Monday, October 10, 2011

The BeginnersThe Beginners by Rebecca Wolff

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

*Some Spoilers contained* Well, I finished it. It was almost painful to do so at times, but I plowed through. There was a lot of potential with the story line and with the actual characters, but the majority of a time, I felt like I was listening to someone relate their dream after they'd been awake for a few hours and they kept forgetting the point of the dream.

Cherry and Ginger are high schoolers in a small, idyllic Massachusetts town, caught between being kids who play make-believe all day and women who are interested in sexual relationships and social structures. A mysterious couple comes to town (Raquel and Theo) who take an interest in them and they are suddenly enveloped by these strangers. When Cherry starts to recognize that they're not healthy people to be around, Ginger continues to become more and more enmeshed in their dysfunction and so the story goes.

There was one point, about 200 or so pages in, when Theo makes a confession about their true 'story' and I actually said out loud 'What?!' because I didn't see it coming. However, Wolff did not take the opportunity then to use that plot twist and move the story forward. To the end, I kept waiting for a great twist or for something to finally click into place but it just didn't.

She definitely has a great handle on use of language, it's poetic (duh, she's a poet, right?) but there were so many holes in the story that had to be filled in. I feel like I have a pretty good imagination, but there were times I had to re-read a page thinking I'd missed something-nope.

I closed the book and wanted to fling it because I was annoyed that I plowed on for virtually nothing. As my History professor once said on a paper that clearly needed more fleshing out '...if you ever again make me slog through seven pages, there had BETTER be a point.'

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Long Drive Home: A NovelLong Drive Home: A Novel by Will Allison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Will Allison has written one of those 'it could happen to anyone' stories: A cautionary tale about the daily choices we make and how they could have a devastating effect on the rest of your life. While driving his daughter home from school, work-from-home dad, Glen is involved in a series of near-miss road rage incidents which culminate in his 'teaching the other driver a lesson', which results in the death of a teenage boy.

The story gets tricky when Glen doesn't tell the truth, to anyone really, about the incident. In thinking that he's protecting his family both from civil suit and criminal prosecution, he not only leaves out important details from the accident in question, but deletes the earlier incidents from the day. In attempting to shield his child, he's actually putting her in a horrible situation because she witnessed the earlier events.


I kept waiting for Glen to come clean and tell the whole story to the detective. I figured the story would either culminate in him being absolved of responsibility or convicted of vehicular manslaughter. I did not expect to have him confess only through a letter to his daughter which could really only further burden her later in life.

In trying to protect his family (well, let's be honest, he was protecting himself) he lost everything. One has to think that he will also lose his daughter's respect when she one day reads the letter and realizes that her father displayed not protective capacity, but extreme cowardice. Losing the respect and trust of his wife, and revealing himself to the detective to be 'broken', Glen was one of the more morally ambiguous characters I've read in awhile.

While I did like the book, I found myself having a hard time liking Glen. He caused so much stress and strain, while not giving his family, the victim's family or the victim himself the closure they deserved.

Oh what tangled webs we weave...

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Here, Home, HopeHere, Home, Hope by Kaira Rouda
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This review is going to be a bit of a ramble, but that may be appropriate since the book was as well. I realize that I was reading an advanced reader's copy, but it read more like a second or third draft. Kelly is a mother of two teen/tween boys and is in the predicament of trying to 'find her purpose'. She makes an ever-growing, rambling list of Things to Change, or T2C as she puts it. I felt like this could have been a great book if her editor had handed it back to her and said 'Great! Now polish it up, give your characters some depth and insight and make your main character likeable.'

Kelly doesn't seem to have any real connections to her friends, past or present, and she just flits from one topic to another. One minute she's obsessed that her husband is having an affair, and the next she's off on another shopping spree with confrontation number 354 with her arch-nemesis, Rachel.

Honestly, the most likable character in the book was probably Charlotte, who was not necessarily intended to be your character of choice.

The only interpersonal conflicts in the book (aside from Rachel) are all tidied up swiftly with an 'aw shucks' chuck on the shoulder and Kelly, though she has almost zero insight save for the five thousand Oprah-esque a-ha moments, deems herself a very worthy counselor to all of her friends. It's definitely the Kelly show, which I like because it is supposed to be about her finding who she wants to be, but all the characters are so wooden and one-dimensional. They have these revelations that are supposed to be shocking, but I couldn't bring myself to care about them because the reactions by the other characters were so formulaic it was almost silly. I felt like I was reading a fast-talking parody of a women's fiction novel.

Also, could she throw in any more Lifetime Movie of the Week topics? Anorexic teen, adulterous friends who've put her in the middle of their secrets, making amends with high-school friends who you abandoned/bullied and then CONTINUE to call her Bony Beth, becoming a self-made woman, death of a loved one, divorce...seriously, pick 1-2 serious topics and actually explore them instead of having your main character come off as a completely shallow and self-involved twit. It made me a little sad because, and this may be reading too much into it, but I had to wonder if Rouda has a lot of close friends herself. If so, she didn't do a great job of drawing on her experiences with them to create dialogue or set-up of characters.

The woman is food-obsessed and, again, completely shallow and lacking insight when it comes to other people. She has her clothes sorted into weight-gain phases, talks about the benefits of 'having an anorexic around' and says other pretty callous things that drove me cra-zy as I read.

Would you really have your heroine do nothing but bring a bouquet of flowers to a friend whose estranged husband JUST DIED in a motorcycle accident. Really? You'd have to call your mother to see if you should bring a casserole to her, and the consult your friend to see if you're needed at the funeral? Um, how about you just show up and go? But that's just me.

The commentary on stay-at-home moms and their cattiness was about to make me send a little tweet to Miss Twitter Queen. Since it's clear Rouda is not an at-home mother, it made me wonder if this is her little soap box to talk about them? Yes, she is a proponent of women empowering themselves, but what if the way that we do that IS to stay at home? Is that not enough?

After finishing the whole book, I realized I should have read the 'about the author' section first. Really? Two pages? I don't need to know every class you've taken, or that you have a big twitter following. It is awesome that she is a great businesswoman, and strives to empower other women to realize their potential, but stick to what you are really good. Not everyone can write a novel. Or, I guess, not everyone should. Look out, folks, she's got another one coming out soon! You can find out all about it on her twitter feed, her facebook page, her blog or by emailing her. All of which is included in her biography. Which is clearly an autobiography.

Maybe I was just no in the best frame of mind to read this, but it's hard when you compare it to other women's fiction like Jennifer Weiner, who takes more care in creating characters and conflict resolution. While still beach reads, they're more sophisticated and well-crafted. And with that, I will end my rant. If you've read the actual released copy, am I missing something?

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Lighten the Load

I was reading a post on Our Humble A{Bowe}d about 'green laundry' the other day and I was a little pleased with how much I'd already implemented in our own laundry room.

When we moved, I bought the Electrolux Perfect Steam Front-load Washer and Dryer Set which I reviewed here, and since we were using cloth diapers I was using Country Save Powder to launder them(which is HE friendly). When I ran out of my All Free and Clear for our regular laundry, I decided to start using the powder for all of our laundry. It doesn't just do a great job getting the clothes clean, but it leaves them smelling fresh and clean without a strong perfume. We do a lot of laundry, and the large capacity of our washer and dryer has cut down on the number of loads I do immensely. I do as full of a load as possible each time, and when I can't I love my 'fast wash' small load setting.

I knew that the boxes of powder felt like they were lasting a long time, but a quick check of my amazon account shows that I ordered the four pack of boxes in January and I'm just now about a quarter of the way from the bottom on the second box. It was 68.60 for the case, which is 17.15 per box. Calculated over the months, that's just over $3.50/month that I'm spending on laundry detergent. That seems pretty impressive! 

On the dryer side of life, I never have gotten around to installing a clothes line.  That will hopefully be a project for next Spring/Summer, or whenever our HOA decides that they're not an abomination. Anywho, I realized after reading the comments that the one thing I hadn't converted to 'green' in my laundry was the dryer sheets.  Several of the comments referenced wool dryer balls; What in the world? After all my time spent trolling cloth diaper sites for green laundry tips, how had I never seen mention of these before? And, I had never thought about the fact that dryer sheets would be adding chemicals and toxins to my laundry...I love clean smelling, soft clothes, so I was loathe to sacrifice that! Turns out, I didn't have to.

A quick search on etsy showed that these things were a hot item! I ordered an 8-pack of undyed dryer balls first from a vendor just to see if I really liked them. I'd have ordered just one, but most sites said that for very full loads, they keep about 12 in the dryer. It's the same principle as having tennis balls in the dryer, but without the awful smell and, allegedly, without the racket. (The larger loads buffer the sound better, and as the clothes get dryer, the sound lessens. The second set I purchased are larger and loftier and make significantly less noise.)

When I got them in the mail, I could see that, essentially, it's wool yarn that's been wound into a ball and then felted (probably 2-3 times). I could totally make them myself, but there is little I hate more than winding yarn into a ball. In the future, if I need to add a couple to the mix, I'll make them myself, but for now, I'm happy to support other etsy artists.

What I liked best about them is that you can either get them unscented, or choose from a wide array of scents. How are they scented? Just a couple drops of essential oils. I chose lavendar and vanilla for half the balls, and half unscented (just in case it was too strong). The scent can easily be refreshed, or you can add a totally different scent when the other is gone, by dabbing a couple drops of the essential oil of your choice on the balls.

In addition to replacing the function of dryer sheets, they also cut drying time because the wool helps absorb moisture. I've had each load come out completely dry on the 48 minute setting-that's towels and jeans and everything.

The best part is that this is something that will last for years. You just leave them in your dryer after each load is removed...well, you put them back in your dryer after you've chased the ones that jump out with your clothes and roll across the floor as you hastily warn your giant beast of a dog that these are not his to play with, and they're ready for the next load.

I wanted to wait until I'd been using them for awhile before I reviewed them-the jury is in and I love them. I ordered 5 more from another vendor on etsy because I wanted to see if there was a difference, and because it would get me to lucky number 13 for my mega loads of laundry. I'm glad I did because I like them better. The Sitting Tree has a set of 5 for $25 and the first thing I noticed was that they were bigger, and not wound quite so tight so they don't make very much noise in the dryer. 

Plus, I just plain like her shop-and the divine samples of her soap that she included. I love her blog and she's a knitter after my own heart. I purchased some of her yarn as well to go with my new blue bedroom, and it's gorgeous! A bold skein of teal and yellow; perfection. I'm totally addicted to her super soft wool and have several shades to make smooshy hats with now. But I digress...

If you want an eco-friendly alternative to traditional dryer sheets, that you won't have to replace for a long, long, long time-check out her etsy page and click 'add to cart'.

Even my husband, who sometimes is a little leary of my claims that 'it'll be just as good as using x' when I introduce a new eco-friendly alternative, has noted that our clothes are every bit as soft-maybe even, dare I say, softer as they were when we were using dryer sheets. Give 'em a whirl or, maybe more apt, a tumble.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern PantryCanning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry by Liana Krissoff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The postal carrier made my day this afternoon when she delivered my birthday gift from my sister, Sherri. I've been lusting after it for so long on my amazon wish list that when I first opened the package, I thought it was something I already owned. I love the photos, I love the font, I love the print of the section pages and I love the paper on which those photos and fonts and prints are created.

In short, I love this book! Not only does it have amazing recipes for everything from Raspberry jam with lavender and lemon to Smoky Corn Chowder, but additional recipes of what to DO with said canned goods. It's broken into season and then further separated out into fruits and vegetables. Makes my little wanna-be organized heart go pitter patter. Actually, it makes it so that my procrastinating nature can flip to the season we're actually in and make something RIGHT NOW. There is a local lavender farm that is currently having their 'Lavender Daze' celebration, so I'm going to snap up some fresh lavendar for the jam this weekend. There are little sticky notes popping out of every section of this baby.

I. Can't. Wait. The hot water bath is calling my name...

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Beside Still Waters (The Big Sky Series, #1)Beside Still Waters by Tricia Goyer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Beside Still Waters starts out like many of the other Amish-centered books that I've read, particularly two series that I really like by Beverly Lewis. In addition to the standard internal conflict brought upon children in the Amish community who are in the thick of their Rumschprimge, eighteen year-old Marianna Sommer also has a family tragedy to contend with; The day of her birth also marks the day her family experienced a defining tragedy. Feeling like she'll never be enough to replace two sisters, Marianna has always strived to be an exceptional daughter and member of the Amish community. With two daughters gone and a son who's chosen to live outside the faith, her parents decide that a cross-country move will be just the fresh start their family needs.

Marianna is devastated, because she feels that a proposal from Aaron is just around the corner and is afraid they won't be able to survive the distance. As an eighteen year-old, she could technically stay behind, but doesn't feel that's a real choice as she's a big source of support for her parents in tending to the younger siblings and helping around the house.

For me, there's always been something fascinating about the Amish and conservative Mennonite traditions and way of life, so I am usually drawn to books about them. This book was no exception in being a 'nice' story. There is no real conflict that makes your guts wrench (other than the narrative about the family's tragedy) and the author is clearly of a conservative Christian bent, as is demonstrated when the family settles in Montana and marvel at the 'friendship' that the local Christian church members seem to have with God, as opposed to their strict reverence of Him.

It bothered me that she insinuated that the relationship that the Amish had with God was less personal or less impactful than that which the members of the local Christian church (it wasn't ever specified, so I'm thinking it was a non-denominational gathering?) have with Him. That presumed bias, while evident, didn't change my enjoyment of the story, which is not anything spectacular, but is certainly a quick read and kept me company over a few days in the backyard watching my kids play, and soaking up the sun.

It also felt a little untrue to the characters that her parents (strict and conservative members of the Amish community) once they arrived in Montana, were fairly quick to start 'coming around' to the ways of the local church: Her father ordered an English Bible, and started making other small changes that they were worried would happen before they moved because it was rumored that the Montana Amish community was much more lax than that which they left in the Midwest. Maybe the lack of prying eyes from the neighbors finally allowed them to take the time to be introspective and figure out what really works for them. If that's the case, I hope they invite their oldest son back into their lives at some point, as it would seem hypocritical otherwise.

Although the writing style was fairly simplistic, it held my attention enough that I would read the upcoming installments. I'd love to see if Marianna and Aaron end up together, as she seemed so firm in her faith that she'd join the church in the Fall, or if she starts to question their compatibility and instead falls for a local boy with a relationship with God that is so foreign to her.

Having an easy Summer read is never a bad thing in my opinion, so I'd still recommend this to friends who've enjoyed similar stories in the past.

I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of the Beside Still Waters Campaign and received a copy of the book and a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one is hard to review for me, because I feel a little underwhelmed with how things panned out. Katniss Everdean finds herself, once again, at the center of President Snow's attention in his quest to maintain Capital control over all of Panem. She has her same rag-tag team of experts and confidantes, but it's becoming less clear who she can, or should, trust. Holed up in District 13, it's all just one big PR stunt to try and get the rebels riled up to resist against The Man.

While I can't say I'm disappointed in the ending, it did seem to wrap up rather neatly. Yes, there are some disappointments, and maybe I'm a little cold, but the one death (don't want to spoil) that is at the crux of the story doesn't affect me as sharply as it probably should have. Maybe because I never really connected to that character, or maybe it was because I knew that there was no way the story would end with all the relevant characters alive and well. Either way, I tore through this trilogy in one week, so it certainly kept me hooked even though parts of it were fairly formulaic. The level of moral corruption is pretty astounding when you actually think about the things that are happening instead of it just being a far-off novel of a dystopian future.

Overall, it's a good trilogy and worth reading. I'm glad it's a trilogy only, because I think further installments would just be beating that dead horse. I'm giving it four stars not because it's superb writing, or even because it's a crazy original idea, rather it's because it's a well-developed idea that I'm sure you can find more and more layers to if you read it multiple times.

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