Dec

17

Book Review: Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

This is a classic that has been read by generations of readers. It is the beginning of Laura Ingalls Wilder's tales of frontier life. Set in the "Big Woods" of Wisconsin in the 1870s, the story is told from the point of view of five-year-old Laura, the middle sister of three, who lives with her parents in a log cabin where her father earns his living as a trapper.

Wilder describes life in the 1870s in painstaking detail that keeps the story interesting without ever bogging down the pacing. The story takes the reader through a year in the life of the family, from the harvest and storing of food for the winter, through the Christmas celebrations, and the playful days of summer.

All of the family's work and play is described, with the occasional tall tale from Pa Ingalls, often told with a lesson in mind for the girls. The cycle of the year forms the structure and plot of the story, although the central conflict involves Laura's struggle with her jealous feelings toward her older sister.

There is humor and tenderness spread throughout the story, as well as a constant subtle tension as the reader is reminded of how fragile life on the frontier can be. The family has only themselves to rely on. Neighbors and relatives are distant, and the nearest town is far enough away that they only make one trip to town in a year. The story does not dance around the realities of hunting and raising animals for food. In fact, the first chapter is devoted mostly to the butchering of the family's hog.

Wilder's talent for description makes this an educational story, but her considerable skills as a storyteller give us characters that we care about as they live their lives in the Big Woods.…

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Nov

20

Book Review: House Rules, by Jodi Picoult

As an avid reader and Jodi Picoult fan, I opened her latest novel – House Rules, expecting to be wowed. While I wasn't bowled over by the turn of events, I was not let down either. Jodi's insight into the world of Asperger's and the familial emotions tied to Jacob (a boy with autism) gave me much to think about. And, as always, with a Picoult novel, I had to ask myself – what would I do?

The premise is this: Emma, a single mother, is working hard to raise two boys. Jacob, her oldest, has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a condition that she has fitted her life around. Theo, her youngest, is striving to be a "normal" child with a "normal" family in a home that is anything but "normal." In order to survive in this household, Emma has instituted rules for the boys to live by; rules, that by all accounts, are inherent to a non-autistic household.

While Theo strikes out against the conformity of his mother's rules – never truly breaking them, but bending them to his will, Emma holds tight to Jacob and her ideals as a parent. Keeping Jacob's meltdowns to a minimum has always been a priority, even when it means pushing aside Theo's needs or her own. Meanwhile Jacob becomes more enthralled with the world of forensic science, an odd but worthwhile subject for him to study, memorize, and recreate.

Then the unthinkable happens. Jacob's tutor is found dead. All clues – however bizarre – point to Jacob. Because he is unable to cope with social situations, is known to have meltdowns, and cannot always communicate effectively, he is the accused. Admittedly, he was the last to see her, he did argue with her, and he did "arrange" the evidence and document it.

But who did, in fact, kill Jessica? If a person on trial cannot look you in the eye are they guilty? If they fidget? If they do not cry? And, if I were Jacob's mom, what would I do?

This book is enthralling to the end. A wonderful tale of loyalty, insight into a condition that I otherwise would not have understood, and the undeniable love of a family.…

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Oct

27

Book Review: The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery

It has been a while since I was so into a book that I stayed up way passed when I should have gone to bed to finish it; well that is exactly what I did with the Teahouse fire. This story is compelling and beautiful I never would have thought it was a debut novel if I had not been told. Ellis Avery weaves a beautiful tapestry of a story that follows the life of one girl from girlhood through to adulthood.

Young Aurelia starts her young life in New York City a modest and happy life with her Mother and her Uncle Charles. But when she is Nine years old her Mother takes sick and her Uncle Charles takes her to Japan things go from bad to worse once in Japan until the night of a fire which sends Aurelia fleeing for her life and away from her Uncle Charles who is not as chaste as he claims to be.

The night she flees, she is found by Yukako and begins to her live as a Japanese servant in her household. The story has so many levels of love and dedication it is impossible to put into words just how beautiful all of them are. You can also learn about the beautiful art of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, and follow the fight of a great family in tea to keep their art as just that an art. An important and beautiful social part of Japanese culture.

The Teahouse fire takes many twists and turns some of them you see coming, and some of them you truly do not. You will grow to love the characters and find yourself attached to them. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is a little bit interested in Japanese history.…

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Oct

25

House of Many Ways: A Book Review

They say all good things come in threes. Well, House of Many Ways, the third book in the Castle series is a good thing. Following on the success of Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Air, Diana Wynne Jones gives us an exciting new adventure set in the mountainous kingdom of High Norland.

Charmain Baker, a rather self-obsessed, sheltered and indulged bookworm, has been volunteered by her great aunt Sempronia to take care of great uncle William’s tiny cottage whilst he is being healed by the elves. Taking the opportunity of being free from home and her parents’ restrictive ideas of respectability, Charmain volunteers (on the side) to help the kindly King Adolphus X and his stern daughter, Princess Hilda, in their efforts to sort and list the contents of the Royal Library.

The thing Charmain doesn’t quite realize – until it’s much too late – is the fact that as High Norland’s Royal Wizard, great uncle William’s house isn’t as simple or easy to navigate as it looks from the outside! Taking into account the fact that she has no inkling how to do any sort of house keeping and has had no training in magic, each disastrous experience never fails to bring at least a chuckle.

Joining the fray is Sophie Pendragon (and family), who has been invited by Princess Hilda (whom she met in Castle in the Air) to help the royal family solve two problems: where their gold is disappearing to and what is the Elfgift?

From the view point of magic as lofty and dangerous (in Howl’s Moving Castle) to the realm of superstition (in Castle in the Air), Diana Wynne Jones now takes us to a different perspective – magic as part of everyday life. In many ways, House of Many Ways feels like a growing-up book. It deals with the issues of life that a young girl will sooner or later have to deal with; like washing dishes, doing laundry and dealing with difficult boys who think they know it all. It deals with growing up enough to stop hiding behind ignorance and taking up the responsibility to learn and change. And for Charmain, it deals with learning that the way to face a problem is really not to go and read a book until the problem disappears.

With a dangerous lubbock lurking in the background, upset blue kobolds making mischief, and an irritating apprentice wizard (who manages to mess up every spell he attempts) getting lost among the house’s many passageways, this book is a real page turner.…

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Oct

17

Book Review: "The Summerhouse" by Jude Deveraux

The book "The Summerhouse" by Jude Deveraux was totally responsible for jumpstarting my imagination this summer. It got me thinking about what I would do if I were given the opportunity the three characters in the book received.

Ms. Deveraux wrote an interesting and entertaining tale of life changes and what we would or wouldn't do if given a second chance to get a do-over for a three week period of our life. I waited so long to write the review because of two reasons: one I had a strong urge to study my life and pinpoint the pivotal moments in my timeline and two the book is just so good I need to reread it two more times. I'm thinking once I finish this review I'll read the book again.

I bought the book in the first place because of previous experience I know that Jude Deveraux is an excellent writer and can tell such fascinating tales. The real kicker was blurb on the back cover. It said the book was about three friends, Leslie Headrick, Madison Appleby and Ellie Abbott who all have the same birthday and were fixing to turn 40 and all three were taking a look back at their lives and the choices they had made.

Normally, this wouldn't do much for me because I do enough second guessing my life choices without reading about someone else's could-have-beens. It fact it didn't do much for more me this time either, but I read further on and it claims that a Madame Zoya has the power to send them back in time to relive three weeks from their past. Any three weeks – ladies choice. I love paranormal themes so this is what finally convinced me to buy the book instead of going to the library and borrowing it.

Most of book is setting up the three women's stories so you will know why they choose their particular three weeks. Ms. Deveraux was so clever with how she wrote about their lives that I forgot about the paranormal theme I was expecting. It wasn't until page 214 when the first hint of something extra special will be happening here that I remembered that I was expecting it.

Anyway, I spent a lot of free time this past summer and fall thinking about which three weeks would I choose to relive. Once your three weeks is up Madame Zoya gives you the choice of keeping your new or old timeline. Madame Zoya also gives her clients the option of remembering the old timeline along with the new timeline. I would ask to remember. Since I actually haven't traveled back in time to make the changes I have in mine I don't know if I would take the new life or stick with this one. I'm hoping that given a new chance that I wouldn't screw up as badly and I would want to change timelines.

The book is still affecting my imagination and making me think up "what ifs." All I know for sure is if I am ever given the opportunity to be one of Madame Zoya (or someone like her) clients I know which three weeks I would relive.

I know one other thing this is a totally awesome book. I highly recommend it.

"The Summerhouse" by Jude Deveraux. Pockets Books, New York, 2001. Paperback version: 391 pages, $7.99.…

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Oct

11

Book Review: Haunted House of the Vampire by Bruce Markusen

The First Book in the Coopersville Creepers Series

It all starts the night of September in 1978 in Coopersville, New York. Kenny Odom, a young boy, is home alone and watching a horror movie on "Chiller Theater". During a commercial break, he checks on the laundry in the basement. While there, the door down there catches his attention. His parents had told him never to open it but curiosity got the best of him and he opened it. Inside is a locked wooden crate. Kenny opens it and inside is a preserved man. Victor McAuliffe, a vampire. He tells Kenny about how he became a vampire and enlists his help to bring the town's mayor, now retired, to justice for his past crimes before Victor became a vampire. But, being a vampire, can Victor be trusted? A mysterious man, Edward Malone, warns Kenny that Victor is dangerous. Can this information be trusted? Read to find out the truth!

The story is great and very intriguing. My eyes were glued to the page. It's a light and entertaining story but still manages to be mysterious. The story is straightforward with no distracting side stories. I thought it reminded me a little of the 70s Salem's Lot with the boy who enjoys the classic horror films and legends and the vampire in the basement.

There's a few very minor inconsistencies but so minor, they're easily overlooked.

I just love the atmosphere. As I stated previously, it felt like Salem's Lot and the classic 50s horror scene. It felt very laid back. It was fairly colorful but could've use a touch more depth.

The main characters were few so they were easy to keep track of. Kenny is young, loves horror and fantasy yet is mature in other ways. At times, he's unsure of who to believe. He's likeable. Victor is a fairly new vampire who thinks he's very knowledgeable. He has an ominous air about him but has had no real experience. Still he's a likeable character. The mysterious man, Edward Malone. seems like a modern-day Van Helsing but his affiliation is up in the air. The rest of characters are most there as background and not drawn out much.

All of the characters could've been drawn out with more details but they're fine otherwise.

Great pace, very smooth, and doesn't fluctuate.

The author's style is straightforward with no distractions. Colorful without pointless details or plot devices. Very nice.

While the book has a few minor issues, it's still a fairly good book from this newcomer to the horror novel genre. It's great for a light and easy read for all ages, with little gore and no sex. The author incorporated several different cultures' vampire legends into the story, some of which were new and very intriguing to me – a good vacation from the monotony of the standard vampire legends and rules. The ending has a twist which kept me wanting more. I can't wait until the second book! At just over 100 pages, it seems a bit short for a novel though. Still, very nice and I expect Bruce to grow into a great author in the future. 3/5

Available at:

Amazon and Amber Quill Press

 

 …

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Oct

01

Book Review: Hothouse Flower, by Margot Berwin

On a whim I picked up Margot Berwin's novel, "Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire," (Pantheon, 2009). It was on clearance at a book store and I thought it might make a nice summer read, with no greater expectation of romance-novel fluff.
It does have elements of that, most definitely, but it's a deeper, darker read, laced with a bit of the mystic, touches of desire, and if you love plants or gardening, it could very well make you take root and read through at a feverish pace.
I plucked it up one night, expecting little from the bold, brash cover, but was swiftly swept away. The protagonist, Lila Nova, is in advertising and recently divorced. She one day happens by a plant seller and picks up a tropical plant, a bird of paradise, and discovers a green thumb she never knew she had. Soon she's picking up other plants, and semi-flirting with Exley, the man who sold her that first plant.
One day, by chance, she stumbles upon a Laundromat filled with plants. She steps in, surprised at the moss-covered floor and the flora throughout and strikes up conversation with Armand, the mysterious owner. He ends up giving her a rare fern cutting and tells her to keep it in a dark room, and to come back when — or rather, if — it sprouts roots. She does as he instructs, and in the meantime begins to learn about the mysterious and fabled nine plants of desire. Each plant is sought after for its qualities that mankind wants — love, fortune and so on. Armand tells her he may show her his collection of nine plants, if she is worthy.
The fern obviously takes root, and with that complications ensue. Lila lets Exley know about Armand and the nine plants, which Exley has heard of, and Lila feels excitement at her attraction to Exley and this shared mystery. But soon she betrays Armand, unintentionally, and is betrayed, intentionally, by Exley.
Her desire to set things right takes her to Mexico, in the Yucatan, to reclaim the nine plants. Lila tracks through miles of jungle, runs into snakes, scorpions and (of course) plants, plus has to battle her own weaknesses and Exley's deception. She also meets Diego, a hot man of nature and the son of a mystic healer, who guides and tantalizes her throughout her journey.
It's a sultry read, though I wouldn't call it super sexed-up or anything, but it's a fun little adventure in the streets of New York City and in the jungles of the Yucatan, peppered with interesting plant lore. It's definitely a fun little escape.

 …

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Sep

15

Book Review: The Sweater Workshop by Jacqueline Fee

I first heard about The Sweater Workshop by Jacqueline Fee during a podcast by Kelly Petkun of KnitPicks. I've been a big fan of KnitPicks for a while now, and I really felt like she must know what she's talking about, so I took Kelly's recommendation and bought the book.

I'm so glad that I did buy it! It's such an interesting book, and, most importantly, I have learned so much! The concept of the book seems like that of The Knitter's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns by Ann Bud. Without belittling that book, let me say, it is so much more than that. While Ann Bud's book provides instructions for lots of sizes and lots of weights of yarn, that's pretty much where that book stops and The Sweater Workshop takes up.

Jacqueline Fee's book explains all the reasoning and all the math behind every shaping decision and all the design choices. Reading this book prepares a knitter to become a designer as well, and shows that it probably isn't as difficult as we may have thought. Understanding how the numbers are figured for each part of a sweater, from the armhole to the neckline depth really lets a person understand how they could go about changing these design features and coming up with designs of their own.

The sampler that she has you make at the beginning of the book will obviously provide valuable experience for a knitter who has never knit a sweater before. A beginner who has learned only to knit and to pearl could easily use this book. In fact, a sweater from this book would be a much better first sweater than most, because the technique saves a new knitter from the frustration of messy seams and ill-fitting drop shoulders.

Though the book will be great to get new knitters started on the right track, it is also a very good book for experienced knitters. They will be introduced to concepts in design and techniques in sweater making that they may have never seen, and they will be able to branch out and practice many new skills while they make the sampler. Even in the unlikely event that a knitter has already used every skill taught in the sampler, everyone needs practice now and then, and the idea of having all the different ribbings, decreases, finishes, etc on one piece, always available for reference, is a great one.

Though I haven't gotten the chance yet to make my sampler or cast on my first sweater in this method, I strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in knitting design, or for anyone at all who would like to improve their understanding of sweater construction.…

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Aug

25

Book Review: The Old Schoolhouse HomeWork

Running a homeschool can be a challenging, but rewarding, lifestyle. Not only do you have the responsibility of teaching your children, but much of your time is spent with your children. In a world where a two-income family is the norm, this can pose a problem. If your husband's job (although dads can teach, they are usually the breadwinners in the homeschool family) doesn't bring in enough income, moms might be tempted to throw in the towel, send their children back to school, and go to work. After all, how many good jobs are going to offer the flexibility that homeschool moms need? That's where a home-based business can come in. This Old Schoolhouse HomeWork: Juggling Home, Work and School Without Losing Your Balance, is a e-book written for moms that have started or want to start a home-based business.

Business Inspiration

HomeWork is a book full of business ideas. The book contains stories written by homeschool moms that have started earning money at home. One mom started a home business bringing new life to old clothing while living in a motor home, another mom started selling Usborne Books. In many of these cases, the children were able to help out with the business, learning valuable skills in the process. In every case, parents had to find a balance between teaching, managing a home, and managing their business.

Home Business Tips

If this book inspires you to start your own home business, or if you have already started your home business and need a little extra help, HomeWork also provides helpful tips on running your business smoothly. A chapter of this book is devoted to business finances. It doesn't make sense to operate a business that isn't making money, and keeping good records will help small business owners learn what works for their business… and what doesn't. Spreadsheet examples are provided to help you set up your business's bookkeeping. I was immediately able to use the chapter to improve my own writing business's record keeping.

Another chapter is devoted to organization. Most homeschoolers are flooded with books and school supplies, and a business only adds more items to keep track of. HomeWork not only delves into managing your stuff, it also discusses managing your time. Homeschool moms are often busy, especially if they are running a business. It is important to keep your priorities straight, and this book can help.

General Opinion

HomeWork is well written and interesting. It is written from a Christian perspective, but it provides helpful information that can be used by members of any faith. If you haven't started a home business but would like to, HomeWork is inspiring. If you have your own home business but are having trouble balancing it all, this book helps you see how other people have done it, and might be of help to you. This book also provides an appendix with links about different types of home-based businesses and general resources for small businesses.

Whether you are thinking about or have already started a home-based business, HomeWork is an inspirational resource.…

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Jul

29

Book Review: the Midnight House by Alex Berenson

The Midnight House by Alex Berenson is the fourth book in the John Wells series and I must say that Berenson gets better with each book. This book starts off about six months after the end of The Silent Man. Wells has spent the last six months recovering from the trauma of losing Exley and the United States coming withing minutes of a nuclear attack. The six months he spends in New Hampshire allows him to breath and exercise and once again debate with himself the pros and cons of what he does and once again he is unable to come to a satisfactory decision.

A call from his old boss Shafer once again drags Wells back down to DC and back into the world of spies and intrigue and illusions and once again it is personal. Members of a secret force working out of Turkey are slowly and methodically being murdered one by one and the three that are left are all under suspension due to some fancy financing while on assignment. Like Berenson's other books this is a book that debates the rights and wrongs of the law and the current position that the United States is taking in the war on terror. Unlike books written by Vince Flynn. Wells is much more conflicted about his position to defend the United States and while he realizes that it truly is a fight for life and western society it is also one that is layered with ambiguity and self doubt and maybe a little bit more about Wells trying to look for redemption for his earlier crimes but the reality is that the earlier crimes were not truly crimes but actions that needed to be taken and actions that have caused extreme upheavals and loss in the personal and professional life of John Wells.

The story moves quickly and is fast paced. It is apparent that Berenson has a fair amount of insider information and is up to date on the current weapons and tools that are being used by the United States Government in the war on terror. He is also able to draw three dimensional characters that readers can understand and while they may not agree with the characters positions Berenson gives us the ability to look a little deeper into their psyches and while they are not actions I support or encourage it is obvious that Berenson believes in redemption and the power of education through entertainment.…

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