Friday, October 17, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - October 18

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

After we left De Smet, we headed east on Highway 14 to Walnut Grove, MN.  Walnut Grove is probably MORE famous for the TV show of Little House on the Prairie, which was set (but not filmed) here than Laura Ingalls Wilder's actual time in the town, which she wrote about in On the Banks of Plum Creek.

The Ingalls' land is a couple of miles out of town and is privately owned.  The story goes that after the inital publishing and success of the Little House books, Garth Williams--the illustrator--made a research trip to the area so that he could improve some of the illustrations for upcoming editions.  He found this land by studying the land records and contacted the current owners (and I believe the same family still owns the land).  They had heard about the books and were more than happy to show Williams around.  On his tour, they landowners pointed out a strange depression that they could never figure out...it turns out that was the site of the Ingalls' dugout!

The family allows people to visit the site and they've done a great job of preserving it.  There is a small parking and picnic area and some signs pointing out what is what.  Other than that, they're trying to restore the land to the natural state that Laura Ingalls Wilder would have known.

A shot of the dugout site from the other side of Plum Creek


A closer view of the dugout site

On the Banks of Plum Creek


This looks very much like what the Ingalls would have seen when they first arrived.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - October 11

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

On this particular day, it was all about Laura Ingalls Wilder!  Because of the sheer number of pictures, I'm dividing this day into 2 posts.

The first stop was De Smet, SD.  This is where the Ingalls family ultimately ended up and Laura married Almonzo Wilder.  We had planned to visit both the Ingalls Homestead and then tour the houses in town, but time got the best of us and we only made it to the Homestead--which means another trip to De Smet will be in our future!

The Ingalls Homestead is a living museum on the actual site of the land homesteaded by Charles Ingalls.  The original structures are gone and no one is sure where exactly they were, but they used Laura Ingalls Wilder's descriptions to build replicas where their best guess of the locations were.

A view of the homestead from the high ground

Another view...and yes, those are tents.  You can camp here!  If we had had room in our minivan for our camping gear, we would have camped as well!

My kids loved the barn--complete with chickens and a cow...and a litter of kittens!

My kids are apparently wild for pumping water!

The kids running down the hill...just like the opening credits of the TV show.

Checking out (a replica of) Ma's sewing machine

Pony ride!

We rode in a covered wagon over to the school house and the kids each got a chance to steer the team!

The cottonwood trees in this picture are the same ones planted by Charles Ingalls himself!

Come back next week for more of our Laura pilgrimage!


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Book Review: "The Paradise Tree" by Elena Maria Vidal

The Paradise Tree Elena Maria Vidal
Published: October 2014
ISBN: 9781500590628
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: 3 / 5
♦♦♦

Summary:
In every Eden, there dwells a serpent...

The year is 1887 in Leeds County, Ontario.  The O'Connor clan is gathering to mourn the loss of its patriarch Daniel O'Conner, an Irish immigrant.  The story of Daniel and his wife Brigit is one of great hardships, including illness, ill-starred romances, war and political upheavals, as well as undying love and persevering faith.  As Daniel is laid to rest, his grandson Fergus receives a piercing insight into what his own calling in life will be.

My Thoughts:
There are two ways of looking at this book: as a family history and as a historical novel.  As a family history, I found this a fascinating book.  Daniel O'Conner was the author's great-great-great-grandfather and Vidal does an admirable job of illustrating his life, and the lives of his descendants.  There are some fascinating stories here--Daniel's early life in Ireland and starting a new life in Canada, meeting his wife, their children.

I also liked how Vidal emphasized the importance of faith for the family.  I'm not Catholic, but Vidal was able to write about devout Catholicism in a way that Protestants and other non-Catholics could follow.  As faith was so important to the family, this was a vital part of the book.

However, as a novel, this book was not as successful.  There are so many interesting stories contained in these pages that it causes two problems.  First, I felt like there was too much going on in this book.  Secondly, Vidal rarely went as deep into these stories as I would have liked.  Reading this book was somewhat like being a stone that someone is skipping across the lake--you touch in here and there, but rarely go below the surface.  Honestly, if each of the stories in this book were developed into a full-length novel, I would read the entire series.

I admit the problem is mine and many others would not have an issues with the novel aspect of this book.  Ultimately, I did enjoy the book, even though it left me wanting more.

About the Author:
 Elena Maria Vidal grew up in the countryside outside of Frederick, Maryland, “fair as the garden of the Lord” as the poet Whittier said of it. As a child she read so many books that her mother had to put restrictions on her hours of reading. During her teenage years, she spent a great deal of her free time writing stories and short novels.

Elena graduated in 1984 from Hood College in Frederick with a BA in Psychology, and in 1985 from the State University of New York at Albany with an MA in Modern European History. In 1986, she joined the Secular Order of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Elena taught at the Frederick Visitation Academy and worked as a private tutor as well as teaching children’s etiquette classes. During a trip to Austria in 1995 she visited the tomb of Empress Maria Theresa in the Capuchin crypt in Vienna. Afterwords she decided to finish a novel about Marie-Antoinette she had started writing ten years before but had put aside. In 1997 her first historical novel TRIANON was published by St. Michaels Press. In 2000, the sequel MADAME ROYALE was published, as well as the second edition of TRIANON, by The Neumann Press. Both books quickly found an international following which continues to this day. In 2010, the third edition of TRIANON and the second edition of MADAME ROYALE were released.

In November 2009, THE NIGHT’S DARK SHADE: A NOVEL OF THE CATHARS was published by Mayapple Books. The new historical novel deals with the controversial Albigensian Crusade in thirteenth century France. Elena has been a contributor to Canticle Magazine, Touchstone Magazine, The National Observer, and The American Conservative. In April 2009 she was a speaker at the Eucharistic Convention in Auckland, New Zealand. In August 2010 Elena spoke at The Catholc Writers Conference in Valley Forge, PA. She is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild and the Eastern Shore Writers Association. She currently lives in Maryland with her family.

For more information please visit Elena’s website and blog.  You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.



I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Want to know what other readers thought?  Check out some of the other stops on this tour (link goes to the blog, not the specific review):

Saturday, October 4
Review at Peeking Between the Pages

Sunday, October 5
Guest Post at Susan Heim on Writing

Monday, October 6
Review at Savvy Verse & Wit
Review at Flashlight Commentary

Tuesday, October 7
Review at Just One More Chapter

Thursday, October 9
Review & Interview at Back Porchervations

Friday, October 10
Review at Beth’s Book Reviews
Spotlight at Let Them Read Books

Saturday, October 11
Interview at Supremacy & Survival

Sunday, October 12
Spotlight at Queen of All She Reads

Monday, October 13
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews

Tuesday, October 14
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

Wednesday, October 15
Review at A Book Geek
Interview at Caroline Wilson Writes

Thursday, October 16
Review at Book Nerd
Spotlight at She is Too Fond of Books

Friday, October 17
Review at Dianne Ascroft Blog

Saturday, October 18
Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Monday, October 20
Review at Book Drunkard

Monday, October 6, 2014

September 2014 Monthly Wrap Up

I'm a little late with this one--life has been crazy since both kids started school....and then I was taken down with a killer cold (which, ironically, did not come from my kids!).

As I posted earlier, my reading life has taken a hit since the kids went back to school.  I'm still reading, of course, but at a slower pace.  As of right now, I have no books in the queue for solicited reviews for the rest of the year--although that may change if something tantalizing comes my way!  So, I'm just working my way through some netgalleys, some First Reads, and my backlog of books.  Other than one review coming up a little later this month (which is already written and ready to go), I have nothing "scheduled," so reviews will just come out as I finish books.

I also want to do some more non-book posting here.  Honestly, the only reason I haven't is that I've just been busy and sick recently.  But, as the reviews here will be a bit more spaced out for a while, I'm hoping to need some other posts!

So, onto the business.

In September, I read:
The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith
Rachel by Jill Eileen Smith
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary (no review)
I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe
Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary (no review)
I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira
Ramona's World by Beverly Cleary (no review--I did, apparently, get plenty of reading time with my daughter!)
Into the Free by Julie Cantrell (no review)

Right now, I'm reading:
Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Finn (been working on this FOREVER.  However, I will say that I'm enjoying this one!)
Juliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen (technically, I haven't started it yet...but will tonight!)
Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (a re-read for my book club.  Link goes to my original review).

In Other News:

  • It looks like I'm going to be a girl scout.  Well, a troop leader.  Growing up, I always wanted to be a girl scout and it just never happened.  Now, my daughter wants to do it and I tried to sign her up, but I was told that the only way I could get her into a Daisy troop was to start one.  So, well, that's what I'm doing.  I'm looking forward to it but, man, there is a lot of training that goes into being a troop leader!
  • In light of the bullet point above, I promise to to hit you all up for cookie sales.
  • My daughter is learning to read right now, which is fun and frustrating.  I think we readers forget how hard it was to make sense of letters and words when we were so young!  I do work with her on it, but I try not to do so much that it becomes unpleasant for her.  
  • Finally, I just want to tell you all that my son--my baby!--turns 4 today.  Where does the time go????

Friday, October 3, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - October 4

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Our original plan after leaving the Black Hills of South Dakota was to head straight over to the east side of the state.  However, once we realized how close we were to Badlands National Park, we decided to make a detour and at least drive through it.

We only covered a small part of the park, but we did get a few nice pics.




A Pronghorn Antelope...I had to get the zoom lens out for this one!



Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Book Review: "I Always Loved You" by Robin Oliveira

I Always Loved You Robin Oliveira
Published: 2/4/14
ISBN: 9780670785797
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Netgalley
Rating: 3 / 5
♦♦♦

Summary:
The young Mary Cassatt never thought moving to Paris after the Civil War to be an artist was going to be easy, but when, after a decade of work, her submission to the Paris Salon is rejected, Mary’s fierce determination wavers. Her father is begging her to return to Philadelphia to find a husband before it is too late, her sister Lydia is falling mysteriously ill, and worse, Mary is beginning to doubt herself. Then one evening a friend introduces her to Edgar Degas and her life changes forever. Years later she will learn that he had begged for the introduction, but in that moment their meeting seems a miracle. So begins the defining period of her life and the most tempestuous of relationships.

My Thoughts:
I finished reading this book about a week and a half ago.  Normally, I write up my reviews within 24 hours of finishing a book, but I needed much more time with this one to decide what I actually thought about it.

Mary Cassatt is my favorite impressionist and I had heard about her relationship with Degas when I took an Art History class in college (although my professor insisted that their relationship was was platonic) so I found the subject matter attractive.  I was quickly drawn into the book, due to both Oliveria's readable voice and the fact that she so vividly brings to life late 19th-century Paris.

Oliveira does a nice job of bringing to life both Cassatt and Degas.  Cassatt is striving to excel past the boundaries defined by her gender and nationality.  I don't completely buy that Oliveira's depiction of their relationship is accurate, but it is interesting to the reader.

But, ultimately I didn't find this book to be satisfying.  I tried to figure out what the problem was and I think it is that Oliveira spends a lot of time on secondary story lines.   While I appreciated that she brought in other impressionists in more than just a mention way, I did feel that she spent too much time developing their stories and it took away from the central story.

I am glad I read this book--it reminded me how much I love Mary Cassatt's work--but I'm not sure I would recommend it to others, unless they were especially interested in Mary Cassatt or Edgar Degas.

I received an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.



I Always Loved You
by Robin Oliveira
Powells.com

Monday, September 29, 2014

GIVEAWAY: "I Shall Be Near To You" by Erin Lindsay McCabe

So, if you tuned in last Friday, you saw my review of what may end up being my favorite read of the year.  If you didn't, just click on the last part of the last sentence and you can read all about it.  I'll wait....

Okay, are you back?  For those of you who didn't click over, I'm talking about this book:


Rosetta doesn't want her new husband Jeremiah to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they'll be able to afford their own farm someday. Though she's always worked by her father’s side as the son he never had, now that Rosetta is a wife she's told her place is inside with the other women. But Rosetta decides her true place is with Jeremiah, no matter what that means, and to be with him she cuts off her hair, hems an old pair of his pants, and signs up as a Union soldier.

With the army desperate for recruits, Rosetta has no trouble volunteering, although she faces an incredulous husband. She drills with the men, proves she can be as good a soldier as anyone, and deals with the tension as her husband comes to grips with having a fighting wife. Rosetta's strong will clashes with Jeremiah's while their marriage is tested by broken conventions, constant danger, and war, and she fears discovery of her secret even as they fight for their future, and for their lives. Inspired by more than 250 documented accounts of the women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is the intimate story, in Rosetta’s powerful and gorgeous voice, of the drama of marriage, one woman’s amazing exploits, and the tender love story that can unfold when two partners face life’s challenges side by side.

Well, guess what!  I have a copy to give away to a lucky reader (US only, sorry!).  All you have to do is use the Rafflecopter below.  Your first entry is so easy!  All you have to do is click on something.  If you'd like a better chance of winning, there are ways to get more entries.

Really, folks, this is a great book!  The give away ends at midnight (Pacific time) on Sunday, October 5th...so hurry up!



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, September 26, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - September 27

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Ah, Mt. Rushmore....it's kind of weird when you think about it....Dead white men carved into mountains deep in what was once Native American lands.  If that bothers you too much, go see the Crazy Horse monument--it isn't nearly as cool, but whatever.

That being said, I truly believe that all Americans should see Mt. Rushmore at least once in their lifetime.  This was time #2 for me (we stopped for a "look and get back in the car!" visit when I was younger).  Since my first visit, they built a new plaza and such, so it was kind of like coming back for the first time for me.

This picture was taken about 2 miles away with the zoom lens on my camera.


George

Another picture of George

Taken from the Presidential Trail at the base of the mountain


Taken as the sun was beginning to set


Book Review: "I Shall Be Near To You" by Erin Lindsay McCabe

I Shall Be Near To You Erin Lindsay McCabe
Published: January 28, 2014
ISBN: 9780804137720
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: 5 / 5
♦♦♦♦♦

Summary:
Rosetta doesn't want her new husband Jeremiah to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they'll be able to afford their own farm someday. Though she's always worked by her father’s side as the son he never had, now that Rosetta is a wife she's told her place is inside with the other women. But Rosetta decides her true place is with Jeremiah, no matter what that means, and to be with him she cuts off her hair, hems an old pair of his pants, and signs up as a Union soldier.

With the army desperate for recruits, Rosetta has no trouble volunteering, although she faces an incredulous husband. She drills with the men, proves she can be as good a soldier as anyone, and deals with the tension as her husband comes to grips with having a fighting wife. Rosetta's strong will clashes with Jeremiah's while their marriage is tested by broken conventions, constant danger, and war, and she fears discovery of her secret even as they fight for their future, and for their lives. Inspired by more than 250 documented accounts of the women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is the intimate story, in Rosetta’s powerful and gorgeous voice, of the drama of marriage, one woman’s amazing exploits, and the tender love story that can unfold when two partners face life’s challenges side by side.

My Thoughts:
My friends, it is books like I Shall Be Near To You that made me a reader.

It is no secret that I love historical fiction and it had been a while since I read anything set during the Civil War, so it was with a shrug of my shoulders and a, "what the heck" that I took this one on.  I'm almost ashamed to admit that was my initial reaction because this book completely blew me out of the water.

The idea of a woman fighting as a man seems almost exotic to readers, but as is said in the summary, there were over 250 documented accounts of this happening during the Civil War (so much for those who say women aren't fit for combat).  I have read other such stories, but they've always had this sort of "hero complex."  You know--amazing woman fights stereotypes to fight for her country and become a hero...blah blah blah.  I'm not discounting that, but all the stories with this subject that I had read were pretty much the same thing.

This book, however, is different.  Rosetta does not don the life of Ross Stone for any lofty nationalistic reason,  Instead, she joins to be with her husband--who joined up to earn the money for the two of them to start a new life in the west.  Both Rosetta and Jeremiah are characters I could really sink my teeth into.  As the book begins, Rosetta lives in a world where she doesn't feel she belongs.  With Jeremiah, she finds the "home" she has always wanted, but he's soon gone and she's thrust into a situation worse than before she married him.  While I can't imagine ever facing the horrors of war, I never once questioned Rosetta's choice to do so.  Jeremiah, on the other hand, has to fight between want he feels is best for his wife and letting her choose her own path.  I really can't think of another character in this situation written as well as Jeremiah.

Throughout the book, McCabe shows the horror of war--not graphically, but in the emotional reactions of Rosetta and her fellow soldiers.  While there is some battle descriptions (McCabe could not have written this book without them), there is also a deep sense of humanity.  Among the soldiers, we see--in addition to the husband and wife of Jeremiah and Rosetta--fathers and sons, brothers, friends.  My favorite secondary character was Will, a young soldier with his own burden, but also a deep faith and great compassion.

This is also the story of a marriage.  To say that Rosetta and Jeremiah are facing some stressful situations is an understatement.  While there is a beautiful sense of romance, this is not a "romantic" book.  Instead, it is an illustration of true love and devotion--something that the saccharine "romance" label cannot capture.

I'll admit that I sobbed at several points in this book and I'm tearing up just writing this review.  I know there are still a few more months left before I can really make this declaration, but I have a feeling that this will end up being my best read of the year.

Just. Read. This. Book.  Okay?

About the Author:
Erin studied literature and history at University of California, Santa Cruz, earned a teaching credential at California State University, Chico, and taught high school English for seven years. Since completing her MFA in Creative Writing at St. Mary’s College of California in 2010, Erin has taught Composition at St. Mary’s College and Butte College. A California native, Erin lives in the Sierra Foothills with her husband, son, and a small menagerie that includes one dog, four cats, two horses, numerous chickens, and three goats.  (Website) (Facebook) (Twitter) (Pinterest)

I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Want a second opinion?  Check out some of the other stops on this tour (links go to the blog, not the specific review):

Tuesday, September 2nd: Reading and Eating
Wednesday, September 3rd: Passages to the Past
Thursday, September 4th: Under a Gray Sky
Monday, September 8th: Lavish Bookshelf
Monday, September 8th: Daily Mayo
Tuesday, September 9th: Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, September 12th: Kritter’s Ramblings
Monday, September 15th: Books on the Table
Monday, September 15th:  Life is Story
Tuesday, September 16th: Jorie Loves a Story
Wednesday, September 17th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Thursday, September 18th: 100 Pages a Day…. Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Friday, September 19th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, September 22nd: Time 2 Read
Tuesday, September 23rd: History From a Woman’s Perspective
Wedesday, September 24th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Thursday, September 25th: Broken Teepee
Monday, September 29th: Must. Read. Faster




I Shall Be Near to You
by Erin Lindsay Mccabe
Powells.com

Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Review: "The Dinner" by Herman Koch

The Dinner Herman Koch
Published: February 12, 2013
ISBN: 9780770437855
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy (September Book Club Selection)
Rating: 3 / 5
♦♦♦

Summary:
A summer's evening in Amsterdam and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant. Between mouthfuls of food and over the delicate scraping of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of politeness - the banality of work, the triviality of holidays. But the empty words hide a terrible conflict and, with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened... Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. Together, the boys have committed a horrifying act, caught on camera, and their grainy images have been beamed into living rooms across the nation; despite a police manhunt, the boys remain unidentified - by everyone except their parents. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children and, as civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple shows just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

My Thoughts:
This is one of those books that I file under "appreciated, but did not enjoy."  I mean, I really, really, really did not enjoy this book.  At the same time, I won't say that it is a "bad" book and I think that it is a work that did what it set out to do.

And what was that exactly?  The message that I got from this book is that people--in this case the teenage boys--aren't just "that way."  Parents and family have an immense influence on children and they do bear some responsibility when the children make horrific choices.  While that is a bit a blanket statement, it is clearly the case in this story.

The story is a tough one all around.  The action the boys took is horrific and the dinner is, well, as painful as one would expect.  There was not a single likable character in this book (there was one I started off liking but truly despised by the end)--but I can't hold that against this particular book.

It is safe to say that this is not a book that is meant to be enjoyed.  It is, however, a thought-provoking book that should spark discussion.  I can't say that I would never recommend this book to someone else--I do think that it would be a good choice for some book clubs (I may change my mind about that after our book club meets), but it is definitely not something I would recommend to someone just looking for a good book to read.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.



The Dinner
by Herman Koch
Powells.com