Friday, February 28, 2014

Review: A Hunger in the Heart

About the Book:
It is 1955 Florida, and Kaye Park Hinckley’s debut novel, A Hunger in the Heart, brings it alive with memorable flawed characters who all desire something. Sarah Neal longs for her husband, Putt, a WWII hero with a traumatic brain injury, to be like he was before the war. Because he can’t be, she fills her longing with whiskey. Coleman, their son, needs his father and wants his mother’s love and affection. C.P., the B.O.S.S. of Gator Town, Florida, and Putt’s dad and Coleman’s grandfather, wants everything to be normal, and he yearns for his dead wife’s forgiveness.

They all must learn how to live through tragedy and treachery when Putt is accused of a heinous crime. Fig, the gardener, with commonsense wisdom explains to Coleman, “. . . a hero makes a choice to put somebody else ahead of himself,” and Anna, Coleman’s first love, teaches him the most valuable lesson of all. 

This is a story, ultimately, of hope and love: How we find it and thrive in even the darkest circumstances.

My Comments:
In a lot of ways this book reminded me of one I read by Flannery O'Connor.  I could see that the writing was good.  The author, Kaye Park Hinckley nailed the small town South.  Her characters were believable and flawed.  Her writing was professional and it is obvious there is a story beneath the surface story--the story English teachers help students to find.  It is a story of good but flawed people muddling through the bad choices they've made in life and though the sorrows that life has dealt them.  While it is a story that has a hopeful ending, it was not a happy feel good read.  

I'd like to thank the author for providing a complimentary review copy.  Her website includes a sample from the book.  See what you think.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review: The Runaway Saint

Runaway Saint

About the Book:
Sara’s an artist with a supportive husband and a house that folks on her block admire outright. But she’s restless and bored with life.

Then her legendary Aunt Bel shows up, wearing a smile after years without a word.

Twenty years ago, fresh out of college, Bel left for a summer missions trip and never returned. Now she’s on Sara’s doorstep, looking for a place to crash. Sara can’t say no to family, even if she hasn’t seen Bel since she was a nine-year-old girl. But saying yes to Bel turns Sara’s whole precariously-balanced life upside down.

The enigmatic Bel gives Sara’s family and their community a jolt of fresh thinking and clarity.

But Bel is hiding something. Though she won’t talk about it, Sara soon learns that Bel has been through a hellish ordeal. And she has the burn marks to prove it.

My Comments:
It becomes very obvious very early into this book that things aren't what they seem to be.  Bel is coming home, finally--and while no one admits to being unhappy about it, no one seems to want her either.  She's a returning missionary, but doesn't seem like one.  Bel's sister, Sara's mother, is an aging hippie who lives in a tent and spends her days on an organic farm and helping the homeless.  Her dad lives by himself in a home best described as sterile.   While he wants to give Bel a financial boost, he does not want Bel with him.  Sara remembers Bel as a wonderful aunt who left and never came back.  As the story unfolds all the usual reasons for extreme family dysfunction come to mind, and yes, there was a reason Bel left and stayed gone.  

It is said that loving someone means being open and vulnerable to them.  It also means being honest.  This is a story of a family, who, with the best intentions, were not honest.  That lack of honesty, meant to protect those they loved, ended up hurting them in ways they never realized.  Bel's return starts the search for answers and while those answers start to heal this family, it is clear that there is still plenty of room for growth.

The book is Christian fiction and part of the story deals with our image of Jesus.  Two images that are used are the flat hard Byzantine Jesus whose eyes always follow you and the Jesus who drove the moneychangers from the temple.  What is your image of Jesus?

I'm having trouble with this review but what I'm trying to tell you is that Lisa Samson has another winner on her hands as far as I'm concerned and I highly recommend it.

Thanks to the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  A.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Review: Evening Stars

Evening Stars (Blackberry Island)

About the Book:
Small-town nurse Nina Wentworth has made a career out of being a caretaker. More "Mom" than their mother ever was, she sacrificed medical school—and her first love—so her sister could break free. Which is why she isn't exactly thrilled to see Averil back on Blackberry Island, especially when Nina's life has suddenly become…complicated. 

Nina unexpectedly finds herself juggling two men—her high school sweetheart and a younger maverick pilot who also wants to claim her heart. But as fun as all this romance is, Nina has real life to deal with. Averil doesn't seem to want the great guy she's married to, and doesn't seem to be making headway writing her first book; their mom is living life just as recklessly as she always has; and Nina's starting to realize that the control she once had is slipping out of her fingers. Her hopes of getting off the island seem to be stretching further away…until her mother makes a discovery that could change everything forever. 

But before Nina and Averil can reach for the stars, they have to decide what they want. Will Averil stay? Will Nina leave? And what about the men who claim to love them? Does love heal, or will finding their happy ending mean giving up all they've ever wanted? 

My Comments:
I like this series and so far, this has been my favorite book in it.  Unlike many series romances, this one is not littered with characters from other books--a few are mentioned but except for Andi, who is Nina's boss, none play anything but a peripheral role in this book.

I've heard it said that if you want to give people wings, you have to give them roots.  The problem for Nina and Averil is that their mother didn't  give them roots.  Their mother wasn't ready to be a mom and is one of those people who never wanted to grow up, and didn't.  Nina was the oldest, and like the stereotypical oldest child, is steady, responsible and reliable.  As noted above, she's been more of  a mother to Averil than what their mother has been.  Despite that, Averil finds it difficult to set goals and stick to them.  She's afraid of failure and even though she has a good life, she keeps waiting for something to go wrong.  She lacks the root of self-confidence and competency that a good parent should have given her.  Nina has always bailed her out so she isn't sure she can do it by herself.  

Nina seems too rooted, but like the roots under the foundation of a house which will eventually cause the death of the tree, Nina's roots seem deep but are not life-giving.  She feels trapped by circumstances; if she leaves, who will take care of it?  Then one day a new man comes  into her life.  Well, he's not exactly new; she babysat his sister when they were younger, but he is definitely younger than she is.  He makes it clear he is looking for a short-term fling and Nina decides to go along for the ride.  Oh, and then her high school sweetheart ends up back in town.  Good old Mr. Reliable vs Mr. Heartthrob. Who gets the girl?  Mr. Heartthrob is a Navy pilot.  I've never known any Navy pilots, but back in my college days I used to date Air Force student pilots and like Nina's friend, they drove sports cars, were in  good shape, and were very self-confident and liked talking about airplanes.

I guess because I am the responsible older child I identified with Nina even though I haven't given up my dreams the way she did--or have I?  I  think most of us who have reached a certain age can look back at decisions we have made and wonder whether things would have been better had we make different choices, but on the whole I"m happy with my life; Nina isn't happy with hers.

For those who are interested,  there is a lot of premarital intimacy in the book but we are left outside the bedroom.  Strangely enough, the only couple whose intimacy we get to watch at all is married; for some reason in some books it seems like the only couple we don't watch in bed is the married one.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley and Edelweiss.  Grade:  B+

Sunday, February 23, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading


I'm joining Sheila and the gang this week for It's Monday!  What Are You Reading?  I've been busy with life and blogging has taken a back seat.  I've been reading at a slower pace and posting reviews but socializing just hasn't happened.  Hopefully this week will be less hectic and I can get around to checking some folks blogs and posting more too.

Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I don't give "A" grades easily.  This week I wrote three "A" reviews

Cancel the Wedding: A Novel (P. S.)

I got Cancel the Wedding from Edelweiss.  It won't be published until August, and my review won't be published until July, but this is one that needs to be on your radar.  I loved it.  

Runaway Saint

Lisa Samson has another hit here.  Within the confines of an interesting novel, which while it has religious elements, is not a preachy story or a call to accept a particular theology, Samson makes us look at our image of Jesus and how that effects our lives. My review will be up later this week.

The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition

My Review.

Several reviews I wrote earlier published this week:

The Chance (Thunder Point)

My Review

This is a series of children's books that I reviewed.
My Review

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post. Click here to sign up.

Our Question of the Week: What is your favorite Bible verse and why (from Colleen).  I like Isaiah 30:15.  Someone gave me a plaque with part of the verse--"In quietness and confidence shall be your strength".  Here is the whole verse, per the New American Bible:
For thus said the Lord GOD,the Holy One of Israel:By waiting and by calm you shall be saved,in quiet and in trust shall be your strength. But this you did not will  
I guess I'm not an "In your face" kind of person, and this verse reminds me I am strong in my own way, the way God made me.    

This week I reviewed a book about the Mass, a romance and a series of children's books about various countries.            

The Mass by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina

About the Book:
The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition is an engaging and authoritative guide to Catholicism’s most distinctive practice. And now, with the Church introducing revised language for the Mass, Catholics have a perfect opportunity to renew their understanding of this beautiful and beloved celebration.

With eloquent prose and elegant black-and-white photography, bestselling authors Archbishop Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina guide readers through the different parts of the Mass, from the entrance procession to the blessing and dismissal, capturing the deep meaning of elements that are at once ordinary and mysterious: bread and wine, water and candles, altar cloths and ceremonial books.

Step by step, they explain the specifics, such as the order of the Mass, the vessels used, the unique clothing worn, the prayers and responses, the postures and the gestures. Then they explore the rich historical, spiritual and theological background to each. Prayerful but practical, fact-filled but readable, The Mass prepares readers to participate more fully and appreciatively in the sacred rite at the heart of Catholic life.  

My Comments:
You'd think that a book like this would be "same-old, same-old" to someone who has attended Mass weekly and then some all her life, but it wasn't.  You'd think that any book that could teach something to someone like me had to be an unapproachable theological treatise that would require an advanced degree (or at least a dictionary) to decipher, but it wasn't.  It hit just the sweet spot of being easy to read and understand yet covering enough information not in common knowledge that I didn't feel like I had wasted my time reading it.  I highly recommend this book to just about anyone.  Grade:  A.

I'd like to thank the publisher for providing a complimentary review copy through the Blogging for Books program.  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

My Review: The Chance by Robin Carr

About the Book:
With its breathtaking vistas and down-to-earth people, Thunder Point is the perfect place for FBI agent Laine Carrington to recuperate from a gunshot wound and contemplate her future. The locals embraced Laine as one of their own after she risked her life to save a young girl from a dangerous cult. Knowing her wounds go beyond the physical, Laine hopes she'll fit in for a while and find her true self in a town that feels safe. She may even learn to open her heart to others, something an undercover agent has little time to indulge.

Eric Gentry is also new to Thunder Point. Although he's a man with a dark past, he's determined to put down roots and get to know the daughter he only recently discovered. When Laine and Eric meet, their attraction is obvious to everyone. But while the law enforcement agent and the reformed criminal want to make things work, their differences may run too deep…unless they take a chance on each other and find that deep and mysterious bond that belongs to those who choose love over fear.

My Comments:
I liked Eric; he seems like a guy with his head on straight; a guy who has had some rough times but who has decided that that life is going to get better.  He made a nice contrast with two of his employees--one a man his age who has been running from life for many years; the other a teen who seems to be heading down the wrong path--or is he?

Somehow Laine just didn't ring true with me; it's not that I didn't like her, it's that the various parts of her personality didn't add up.  When she and Eric get together things get very steamy very fast, and we have front row seats.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  This was a light easy read with the requisite happy ending, and it was just what I needed when I read it.  Grade:  B.   

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

If You Were Me and Lived In....Children's Book Review

My Comments:  I've enjoyed flipping through this charming set of children's books.  The storyline is pretty much the same in all of them.  They begin with a boy and a girl pointing out the country on a map.  The capital city is identified (India's is New Delhi) and there is a picture of a major feature in the capital (in South Korea it is the Han River).  Next, some common boys' and girls' names are given (in Norway Gunnar, Magnus, Bjorn or Birgitte, Anne or Hellena), and the words for Mommy and Daddy are identified (Mzazi and Baba in Kenya)..  The local currency is named (peso in Mexico) and a local tourist attraction is named and shown (Eiffel Tower in France).  Popular foods are described (tamale in Mexico) as is the favorite local sport (almost always soccer).  We are told about the children's toys as well (skies in Norway).  Finally, we learn a little about a favorite holiday (Mombasa Carnival in Kenya)and then learn what school is called in that country (ecole in France).  The pictures (drawings, not photographs) show the landscape, the insides of homes, the clothing the kids wear and more. Each book ends with a pronunciation guide to help with the country-specific words. In short, there is a lot of information in these short books.  

The author states these books for for kids in pre-k through age 8 and I'd say that's about right.  The limited text and large pictures make it seem too babyish for older kids, though the vocabulary could be a bit much for a younger independent reader.  Honestly, I don't know how most kids would take the repetitive nature of the books--each is basically the same story, only the locations and details have changed.  They aren't really stories, they are child-friendly descriptions of the countries.  

I'd like to thank the author for providing complimentary review copies of these books as well as some goodies for my youngest (a blow-up globe and a pencil).  Grade:  B+.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post. Click here to sign up.

Our Question of the Week:  Name a favorite book and tell us what you like about it. (adapted from Chris).  My answer:  I don't have one.

This week has been a bit of a roller coaster with my Dad.  He came home from the hospital on Monday.  At first he was going to come home on hospice care, but then he decided he didn't want that.  He now has 24/7 help in the house, which, as my sister says, is good and bad.  It is good because he has someone watching him so we don't have to worry about him falling and laying someplace unconscious bleeding out or some such thing.  He has someone on hand to make sure (to the extent possible) that he doesn't fall getting out of bed in the middle of night.  On the other hand, I suspect there are things he'd do for himself if he didn't have someone there to do for him, and more activity is good for him.  He has rejected PT, but has been exercising on his own.  He went to daily mass Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, which is his usual routine, and he went to a church luncheon on Wednesday and my sister took him out to buy medicine on Thursday.  In short, at least right now, he's not just sitting around waiting to die.  We know he doesn't have a long time left, but as long as he is comfortable, we are glad to have him around.

This week I wrote about our attitudes about death. I reviewed a children't Bible storybook.  I reviewed a couple of children's career books and a sweet clean romance.    Finally, I offered advice to anyone thinking of starting a blog.   

So, You Want to Be a Blogger?

I realize that many of my readers are already bloggers, but when I mention to people I know "in real life" what I'm a blogger I often get questions about how I got into it, how to do it, or whether I make lots of money at it.  This post is an attempt to answer those questions (and to maybe get some search engine action from folks who are searching for the answers to those questions.

Decide why you want to blog.  I'm not looking for a profound answer or even one you have to stick with, but the answer to that question, at least to start, can point you in the right direction.  If you simply want a place to write, and hope that someone reads it, you approach the project differently than if you seriously want to make money blogging.  There are three basic reasons to blog:

  • To promote an ongoing business.  If you are trying to make money doing it, you have a business, whether your business is tutoring, writing, housecleaning or selling stuff.  A tutor might use her blog to pass along helpful websites to clients or learning tips to make her sound like an expert to prospective clients.  A writer could promote his/her published writing and showcase his/her talent as part of a strategy to land freelance work.  A maid service could introduce their employees and offer helpful hints from professional cleaners as a way to market.  A business that sells things could promote different products and make them easy to buy.
  • To make money.  For some people, their blog is their business.  They find a topic that attracts readers and make money by selling ad space, using affiliate links or by attracting sponsors who provide products or money in exchange for reviews or other posts about their products.
  • Because you like it.  These bloggers write because they like to write, because they want to connect with people with similar interests, because they want to promote their viewpoints, or for other sometimes inexplicable reasons.  These are hobby bloggers.  

Decide whether to self-host or get a free account.  If you already having a business website, adding a blog as part of it is the easy choice.  Otherwise you need to decide whether you should have or as part of your URL.  Doing so tells everyone that you are on a free website.  Is that a problem?  For a hobby blogger it is not.  For a small local business, it probably is not.  For a professional reaching out to a large audience, it marks you as not quite the big time.  Web hosting isn't terribly expensive but it is like any other expense in life--you have to decide whether you can afford it and if so, whether it is worth it.  This is a hobby blog.  While I sometimes dream of being discovered and having thousands of people every day reading my reviews and purchasing books using my links, the reality is that I don't work at it hard enough for that to happen.  I've looked at self-hosting (paying for a website that has my domain name) but for me, in my position, I don't see the advantage.  The decision you make now does not have to be permanent, but if you change your mind later and move your blog you will almost certainly lose some readers in the transition.

Pick a blogging platform.  Right now the big players are WordPress and Blogger.  I use Blogger (and if you look at my URL you'll see is part of it, meaning that I'm using it for free).  Blogger is easy to get started with and easy to use.  They offer a large number of WYSIWYG templates that you can tweak.  Besides that third parties offer other templates or backgrounds or page elements.  If you are reading this at the time it was originally published, you'll see a banner in the top left corner of my blog that says "Hotbliggityblog" that will take you to the website where I got the free background I'm using right now.  Other sites with similar offerings are Cutest Blog on the Block and Shabby Blogs.  My understanding is that up to a point, Blogger is easier to use than WordPress, but that WordPress can do more once you get it all figured out.  One advantage to Blogger over WordPress is that you you use the free version of WordPress you aren't allowed to have ads on your site.  Blogger not only allows them, it makes them easy by offering an AdSense widget.  I don't get rich from the ads on my site but I get about $50.00 per year from AdSense and about $10.00 per year from Amazon.

Design your blog.  I'd suggest keeping it simple to start with.  Use the free templates offered by the blog platform or pay a designer for a complete look.  Once you are up and running you can add and change things.  There are so many options that the choices are overwhelming.  Pick something you like and go with it.  You can and almost certainly will change it later.

Design a free blog or two or three.  Unless you are thinking of changing platforms, use the platform you chose for your real blog.  Make one of your free blogs the same as your real one.  That's the blog you play with.  Do you want to add a new background, change the color scheme or try a new font?  Try it there first.  If you like the look, move it to your real blog.  If not, it won't matter, because no one can see it.

Start blogging.  Yes, now you actually get to (or have to) say something.  Here is another place where in my opinion, you need to keep the purpose of your blog in mind.  If your blog is a business or is to promote a business then you need to make sure your writing is professional, without typos, grammar errors or misspellings.  Some people find it helpful to compose posts in a word processor, such as Word, and then after running them through spell check and grammar check, paste them into their blogging platform.  Writing a post one day and proofreading it the next, before posting also helps you catch errors.  Hobby bloggers do not have to worry so much about that, which makes it easier and more fun to post on the fly.  While I certainly don't advocate purposely making mistakes, I think worrying too much about them, for someone who is doing this as a hobby, can cause you to limit your writing.

Network.  Whether we are hobby bloggers or promoting a business, we want people to read what we write; otherwise we'd use a journal.  Make sure your Blogger and/or WordPress profile links you to your blog.  Visit other blogs in your niche and leave comments.  Often you will be asked to leave a URL.  Do so.  Participate in link-ups, memes, blog carnivals or other events where bloggers gather.  While signing the link-up is important, it is also important to visit other participating blogs and to leave comments.  If you are on facebook, consider sharing your blog posts there as well--and honestly, consider whether you should.  If you blog frequently on a niche topic that most of your facebook friends aren't into, posting links too often could make them turn your feed off if you aren't a close friend.  On the other hand if what you blog is about is who you really are to most of your facebook friends (a mom posting about her kids for example) you've practically got a built in audience already built.  If your blog includes recipes and crafts, pinning them on Pinterest could make a post go viral.

Keep blogging.  By its nature, blogging in an ongoing process.  Unlike static websites, people expect new content regularly.  Commit yourself to a certain number of posts per month and try to stick with it.  It is better to have three posts a month, once every ten days than four posts the first week and nothing for the rest of the month.  Blogging platforms allow you to pre-schedule posts, so even though you may have time to write today, and write six posts, you can spread the publication dates out over the whole month.

Use stat counters, but keep things in perspective.  Both Blogger and WordPress will track how many people visit your site and what they do while there.  You can also use Google Analytics, StatCounter and W3 Counter.  All have free accounts available along with paid upgrades that give you more information.  It is fun to see more and more hits on your website and if you have ads that pay based on the number of eyes that see them, it is nice to see those numbers going up too.  However, you have to remember why you are blogging.  I'm primarily a book blogger but several years ago I was teaching religion in my parish and put together a list of Advent links for my kids.  I put them on my blog and submitted the post to some link-up and got (for me) a huge number of hits.  I did the same thing during Lent.  Those posts, and my updates of them are by far my post popular posts and every year during Lent I get a spike in hits to my blog.  Does that mean I need more religious link lists?  If my goal was to get hits, that might help, but I couldn't write regularly about Advent or Lent activities and I have no desire to write regularly about living the Liturgical Year with my kids.  I enjoy the hits I get and then go back to what I enjoy--writing about books.

If you are an experienced blogger, what advice do you have for those thinking about starting?

The Cottage on Juniper Ridge: My Review

About the Book:
How to Change Your Life… 

Can a book change your life? Yes, when it's Simplicity, Muriel Sterling's guide to plain living. In fact, it inspires Jen Heath to leave her stressful, overcommitted life in Seattle and move to Icicle Falls, where she rents a lovely little cottage on Juniper Ridge. And where she can enjoy simple pleasures—like joining the local book club—and complicated ones, like falling in love with her sexy landlord, Garrett Armstrong. 

Her sister Toni is ready for a change, too. She has a teenage daughter who's constantly texting her friends, a husband who's more involved with his computer than he is with her, and a son who's consumed by video games. Toni wants her family to grow closer—to return to a simpler way of life. 

Other women in town, like Stacy Thomas, are also inspired to unload their excess stuff and some of the extra responsibilities they've taken on. 

But as they all discover, sometimes life simply happens. It doesn't always happen simply!

My Comments:
In today's world it is so easy to become over-committed or to spend too much time on things that, in the end, just don't matter.  Email and VPNs allow us to work without going to the office--but they also make us available all the time.  Cell phones make it possible for teens to reach parents instantly, and vice-versa, but they also make it tempting to tune out people you are with in favor of the latest text message or phone call.  Video games can be a fun pastime, or consuming addiction.  Most people  have paid jobs; those who have the time and willingness to volunteer can find themselves with the equivalent of a full time unpaid job.  There is more stuff to buy than at any time in history, but is it worth the effort that we have to expend to acquire it--and then to store it?  

In a light-hearted way, The Cottage on Juniper Ridge (Life in Icicle Falls) looks at today's overly busy lifestyle, its consequences in people's lives and how we can use out power of choice to decide what to keep in our lives and what to discard.  

As noted in the summary, a book titled "Simplicity" encourages Jen to leave a life that she has grown to hate.  She moves to the small town of Icicle Falls (you can search my archives for other books about it) and while there she joins a book club that is reading the same book.  We watch how the other members of the group put the principals of the book to work in their lives.

While Jen's romance with her landlord is an important part of the story, the book goes beyond just a simple romance.  It is also squeaky clean--no bedroom scenes or mention of anyone engaging in intimate activity. 

I'd like the thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

When I Grow Up I Want To Be...a Teacher!: Carlee Learns a Surprising Lesson!

Carlee always wanted to be a teacher when she grew up, until her mother is hired as a teacher at her school! Some of her friends are even in her mother's class. Carlee is worried. What will her friends say? Will her mother do something to embarrass her? Carlee vows never to become a teacher like her mother, but as she journeys through the first day of school with her own new teacher, Carlee makes some surprising discoveries. 

When I Grow Up I Want To the U.S. Army!: Jake Learns about the U.S. Army.

When Jake's teacher assigns a "career" project, Jake decides he wants to be a soldier in the United States Army. Jake and his father visit an Army surplus store to find items he can use to present his project. As they search the store, each item makes the history and proud spirit of the U.S. Army come to life for Jake and readers alike. Through Jake's discoveries, readers are introduced to the history of the U.S. Army, what soldiers' duties include, and the equipment they use. 

My Comments:
These two children's career books are full of  information. Each is a story about a school-aged child in today's world.  It is Carlee's first day of school the first year her mother is teaching her grade at her school and she's afraid her mother will make her a social outcast.  Of course that doesn't happen.  Jake is preparing for and giving a report on being a US Army soldier.  The books are written with inset pages that provide information related to but outside the story.  For example, Carlee is thinking about being an artist and the inset page has very short biographies of Leonardo da Vinci, Mozart, Beethoven and Margaret Hamilton (witch from Wizard of Oz).  When she thinks about being a writer, we learn about Lewis Carroll, the Grimm Brothers and J.M. Barrie.  The insets in Jake's book talk about weapons, uniforms, medals and more.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy.  My youngest grabbed these as soon as I opened the package.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Candle Bedtime Bible: My Review

About the Book:
There’s always time for a story with the Candle Bedtime Bible! Coded for easy reference, forty favorite Bible stories are each timed to be told in three, five, or ten minutes. With plain language and gentle illustrations, this Bible is perfect for a peaceful story time.

My Comments:
This book has been in my nine year old's backpack since it arrived.  She has to have a book with her at school and she has chosen this one.  That says something.  

As noted on the cover, this book is designed with the idea of reading the Bible stories as bedtime stories.  The table of contents shows whether each story is a three minute story, a five minute story or a ten minute story,which would be very convenient if I was in the habit of reading bedtime stories.  (Don't fuss at me; by the time she's finished with her homework it's almost bedtime and she wants to play on the computer for the few minutes she has.)

Rather than simply re-telling Bible stories, this book tries to make them more story-like.  For example, in the story of the Good Samaritan (titled "The Stranger Who Helped") we learn that the robbers took everything, even his coat, and that all he could hear was the chirruping grasshoppers.  Then he heard flip-flop, the sound of the priest and then clomp, clomp, the sound of the Levite and then the clip clip of the Samaritan's donkey.  He thought to himself that he has always heard that Samaritans are mean and selfish and that he probably wouldn't even stop--and since we know the rest of the story I won't go into it here.  While the stories are embellished to make them more story-like, they do not include interpretations telling us what we are supposed to learn from them.  There are twenty-two Old Testament stories and Twenty New Testament stories.

I've said before that when I review children's Bible stories look for certain stories.  I want to know if the book has the Annunciation (this did not), the Wedding at Cana (no), Peter's profession of faith and being given the keys to the kingdom (no) and the Last Supper and institution of the Eucharist (yes, but badly told).  I also want to know how gory the crucifixion is--and in this case it is not, the crosses are in the background, the foreground is looks like Mary, John and another woman crying.  However, nothing is said about Jesus giving John and Mary to each other.  

The Last Supper story is a little problematic.  "Jesus took some bread.  He thanked God for it, broke it and gave a piece to each of his friends.  After this Jesus said, 'Take this bread and eat it!  I am the bread.  I am giving myself for you all.'  ...."Drink some of this wine!  The wine is my life.  I offer my life for all.'"  I just don't consider that an accurate paraphrase of "This is my body" and I just checked four different non-Catholic Bibles; they all said "This is my Body".  While I consider this an important story and find this interpretation to be completely wrong, it isn't enough to make me make this book disappear.  However, it would probably be enough to keep me from buying it if I saw it in the store.  Otherwise, I did not see anything objectionable in the book, though I'll admit I haven't read the whole thing.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available.  Minus the Last Supper story, I'd give this book at B+; however that's a big one for me so I'm marking it down to a B- with a warning about the story, particularly for Catholic parents.  

Sunday, February 09, 2014

When is Enough Enough?

You just won a free vacation to the place of your dreams.  Where do you want to go?  A grand tour of Europe?  A week in Paris?  Around the world in 40 days?  A month at the beach?  It's your dream; you get to pick the spot.  Now, you don't get to go on this vacation immediately, but one day you will get to go, I promise.  You may get a bunch of notice that the date is upcoming,or I may just call you and tell you to show up at the airport, it just depends, and no I can't tell you which will happen with you.  Interested?  Want to leave a comment to win this free vacation? (sorry, this is all hypothetical, this blogger does not have the sponsors to put together such a giveaway)  

As Christians we believe that one day we will get a free trip to the ultimate dream destination, heaven.  Some of us will have quite a bit of notice that our trip is upcoming; others will find their tickets emailed to them the day they are leaving.  Of course there are two catches:  We've never gotten any tourist guides to heaven so we are relying on less than clear pictures and assurances that we will love it and once we get on that plane, we can never return.  Because of that, despite the fact that we say we are looking forward to the trip, most of us do a lot to postpone it.  

My Dad has reached a point in life where he is considering his trip.  He has congestive heart failure and bladder cancer.  He is 85 years old.  Put those factors together and let's just say that life insurance would be very hard to get and expensive.  He is considering whether he wants to discontinue medical care.  For those who aren't Catholic, the Catholic Church's stand on end-of-life care is:
2278. Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of "over-zealous" treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.
He has been in the hospital for a week.  He had a short bout of kidney failure but it seems to have resolved.  They found a medication which has gotten most of the excess fluid off of him, and will send him home on it.  He is being kept alive by a slew of medicines which reduce his fluid load and stimulate his heart.  He is thinking of stopping them, but wants to talk to his pastor first, and his pastor is on vacation.  Maybe if he gets feeling better now that the fluid is reduced, he'll change is mind.  I don't know.  I know the time to say goodbye to him is getting close.  Actually, a year ago in October I started going over there on Saturdays to take him to Mass and I didn't think it was going to be a long-term thing then.

When is enough enough?  For myself I hope he continues to fight; however, I can tell he is getting tired of it all.  His knees hurt.  He has no energy.  He doesn't sleep well.  His mind isn't what it once was.  Is it getting to be that time?

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Sunday Snipppets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post. Click here to sign up.

Our question of the week:  Do you read Christian fiction?  Why or why not?  If so, who is your favorite author? (adapted from Chris)

My answer:  Yes, I read it and you can find a lot of it reviewed here.  I don't really have a favorite author but a couple whose books I try  to read are Lisa Samson and Susan Meissner.  You can find reviews of their books by searching my archives.

Please pray for my Dad and for our family.  He is in the hospital with congestive heart failure.  He's tired and is considering the option of doing nothing.  From what the nurse said tonite he seems to be responding to the medication so maybe things will look better tomorrow.  I'm sticking around so that I can talk to the doctor tomorrow.  My siblings and I want to do what's best but we really don't know that is at this point.

This week I wrote about the Common Core and education in general.  I mused about the changes in my blog over the years.  I reviewed a Christian novel about a high-powered career woman who became a stay at home mom.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Seven More Quick Takes on Common Core and Education

I had lots of fun last night helping my daughter study for a math test on multiplication.  They were solving problems like 21x20 by saying 20x20=400 and 1X20=20 so 21x20=420.  The algorithm we learned and that my other kids used seemed so much simpler.  On the other hand, much as she hates them, I think the word problems she is doing are a good thing, miserable as it is to walk her through them.  
I'm curious about how reading instruction will change under Common Core.  My older kids went to public school and were taught reading via a whole language program.  Both of them learned to read easily and well.  I don't know how well either of them has ever "gotten" phonics, but my reading scores were always off the charts on the high side and I never got the whole point of phonics until I took a college class in teaching reading.  As a kid I saw it as an auditory discrimination exercise, not a decoding exercise, since I could easily read every word put in front of me at school.  My youngest (eight years younger than her sister) is in Catholic school and they use a more phonics-oriented approach.  She does make more of an effort to sound out words.  Is that because of the way she was taught or because her reading scores aren't off the chart like her sister's?  Anyway, I tend to take a lot of these changes with a grain of salt.  As an education major I know that reading research studies and basing instructional and/or curriculum decisions on that research isn't most teacher's and/or school system's strong point.  One study that has stuck in my mind over all these years is one that showed that if the teacher believed the program worked, it usually did.
I've continued to follow the whole Common Core discussion.  I've read teachers say the standards are too hard, that they are not developmentally appropriate.  I've read teachers say the standards are a dumbing down of our schools.  I've read parents complain that their previously brilliant children are suddenly failing because of the horrible teaching and/or too difficult work.  I've read parents complain that the new standards limit what the students are taught and aren't rigorous enough.  I'm really curious about what a Venn Diagram of what is taught via Common Core compared to the total universe of knowledge vs what was taught the year before Common Core would look like.  I tend to visualize a large rectangular universe of knowledge, with two small circles, just about the same size, each occupying about 95% of the other, representing CC and pre-CC.
My guess is that Common Core has become a rallying cry and a symbol and that what the symbol stands for is far more important and controversial than the actual standards.  Basically, it is the symbol of control of the schools moving from the parents to a far-away authority.  Originally public schools were local and for better or for worse they reflected the wishes, values, morals and yes, religion of the local communities and, because most people in the local community had children or other relatives in the school, the schools reflected the wishes, values, morals and religion of the majority of people in the community.  That meant segregated schools.  That meant schools in the South read from the King James Bible daily and that the teacher would ask kids if they went to Sunday School that weekend.  It meant that a small town in North Dakota didn't have a "public" school; the nuns in the local motherhouse ran the Catholic school and they let the odd Protestant child in town attend and not go to mass or religion class.  It meant that teachers had to (at least publicly) follow moral standards that the local community espoused (even if the local community did not follow them).  It meant that evolution was not taught in schools where most parents disagreed with it--and that it was taught where parents did favor it.  Little by little, bit by bit, through court decisions and laws, control of the schools has moved away from the parents and to the state.
As a parent, if my kids were in my local public school (and my older two were), there are few complaints that I could make that the person to whom I was complaining had any power to address.  If I didn't like the teacher--sorry, but she's tenured, she's  here because the union contract requires it, we can't fire her, she's a minority, she's handicapped, she's...and if that is a problem for your child, we are sorry, but the laws and policies from on high mean we can't do anything about it (and for the record, of all the teachers my three kids have had, there weren't many I would have fired if I could have).  If I don't like the school in my neighborhood, I can't switch to another because that would go against a court desegregation order.  And now, some amorphous body from above (Bill Gates, President Bush, President Obama???who??) is saying what kids should learn and when and everyone across the USA is supposed to comply.  
I've found it interesting reading the comments to newspaper articles about Louisiana's voucher program.  There are plenty of noisy commentators who complain that some private schools teach creationism rather than evolution and that many teach religion.  Despite the fact that surveyed parents are overwhelmingly happy with the private schools that accepted their kids, and despite the fact that those parents could remove the children from the private schools and send them back to the public schools at any time,  the folks commenting online claim that the parents lack the information needed to make good choices and that the private schools should be required to somehow prove they are better than the public alternative.  I think parents are able to make those decisions
I wrote an epistle to our archdiocesan superintendent of schools.  Catholic school enrollment here, like other places, is declining.  However, in my civil parish Catholic schools are still the schools of choice for the middle and upper classes.  Anyway for a lot of reasons too complicated to explain here, we had a situation where at least some high schools felt pressured to add lower grades and those were cannibalizing the parish grade schools.  After a long study the Archbishop and the school system (not sure how much from where) decided that starting next year, Catholic schools would be pk-7 or 8-12.  Most wealthy parishes had a already dropped the 8th grade as so few of the kids stayed.  A couple of them had 5th-7th grades that were almost all girls because the boys headed to a selective middle school or to a high school that had a middle school.  However, the poorer parishes still had 8th grades, mostly because the cost was half that of the high schools.   Also, while most of the high schools are at least somewhat selective, most of the elementary schools are not.  I told the superintendent that I was concerned about the least ones--the voucher kids who would be sent back to the public schools during the last year of middle school, since none of the high schools will take vouchers, the kids whose parents can't afford an extra year of high school tuition or who can't afford it at all and about the kids the high schools do not want--the handicapped, and the non-college bound,  or, in the civil parishes with good schools, the kids whose parents just don't consider the "Catholic" part of Catholic schools to be worth paying for.  I know my epistle isn't going to change the decision but I think someone needs to remind those in power that they aren't just running a private school system but one that is supposed to reflect and transmit our faith, and frankly, especially looking at the high schools, I don't think they do that.
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

I Didn't Start Off as a Book Blogger

I was perusing my archives tonight, particularly those from the early days of my blog (maybe it's that Throwback Thursday thing).  While at this point I'd definitely identify myself as a book blogger, it is not what I set out to do when I started this blog.  I did not used to write as often as I do now, but I wrote more about my family, especially about struggles we were having with my son.  Those were the years during which a lot of my hopes and dreams for him were re-oriented.  His differences from other kids were becoming more and more obvious and more and more problematic and writing about them here helped.

While I review a lot of Catholic books and host Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival, I don't really write that much about spirituality except in the context of book reviews--but I used to.  I lost a lot of weight in 2007 and blogged my way through it, including the spiritual aspects.

Reading those old post has made me consider writing more like them again.  I have started trying to add a personal touch to my Sunday Snippets posts, and I have always tried to make my book reviews unique by using them (to the extent possible) as springboards to discuss things other than just the book.  However, I've been reading a lot of light nonsense lately so those posts have been few and far between.

I titled my blog "This That and the Other Thing" because when I started it I had no real focus.  I enjoy going back and reading reviews of books I read years ago, but the posts I really enjoy reading are those about my family, my faith, my take on current events--in other words, my original writing.  I'm going to try to get back to doing more of that.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Blog Tour and Review: The Vicar's Wife

About the Book:
Jane Hatton and her British husband Andrew relocate from New York City to a small village on the Cumbrian coast. Jane has been city-based and career-driven but when her fourteen year old daughter Natalie falls in with the wrong crowd at school in Manhattan, she and Andrew decide to try country living. However Jane has trouble getting used to the silence and solitude of a remote village. Natalie hates her new school, and eleven-year-old Ben struggles academically. Only eight-year-old Merrie enjoys country life. Has Jane made a horrible mistake? The Hattons have bought the old vicarage in the village. When Jane finds a scrap of shopping list, she grows curious about Alice, the vicar’s wife who lived there years before. As we follow the twin narratives of Jane, in the present, and Alice in the 1930s we discover that both are on a journey to discover their true selves, and to address their deepest fears.

My Comments:
I had mixed feelings about this book. It was a good read, but I didn't find it very realistic.  Jane and Andrew are the stereotypical NewYork City career couple, each of whom worked long hours at high-powered jobs.  They ordered take-out more than they cooked, sent their kids to expensive private schools and then, one day, they realized that all was not well with the kids.  In response, they return to Andrew's home country of England to live in a small remote town.  While Andrew has a good job not so different from the one he left, Jane becomes a stay at home mom.  She drops off and picks up at school, helps with homework and actually cooks dinner.  

They are living in an old vicarage that needs a lot of cosmetic work, work that falls to Jane.  While cleaning, she comes across an old shopping list and begins to wonder about the woman who wrote it.  That woman was Alice, the vicar's wife who lived in the house just prior to WWII.  Alice's story is told in chapters headed with her name and the dates of the happenings.  We see that these women who lived 70 years apart and whose lives seemed very different from each others were really very much alike--but in one sense, aren't we all a lot like each other?

What bothered me about this book is that while the lives Andrew and Jane were living in New York were clearly not good for their family; Jane was the one who had to make all the changes.  Andrew kept his career and seemed to continue to work long hours.  Returning to England put him closer to family.  Jane left her extended family, her friends and a job that was an important part of her identity.  Yes, her life was dis-ordered in New York, she spent way to much time at work and not enough with her kids--but so did her husband.  All's well that ends well, and this book does end well, probably a little too well.

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available. Grade:  B.  

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post. Click here to sign up.

Question of the week:  Yes, we are back to questions of the week.  If you check the tab on top you'll see that I have drafted questions for the rest of the year and given credit to those who inspired them.  This week's question:
What was the biggest change in your life recently? (adapted from Rochelle)
My answer:  I guess the biggest change lately was sending my daughter off to college.  I'm so proud of her, so glad she has been able to go to the college of her choice on a generous scholarship, so proud she is making good grades....but I miss her smile and seeing her on the couch with her electronic toys when I head to bed.

I reviewed three romance novels this week but nothing the could be considered the least bit Catholic.  

Review: Up at Butternut Lake

About the Book:
It's been ten years since Allie Beckett crossed the threshold of her family cabin at Butternut Lake, Minnesota. Now, newly widowed after the death of her husband in Afghanistan, she's returned with her five-year-old son.

There, she reconnects with the friends she had in childhood-best girlfriend Jax, now married with three kids and one on the way, and Caroline, owner of the local coffee shop. What Allie doesn't count on is a newcomer to Butternut Lake, Walker Ford. 

Up at Butternut Lake follows these four unforgettable characters across a single summer as they struggle with love, loss, and what it means to take risks, confront fears, and embrace life, in all of its excitement and unpredictability.

Allie Beckett could never have imagined, when she ran away from her old life, that she was running into a whole new life, up at the lake….

My Comments:
My mom is from an area not far from the one in which this book was set so I recognized many of the place names in this book.  I'm also familiar with the topography of the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" which I'm sure added to my enjoyment of the story.  

Allie wasn't moving on from the death of her husband and being in the places she shared with him kept bringing pain.  She returned to a favorite childhood spot, which happened to be a place she never took her husband.  In this small town she begins to heal but as she  moves into a new relationship she has to decide what type of relationship she needs to maintain with her late husband.

I liked the way Walker moved in slowly.  I  liked the way Allie didn't want temporary men in her son's life.  I didn't like the fact that they got intimate very quickly--it seems that once Allie decided she wanted to be more than friends they headed to bed, and yes, we got to watch.  

Usually the secondary characters in romance novels are forgettable.  In this case, I think my favorite character in the book was Jax, a secondary character.  She's weak and flawed and she makes mistakes, but she loves her family tremendously.  Jax's husband Jeremy is my second favorite  He has to forgive and he does, over and over again, even though it is hard.

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via Edelweiss.  Grade:  B+

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