Friday, July 18, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - July 19

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.

Onto Day 2 of our Road trip!  Our big stop today was Craters of the Moon National Monument which is in the middle of nowhere in Idaho.  That being said, it is pretty unique and well worth the trip!  And, we tired our kids out!  Score!

Cheating a bit here....this was on the way to Craters of the Moon





We have an embarrassing number of pictures and video of my husband and I taking pictures and videos of each other taking pictures and video.





Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book Review: "The Boleyn Reckoning" by Laura Andersen

The Boleyn Reckoning Laura Andersen
Published: July 15, 2014
ISBN: 9780345534132
Genre: Alternative Historical Fiction
Source: Netgalley
Rating: 4 / 5
♦♦♦4

You can read my review of the first novel in this trilogy, The Boleyn King, here and the second novel, The Boleyn Deceit, here.

Summary:
Elizabeth Tudor is at a crossroads. After a disastrous winter, the Duke of Northumberland has been executed for treason while his son, Robert Dudley, claims from the Tower that the true traitor has not yet been caught. And though her brother, William, has survived smallpox, scars linger in the king's body and mind and his patience is at an end. 

As English ships and soldiers arm themselves against the threat of invasion, William marches to the drumbeat of his own desires rather than his country's welfare. Wary of this changed royal brother, Elizabeth assembles her own shadow court to protect England as best she can. But William, able to command armies and navies, cannot command hearts. 


Minuette and Dominic have married in secret, and after an ill-timed pregnancy, they take to flight. Faced with betrayal by the two he loved most, William's need for vengeance pushes England to the brink of civil war and in the end, Elizabeth must choose: her brother, or her country? \

My Thoughts: 
I've been waiting for this book since I read the last word of The Boleyn Deceit.  I'm always wary of alternative fiction, but this series completely sucked me in to the very last page of this, the last book.

I read each of the books in this trilogy as they came out, which meant that there was a substantial period of time between my readings of each book.  If I had it to do over again, and I would recommend to anyone who is interested in these books, to just binge read the three, one right after the other.  None of these, at least of all The Boleyn Reckoning, is a standalone book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I never knew where the plot was going, and that rarely happens to me anymore.  Three of the four main characters--the three fictional ones--were all dynamically written.  And the fourth, Elizabeth, was--to me--the most interesting of all.  Of course, I don't know if I can give all the credit to Andersen for that.  Let's face it, Elizabeth I is one of the most captivating women in history.

I had only a few minor complaints, and that really reflect on the series as a whole and not specifically this book.  I felt some of the secondary "real" characters, such as Jane Grey and Mary Tudor, sort of appeared and disappeared throughout the book and I wish they would have been more present throughout instead of just appearing here and there.

This is not meant as a criticism--if anything, it is a compliment--but I felt a little off my bearing by this whole series.  I am quite familiar with this period in history (it was my major!), but I kept forgetting that these books were fiction and the at William, Dominic, and Minuette never existed and that none of this ever happened!

Unless you are a hard-core purist and accuracy-fanatic when it comes to historical fiction, I would recommend this series to anyone.  However, as I said, you need to start at the beginning and read straight through to the conclusion.

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



Friday, July 11, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - July 12

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.

Welcome to our family's huge road trip!  Buckle up because this will be the topic for many, many weeks to come!

I have a short post this week (don't worry, I'll make it up next week), simply because I was playing with the settings on my DSLR and most of my pictures didn't turn out.  You know, I should really take a class!

Anyway, we headed out bright and early and made it from the Portland metro area to the Boise Metro area in one piece!  Our first stop was a quick one at Multnomah Falls.  This is less than an hour from us, but we have never taken our kids!  So we made a quick stop and headed out for a few pics!  It was pretty chilly, though, so we only stayed long enough for pictures and a potty break.

Our other big stop was the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City, OR (almost to Idaho).  I've always wanted to go here, but it is quite the haul from our home.  Now, however, I can say that I've been there!  I most likely won't go back--it was nice, but it really could have been better.  Oh well!

We got to our final destination around 7pm, about 11 hours after we had left home.  Our internal clocks were a little off because we had crossed from Pacific to Mountain time, but oh well!  We took the kids for a swim before bed and then we all slept like rocks!

There is no way we could have done this trip if we didn't have a minivan!

The lovely Multnomah Falls!

The view from the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.  That looks like ugly weather out there, but we only encountered a few raindrops!


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Book Review: "Evergreen" by Rebecca Rasmussen

Evergreen Rebecca Rasmussen
Published: July 15, 2014
ISBN: 0385350996
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: GoodReads First Reads
Rating: 4 /5


Summary:
It is 1938 when Eveline, a young bride, follows her husband into the wilderness of Minnesota. Though their cabin is rundown, they have a river full of fish, a garden out back, and a new baby boy named Hux. But when Emil leaves to take care of his sick father, the unthinkable happens: a stranger arrives, and Eveline becomes pregnant. She gives the child away, and while Hux grows up hunting and fishing in the woods with his parents, his sister, Naamah, is raised an orphan. Years later, haunted by the knowledge of this forsaken girl, Hux decides to find his sister and bring her home to the cabin. But Naamah, even wilder than the wilderness that surrounds them, may make it impossible for Hux to ever tame her, to ever make up for all that she, and they, have lost. Set before a backdrop of vanishing forest, this is a luminous novel of love, regret, and hope.

My Thoughts:
There are books that are non-stop action from the first to the last page and there are books that are more like a meditation.  Evergreen is one of those quiet books.  It is definitely more a character-driven book than a plot-driven one...if you like those sorts of things.

And I do like those sorts of things.

Rasmussen has created a group of flesh-and-blood characters, all of whom are dealing with the repercussions of one act and one decision.  Rasmussen is smart how she handles this--the book is divided into 4 parts that span the generations from 1938 to 1972.  She is able to cut out the superfluous material and get right to the heart of these characters in a way that I've seen few writers do.  These characters will get right into the reader's soul.  Rasmussen is able to bring out the humanity in each of these characters so all of them are relatable in some way.

Rasmussen is also very successful in setting the place of this novel  Evergreen is set apart--apart from town, apart from lumber camps, apart from just about everyone except these characters.  Even still, I was able to picture this place in my mind's eye and feel like I was there with the characters.

As I said, this is a deeply character-driven novel, which I know does not appeal to everyone.  However, if you enjoy character novels and, frankly, just beautiful prose, you will enjoy Evergreen.

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



Evergreen
by Rebecca Rasmussen
Powells.com

Monday, July 7, 2014

Book Review: "Big Stone Gap" by Adriana Trigiani

Big Stone Gap Adriana Trigiani
Published: April 3, 2001
ISBN: 9780345438324
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 / 5
♦♦♦♦

Summary:
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, the tiny town of Big Stone Gap is home to some of the most charming eccentrics in the state. Ave Maria Mulligan is the town's self-proclaimed spinster, a thirty-five year old pharmacist with a "mountain girl's body and a flat behind." She lives an amiable life with good friends and lots of hobbies until the fateful day in 1978 when she suddenly discovers that she's not who she always thought she was. Before she can blink, Ave's fielding marriage proposals, fighting off greedy family members, organizing a celebration for visiting celebrities, and planning the trip of a lifetime—a trip that could change her view of the world and her own place in it forever. 

My Thoughts:
This is a book that has been on my TBR list forever, but I pushed it up the queue when I found out the movie version (written and directed by Trigiani herself) would be out soon.  Considering that I now have the following 3 books in the series waiting for me, you can guess that I liked this one!

Big Stone Gap is the sort of book that is a bit meatier than a "beach read" but definitely not as taxing as literary fiction.  In other words, my ideal summer read.

There is a definite down-home, folksy feel to this book which appealed to me, but might not to everyone.  The town of Big Stone Gap is chock full of characters, enough that I worried that I would start to get them mixed up.  Luckily, Trigiani does an excellent job of developing even the secondary characters so that none of them are forgettable.  I especially enjoyed the main character of Ave Maria.  I could completely understand why she felt stuck in her life and her plans of leaving town made complete sense to me.

While one or two of the plot twists seemed to be a little too out of the blue for me, overall I found this a completely engrossing novel.  And now I'm ready to start on Big Cherry Holler!

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



Big Stone Gap
by Adriana Trigiani
Powells.com

Friday, July 4, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - July 5

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 husband is officially on Sabbatical now...which means he doesn't go back to work until the last week in August!  We have our big trip coming up, but we decided to take a day trip to Mount St. Helens.  Neither my husband nor I had been there in the recent past and, obviously, our kids had never been there,

Mount St. Helens is a truly unique place to visit.  As there is no place to stay in the area (camping is prohibited), it is best suited for a day trip.  It is about halfway between Portland and Seattle, so it is pretty accessible by car.

There are not one, not two, not three, but FOUR Visitor centers there.  At one time, the National Park service ran most, if not all of them.  However, they have since spun some of them out and now only operate the Johnston Ridge Observatory (which is the one closest to the volcano).  We visited 3 of the 4 centers and they each had their own offerings.  All had a movies about the May 18, 1980 eruption, the best one being at Johnston Ridge--if for no other reason that, once the movie is over the screen goes up and--voila!--there is Mount St. Helen's!  They actually have 2 movies--one with a biological focus and one with a geological focus.  We only saw the latter, but it was very well done.

The first center we stopped at is at the entrance to the area and is run by the Washington State Parks system  There is a great photo spot there, but really that's the only reason to stop.  Well, that and to get a map.  They have a museum with a $5 admission fee, which we did visit but probably won't again.

The second center is run by Weyerhauser and has a strong logging bent (not surprisingly!).  It is quite well done and FREE, which led my husband to go off on the benefits of private enterprise....sigh!  The third, which I already mentioned, was the Johnston Ridge Observatory, which was my favorite.

Okay, enough gabbing....here are the pics!


In the discovery room of the Weyerhauser Visitor Center

My daughter gets to try out a helicopter (sort of) at the Weyerhauser center


This is the Toutle River.  Pre 5/18/80, it was a much different river.  However, the eruption sent a log jam down this river and then, when the snow and glacial ice melted from the mountain (like, seconds later), it caused a massive flood downriver, which caused most of the 57 fatalities that day.

My son always wants to look through these viewfinders, but he's too short.  No worries, Daddy to the rescue!

The Weyerhauser center also had a nice little play area for the kids, which they enjoyed.  We only let them play for a short while as it was almost 100 degrees out!

Taken from the Johnston Ridge Observatory

My kids loved this!  They can jump on the pad in front of the seismometer to see if they can record an "earthquake"

This is the memorial to the 57 people who died in the May 18, 1980 eruption

Heading home!

On another note, starting either next week or the week after (I may have pictures from another day trip to post next week), I'll be posting pics from our road trip.  I'm expecting those posts to go on for quite some while, but if you'd like more "up to the minute" pictures from our trip, you can follow me on Instagram at mdawnott.  My profile is set to private, but if I know who you are (you can leave me a comment here), I'll approve you.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Book Review: "In the Field of Grace" by Tessa Afshar

In the Field of Grace Tessa Afshar
Published: July 1, 2014
ISBN: 9780802410979
Genre: Christian Fiction
Source: Netgalley
Rating: 4 / 5
♦♦♦♦

Summary:
Ruth leaves her home with  a barren womb and an empty future, after losing her husband. She forsakes her abusive parents and follows the woman she has grown to love as a true parent, her husband's mother, Naomi.

Ruth arrives in Israel with nothing to recommend her but Naomi's, love. She is destitute, grief-stricken, and unwanted by the people of God. Her loftiest hope is to provide enough food to save Naomi and herself from starvation. She is reduced to gathering leftovers once the harvesters have finished collecting grain from the field. A job only for the lowest of the low.

But God has other plans for her life.


While everyone considers Ruth an unworthy outsider, Ruth is shocked to find the owner of the field-one of the wealthiest and most honored men of Judah-is showing her favor.  Long since a widower and determined to stay that way, Boaz finds himself irresistibly drawn to the foreign woman with the dark, haunted eyes. He tells himself he is only being kind to his Cousin Naomi's chosen daughter when he goes out of his way to protect her from harm, but his heart knows better.

My Thoughts:
I went into this book a little bit biased--I adore the story of Ruth!  I also think that it is one of the easier Old Testament stories to use as a basis for Christian Fiction.  Its plot isn't vague, as in the case of Noah and the Ark, and it isn't too detailed in the Bible, as in the case of Esther.  It's also a love story--and who doesn't love a romance?

I will say that I quite liked Afshar's take on the story.  She stays close to the source, filling in details only where needed.  She also infuses references to other passages in the Old Testament, as well as sections of the New Testament.  She gives a very plausible reason why Ruth would follow Naomi away from Maob and back to Israel, which I appreciated.

She also weaves in a few subplots, with mixed results.  While the relationship between Adin and Dinah is interesting, I do think she spent a bit too much time on it and I felt that it started to pull away a bit too much from Ruth's story.  Afshar may also have had some problems with her transitions.  I say she "may" have because I was reading an electronic review copy of this book--the version I read had some very abrupt scene changes.  However, it could be that some formatting corrections in the final copy may have cleared these up.

This book is very firmly in the "Christian Fiction" genre.  If that is not your thing, I would not recommend this book.  However, if you enjoy this genre, you should give this book a try!

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



In the Field of Grace
by Tessa Afshar
Powells.com

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Book Review: "12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid" by Tim Elmore

12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid: Leading Your Kids to Succeed in Life Tim Elmore
Published: July 1, 2014
ISBN: 9780736958431
Genre: Parenting
Source: Netgalley
Rating: 4 / 5
♦♦♦♦

Summary: 
You're deeply committed to helping your kids succeed. But you're concerned--why are so many graduates unprepared to enter the workforce and face life on their own? You're doing your best to raise healthy children, but sometimes you wonder, am I really helping them?

Tim Elmore shows you how to avoid twelve critical mistakes parents unintentionally make. He outlines practical and effective parenting skills so you won't fall into common traps, such as...


making happiness a goal instead of a by-product,  not letting kids struggle or fight for what they believe, not letting them fail or suffer consequences lying about kids' potential--and not exploring their true potential giving them what they should earn.

My Thoughts:
As my children approach school age, I'm finding myself drawn to books like these--how to help them without hindering them.  Elmore presents a very easy to follow and instructional book for parents in my position.  Let's face it, there are some out of control parents over there--those who just don't let their kids grow up (and this can pose some real problems in adulthood.  I know a few of these "kids" and, whoa, it's not pretty, folks!)

This book is very well organized.  I will say that it is a little formulaic, but that works well here.  Elmore tackles 12 issues by defining them, exploring them, and then offering suggestions for parents.  I would say that very little of what he says is surprising, but the way he phrases it makes the reader realize that they might possibly be treading on thin ice and this might be the time to turn things around.

This book is put out by a Christian publisher and it came to me under the "Christian / Parenting" banner.  I will say that Elmore keeps his faith-based talk to a very bare minimum.  True, what he advocates is in line with what many consider "Christian" parenting principles, but it is really more common sense than anything.  I don't think that a non-Christian would have any issue or would be bothered by the contents or language of this book.

My only complaint is that Elmore sometimes goes just a bit too far.  For example, he frequently talks about how parents go to great lengths to protect their children and he does give some examples--not letting them walk to school on their own (if it is nearby) or advocating that play structures be removed from playgrounds.  But he also includes things such as insisting kids wear seat belts and bike helmets.  I get it about overreaction to "treacherous" playgrounds, but I do think it is just common sense (and good parenting) to make sure your kids wear seat belts and bike helmets.  So, my advice to a reader would be to go in to this book willing to take his hyperbole with a grain of salt.

All in all this is a solid parenting book--and one I wish had come out 35 or 40 years ago.

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



Tuesday, July 1, 2014

June 2014 Monthly Wrap Up

Well, summer is OFFICIALLY here.  This summer will be a little more hectic for me than usual because my husband has a sabbatical and we have a major trip planned, so things will be a bit more off-schedule than usual.  But, it's all fun!

In June, I read:
Benny and Shrimp by Katerina Mazetti
The Hatmaker's Heart by Carla Stewart
The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu
Running Secrets by Arleen Williams
The Rummy Club by Anoop Ahuja Judge
No Country by Kalyan Ray
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid by Tim Elmore (review to be posted 7/2)
Wake by Anna Hope
In the Field of Grace by Tessa Afshar (review to be posted 7/3)

Right now, I'm reading:
On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder (still reading it to my daughter!)
Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani
The Boleyn Reckoning by Laura Andersen

In other news:

  • So this is going to be a weird month on the blog.  I'll be posting up until we leave on our trip and then there will be only 1 book review for the rest of the month (one that has already been scheduled).  It isn't that I won't have time to write reviews--I will have time for that.  I just won't have time to do all the following up on the posts.  As a result, August will be a BUSY month on the blog as I'll be scheduling any reviews I write during vacation to post once we get back.
  • I will, however, be continuing to post Saturday Snapshots--simply because there isn't nearly as much following up required for those.  No surprise, but the pictures will be from our trip and I'm expecting that these will go long past when we actually return!  If you would like to see more pictures as they happen, feel free to follow me at instagram.  I'm "mdawnott" over there (and I'm set to private, but if I know who you are, I'll approve you).
  • An update on my Summer Reading Challenge.  If you remember, I pledged to read 35 books between May 1st and September 1st.  Well, I'm at 25 now...I think I have this one!




Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review: "Wake" by Anna Hope

Wake Anna Hope
Published: February 11, 2014
ISBN: 9780812995138
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Goodreads First Reads Program
Rating: 4 / 5
♦♦♦♦

Summary:
Wake: 1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep 2) Ritual for the dead 3) Consequence or aftermath.

Hettie, a dance instructress at the Palais, lives at home with her mother and her brother, mute and lost after his return from the war. One night, at work, she meets a wealthy, educated man and has reason to think he is as smitten with her as she is with him. Still there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach...Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, more and more estranged from her posh parents, she looks for solace in her adored brother who has not been the same since he returned from the front...Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband of 25 years has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out of work veterans. But when he shows signs of being seriously disturbed—she recognizes the symptoms of "shell shock"—and utters the name of her son she is jolted to the core...


The lives of these three women are braided together, their stories gathering tremendous power as the ties that bind them become clear, and the body of the unknown soldier moves closer and closer to its final resting place.

My Thoughts:
Let's start this off with the obvious point of this book.  This is not an "upper" book.  I've been reading quite a few Jazz Age books and, chronologically, this falls at the beginning of that time period.  However, I can't put this book in the same group.  For one thing, most of the other books were set in the United States, which had a much different World War I experience than England, where Wake is set.  Also, unlike those other Jazz Age books, Wake is a novel that looks to the past instead of to the future.

I write that all not as a complaint, but as an explanation.  You see, this book is about loss and lack of closure.  The women here--Hettie, Evelyn, and Ada--have all found themselves in a sort of limbo.  Each had a man or boy close to them in the War and they are not dealing with the of the conflict.  Hope does an exquisite job of conveying the anguish these women experience, even though each expresses it in a different way.

I do wish that Hope had started to tie the three storylines together sooner in the book.  I spent much of the first third a bit detatched from the book because I couldn't find anything to anchor the different narratives together.  That being said, I was blown away by the prose in this book.  As this is Hope's first book, I am anxiously waiting to read more from her.  I don't normally do this in a review, but I wanted to include a short excerpt. I found this passage not only moving, but a perfect picture of what this book is all about:

"This might make people feel better, and it might help them to mourn.  It may even help me.  But it won't put an end to war.  And whatever anyone thinks or says, England didn't win this war.  And Germany wouldn't have won it, either."

"What do you mean?"

"War wins." He says.  "And it keeps on winning, over and over again."

He draws a circle in the air with his cigarette, and it's as if he is drawing all of the wars, however many thousands of them, all of the wars past and all of them to come.

"War wins," he says bitterly, "an anyone who thinks any differently is a fool."

This is a moving and impressive debut novel and one that I would recommend to anyone who can handle more emotionally heavy fiction.

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



Wake
by Anna Hope
Powells.com