Thursday, October 19, 2017

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

Title: The History of Bees
Author: Maja Lunde
Read by: Joy Osmanski, Steve West, Gibson Frazier
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 12 hours and 8 minutes
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

What would happen to a world without bees?  The History of Bees explores this dystopian future where the world has collapsed after all of the bees and other pollinators died. There is no longer enough food to supply the world.  Economies and countries collapsed as mass starvation sets in.  Is there hope for the future?  Three parallel tales set in the past, the near present and the future reflect on the problem.

In England in 1852, William is obsessed with the study of bees and of building the perfect hive.  He suffered a personal bout of depression, but after a remark from his son inspired his passion he worked with his brilliant daughter Charlotte on his bee studies.  Are his daughters really as worthless as he believes?  Can he find a way to prove to himself and his mentor that he is worthy?

In the United States in 2007 George works a family farm and has a contentious relationship with his son.  His son is off at college and instead of studying agricultural to come back and work on the farm, he has chosen English as his major.  After the bees on his farm suffer colony collapse, George tries to figure out how to move forward with his farm and also how to have a relationship with his son.

In China in 2098, Tao works as a hand pollinator in a monotonous job. While the rest of the world has suffered greatly, China has hung on with the resilience of its people.  After Tao’s son suffers a mysterious collapse. She explores dystopian China to try to find him.  Will she find her son and what happened to him?

The audiobook of the History of Bees was excellent.  I loved that there were three distinctly different narrators, one for each storyline.  I also loved how their voices also matched the personalities for the individuals from a haughty British gentleman, to an American farmer, to a resilient woman in the future.  It was an engaging story that kept me riveted on my daily commute.  It also did a great job of tying the three story lines up at the end and coming up with a great and believable conclusion.

We talk about bees and colony collapse in the environmental science class I teach.  I thought this was a thought provoking literary fiction novel on it. What will happen to the world if we continue to ignore this problem?  I thought it was interesting as well at the placement of the action from England when it was a super power to the US when it was a super power to a future China which may be one of the only countries left.  I was also saddened the US collapsed as the regular citizens wouldn’t do the field work to pollinate the crops . . . although I could see the happening.  I still believe there are enough hard workers though that faced with starvation we could get it done, or so I hope.

I also loved the relationships between the parents and their children.  What will a parent do when expectations are not met?  Is their love conditional?  How long will it take William to realize his son his worthless, but he has at least one excellent daughter?

Overall, The History of Bees was a through provoking and intriguing novel.  I highly recommend it.

Friday, October 6, 2017

To Wager Her Heart by Tamera Alexander (TLC Book Tours)

Alexandra Jamison lives in Nashville Tennessee with her parents. An independent woman, her parents try to force her to marry an unappealing older man.  One year earlier, her fiancé, David, was killed in a horrific train crash.  David had inspired her in the love of education and education for all people.  Alexandra makes a decision to teach at Fisk University, which is a school started to teach newly freed African American students.  Her parents are not amused and she is kicked out of the house.  Alexandra faces a brave new world on her own merits.

Sylas Rutledge is a self-made man who has come to Nashville from Colorado to not only try to make a business deal to build a new railroad to Belle Meade Plantation for General William Harding, but to also solve the mystery of the train crash one year previous.  His stepfather was the engineer on the line.  Along the way he meets Alexandra and is smitten.  She agrees to teach him etiquette that is needed to do business in the South.  Will romance bloom between these two?  Will Alexandra be able to make a living as a teacher at Fisk?  What really caused the train accident?

To Wager her Heart was a wonderful Christian romance.  There is great chemistry between Alexandra and Sylas.  I really loved the unique setting.  I don’t believe I’ve ever read a historical fiction novel set during Reconstruction in Tennessee.  I also have not read too many historical fiction or Christian novels that really delve into diversity and what it means like in To Wager Her Heart.  It was a very intriguing story on many levels.  I also greatly enjoyed the mystery of the train accident.  This novel is the third volume in a series, but I read it as a standalone novel and greatly enjoyed it.
I also really enjoyed learning about the Jubilee singers as Alexandra travels around with them on tour.  They were a group of amazing African American singers that toured America to raise funds for Fisk University. The most heart rending for me was one young man who kept searching for his mother that he had separated from when he was a boy and still a slave.

I also love that Tamera Alexander has a lot of background information on her website -  She also has great book club bonus features including that she will skype with your book club - which would be very fun!

Favorite quotes:

“Every choice comes at a cost, and yours is no exception.”

“How different a man he was from what she’d first imagined at her first impression.”

“Life wasn’t all neat and tidy.  Along with joy and happiness, there were bitter disappointments and heart-rending loose ends.”

Overall, To Wager Her Heart was a beautiful novel.  I loved the setting, the characters, the unique story, and the romance.  I loved how author Tamera Alexander brought Christianity into the story and also how she talked about diversity.  I will definitely be checking out more of her books – I see she has a new Christmas book – A Carnton Christmas.  I also really wanted to visit the Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville now.  I think I have a new favorite author to add to my list!

Book Source:  I received a copy of this book to review as part of the TLC Book Tours.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Pegasus Bridge by Stephen E. Ambrose

Title: Pegasus Bridge
Author: Stephen E. Ambrose
Read by: Arthur Morey
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 5 hours and 58 minutes
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

Pegasus Bridge is a riveting non-fiction narrative detailing the storming and taking of Pegasus Bridge, the first engagement of D-Day, June 6, 1944.  Major John Howard and his men spent much time preparing for this day, but nothing can prepare them for the brutality of war.

Pegasus Bridge describes the months of preparation the British airborne troops went through and then gives minute by minute detail of D-Day.  The book then tells when happens to the D company in the months after D day and then the anniversaries of D-day.  Pegasus Bridge also tells the story of the Germans who were stationed at the Bridge and the French who lived in the nearby town.

I have enjoyed Stephen Ambrose’s histories in the past, especially Band of Brothers and Undaunted Courage.  I appreciated that Ambrose wrote this novel after personally meeting Major John Howard and hearing the events.  He thought it was a gripping account that would make a good book.  Originally published in the 1980s, this book has been updated since.  I especially enjoyed that Major John Howard continued to talk to those involved in the battle on both sides through the years and was able to pass on updates to the author himself.

I was intrigued by the use of the gliders transporting the troops.  My Great-Grandpa Stone was in the Army training Glider pilots in the United States during WWII.  He also worked on glider design for missions into the Asian battles. I also loved when Lord Lovat and his commandos came to the bridge blasting on their bagpipes.  If you are an Outlander fan like me, I got a secret kick out of this.

Two scenes really stood out to me in the book.  The first was during the battle, when a well-liked officer with a pregnant wife receives a mortal wound on the bridge.  When he’s found, the soldier has a surreal moment of is this really worth it?  The months of preparation only to die right before the birth of your child?  The other poignant scene was when they encounter the French shaving and humiliating women who had been with the German soldiers during occupation.  They think, everyone did why they had to do to survive, why were these women being punished for using what they had to survive?  And also, there were no young men around except the Germans for years.  Those are very good points and very humane.

As a Daphne du Maurier fan, I loved that she was brought up.  Her husband, Lieutenant General Sir Frederick “Boy” Browning was the father of the British airborne troops and she chose the red berets that they wore.  I had never heard this before and thought it was pretty neat.

I have never seen the classic movie, The Longest Day, but after hearing that the events of Pegasus Bridge are depicted in it, I know I have to check it out!  Especially cool is that a soldier who was part of the company storming the bridge that day later was played Major John Howard in the movie.

As an audiobook, I’ll admit that I had a hard time first getting into this book.  It took me awhile to get used to narrator Arthur Morey, who sounded rather dry to me.  It’s also because the start of the novel details the preparation for the assault, which was not the most exciting of details either, but was necessary to understand the later action. As the battle commenced, I found myself spell bound and unable to stop listening.

Overall, Pegasus Bridge was a great audiobook detailing the assault that helped to start and lead to victory on D-Day as well as a good look at the horrors of war.  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Northanger Abbey and the History of England by Jane Austen, Read by Alison Larkin

Title: Northanger Abbey and the History of England
Author: Jane Austen
Read by:  Alison Larkin
Publisher: British Classic Audio
Length: Approximately 9 hours and 25 minutes
Source: Purchased from

I’ll admit, when I first read Northanger Abbey as a teenager, I wasn’t sure what to think of it.  It didn’t fit the mold of Austen’s other novels. As I’ve reread it over the years, I’ve grown to love it more and more.  It is a great satiric novel about the rise in popularity of the Gothic novel.  I can just imagine Austen and her family reading many a Gothic novel and Austen deciding it was time to make fun of the genre, which she does perfectly in Northanger Abbey.

Although it is a satire, Austen writes wonderful characters that are true to life in Northanger Abbey.  Catherine loves Gothic novels a little too much, but is able to learn her lesson through the book that Gothic novels are entertaining fiction, but woefully untrue to life.  I especially love her underlying lesson about friendship – is there more of a perfect frenemy in literature than Isabella Thorpe?  Henry Tilney is a great male character and so different than Austen’s other heroes.  He is very witty and not afraid to talk about novels or muslin.  He doesn’t put on fake airs to impress people – he is who he is.

I loved the conversation between Catherine Morland and John Thorpe.  John dismisses “novels” much to Catherine’s dismay.  In the course of their conversation it becomes very apparent that John actually does read and enjoy novels and doesn’t quite know what he’s talking about.  It was hilarious and so perfectly Jane Austen.  You can still have this conversation with people today who are dismissive of “romance,” “sci-fi,” or a variety of other genres and items that really don’t know what they are talking about.

Bath is a great location for this novel and you can feel Catherine’s excitement when she visits with the Allens and gets to be a part of the social whirl.

I have listened to Alison Larkin narrate other Austen novels and I am a huge fan.  She has a light British accent and gives the characters all of their own voices.  She is a perfect narrator for Austen novels and makes them sound just like I could imagine them sounding if they were being read aloud and acted out by the Austen family by the fire.  This edition also contains Austen’s delightful satire, A History of England, one of her juvenile writings.  This was the first time I’ve listened to it on audio and I greatly enjoyed it.

Overall, Austen is a classic author with six of the finest novels ever written. Northanger Abbey is a delightful satire of the Gothic novel that also manages to tell a great character story about the true meaning of love and friendship.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Outlander Season 2

My husband Ben and I slowly have made our way through Season 2 luckily finishing it this summer so we are ready to go for Season 3 . . . although we haven’t started watching it yet!  This is life with kids and limited time for adult programing without the kids.
I’ve thought about it since finishing the season and there were points that I liked and didn’t like about Season 2.

First of all, it’s Outlander and I’ve been a fan for over twenty years.  It’s wonderful to see my favorite books on the screen.  I loved, loved, loved the costumes and sets this year.  They were stunning, especially in the French court.  The cast is wonderful in Outlander, in particular stars Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, but all of the actors are superb.  Some episodes were particularly well done, such as “Faith” and its dealing with the loss of a child.

There were also things I didn’t like about Season 2. I didn’t like the set-up of the season.  Dragonfly in Amber is one of my favorite books of the series.  Part of why I loved it is I liked how it was a mystery – is Jamie alive?  I loved the flash back to the past in the book.  The series didn’t get to the sixties until the very last episode.  Part of the loss of suspense could be that you know at this point that both the book series and TV series go on, would they really kill off Jamie?  At the time I read Dragonfly in Amber it actually was a possibility as the third book had not been published yet.  Although rereading the book later on, I still felt that same suspense even though I knew what would happen. I also felt that if I were solely a show watcher, I would have been let down by the entire lead up to the Battle of Culloden only to have the battle NOT HAPPEN.  I know it doesn’t happen in the book, but to have previews and the entire season talk about the battle and not have it happen is a giant let down.  I almost feel that part of book 3 and the battle should have been showcased.

I thought Jamie and Claire’s separation was a bit rushed too – compared to the book – but I still loved it and want them back together.  I also didn’t like how the show changed the scenes with Dougal and the Old Fox.  They were powerful scenes in the book that got lost on the show.

Overall, I enjoyed Season 2, but I felt it was missing the storytelling and passion of Season 1.  I hear the passion will be back for Season 3 and I am greatly looking forward to it.

How did you feel about Season 2?  What are you most looking forward to in Season 3?

The Official Outlander Coloring Book by Diana Gabaldon

My husband got me the Official Outlander coloring book for a present and it’s become a staple I take with me when we are camping or on a long trip.  This coloring book tells the highlights of the Outlander story, but not the complete story as it’s not a 1,000 page coloring book!  It has wonderful and detailed pictures of the story and is very relaxing to color.  It will take you some time to color these pictures because of the magnificent detail.

The pictures are by a variety of artists and include locations, herbs, clothing, jewelry as well as scenes, such as the wedding of Jamie and Claire.  The pictures are on very thick paper with a picture on one side and text on the other so you don’t have to worry about bleed through if you use markers.  I personally use color pencils.  There is a glue binding for the book and the pages are not tear out.

Overall, The Official Outlander Coloring book has wondering pictures of the story and is a most have for any Outlander fan.

Are you a fan of adult coloring books?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power by Al Gore

Title: An Inconvenient Sequel:  Truth to Power
Author: Al Gore
Read by: Al Gore, Sterling Brown, Danny Burstein, Marin Ireland, Shailene Woodley
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 4 hours and 58 minutes
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

As an environmental engineer and an instructor of an environmental engineering technology program, I should have been the obvious audience for An Inconvenient Truth.  I must admit, I had never seen that movie until just last month.  As an environmental engineer, I have been sickened by the politicization of environmental science.  Facts are facts, but we are now in an age where people can find whatever “facts” they want online and can chose to ignore data.  I’ll admit I was dubious of something that a career politician had put together on the environment.

I was pleasantly surprised by both An Inconvenient Truth the movie and An Inconvenient Sequel that audiobook.  The data presented is accurate data that matches peer reviewed articles on the topics of climate change and is indeed what I teach in my classes when we discuss the topic in class.

The audiobook did a great job of keeping it interesting by switching narrators often for different segments.  I was very happy about this as Al Gore unfortunately has a very boring speaking voice.  The different narrators kept the audiobook engaging to listen too.  I also enjoyed the “deep dive” segments on how climate change has affected different people around the world in different ways as well as biographies on important people who are making changes to help climate change by doing things such as promoting renewable energy.

The goal of An Inconvenient Sequel is to spread the science behind climate change and I fully appreciate that.  I get very aggravated when average Joe tells me that climate change is all made up as they saw a segment on Fox News that said this.  I can tell them about studies and research that was going on even when I was in college at Michigan Tech and what it told them, but they chose not to believe data or someone who works in the field.  The first half of the book gives the background science for what is climate change and why is it a problem.  The second half of the book gives examples of how as a citizen you can do something about it.  This includes registering to vote, voting, finding out who represents you in Congress, contacting your representatives, writing opinion articles, and speaking at public meetings.  These are all good tips and are items I talk to my students about.  I’ve read before that a representative only needs to hear from a few constituents to start looking into a problem.  We discussed these items in great detail when I was in Government class over twenty years ago in high school.  Unfortunately, government classes are being cut across the country and many people are not sure how to have their voices heard.

There is also a PDF that accompanies the audiobook that gives helpful tips and links.  This will be a useful resource in the future for me.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power was a very interesting audiobook that engaged readers with great science and absorbing narrators.  It was a great place for those that care about the climate to find more information as well as tips for how to make a change.  It was also a great book to let me know again why not to “judge a book by its cover.”  I went in afraid of the politics, but came out impressed by the science.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper

I have been a Louisa May Alcott fan since I was a girl.  I loved reading Little Women and most of Alcott’s other novels.  I also loved all of the different movie versions of Little Women.  I wanted to be part of the Alcott family believing they were the March family . . . until I started reading biographies of Alcott and discovered that while there were similarities, there were also many differences in which the Alcott family struggled through very difficult circumstances.  I was very intrigued by this new novel about the youngest Alcott sister, May, the basis for Amy in Little Women.

Being the basis of Amy for Little Women effects May in many ways.  Her sister Louisa and she have a difficult relationship, especially as Louisa’s writting pays for the family to live while May’s artistic renderings in Little Women receive scathing reviews.  May wants to leave the shadow of being Amy behind and find out who she is as an artist.  First traveling to Europe with Louisa and then by herself, May pushes herself to accomplish her goals and to find out what makes her happy personally.

I loved May’s travels and learning about the process of becoming an artist.  I thought it was very interesting when she met fellow women artists who were trying to make it in a male dominated field such as Mary Cassatt and the work they did to create their art and move forward. 

I enjoyed the pictures at the end of the book that showed the illustrations that May had created for Little Women.  I liked them and am unsure why they were panned.  I looked up her paintings online after I finished the book and they are quite beautiful.  There is definite growth between her early illustrations and her later paintings after she received further European instruction and traveled the world.

Most of all I loved May’s growth as a woman. Although she was an adult all through this novel, I thought it was a wonderful coming of age novel as May works to be independent, to be a true artist, and to find her happiness.  It was very interesting for her to do this during the Victorian times, which frowned upon independent women.

I’ll admit I was a bit sad by Louisa’s talk in the novel of not being happy about her success being from Little Women and her children’s novels.  I know they weren’t her first choice of material, but they are so much better than her other fiction such as “The Inheritance.”  I have always loved Little Women and An Old Fashioned Girl.  She comes off as a bit cranky in this novel.

Favorite Quotes:

“I’ve seen you digging back into your dog-eared diaries and rewriting old accounts of our lives into rosier, more harmonious versions of the truth.” – May writing about Louisa

“You two are so similar, both so hungry for something more, but at the same time, you couldn’t be more different.” Oldest sister Anna on Louisa and May

“And the sooner you abandon the idea that life is fair, you will be more productive.  This world doesn’t owe us a thing.” – Louisa to May

I enjoyed the extras in the back of this book, especially “A Conversation with Elise Hooper” on the research and background she used to create this novel.  It was very interesting.  I love that she grew up not far from Orchard House.  It’s one of my life goals to visit there one day.

Overall, The Other Alcott is a wonderful tale of an important woman in her own right, artist May Alcott and her struggle for independence and an identity separate from Amy March. 

Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow.  Thank-you!

Thirty-Two Going on Spinster by Becky Monson

Amazon and Facebook targeted me with ads for this book and it worked!  I was looking for a light funny read and Thirty-Two Going on Spinster was the perfect fit.

Julia Dorning is thirty-two.  She’s worked ten years at a job she hates, and lives in her parents’ basement with her pet cat.  She knows she’s stuck in a rut, but it’s not until a new man in HR, Jared Moody, starts at her work that she feels the need to leave behind the routine and venture into something new.  With the help of her fashionable younger sister and her best friend Brown, she gets a new look and a new confidence.  She does keep wondering though, what does she really want out of life?  Should she stay in the same dead end job or is it time to do something she really loves?

Thirty-two Going on Spinster reminded me of a Sophia Kinsella, Helen Fielding, and Jenny Colgan book all rolled up into one.  Since I enjoy novels by all three of these ladies this was a good thing.  I really liked the humor.  I also loved the growth in the character and the fact that baking was involved.  The romance was also great and I can’t wait to find out what happens next in this story.

Favorite quotes:

“I seriously should find myself a new doctor, one who sugar-coats everything.  I could use more sugar-coating in my life right now.”

“Who naps at work?  Who?  Idiots like me and George Costanza, that’s who.  Oh, my gosh, I’m totally the female George Costanza right now”

“I want to tell this is just what spinsters do.  They stay at the same job until someone finds their body half-eaten by cats.”

“Okay, so one thing is for sure, when you throw something out to the Universe, it answers quickly.”

“Hurt.  Betrayal.  Loss.  Dove Chocolate.”

I’m laughing again just reading this quotes.  If you are looking for a fun, fast and funny novel, I recommend Thirty-Two Going on Spinster.  I can’t wait to get the next book in the series!

Book Source:  E-book purchased from

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Title: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Author: Lisa See
Read by: Ruthie Ann Miles and Kimiko Glenn
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 14 hours and 7 minutes
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

Ethnic minority, the Akha, farm in remote mountains of China aligning their lives around the seasons, farming of tea, and traditions that have been passed down through millennia.  Li-yan grows up learning the traditions, but times change rapidly after the modern world finds them and wants their tea.  Li-yan faces many struggles including, how to keep the traditions alive while also moving forward in the world.  Her main struggle in life is having an illegitimate baby that she gives up for adoption.  She returns to get her child back from the orphanage only to discover she has been sent to American for adoption.  Will Li-yan ever be reunited with her child?  Will she be able to help out her village in the new and modern world?

I’ll admit, I thought this book was a historical fiction novel at first, and then was stunned to realize that Li-yan is only one year older than myself.  Then I questioned, am I old enough to be in a historical fiction novel at age 39?  I’m still wondering . . .

I learned a lot about China through this novel and it was all very interesting.  I had no idea that China has 55 ethnic minorities.  I also don’t know much about traditions or how modern day business in China works.  I learned a lot of tidbits through the narrative of the story and it left me wanting to learn so much more about China.

I love to learn about cultures around the world, but I must admit I was horrified by the traditions of the Akha people as it related to babies.  Any baby born with a defect, born early, or even as a twin (twins are considered evil and multiple births are something only animals should have) are killed immediately by their father and the parents are kicked out of the village.  Interestingly, Li-yan meets missionaries and is horrified by them and how they talk down to them about their traditions and call them evil.  It’s was an interesting take on what we think it evil and really made me think about this.  Is it more evil to be a missionary and take a woman’s child or give her a surgery unknowingly so she can no longer have any more children?  This book really made me think about how we judge cultures and how we ourselves can be judged.

I love tea so it was very interesting to me learning about tea traditions and how tea was harvested.  This was a major focus of the novel and I loved it.  It was interested how highly valued certain teas are and how Li-yan obtains education in this topic and is able to use it to help her village.  I like how tea is almost like wine with certain flavors, needing to be aged, etc.  I definitely need to learn more about this and try even more than I do now!  I also learned about the heroin trade in this novel sadly, but luckily this was just a side journey.

This book had a very interesting take on adoption as it tells a dual story about Li-yan and her child in America. Constance and Dan Davis adopt baby Haley from China.  She has difficulty adjusting as she doesn’t look like her adoptive parents and also doesn’t look like other Chinese children. Her parents don’t know why, but it’s because she’s from an ethnic minority.  It was interesting look on what is a parent?  Also interesting from the child’s point of view – why was I abandoned by my birth parents?  Why do I look different from my parents?  I really liked the bits of Haley’s life as she grew up, including a group counseling session.  I really liked how each character had a different actor voicing them.

This book was a very powerful story that I admit had me crying at the end.  I wanted the story to continue, but it had a satisfying conclusion that was followed by great music.  This was a very engaging story and I’ll admit to staying in my car a bit longer when I got home or to work to keep listening.  The narrators of the audiobook were outstanding and as I stated above, I really liked that Li-yan and Haley had their own voice, but I especially liked how events like the counseling session were read by a lot of different actors to make it sound like a real session.

Overall, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane of was an extremely engaging and powerful story.  It really tugged on my heart strings and it was an outstanding audiobook.  Besides being very absorbed in the unique narrative, I also learned a lot about China, tea, and adoption.  This was a great book – one of my favorites of this year!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

I was reading Pioneer Girl Perspectives this summer and read about The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich.  It was described as a Native American “Little House on the Prairie.”  I knew I had to read it!

Although the Little House books write the story that the Ingalls family moved onto vacant land, the land was all but vacant.  The Birchbark House tells the story of the people who lived on the land before the whites moved into the territory.  Omakayas is a young Ojibwa girl who lives on the island of the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker in Lake Superior.  This book goes through a year of her life as her family builds a new Birchbark house in the summer, harvest rice in the fall, and moves into a cedar log cabin in the winter.  This year the family faces adversity when voyageurs bring deadly smallpox to the village.  Will the family survive?  What is the secret of Omakayas?  And will her brother, Pinch, ever become less annoying?

I liked that there were several call backs to Little House, in particular descriptions on how chores were done at the time, stories that elders tell, and good pictures.  I really loved the character of Omakayas.  I loved her difficulties with her siblings, but also how she communed with animals and had the gifts of a healer.  I loved her journey throughout the novel.  I especially was fond of her pet crow, Andeg.  What a cool pet!

The illustrations were not as good as the epic Garth Williams’ illustrations of the Little House series.  This book also pales in comparison to Little House in its descriptions.  I thought about it and I think it was because Wilder was explaining things that she had actually experienced, while Erdrich is writing historical fiction about a time period that she did not live through.

What The Birchbark House did do better was to portray life in the pioneer days as it really would have been, not as a fairy tale where no one ever dies as in Wilder’s Little House books.  Omakayas faces real threats and death in this novel and it is hard for her to work through on a personal level. I appreciated that it took her time to process it as a child. This is the typical experience that happened on the frontier and is much more realistic. 

This is a children’s book, but it has a pretty harsh opening with a child being found as the only person alive on her island with everyone else dying from small pox.    I found this haunting and it made me want to read more, but I think it might be much for my six year old if I read it to her.  I would recommend this book for fourth grade and up, but it will vary depending on the sensitivity of the child.

Favorite quotes:

“The only person left alive on the island was a baby girl.” – Opening Line

“’These are my daughters,’ said Deydey, proudly.  ‘Not only did they save the corn today, but they caught and plucked our dinner! They are hunters!’”

“Whenever Grandma prayed, she made the world around her fell protected, safe, and eternal.”

“She spoke so earnestly, with such emotion in her voice that Omakayas was always to remember that moment, the bend in the path where they stood with the medicines, her grandmother’s kind face and the words she spoke.”

“Tenderly, as they walked along, the bird plucked up a strand of hair that had fallen loose from Omakaya’s braid, and then he tucked it behind her ear.”

“Omakayas tucked her hands behind her head, lay back, closed her eyes, and smiled as the song of the white-throated sparrow sank again and again through the air like a shining needle, and sewed up her broken heart.” – Last line

Overall, this is a story that needed to be told, of the people who lived here first and had a full life before being driven from the land.  It’s a perfect story to tell with the pioneering adventures of Little House.

Book Source:  Kewaunee Public Library

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Genius Files: Never Say Genius (#2) by Dan Gutman

Title: The Genius Files:  Never Say Genius (#2)
Author: Dan Gutman
Read by: Michael Goldstrom
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Length: Approximately 5 hours and 30 minutes (5 CDs)
Source: Kewaunee Public Library – Thank-you!

The McDonalds epic trip across America continues in The Genius Files:  Never Say Genius.  Coke and Pepsi McDonald have been selected to be in a top secret “genius files” program for super smart kids.  As secret (even from their parents) government agents, they will get $1,000,000 as an adult graduating out of the program . . . or so they thought. Discovering that the one million dollars will be split up amongst all members of the genius files, an evil villain, Archie Clone, is eliminating all other kids in the genius files so he can be the sole collector of the million.

The McDonalds trip starts right where book one left off, in Wisconsin, and continues to Washington DC.   We listened to the majority of this audiobook on our family trip to Michigan and back and finished it up while back to school shopping.  My 11 and 9 year old sons had read the first book this past school year as part of the Kewaunee Library youth book club and had enjoyed it.  The kids loved book two, especially my 9 year old son Daniel.  He now has an obsession with visiting places that were highlighted in the first two books, in particular The House on the Rock in Wisconsin.  He liked the humor and the adventure.  A lot of the humor for me at least is when Coke and Pep tell their parents exactly what is going on and then are met with a chuckle from their parents who are sure they are making it all up.  The book ended with a cliff hanger.  We’ll be checking out the audiobook of book #3 for our next family trip!

The narrator was excellent in this audiobook with great voices for all of the characters.  My only annoyance was that he read out the web address each time one was mentioned in the book. I think for the audiobook it would be okay just to say go to Google Maps and type this in.

Overall, Never Say Genius was an entertaining book for the entire family and a great audiobook for a family trip!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Christian Coloring Books Galore!

I love the adult coloring book craze and think it is a wonderful way to relax.  My six-year old daughter Penelope also loves to color with me in my adult coloring books, especially on camping trips.  The following are three fabulous Christian coloring books that I took with me to color this summer.

The Parables of Jesus:  Coloring Book Devotional by Laura James and Katara Washington Patton

The Parables of Jesus is large and beautiful adult coloring book.  It contains the parables of Jesus including the actual Gospel reading, a description and discussion of that reading, and some questions to ask yourself about the passage.  Afterwards follows a detailed picture illustrating the parable for the adult to color.  The pictures are on thick white paper that is easy to color.  The binding is glued.  The pictures were of good detail for me to color with my coloring pencils, but not very fine detailed – which I like.  Some coloring books are so finely detailed, I have a hard time coloring them with my coloring pencils.  What I liked best about this book was that it is an excellent way to relax while you are coloring and also spend devotional time reading and thinking about the parables.  The parables are wonderful parts of the Gospel and I like how this book applies them to everyday life.

A Giving Heart:  A Coloring Book Celebrating Motherhood by Stephanie Corfee

This would make a perfect birthday, Christmas, or Mother’s Day gift for any mother.  Bible verses or inspirational quotes are on one page and then the opposite page is a detailed drawing to color.  You don’t need to worry about bleed through from your coloring page wrecking another coloring page as it’s either blank or has a quote on the other side.  My favorite quote is “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless” by Mother Theresa.  These pictures are also on thick white paper with glue binding.  The pictures are very detailed so it can take quite some time to color if you are looking for fabulously detailed pictures and something to spend a lot of time working on.

Joyful Inspirations Coloring Book with Illustrated Scripture and Quotes to Cheer Your Soul by Robin Mead

Joyful Inspirations has delightful illustrations that include a lot of flowers, outdoor scenes, cities, churches, children, etc. with inspiration quotes from famous folks and Bibles verses.  My favorite quotes was “find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing” by Robert Louis Stevenson.”  I really loved the drawings, they were calming and really were joyful.  The only downfall of this coloring book is that the pages are double sided and medium weight, which can lead to bleed through the page.  Coloring with colored pencils works best for this book.

Book Source:  These three books were given to me by Hachette Books for review.  Thank-you!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I’ve been slowly reading all of the Little House books to my daughter Penelope.  At six in the early stages of reading, I can see that in just a couple of short years Penelope will be reading these books on her own.  We both enjoy the reading time together, but with school books, the reading has been going slower on Little House. We actually finished this book last spring – but I’ve been running a bit behind on reviews!

It was great that we did finish this book last spring as we visited De Smet South Dakota in June.  We not only got to see the actual Surveyor’s house that the Ingalls family spent their first winter in in South Dakota, but we also camped for three nights at the Ingalls family Homestead in De Smet.  Having just read this book, it really made the book and story alive for both Penelope and myself.

In By the Shores of Silver Lake, the Ingalls family decides to move West after years of grasshopper plagues and crop failures in Minnesota.  Aunt Docia arrives and offers Pa a job on the railroad making good money.  Pa heads west and the family joins him taking their very first train ride.  The family adjusts to living in a railroad camp and then stay behind in De Smet to watch the surveyors’ cabin over the winter.  Pa finds a good claim and the family settles there in the spring. 

Penelope is a little sad that Laura is no longer her age and firmly a teenager in On the Shores of Silver Lake.  She was further devastated that after Aunt Docia’s visit, the family decides to pack up except for one member  - their old faithful dog Jack.  He will not be able to make this last journey with them in his old age and he peacefully falls asleep never to awaken again.  This section had me in tears, especially as our old faithful dog Jack is 14 and in his golden age.  This scene was masterfully written.  I was intrigued to find out that it was not actually factually true in my further reading this summer.  Wilder used artistic license, but very expertly as a writer wrote this scene to substitute for the real life loss the Ingalls felt at this time as they drove off and left the grave of little Freddy Ingalls.

I love how free Laura was in the book, especially racing horses with Lena over the prairie.  I also love Wilder’s vivid descriptions of building a railroad and riding on a steam train for the first time.  I was disturbed (as I was as a child) when Laura and Lena meet a woman who talks about her 12-year old daughter’s marriage.  Lena and Laura were still girls and not ready to grow up.  It’s hard to think about a 12 year old girl being married although I do know it happened in the past and probably still happens in other cultures.

As an adult, I’ve really grown to realize even more how great a writer Wilder was.  Her descriptions are beautiful and characters are realistic.  Even though it doesn’t 100% follow the story of the real Ingalls family, it tells a good story of what life was link in that time period and it also preserves the story of her family.

Favorite quotes:

“Laura knew then that she wasn’t a little girl anymore.”

“The sun sank.  A ball of pulsing, liquid light, it sank in clouds of crimson and silver.  Cold purple shadows rose in the east, crept slowly across the prairie, then rose in heights on the heights of darkness from which the stars swung low and bright.”

“I’m thankful the paymaster was sensible.  Better a live dog than a dead lion.”  I love this advice from Ma!

“It was so beautiful that they hardly breathed.  The great round moon hung in the sky and its radiance poured over a silvery world.”

“Lonely and wild and eternal were land and water and sky and the air blowing.”

By the Shores of Silver Lake is even more poignant and beautiful to me as an adult after reading it a dozen times as a child.  If you haven’t picked up this classic since you were a child or have never read it, I highly recommend it!

Book Source:  Set of books purchased from