someone else?”
            She backed away from him, turned and walked into the dining room, looking around for someplace she could sit that wouldn’t leave a wet stain. He followed her and seemed to anticipate what she needed. He moved a stack of books off a dining room chair that was vinyl or plastic or some other surface that she didn’t really care to know about. Nothing in her sheltered little world would contain anything so cheap, but at that moment she didn’t really care. She was just glad to get off her feet. She suddenly realized how tired she was, not just from swimming but from the whole day. Without really consciously thinking about it, she realized she was tired from the past few weeks, months, maybe years. She was just tired. She rested her arms on the table and leaned her head forward. He left the room and came back with a big, fluffy towel and draped it around her shoulders.
            “Thanks,” she said and looked up at him. The scornful expression still had not left his face. That hard look in his eyes was there that told her that he was far more angry with her than she was with him. Patrick was Todd’s best friend, had been since some Boy Scout trip in their early teens. They had hung out at every Stake activity, every Youth Conference, every camping trip. They were best buddies, and Gail had just hurt his best buddy more than she’d ever hurt anyone before. The tricky part was…Patrick didn’t even know about it yet. He was still serving on his mission. It was the classic case of girl waiting for her missionary, girl meeting another guy who already returned from his mission, girl being wooed into a relationship quicker than she knew what hit her, and girl being proposed to at a dance. “I didn’t mean to say yes…”
            “What?” Todd was angry again. She flinched away from his demanding glare.
            “Well, what would you do if someone proposed to you in front of two hundred people?” she asked in exasperation. “Including your mom and dad.” She buried her face in her arms again and started crying. He stood there for a moment, arms crossed, still angry but softening. He left the room again and came back with a box of tissues.
            “Here,” he snapped when she didn’t look up. She raised her head and gratefully accepted the tissues. “How did you get here, anyway?”
            “I swam,” she replied in between sniffing and wiping her nose.
            “All the way across the cove?” he asked incredulously.
            “It’s not that far,” She reassured him. “I train everyday and swim at least that and more.”
            “Yeah, but that’s in a pool. Isn’t it a little different?”
            “Not really,” she replied. She sat up a little straighter and began drying her hair. She wanted to be angry still, but decided she really didn’t have that much to be angry about. She was more embarrassed than anything else. Here she had been, dancing with Stephan at the country club amidst all of their friends when suddenly he had hopped up on the band stand, grabbed the microphone from the lead singer, stopped the band and called out to her across the room. She was petrified when she realized what he was about to do. She was rooted to her spot on the dance floor but looked over at where her mom and dad were sitting. They were beaming! They loved Stephan. He was everything that they would ever want for their little girl. He was in his last year of college, worked at her father’s firm, had been home from his mission for three years, and was ready to settle down. He came from a good family (which translated in her parents’ minds as a rich family), was handsome and confident and someone they could trust to take care of their daughter. Gail had reached her hand up to her neck as if to grasp the set of pearls that rested there. And Stephan had asked her to marry him. She felt tears fall from her eyes as a completely different future flashed in front of her. A future filled with parties just like this one, filled with an extravagant home and children who were just as beautiful as Stephan. A future without Patrick. She was so uncertain at that moment, with everyone staring at her waiting for her reply. She just smiled back at Stephan and nodded her head, agreeing to marry him. He ran across the room and swooped her up in his arms. He swung her around and the audience cheered. Gail couldn’t help smiling and laughing until he put her down and she caught the eye of someone she never would have expected to see at the country club. There, on the other side of the room, standing with a plate of appetizers in one hand and a glass of punch in the other, was Todd.
            Todd was best friends with Patrick. Patrick, her missionary. The boy she had planned to wait for. The boy she had known and loved since their days in Primary. The boy who was counting on her to be there when he got home, just four short months from now. Was four months so long to wait? Could she not endure that long? She realized that it wasn’t even that she couldn’t wait. She never had intended for any of this to happen. She met Stephan in the gym at the university where they were both students. He knew that she swam every morning, and he knew that he wanted to meet her. Conveniently, he decided that he needed to swim every morning at that same time.
Gradually, they became friends and realized that they had a lot in common. Their parents were both members of the same country club. The club where Gail had grown up, in fact had lived next door to. The club where she learned to swim. The club where she had first been approached by a coach who wanted to train with her. They realized that Stephan worked in her father’s law firm, that they’d had an occasional class together at the college. There were just too many connections to ignore. They started spending time together and going to dances together and to parties at the club. Every church activity she attended, he was there. It was one of the cool things about their church; they had a lot of programs that provided college-aged kids to mingle with one another. The Young Single Adult program (or YSA as the kids called it) was always organizing dances and trips and parties. They also had a little more formal class called Institute where they got together to do a little gospel study class once a week. It was a great opportunity to have some spirituality in their lives outside of regular Sunday activities. And a great chance to flirt with cute college-age girls across a conference table on a Thursday evening in the name of a church activity! Suddenly he was everywhere she was, and she didn’t seem to mind. Stephan was a great guy. He had served a mission and was devoted to his church callings. He encouraged her in her callings, and with her swimming, and her studies, and was just an all-around decent man. But…he wasn’t Patrick.
Gail had continued to write to Patrick faithfully all along. She had always been careful not to get too lovey-dovey in her letters. She’d been warned not to do that to missionaries. They needed to concentrate on their work. She really hadn’t even made any firm commitments to him before he left. There was just an unspoken connection. They had held hands at recess in elementary school. They had gone to prom together. They had been each others’ first kiss. They had loved one another longer than either of them could remember. They were comfortable together. Up until that night, Gail’s letters to Patrick had gone out once a week for the past year and a half. What was going to happen now? Would she write him a “Dear John” letter like she’d heard so many other girls had done? She needed some good advice. She felt confusion mix with her exhaustion and she laid her head back on her arms and closed her eyes.
“How do you know Stephan, anyway?” she suddenly asked him. It occurred to her that she knew very little about what Todd had been doing since the last time she’d seen him over a year and a half ago at Patrick’s farewell.
“I have a couple of classes with Stephan at the university,” he answered her as he sat down across from her.
“Are you in business school then?” she asked. She doubted it. He didn’t look like the corporate type. He was tall and solid. He was tanned like he spent a lot of time outdoors.
“Business Administration,” he answered. “I’m in my senior year, but probably won’t graduate till December. I’m a little behind still.”
“Seriously?” she asked. “You’re awfully young, aren’t you? How did you get through college so fast?”
“I’m older than you think I am,” he replied. “I’m three years older than Patrick. I just served in Venture Scouts well into my college years because I lived at home while I was going to school. So, I stayed really close to the guys. Plus I got two years in at the university before I went on my mission, and I was seventeen when I started college.”
“Hmmm, you’d think I would have known that. I’ve known you for years.”
“You’re kind of caught up in your own little world,” he answered her.
“What are you saying? That I’m a snob and don’t pay attention to the people around me?” She stuck her chin in the air, slightly offended yet realizing that there may be a ring of truth to it.
“No, I’m just saying that you’re really busy with all of your…activities.”
“You don’t approve of how much time I spend at the pool, do you?” she asked.
“I think it’s honorable that you want to achieve so much. The Olympics were a big deal. You impressed the heck out of all of us.” He paused. “You know I attended almost every meet you had locally, with Patrick?”
“I didn’t know that, sorry”
“Like I said, you’re busy.”
“So, do you work? Or are you finishing school first?” she asked.
“I’m a builder. I’d like to own my own company someday. That’s why I’m still in school.” So, that would explain the tan and the physique. It occurred to her that she was sort of staring at him with a little wonder on her face. Suddenly she blushed and looked away. “So what are you going to do now?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied and sighed. He was probably afraid she was going to start crying again, but she stood up to leave. “I’ll have to think about that. Don’t say anything to Patrick about this yet, okay? Or Stephan!”
“All right,” he said, pushing back from the table. “I should probably drive you home though. You look like you’re about ready to fall over from exhaustion.” He led her out of his tiny cottage and helped her climb up into his Ford F-250. It seemed a little strange to her that he had such meager accommodations, yet a brand new, fancy truck with all the features and gadgets a guy could ever want. It had a moon roof, a navigation system, Sirius radio, in-car SYNC connection, and so many other switches and gadgets that Gail didn’t even know what they were all for. As he walked around the car, she couldn’t help draw in a deep breath and lean her head back against the leather seat. His truck smelled amazing. The mixture of new-car smell and whatever cologne he wore was intoxicating. When Todd got into the truck, he didn’t seem to notice that she was impressed with it. It seemed like it was just a truck to him. Maybe he needs a big truck for his work as a builder, she thought. It’s probably a guy thing.
It took longer than she would have thought to follow the coastline back to her house, and it occurred to her that the cove probably was larger than she realized. Still, the swim had felt good. It hadn’t been too far. She was an experienced swimmer, an Olympic gold medalist with a world record in the 400 meter freestyle. She had been approached by several sponsors after her most recent win, but had settled on Speedo and All Sport. She had always worn Speedo’s swimwear and knew the quality and styles. She felt comfortable endorsing them, and they had offered her a lot of money to pose for photo shoots. Also, she liked one of All Sport’s sports drinks and she just wanted to support what she used. She had renounced her collegiate eligibility in order to cash in on endorsement offers, but felt that it was cool that so many sponsors had approached her. She drifted off in her own thoughts as they drove, and she realized that she kind of thought of herself as a little invincible when it came to swimming. Pulling into her driveway brought her out of her daze.
“Don’t take me all the way to the house,” she asked him.
“Why? Are you embarrassed to be seen with me?”
“No,” she laughed. “I just left my clothes down by the water. I took off that stifling dress before launching myself into the lake to come over and yell at you!” Something about telling him that made her blush again, and she wondered why she should feel bashful around him. He was just a friend. A friend of her boyfriend…well former boyfriend. And a friend of her…fiancé. That was going to take some getting used to.
“Um, just curious,” he started, as he pulled around the bend of her driveway, completing a perfect three-point turn rather than start up the hill towards the house. “Were you wearing your bathing suit under your dress? Oh, man! I shouldn’t have asked that, how embarrassing, that was wrong on so many levels, I’m so sorry, I’m just dead curious.” He stammered on until Gail was doubled over with laughter.
“Of course I had my swimsuit on! I always have a swimsuit on! I pretty much live in my swimsuit,” she laughed up at him. “You don’t have to be embarrassed!” She jumped down out of his truck and ran lightly across the grass to where her heap of clothes lay by the seawall. She picked up her heels and dress from the dew covered grass and turned back to wave goodbye to Todd. He was already backing up to finish his turn back down the driveway and out of her world.
Gail let out a sigh and turned back toward her house to walk up the terraced hill. She knew she wouldn’t have to sneak back into the house because she could hear that the party at the country club next door was still in full swing. Party was a relative term anyway. What her parents and their friends did was mainly just dancing and eating. The country club was almost exclusively attended by Mormons, because they didn’t serve alcohol. Besides, The Lake area had a huge population of members of the Church. Some missionary years ago had baptized like a whole congregation of some non-denominational Christian church, and two generations later all of them had stayed and raised families. They even kept the name of the congregation that had always just been called The Lake after the local village by the same name. Gail had actually been pretty impressed with the strength she had seen from the local members. Even as she’d traveled around the world and attended congregations everywhere from Mexico to China, she continued to feel that The Lake had a great group of Latter-day Saints. She was comfortable here. She could understand why so many had wanted to stay. She could see herself raising her family here. The question was, who would she be here with? She didn’t have an answer as she trudged up the hill in her bare feet.

I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Movie Review of Safe Haven

I love Nicholas Sparks movies anyway. The Notebook is by far my favorite movie of all time. I just watched Safe Haven and loved it. At first I thought it was going to be predictable and in a lot of ways it was predictable. All of Nicholas Sparks books/movies take place in the South-east, near the coast (usually on the coast), they all involve water, and someone always dies. What I wasn’t expecting was a couple of big twists. I judge a movie by whether or not I can predict the end. Usually I can predict the end of a movie within the first five minutes. In a lot of ways, Safe Haven was not really an exception. But the couple of neat twists made the movie much more enjoyable. It left me with the feeling of “now that I know what happened, I need to watch it again!” How’s tomorrow sound? What’s your opinion? –Julie L. Spencer



Read the book!



I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Why Are You a Democrat?

I have a lot of really awesome friends who claim to be Democrats. So, help me out with this guys, because I can’t wrap my head around it. The people in San Francisco are trying to pass a law to ban circumcision. These are the same Liberals who claim the right to have Pro-choice laws allowing women to kill their babies in their wombs. You can’t have it both ways. Do we have the choice to kill our babies, but not have the choice to circumcise our baby boys?

So, my question to you is: Why are you a Democrat? I’d dead serious. What are the reasons you support and vote for Democrat politicians? I know there is a difference between a Democrat and a Liberal. If you group all Liberal causes into one giant tent of “Democrat”, how can you justify the double standards and juxtaposition of opposites? I’m not being facetious; I’m really trying to understand this. Here are some of the things I’m hung up on:

Women’s Rights/Homosexual Rights/Muslin Rights/Jewish Rights: Wow, where do I start? Is it okay with the women’s rights activists that the Muslims treat their women like dirt? Is it okay to the homosexuals that Muslims kill homosexuals? Is it okay with the Jews that the Muslims want to wipe them off the map? Is it okay with the Jews that the politicians in San Francisco want to ban a religious practice that goes back to the Old Testament? They’re all Liberal causes…yet they all contradict one another! I don’t get it!

Separation of Church and State: In some parts of the country, the courts are allowing Muslims to practice Sharia Law, but won’t allow a young child to bow his head and silently say a prayer over his school lunch. There is also a section in the new ObamaCare health care law allowing Muslims to claim an exemption from all regulations within the law based on religious freedom.

Health Care in America: Okay, this one deserves a whole blog post in and of itself. Sticking with the topic of exemptions from regulations, this CBS news story shows how at least 1,000 waivers have been granted to companies and organizations who have claimed that they will not be able to stay in business if they are forced to abide by these regulations! If they can’t afford it, how are we supposed to? I’m not going to even think further about all the atrocities that this law is bringing upon our country. My ranting and frustrations will go on for several pages.

Taxes or Salary Cuts: The Democrats in Congress (and in the Obama Administration) are quick to try to raise taxes in the name of raising “revenue” but go crazy with anger if any union-run company/organization/public administration jobs need to make any cuts. Recently in Michigan (where I live), the congress and Snyder Administration have passed laws that will cut government salaries by 5%. Okay, so here’s my confusion: If I make $50,000 and my current tax rate is raised by 5%, I will pay an additional $2,500. If I make that same $50,000 and the company/organization/government I work for lowers my salary by 5%, my salary goes down by $2,500. Either way, the amount of money that comes into my home is reduced by $2,500. How is that any different? Any time the government wants to raise our taxes, they threaten to lay off police/fire fighters/prison guards/teachers which causes the people to jump up and say “No, no! Please don’t take away our essential services! Raise our taxes instead!” The government officials never consider cutting “non-essential” programs to balance the budget instead. Don’t get me started on this!

Jobs or Profits: The Administration keeps telling companies to “start hiring”, yet they also continue to make the word “profit” a four-letter word. How exactly would you like a company to hire workers if they are not allowed to make a profit? Also, how will the stocks for those companies go up if they are not allowed to make a profit? Also, how can companies stay in business when there are so many regulations that they can’t keep up? Also, the tax laws keep changing, making the owners of companies unsure about the future.

Punish the Rich: Boy am I glad I’m not rich! Then you’d hate me too! Why should a person not be allowed to be rich? If I work hard and create wealth for myself, why should I be punished for working? If Liberals call for welfare reform, does that mean that they want to bring all the rich people down to the level of the money received by those who are on welfare or to give welfare recipients the same amount of money that the rich have? So, then will Liberals hate the welfare recipients after that because now they’re rich? What about taxes? If there are no rich people to collect taxes from, where is the government going to get the money to pay for the welfare programs?

Freedom from Foreign Oil: Liberals claim they want freedom from foreign oil, yet won’t let us drill for oil within our own country. They also claim they need “green energy”, but fail to realize that it takes more energy to create bio-fuels than it is saving. Also, they get all upset about birds flying into wind turbines and dying, but keep preaching that we need more wind turbines. Which is it? You can’t have it both ways. Also, we’re the only country in the world that is destroying our food and using it to create fuel. Meanwhile they complain that food prices are too high and that we need to be able to feed the world.

Fat Cat CEO’s or Spoiled Politicians: If it’s not okay for CEO’s to live it up with private jets, fancy trips, and lots of golf, why is it okay for politicians to do the same thing. I could go on and on about the politicians, but I want to make two key points. One, the politicians are spending OUR money for private jets, fancy trips, and lots of golf. And two, as of March 2011, Barack Obama has golfed over 60 times. That means that he has spent over two months of his presidency on the golf course!

Limousine Liberals? The Number of Government Owned Limos Has Soared Under Obama

Have I ranted long enough? Please, help me out here. What’s your opinion? -Julie L. Spencer

Here's a funny picture a friend of mine just posted on Facebook. It pretty much ties everything together!



Books I'm Interested in Right Now:
(Have you read any of these? What's your opinion?)
Known and Unknown by Donald Rumsfeld
Decision Points by George W. Bush
Crimes Against Liberty by David Limbaugh
Why Are Jews Liberals? by Norman Podhoratz
Going Rogue by Sarah Palin

I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer