Friday, September 12, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - September 13

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.

My last post was about our visit to Little Bighorn Battlefield.  After we left there, we headed towards the Black Hills of South Dakota.  However, we decided to take a little side trip to Devil's Tower in North Eastern Wyoming.

I had never been here before, which is amazing since this is just the sort of attraction my father likes.  He is very much a "look and get back in the car" traveler.  I kid you not when I say that is how we experienced the Grand Canyon.  We drove there, here took us to a look out, we looked out, and he told us to get back in the car and we left.  Needless to say, I'll be making a return trip to the Grand Canyon sometime soon.

Back to Devil's Tower.  It is actually the first National Monument in the National Parks service.  It is one of those amazing things you have to see in person to really appreciate.  You can see it without actually going into the park, but we did go in (along with about 5 tour buses! Ugh!).  It is a haven for rock climbers and we ran into a couple of them coming down from a day on the rock.  It seemed 10 hours round trip is sort of the average for climbers, but the record is someone climbing it in 18 minutes!  Yikes!

On life, On Books, On Blogging

In our house, we are finishing our 3rd week of the school year--my daughter started full-day kindergarten in August and my son started preschool 2 days a week this past week.  This is the first time since I quit working that I had a hard and fast schedule and, to tell you the truth, I love it!  

I love knowing that there is a framework to our day and I think the kids find comfort in it as well,  This is not to say that we lived a loosey-goosey lifestyle before August 26th, but our days were definitely more open.  This past summer was especially un-scheduled as my husband (who is positively not a routine person!) was on sabbatical and we were out of town for an extended period of time.

But, with every positive change there are a few "opportunity costs."  For me, it has been decreased reading time.  I'm still reading, of course, but not nearly as much as I had been and far less than I would like.  The hours in my day are limited and I've learned that I need to prioritize things, namely sleep, over reading if I want to be able to function.  So, on that note, I just want to give you a heads up that the rate of reviews on this blog will slow a bit--at least until figure out how to add some hours into my day!  I will still be reviewing books, of course, and my "regular" posts, such Saturday Snapshot and Monthly Wrap-Ups will continue as usual.

I do, however, want this blog to be something more.  I started out as a lifestyle blogger and I think I want to dip my toe back into that.  I've attempted secondary blogs in the past but maintaining multiple blogs isn't ideal for me.  Since book reviews will be slightly fewer and far between here, I thought I might expand the scope of this blog to include, well, other things.

Let me reiterate: there will still be book reviews!  Saturday Snapshot is staying!  There will just be more--some of which won't be book related.  If you'd rather not read "all that other stuff," but wish to stay in the loop with book reviews, you can always follow my Pinterest Board for this blog, where I pin all my book reviews. 

So, you can all look forward to peek into other parts of my run-of-the-mill as they may be!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Book Review: "Rachel" by Jill Eileen Smith

Rachel Jill Eileen Smith
Published: February, 2014
ISBN: 9780800734312
Genre: Christian Fiction
Source: Netgalley
Rating: 3 / 5

Rachel wants nothing more than for her older half sister Leah to wed and move out of their household. Leah wishes her father would find a good man who would love her alone. Unbeknownst to either of them, Jacob is making his way to their home, trying to escape a past laced with deceit and find the future God has promised him.

But the past comes back to haunt Jacob when he finds himself on the receiving end of treachery. The man who wanted only one woman ends up with sisters who have never gotten along and now must spend the rest of their lives sharing a husband. In the power struggles that follow, only one woman will triumph . . . or will she?

My Thoughts:
I chose this book almost completely out of curiosity.  I had previous read Michal by Jill Eileen Smith and I liked her premise of basing books on wives of notable Old Testament men, but I wasn't sure how she would handle this one.

The story of Rachel and Leah is well known, but here is a very high-level run down for anyone not familiar with the story from the book of Genesis.  Jacob, who is a sort of shifty fellow in his own right, flees Canaan for the land of Uncle Laban.  There, he sees Rachel and falls in love with her.  He works out a deal with her father, Laban (yes, they were cousins--but who wasn't?) that he will work for Laban for 7 years in return for Rachel.  He does his time, gets married and the following morning when he lifts the veil---there is Rachel's older sister, Leah.  Leah is described as having "beautiful eyes" in the Bible, while Rachel is just plain beautiful.  Jacob is not exactly happy about this, but agrees to work for another 7 years for Laban to marry Rachel as well.  So, now he's married to two sisters, but only loves one.  God takes pity on Leah and "opens" her womb and she starts giving birth to son after son after son (which of course would make someone question Jacob's "eyes only for Rachel" policy).  Rachel realizes she is barren, so she gives Jacob her maid Billah to have sons in her stead.  Leah, not to be outdone, then gives Jacob her maid Zilpah for more sons--while herself still having children--and a full blown baby making war ensues.  Rachel does end up giving birth to Joseph, who becomes a major Patriarch and the subject of a Tim Rice / Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, as well as Benjamin.  All in all, Jacob ends up with 13 acknowledged children--12 sons and 1 daughter--from Leah, Rachel, and their maids. (And, of course, family dysfunction carries on...and on...and on...)

So, this is a story of lots and lots of, well, sex.  And that is not exactly something you see a lot of in Christian fiction.  It is also a story of a lot of really uncomfortable family dynamics, which isn't always fun for the reader.  I was really curious to see how Smith handled this, and to my view, she wasn't completely successful.

I will come right about and admit that part of my problem was that I just didn't like how she told this story.  Jacob, who has a history of his own scheming (I won't go into it--it's all there in the Book of Genesis) comes across as a lily-white saint.  There are some vague references to stealing his brother's birthright, but Smith seems to gloss over that.  Frankly, I think he would have been more interesting if Smith had stuck closer to how the Bible's version of him.

Before reading this book, I was firmly in the "Team Leah" camp and this book did nothing to change that.  I found the character of Rachel to be childish long past the point when her character should have been behaving in such a way.  And, I realize this is petty on my part, but it annoyed me every time that Smith referred to Rachel's beautiful eyes.  Yeesh!  That is the only thing Leah had and you give it to Rachel?

Smith does a good job of sticking to the scripture but, and this is probably the only time I will every say this, I wish she had taken a bit of artistic liberty in one area.  The "rape" of Dinah comes up at the end of this book--where it does in the Bible--and it is just too big of an event to not devote quite of bit time and energy to.  I would have been more than happy to forgive that omission from this story.

I will say that Smith does an admirable job of trying to get this story into the "Christian Fiction" genre.  Ironically, this book is not overtly "Christian"--what I mean is that a non-Christian reader could read it without feeling they were being preached to or having to struggle with beliefs they may not share.

However, I probably wouldn't recommend this to a non-Christian reader--not because of anything in this book, but because there is a much better book out there.  Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, which is the story of Dinah, is a fantastic novel that really digs deep into the relationships between all these women and explores the role of women in the days of the Patriarchs.  It is not, however, a Christian novel (Diamant herself is Jewish) and it is more graphic than some readers of Christian Fiction would appreciate.  It is for those readers I would recommend this book.  For me, however, it just didn't work.

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

Friday, September 5, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - September 6

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.

The next stop on our road trip was Little Bighorn National Battlefield.  For those of you not familiar with this chapter of American History, you can read more about it here.  My husband had visited it several years ago and I have vague memories of being there at some point during my childhood, but we thought it would be a good place to get out and let the kids run around.

We walked around the area surrounding the Visitors Center and the new Native American Memorial before driving along the battlefield.  The weather was fabulous and my husband and I (maybe not the kids) found it fascinating.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Book Review: "Sleep Donation" by Karen Russell

Sleep Donation Karen Russell
Published: March 25, 2014
ISBN: 9781937894283
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 3 / 5


A crisis has swept America. Hundreds of thousands have lost the ability to sleep. Enter the Slumber Corps, an organization that urges healthy dreamers to donate sleep to an insomniac. Under the wealthy and enigmatic Storch brothers the Corps' reach has grown, with outposts in every major US city. Trish Edgewater, whose sister Dori was one of the first victims of the lethal insomnia, has spent the past seven years recruiting for the Corps. But Trish’s faith in the organization and in her own motives begins to falter when she is confronted by “Baby A,” the first universal sleep donor, and the mysterious "Donor Y."

My Thoughts:
I don't read a lot of Science Fiction--I'm not much of a science person and I'm a critical enough reader that I feel I have to "examine" books as I read them.  So, I'm usually put into a world where I feel I should be looking deeper into an area about which I know little.

It is probably because of this that I'm filing this novella into the "It's not you, it's me" file.  I think that one needs to be able to suspend a certain amount of disbelief with this, and I wasn't really able to do that.  I think someone who is more comfortable with the genre may be more willing to do so.  For me, I could understand how one could die from "lethal" insomnia, but why couldn't a doctor simply put them under anesthesia?  And then how exactly does one "donate" sleep and how do they transfer that to someone who has insomnia?  And then comes Donor Y, who has a nightmare--which I guess is caused by a virus or something that is transmitted through the donations?  

I liked Russell's voice and the gist of the story is definitely unique.  However, I was just plagued with too many questions about everything.  I am going to recommend this book to some of my SciFi reading fans--and I think they would have more success that I did with this.

This book is only available in the Kindle format.

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

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

August 2014 Monthly Wrap Up

I'm a few days late with this one--the end of the month was just crazy for me.  My daughter started full-day kindergarten the last week of the month, we had a big family wedding the Friday of Labor Day weekend (and both of my kids were in the party), and then we--ahem--expanded our family the next day (see below).  So, I'm a bit behind with my posts.

Overall, August was a really busy month for me so I was surprised that I got as much reading done as I did.  I know it seems to the reader of this blog that all I did for the first 2 weeks of the month reading, but almost all of those were books read in July. Anyway...

In August, I read:
Three Bargains by Tania Malik
Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung (no review)
When the World Was Young by Elizabeth Gaffney
This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell
The Dinner by Herman Koch (review to be posted 9/19)
Sinful Folk by Ned Hayes
The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder (no review)
Henna House by Nomi Eve
How To Tell Toledo From the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer
Sleep Donation by Karen Russell (review to be posted 9/4)

Right Now, I'm reading:
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary (reading to my daughter; will not review)
The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith
Rachel by Jill Eileen Smith
Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Flinn

In Other News:

  • The Book Blogger Summer Reading challenge ended as of 9/1.  My goal was to read 35 books between 5/1 and 9/1...and....I ended up reading 41.  So, go me!
  • I'm still adjusting to our new schedule and I don't feel like I am reading as much.  We shall see how the numbers add up next month.
  • Okay, up above, I mentioned expanding our family. No, I'm not pregnant.  And, no, I wasn't counting my new nephew-in-law (I'm not saying he doesn't count, but I've considered him part of the family for quite some time before he became official).  Folks, we got a cat!  I love cats and my sweet cat Carmel passed on almost 3 years ago.  However, given my kids' ages and my husband's lack of enthusiasm, I waited quite some time before bringing in a new cat.  But, this past Saturday, the kids and I headed down to the Cat Adoption Team in Sherwood, and found this lovely lady:

The shelter gave her the name of Dolores which, well, is hideous.  So, my daughter renamed her Alice, which I think is much more fitting.  She's 9 months old, so not quite a kitten anymore, but still playful and is probably the perfect cat for our family.  Folks, instead of reading, I've been playing with this young thing.  So, sue me!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Book Review: "How To Tell Toledo From the Night Sky" by Lydia Netzer

How To Tell Toledo From the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer
Published: July 1, 2014
ISBN: 9781250047021
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Library
Rating: 3 / 5

Like a jewel shimmering in a Midwest skyline, the Toledo Institute of Astronomy is the nation's premier center of astronomical discovery and a beacon of scientific learning for astronomers far and wide. Here, dreamy cosmologist George Dermont mines the stars to prove the existence of God. Here, Irene Sparks, an unsentimental scientist, creates black holes in captivity.

George and Irene are on a collision course with love, destiny and fate. They have everything in common: both are ambitious, both passionate about science, both lonely and yearning for connection. The air seems to hum when they’re together. But George and Irene’s attraction was not written in the stars. In fact their mothers, friends since childhood, raised them separately to become each other's soulmates. 

When that long-secret plan triggers unintended consequences, the two astronomers must discover the truth about their destinies, and unravel the mystery of what Toledo holds for them—together or, perhaps, apart.

My Thoughts:
I picked up this book because I had heard a number of good things about it on a few book podcasts I enjoy.  It sounded quirky and fun and a good choice to break up a string of heavier books I'd been working through.

This book was both completely and not at all what I expected.  It is original and quirky with a touch of magic realism, which I appreciated.  Sometimes the quirks were a bit too much for me, but I loved the "not of the world" aspects of the story.  Netzer is also fun to read with a keen sense of humor.

I will say the premise of the book intrigued me more than the actual book.  At the end of the day, this is a romantic novel (I wouldn't call it a "romance," as it doesn't fit that genre).  There are two story lines happening--the budding romance between Irene and George and the secret plan concocted by their mothers  Unfortunately, I think the presence of two plots sort of short changed both.  Neither story really went as deep as I would have liked and I never really felt like I got close to any of the characters.

I will readily admit that this might be a case of a book just not being a very good fit for the reader.  I have reader friends who I think would really enjoy this book, even though I can't say that I did.

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

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