Friday, August 29, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - August 30

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.

We decided not to go back to Yellowstone during our last day in Livingston--we had seen most of what we wanted to see and didn't want to fight the crowds.  Instead, we headed over to Bozeman to see the Museum of the Rockies.  We had gone there the last time were in the area, which was before we had children.  We knew our kids would love it!

These pictures were taken with my iPhone, so the quality isn't quite as good.

My kids immediately went for all these dinosaur toys.  Little did they know that the real dinosaur exhibit was around the corner!

Checking out a dinosaur diorama

Another play area...

Upstairs was the "Yellowstone Room," which was a hands on area for kids.  My daughter loved the "fishing"

Here is my husband trying to teach my son to fish!

My daughter, the eagle!

The museum includes a living history "homestead house" out back.  My daughter got to try her hand at churning butter!

Pumping Water

Apparently pumping water is quite fun....

And then we water the plants....

Checking out the root cellar

There was even a blacksmith on duty!

Book Review: "Sinful Folk" by Ned Hayes

Sinful Folk Ned Hayes
Published: January 22, 2014
ISBN: 9780985239305
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: 4 / 5

In December of the year 1377, five children were burned to death in a suspicious house fire. A small band of villagers traveled 200 miles across England in midwinter to demand justice for their children’s deaths. 

Sinful Folk is the story of this treacherous journey as seen by Mear, a former nun who has lived for a decade disguised as a mute man, raising her son quietly in this isolated village. 

For years, she has concealed herself and all her secrets. But in this journey, she will find the strength to claim the promise of her past and find a new future. Mear begins her journey in terror and heartache, and ends in triumph and redemption. 

My Thoughts:
I'm a sucker for books set in Medieval England (my degree is in British Medieval History, so it kind of make me feel like I'm putting my degree to use).  This book sounded like it had it all--some sort of quest, a strong female (albeit disguised as a man) lead, and "triumph and redemption."

And, mostly, this book delivers.  I enjoyed reading about Mear and Hayes does a good job of meeting out her back story to the reader.  I was entertained by her companions as a group (there are moments of actual comedy found in this group!), but as individuals some of them melded together for me.

As for historical accuracy, Hayes hit the nail on the head.  There was nothing factual out of place with this book and I loved all the detail he weaves into the story.  If you want to read a book about how real (that is, not royal) people lived in Medieval England, this is a book for you.  He never shies away from the dirt and grime (literally and figuratively speaking) of the time period.

I did have a couple of quibbles, though.  I "solved" the mystery of this book long before I think Hayes would have liked me to.  I also had a hard time believing that Mear could go so long with these men in particular, but her village in general, without them discovering that she was not a man.  I also wish the Jewish aspect of the book had been brought more to the forefront as it is a crucial aspect of the whole story.

But, even with those minor drawbacks, I still really enjoyed this book and would readily recommend it to anyone who reads historical fiction.

About the Author:
Ned Hayes first read Chaucer in graduate school, where he worked under noted medieval scholar Richard Emmerson. He has studied at Stanford University, Western Washington University, the Rainier Writing Workshop and the Graduate Theological Union at the University of California, Berkeley. He lives in Olympia, Washington, with his wife and two children. Sinful Folk is his first story set in the medieval era. He is now at work on a new novel set in the 1300s.

Find out more about Ned at his website, follow him on Twitter, and see what he’s pinning on Pinterest. You can also read more about the book at its website, follow news of the book on Facebook, get quotes from the book on Pinterest.

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 others think of this book?  Check out the other stops on this tour!  (Links go to the blog, not the specific review).

Sunday, July 27th: You’ve GOTTA Read This!
Monday, August 4th: 100 Pages a Day … Stephanie’s Book
Tuesday, August 5th: Words for Worms
Wednesday, August 6th: What She Read
Thursday, August 7th: M. Denise C.
Monday, August 11th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, August 13th: From the TBR Pile
Thursday, August 14th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Monday, August 18th: Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, August 19th: nightly reading
Wednesday, August 20th: Unabridged Chick
Thursday, August 21st: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Monday, August 25th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Wednesday, August 27th: BoundbyWords
Thursday, August 28th: Passages to the Past

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Book Review: "Henna House" by Nomi Eve

Henna House Nomi Eve
Published: August 12, 2014
ISBN: 9781476740270
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Netgalley
Rating: 3 / 5

Nomi Eve’s vivid saga begins in Yemen in 1920, when Adela Damari’s parents desperately seek a future husband for their young daughter. After passage of the Orphan’s Decree, any unbetrothed Jewish child left orphaned will be instantly adopted by the local Muslim community. With her parents’ health failing, and no spousal prospects in sight, Adela’s situation looks dire until her uncle arrives from a faraway city, bringing with him a cousin and aunt who introduce Adela to the powerful rituals of henna tattooing. Suddenly, Adela’s eyes are opened to the world, and she begins to understand what it means to love another and one’s heritage. She is imperiled, however, when her parents die and a prolonged drought threatens their long-established way of life. She and her extended family flee to the city of Aden where Adela encounters old loves, discovers her true calling, and is ultimately betrayed by the people and customs she once held dear.

Henna House is an intimate family portrait and a panorama of history. From the traditions of the Yemenite Jews, to the far-ranging devastation of the Holocaust, to the birth of the State of Israel, Eve offers an unforgettable coming-of-age story and a textured chronicle of a fascinating period in the twentieth century.

My Thoughts:
I'm really torn about this one.  On the one hand, I loved reading about a culture--the Yemeni Jews--about which I knew precisely nothing.  I think it is too easy for non-Jewish readers to think that there is only one or two types of Judaism, so I really enjoyed learning about this particular culture.  And I think this is the first book I'd ever read that was set in Yemen, so there is that.

I also really loved Eve's writing voice.  She's lyrical without getting too wrapped up in her own language.  She also strikes a nice balance between explaining culture-specific terms and leaving some for the reader to define for themselves through context.  I find that many authors writing about another culture either go one way or the other, so I appreciated that Eve was very moderate in this.

But, there were some technical things about this book that really bothered me.  For one thing, I felt like 80% of this book was just backstory for the last 20%.  Then, once I hit the point where the story really began, the pace of the book picked up so much it felt like a race to the finish.  I do wish that Eve had evened out the tempo of this book so that the reader doesn't feel like the story starts to fly by them right as it starts getting good.

Eve also seemed to have trouble with foreshadowing and extraneous details.  There were a number of details that felt like they should be developed into the plot but just never went anywhere.  Conversely, the bonafide foreshadowing was very obvious and almost felt like there should be a "dut dut DUN" every time it occured.

There was one other thing that made me very, very uncomfortable about this book.  I actually tried to ignore it when evaluating my thoughts of this book, but it ended up coloring how I saw much of the book.  At one point in the book, rather early on (which was especially unfortunate as it did color most of the book afterwards for me), there is a rather graphic sexual incident between two prepubescent (ages 10 and 11) children.  I have a reasonable tolerance for sexual content in books, but not when it concerns children.  To me, it was incredibly inappropriate and, frankly, not even necessary to the story.

So, there are my jumbled thoughts.  I honestly don't know if I would recommend this to another reader--there is, after all, much to commend it.  However, there are also enough drawbacks to make me question it as a recommendation.

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

Henna House
by Nomi Eve

Friday, August 22, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - August 23

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.

Here it last Yellowstone post!  After visiting the Old Faithful area, we backtracked up to the Madison Junction and then over to the Canyon and up to Tower Falls before heading to Gardiner and back up to Livingston.  Unfortunately, it was too crowded for me to get any pictures of Tower Falls, but here are a few from the Canyon.

The bison were out in full form!  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Review: "The House We Grew Up In" by Lisa Jewell

The House We Grew Up In Lisa Jewell
Published: August 12, 2014
ISBN: 9781476702995
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Netgalley
Rating: 4 / 5

Meet the Bird family. They live in a honey-colored house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together every night. Their father is a sweet gangly man named Colin, who still looks like a teenager with floppy hair and owlish, round-framed glasses. Their mother is a beautiful hippy named Lorelei, who exists entirely in the moment. And she makes every moment sparkle in her children's lives.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy comes to call. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass as the children become adults, find new relationships, and develop their own separate lives. Soon it seems as though they've never been a family at all. But then something happens that calls them back to the house they grew up in -- and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.

My Thoughts:
Since it becomes quite obvious early on, I don't think it is a spoiler to say that this book is about, among other things, hoarding.  I'm actually rather glad that this wasn't spelled out in the summary because I'm not sure I would have read this book if it was.  There are some borderline-hoarders in my family and, well, this isn't a topic that would appeal to me.

That being said, I am so glad that I read this book.  Jewell has written a masterpiece with this one--we meet the Bird family, centered around the eccentric mother, Lorelei.  Lorelei's children (and husband) are aware of their mother's illness and we see how the ripple effects of that illness show up in her children.

This story is told in sort of a double-flashback.  One one layer, we have the oldest daughter Megan and her daughter (and then other members of the family) in the present day.  Then, we go back a few months in time to Lorelei's email correspondence with an internet suitor.  Finally, we go farther back in time to when the children were growing up and into their adulthood.  This structure shouldn't work....but it does!  It sounds confusing, but Jewell actually does this quite seamlessly.

I really enjoyed seeing how the characters developed.  Each had their own cross to bear and none could escape the effects of Lorelei's illness.  I felt that the characters and their evolution were believable--with one exception.  Colin's story arc was a bit over the edge for me.  It almost felt like Jewell was using him and doing everything in her power to keep a secondary character in the story to catapult part of the greater plot along (if that makes any sense).

Lucikly, Colin's storyline was the only drawback for me and, if it hadn't been for that, I would have given this book 5 stars.  I heartily recommend it!

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

The House We Grew Up in
by Lisa Jewell

Friday, August 15, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - August 16

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 visiting the Midway Geyser Basin, we headed up to the Old Faithful area.  Ironically, we didn't stick around for Old Faithful (we had seen it the day before).  Instead, we grabbed lunch and then headed out for a walk to see some of the other geysers in the area.

The Firehole River

Book Review: "This Is Where I Leave You" by Jonathan Tropper

This Is Where I Leave You Jonathan Tropper
Published: August 6, 2009
ISBN: 9780525951278
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Library
Rating: 2 / 5

The death of Judd Foxman’s father marks the first time that the entire Foxman family—including Judd’s mother, brothers, and sister—have been together in years. Conspicuously absent: Judd’s wife, Jen, whose fourteen-month affair with Judd’s radio-shock-jock boss has recently become painfully public.

Simultaneously mourning the death of his father and the demise of his marriage, Judd joins the rest of the Foxmans as they reluctantly submit to their patriarch’s dying request: to spend the seven days following the funeral together. In the same house. Like a family.

As the week quickly spins out of control, longstanding grudges resurface, secrets are revealed, and old passions reawakened. For Judd, it’s a weeklong attempt to make sense of the mess his life has become while trying in vain not to get sucked into the regressive battles of his madly dysfunctional family. All of which would be hard enough without the bomb Jen dropped the day Judd’s father died: She’s pregnant.

My Thoughts:
I wanted to like this book, I really did!  This title has been on my radar for some time and, since the movie version will be out soon , I thought I'd better put it at the top of my TBR list.

The good part of it, for me, was that I think the overarching story--a family coming together to sit Shiva for their faither--could make a good movie.  However, I think that a number of, ahem, liberties would have to be made for that to happen.  Frankly, the book just didn't live up to the promise.

I think it was from James Joyce's Ulysses where the idea that a man thinks about sex once every 11 seconds  comes.  Idon't know if that is true, but I think Tropper is trying to prove that in this book.  Everything thought from Judd, the main character, seems to be about sex.  The characters seem to talk only about sex.  It's all just sex--and not really "mature" sex.  Instead, it seems more like teenaged boy sex--which would be fine if this book were about a teenaged boy.  But it's not.  It's about adults--although I guess an argument can be made that these characters are teenagers stuck in adults' bodies.

I also was never really sure what this book was about.  Is it about Judd and his family?  Judd and his unfaithful wife?  Judd and the girl who got away?  This book was going so many directions at once that I always felt unmoored in it.

Tropper is a readable writer and there were some funny (in a potty-humor sort of way) parts in this book.  But, ultimately, it was disappointment.

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

This Is Where I Leave You
by Jonathan Tropper

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book Review: "When the World Was Young" by Elizabeth Gaffney

When the World Was Young Elizabeth Gaffney
Published: August 5, 2014
ISBN: 9781400064687
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Netgalley
Rating: 4 / 5

Wally Baker is no ordinary girl. Living in her grandparents’ Brooklyn Heights brownstone, she doesn’t like dresses, needlepoint, or manners. Her love of Wonder Woman comics and ants makes her feel like a misfit—especially in the shadow of her dazzling but unstable mother, Stella.

Acclaimed author Elizabeth Gaffney’s irresistible novel captures postwar Brooklyn through Wally’s eyes, opening on V-J day, as she grows up with the rest of America. Reeling from her own unexpected wartime tragedy and navigating an increasingly fraught landscape, Wally is forced to confront painful truths about the world—its sorrows, its prejudices, its conflicts, its limitations. But Wally also finds hope and strength in the unlikeliest places.

With an unforgettable cast of characters, including the increasingly distant and distracted Stella; Loretta, the family’s black maid and Wally’s second mother; Ham, Loretta’s son, who shares Wally’s enthusiasm for ants and exploration; Rudy, Wally’s father, a naval officer, away serving in the Pacific; and Mr. Niederman, the family’s boarder, who never seems to answer Wally’s questions—and who she suspects may have something to hide—Elizabeth Gaffney crafts an immersive, beautifully realized novel about the truths that divide and the love that keeps us together.

My Thoughts:
This was an interesting book, but a rather hard book for me to rate.  There were some 5-star aspects of this book, as well as some 3-star aspects--so it was a bit of a mixed bag.

I did really enjoy the era in which this book was set.  I've read books set during WWII and books set in the 50s, but very few books I've read look at those two periods together.  The setting of this book is such a rich time--a nation recovering from war and the early stages of the modern Civil Rights and Feminist movements.  I also quite liked Wally--we meet her as a precocious tween who shadows the son of her grandmother's African-American maid and then watch her grow into adulthood.  And her world is not typical--both her Grandmother and Mother are physicians in a time when few women went into that profession.

However, it took me a while to get into this book.  I think part of the problem is the structure.  We start at VJ day and then immediately go through an extended flash-back period and then--at least 25% of the way into the book--back to VJ day when the story really starts.  It wasn't until we came back to that period that I was really able to invest myself in this book.

My other frustration with this book comes as the book ends.  While I found the plot interesting, I felt that , as the conclusion neared, Gaffney backed away from delving deeper into the social issues facing the characters.  She had done this earlier in the book, which is what made it seem lopsided to me.

Ultimately, I'm glad I read this book and I did enjoy it--but I could have enjoyed it more if some of the structural issues had been corrected.  I would probably still recommend this book as I found it to be readable and unique, but I wouldn't tout it as being one of the best out there.

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Review: "Three Bargains" by Tania Malik

Three Bargains Tania Malik
Published: August 11, 2014
ISBN: 9780393063400
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Goodreads First Reads Program
Rating: 4 / 5

By the banks of the River Yamuna in northern India, where rice paddies of basmati merge into fields of sugarcane, twelve-year-old Madan lives with his impoverished family in the town of Gorapur. Madan's father works for Avtaar Singh, a powerful and controlling man who owns the largest factory in town and much of the land around it. Madan's sharp mind and hardened determination catch Avtaar Singh's attention. When Madan’s father's misdeeds jeopardize his sister's life, Madan strikes his first bargain with Avtaar Singh to save her. Drawn into Avtaar Singh's violent world, Madan becomes his son in every way but by blood. Suddenly it looks as if everything will change for Madan and his family until a forbidden love affair has brutal consequences and he is forced to leave behind all that is dear to him. On his journey toward redemption, Madan will have to bargain, once, twice, three times for his life and for the lives of those he loves.

My Thoughts:
This was an interesting book to read and a somewhat difficult book to review.  It was an engrossing story and kept my attention from the first page.  However, I can't say that I always enjoyed reading it.  But, then again, I don't believe that the author meant for this book to be enjoyable.

Madan is an interesting character--he almost strikes me as being Dickensian.  He's very dynamic as he coasts the arc of this rags to riches to rags to riches to....(I'm not going to tell you how it ends up!).  I didn't find any of the other characters in this book to be as faceted as he is.  However, for the most part, that is fine.  The only character I wish did have more depth was that of Avtaar Singh, who seemed just a bit too mysterious for me.

This book came touted as being along the lines of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner.  While I believe that Three Bargains is in that vein, I wouldn't say it is quite up to the level of The Kite Runner.  Like Hosseini's book, there are some truly violent and hard to read to read scenes in this book (although I found the scenes in The Kite Runner to be harder to stomach).  However, it doesn't seem to have the same urgency as The Kite Runner.

This is definitely a book I'm glad I read and I would recommend it to some readers--specifically to those with an interest in books from different cultures and who can stomach a fair amount of violence and profanity.  This would also be an excellent selection for a book club as there is much to discuss in it.

I won a copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads program.  I was encouraged, but not required, to write and post an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Three Bargains
by Tania Malik

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book Review: "The Wilder Life" by Wendy McClure

The Wilder Life Wendy McClure
Published: April 3, 2012
ISBN: 9781594485688
Genre: Memoir
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 / 5

Wendy McClure is on a quest to find the world of beloved Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder—a fantastic realm of fiction, history, and places she’s never been to, yet somehow knows by heart. She traces the pioneer journey of the Ingalls family— looking for the Big Woods among the medium trees in Wisconsin, wading in Plum Creek, and enduring a prairie hailstorm in South Dakota. She immerses herself in all things Little House—exploring the story from fact to fiction, and from the TV shows to the annual summer pageants in Laura’s hometowns. Whether she’s churning butter in her apartment or sitting in a replica log cabin, McClure is always in pursuit of “the Laura experience.” The result is an incredibly funny first-person account of obsessive reading, and a story about what happens when we reconnect with our childhood touchstones—and find that our old love has only deepened.

My Thoughts:
This little fact needs to be made public before I go any further.  I purchased my copy of this book at the Ingalls Homestead in De Smet, SD.  Folks, I'm not just in the choir, I'm the director!  So, the idea of someone going on a Laura Ingalls Wilder pilgrimage didn't seem the least bit strange to me, considering that was exactly what I was doing.

I've read one of McClure's earlier books and enjoyed it and I found her humorous style very fitting.  I especially enjoyed her stops in De Smet, Walnut Grove, and Pepin as those were my LIW destinations (I need to somehow convince my husband that we need to go to Missouri and Kansas).

As much as I enjoyed reading this, I'm not going to say that McClure and I had identical experiences.  For one thing, I am revisiting the books and visiting the sites as a mom, which she is not (and this is a distinction she makes in the book).  I also seemed to be looking for something else--something that I found.  After finishing this book, McClure sounds as though she never found what she was looking for.

I certainly cannot blame McClure for the fact that her experience differs from mine and I'm really okay with that.  However, there were times when McClure seemed to make blanket statements about other Laura Ingalls Wilder fans that seemed a bit judgmental to me. She tends to speak as if other LIW fans (not including herself) are all camping out and waiting for the apocalypse.

However, I was able to--well, if not overlook, at least tolerate--that.  On the whole, however, this is an enjoyable book for people who enjoy the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

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