River of Dust by Virginia Pye….

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River of Dust@EllenWeeren or @AReasonToRead

Reading this book was a special treat for me because I had the chance to meet Virginia Pye before I read her novel – even got me a signed copy, I did. And, by the by, she is delightful.

This historical novel is set in Northwest China in 1910 and chronicles the lives of a missionary couple whose young son, Wesley, is kidnapped by nomads right before their eyes.

Some reviewers have called this a “dark” novel but I disagree. I think it’s a beautiful (albeit sad) telling of what might happen when parents who, for what they believe is the greater good, willingly expose their child to dangers he would not have experienced otherwise.

It’s a story about birth and loss and guilt and trying to start over under impossible circumstances. It’s the ultimate test of faith –  not just in God but also in the ones we love – it’s the slow unraveling of reasonable madness.

I simply loved it!

The idea of using China as a backdrop for her novel came to Virginia from her grandfather’s journals detailing his time there as, you guessed it, a missionary. She has said the similarities between this story and her grandfather’s end with the setting.

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres but the books usually take so long to read. Virginia, however, wonderfully and concisely captured the essence of the time and place, making River of Dust a fairly quick read – and yet, it’s still compelling. I kept wondering what I would do in those circumstances.

I never came to an answer.

This is a story that will stay with you for a long time.

virginia pye2

 

 

 

Capturing Every Day Life by Jane Goodrich

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capturing every day life

Jane Goodrich is a NYC-based newborn and child photographer. And a dang good one at that. She has written this guide to capturing photos of kids in every day life situations. The tag line is “the no-nonsense, cheese-free, read-while-they-nap, easy-as-pie guide to taking top-notch, world class photos of your kids.”

Yep, that about sums it up.

It’s a great first book for anyone who is interested in learning to take his/her camera off automatic mode and harness the full creative power that DSLR cameras offer. Jane shares simple definitions to complex terms and really explains the basics in an unintimidating way. She also gives practical suggestions for making the most of a photo shoot or just capturing the moment at hand.

The book is awesome. Several months ago, I started taking photography classes and often walked away more confused than I had been when I went into the class. Of course, good photography requires lots of practice. But, ahem, in order to practice, you must understand some basic concepts. Photography is all about capturing light – and you can do that several ways – via the available light, the shutter speed, the ISO, the aperture, and flash.

Did I lose you? Then pick up Jane’s book. You’ll understand the terms and will be able to apply them to taking your own great pictures. She gives the best explanation of ISO that I’ve ever heard (that’s on page 15).

Jane also has a fantastic blog where she shares lots of interesting articles and tips. You can find that here.

When I received the request to review Jane’s book, I wrote to her and told her how excited I was to read it and explained that I am a complete novice budding photographer. She wrote back and said, “if you have any questions, just let me know.”

So, I did. And she helped me understand what was happening differently when I took these two pictures and how to avoid it from happening again. As you can see, the first picture is hazy and the crab nearly gets lost. What? You didn’t see a crab – look at photo 2.

13_08_08_sunrise and pepper_EllenWeeren_0227

 Ah, there he is…13_08_08_sunrise and pepper_EllenWeeren_0324

She also gave me permission to just claim the first photograph was a result of artistic interpretation. Yes, you can see why I love her already.

Jane also has a new book out called “Where is Charlie’s Nose.” (I haven’t read this one yet, but if it’s anything like Capturing Every Day Life, it’s bound to be really good.)

where is charlie's nose

I thoroughly enjoyed Capturing Every Day Life by Jane Goodrich and highly recommend it to anyone who is intimidated by that knob at the top of his/her camera.

The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell……

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@EllenWeeren or
@AReasonToRead

This debut novel by Lisa O’Donnell is
creating a lot of buzz (tee hee). the death of bees

The story starts out with Marnie sharing that she has buried her parents in her backyard. Readers just as quickly learn that Marnie and her younger sister Nelly are trying to take care of themselves in a house that is literally falling apart while the neighbor’s dog continuously digs up their dad’s bones.

I could see this being a Tim Burton movie. It’s dark and ridiculous at the same time.

It’s a fast read. And I guess it’s YA crossover to Adult – but with all the cussing and adult topics sprinkled in, I’d definitely make sure parents read it first to decide if it’s appropriate for teenaged readers.

The story had a lot of promise – the whole “Death of Bees” opportunity for symbolism was forgotten too early in the story – and parents being buried in the backyard is an intriguing premise – but to me, it all fell short. Things very neatly tied up that weren’t necessarily plausible and things that required more explanation (like how the school continuously ignored the girls situation) weren’t explored enough.

Having said that though, everyone in my book club really liked the book, except me. So there you go.

Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler by Trudi Kanter…..

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Trudi Kanter’s memoir about a young Jewish hat-maker
living in Vienna during Hitler’s some girls some hats reign was originally published in 1984. It was rediscovered in a second-hand book store in London and re-released.

The story of Trudi’s life is presented in a gentle way – giving the reader the full understanding of the tension of the time, without completely examining the atrocities going on. It gives us a look into the everyday life of a person trying to survive and thrive under very dire circumstances. And yet, Trudi managed to live and love and, in many ways, succeed.

The book’s conversational tone makes it an easy read. In fact, reading it is much like talking with Trudi (or having tea with your grandmother). The author focuses on the people in her life – her parents, her ex-husband, her husband, and her employees. They are all affected by the Holocaust in different ways and we get a peek into the good and bad in their daily living.

It was a stressful, harrowing time – but in between the moments of real desperation, Trudi also shares with us her happiness.

Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler seems to a be a full disclosure of the best and worst of the era of Hitler.

the time keeper by Mitch Albom……

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If you are familiar with Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven, then you already have a sense of the time keeper by Mitch Albom.

by Mitch Albom

by Mitch Albom

I thoroughly enjoyed both of those books, so I was excited to learn about the time keeper. At first, I was a little hesitant to buy in to the whole concept because the book is about understanding time. That is a huge undertaking. It shouldn’t have surprised me for one second that Mitch Albom would be able to pull it off.

In the beginning of the story, we meet the man who will become Father Time – the inventor of the concept of measuring periods of light and darkness. God wants him to understand what he has done and how the world will change because of it – perhaps why time was never meant to be measured in minutes and seconds or even full days and months.

Father Time is asked to think about his creation in isolation for what seems to be an eternity. Then, when he is released, he is tasked with finding two people who are intimately aware of time – one who wants more time and one who wants less.

As the story unfolds we learn about the journey the three embark on separately until their worlds meld and they face the “end of their own time” together.

In true Mitch Albom style, it is a beautiful tale told in fable-like fashion where truth and understanding are the most valuable lessons. We learn why time matters and why it shouldn’t. And we are reminded that our own actions are never performed in a bubble – there is always an impact on someone else.

I highly recommend this book. It can be purchased via Amazon here for $16.49.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton….

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I loved this book – the secret keeper kate morton

The Secret Keeper – by Kate Morton.

Loved it!

The story opens with 16-year-old Laurel sitting in a tree house, where she witnesses her mother stab a stranger in the chest and kill him.

Yep, it’s good right from the beginning.

This is what Kate Morton’s website tells you about the story…

1961: On a sweltering summer’s day, while
her family picnics by the stream on their
Suffolk farm, sixteen-year-old Laurel hides out
in her childhood tree house dreaming of a boy
called Billy, a move to London, and the bright
future she can’t wait to seize. But before the
idyllic afternoon is over, Laurel will have witnessed
a shocking crime that changes everything.

2011: Now a much-loved actress, Laurel finds herself overwhelmed by shades of the past. Haunted by memories, and the mystery of what she saw that day, she returns to her family home and begins to piece together a secret history. A tale of three strangers from vastly different worlds–Dorothy, Vivien and Jimmy–who are brought together by chance in wartime London and whose lives become fiercely and fatally entwined…

I can’t comment too much on the plot because – alas – this is a book about secrets and how they unfold. The last secret totally surprised me. Yea!

The plot does jump back in forth between the past and the present as it introduces us to Laurel, Vivien, and Dorothy.  They are three fascinating women connected in ways that only Kate Morton can imagine. Thankfully she shares the threads that weave them together with her readers in a beautiful tale of womanhood and motherhood – of independence and interdependence.

This is a story about dreams and decisions and who our mothers were before we got the chance to meet them.

Fabulous!

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff…

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This historical fiction called The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff is an excellent book club book. There’s lots of layers for dicussion – polygamy, parenting, religion, and murder. It’s all there.

The storyline bounces back and forth between modern-day, where BeckyLyn has just been arrested for her husband’s murder – and 1875, where Ann Eliza Young recently separated from her husband Brigham Young.

The book is probably longer than it needs to be and the dense build up of the historical conflict for women in the Mormon faith is a little overdone – we get it – being the 19th wife would come with some complications. But overall the book is very interesting and, as I said, opens up a lot room for book club talk.

There are some surprises in the book also – a big plus for me.

My book club is made up of women so our discussion focused a lot on trying to understand how women can tolerate being one of so many wives. We didn’t really understand how it makes sense – although we did get perpetuating the “way it’s always been”.

At one point, one of our members asked the group to imagine having 19 husbands. Holy smokes. No thank you.

 

 

1222 by Anne Holt…

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When Scribner asked me to review this book,
I jumped at the chance 1222to read Anne Holt‘s latest crime story 1222.

The basic story line is that a train crashes in Northern Norway during a horrific snow storm and the survivors are taken to a nearby hotel until the blizzard subsides. (The title comes from the fact that they are 1,222 feet above sea level.) All seems well until a priest is found murdered just outside the hotel door on the morning after the crash.

Hanne Wilhelmsen, a wheel-chair bound retired detective, is one of the survivors. She carefully observes the other passengers and pieces together what happened. The interesting wrinkle in this book is the other characters’ willingness to talk near Hanne as if she wasn’t there – likely because they see her as lesser because of her wheelchair – but it ends up being how the mystery is unraveled. The other irony is that Hanne enjoys watching people but not so much inteacting with them – quite a challenge when trying to interview witnesses and suspects.

Hanne is a little grumpy and I kept forgetting that she was a woman. That’s not good or bad – just my experience.

Amping up the drama and mystery is the fact that the passengers from the private car on the wrecked train have been isolated on a separate level of the hotel.

To be honest – because that is what I promised to be here – I had a hard time buying into the idea that this hotel would have been totally stocked full of supplies to support a train load of people for several days when it was practically empty of people, except for staff members. Beyond that, the story is engaging and the unfolding connections between people are interesting.

This is the eighth book in a series but the first one translated into English. So English readers are likely missing out on some historical information/backstory on Hanne Wilhelmsen – but I think that’s okay. If you like a mystery – especially an isolation mystery where the people are bound together by circumstances/location and cannot escape each other – you will likely enjoy this story.

 

how to stop time by anne marlowe….

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I think I have shared that I am writing a novel called The Alligator Purse. In my story, the main character Savannah is addicted to heroin. Someone suggested to me that Savannah isn’t believable as a heroin user. To help fix that, they also suggested I read this memoir – how to stop time, heroin from A to Z by ann marlowe.  

My exposure to drugs has (thankfully) been very limited. I know nothing about heroin. (Which was apparently abundantly clear.)

If you are a writer, you will probably enjoy this book from a technical level. It is written like a dictionary – broken down into sub-topics which are discussed alphabetically (but with references to other subtopics that apply). I haven’t read a book in this format before and I enjoyed its snippet-style of story telling. Heroin addiction is a heavy topic and it was nice to read about it in small doses (no pun intended).

If you know someone struggling with heroin, this book would give you a lot of insights into what they are facing. It was fascinating to me to read about Ann’s addiction. And to learn that she was highly functional in her professional life.

Apparently some critics have argued that her story doesn’t sound authentic enough – whatever that means. According to her own words, Ann scheduled her life around her drug use. That sounds like at least a heavy dependence to me.

The only reason I mention the critics is to also mention that Ann never claims to know what all addicts go through – this is her story and her story alone. This isn’t a “here’s what happens to anyone who is addicted to heroin” story but rather a “here’s what happened to me” story.

Ann is a professional writer and her story is well written. I was shocked and sad and even laughed a little. This is a terrific book. I am very glad I read it!

Spirit of the Wolf by Linda Star Wolf with Casey Piscitelli….

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Merging the world of the wolf with Shamanism, authors (and mother/son team) Linda Star Wolf and Casey Piscitelli join with artist Antonia Neshev to introduce the power of lupine energy.

The artwork alone is amazing. And this book would make an excellent gift for anyone with an affinity for wolves. Neshev earned international acclaim when the artwork on the cover of this book appeared on a t-shirt.

The teachings and inspirations in the book will appeal to those who believe in the spirituality of nature and its ability to help humans move forward peacefully in their own lives.

There are several of Samuel Briedenbach’s teachings sprinkled throughout the book as well. He is a scientific Shaman who believes in a spiritual DNA connection with nature and animals.

The essence of The Spirit Wolf seems to be captured in its quotes from Art Berg:

The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer

and William Blake:

What is now proved, was once only imagin’d.

The authors and artist share their own knowledge and experience to help everyone connect with their inner wolf. This book won’t be for everyone, but for those who believe (or want to believe) in the power of lupine, it will be especially poignant.

The book is on sale at Amazon for $13.46 and you can buy it here.