October 2013 archive

Review: The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

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The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

Goodreads: Every first Sunday in June, members of the Moses clan gather for an annual reunion at “the old home place,” a sprawling hundred-acre farm in Arkansas. And every year, Samuel Lake, a vibrant and committed young preacher, brings his beloved wife, Willadee Moses, and their three children back for the festivities. The children embrace the reunion as a welcome escape from the prying eyes of their father’s congregation; for Willadee it’s a precious opportunity to spend time with her mother and father, Calla and John. But just as the reunion is getting under way, tragedy strikes, jolting the family to their core: John’s untimely death and, soon after, the loss of Samuel’s parish, which set the stage for a summer of crisis and profound change.

In the midst of it all, Samuel and Willadee’s outspoken eleven-year-old daughter, Swan, is a bright light. Her high spirits and fearlessness have alternately seduced and bedeviled three generations of the family. But it is Blade Ballenger, a traumatized eight-year-old neighbor, who soon captures Swan’s undivided attention. Full of righteous anger, and innocent of the peril facing her and those she loves, Swan makes it her mission to keep the boy safe from his terrifying father.

With characters who spring to life as vividly as if they were members of one’s own family, and with the clear-eyed wisdom that illuminates the most tragic—and triumphant—aspects of human nature, Jenny Wingfield emerges as one of the most vital, engaging storytellers writing today. In The Homecoming of Samuel Lake she has created a memorable and lasting work of fiction

 

Andrea’s thoughts: Some of you are probably familiar with our friend Julie and her blog. Well, this is what happened when I started reading this book:

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Yep.

I actually discovered this book on my regional library’s website and I immediately shelved my re-read of Daughter of Smoke & Bone to dive into it.

I love, love, love books set in the South. The flow of writing, the idioms, the whole nine yards. (Pat Conroy is basically my hero) Southern gothic is probably going to be my next genre binge, to be honest. This book did not disappoint. The biggest problem I had with reading this book was time, or a lack thereof. What could’ve and should’ve taken me a night or two took nearly a week, what with work and being sick. I tried to read snatches here and there on my breaks at work,but it wasn’t fair to the story to chop it up like that. I finally had to devote my entire lunch hour to it, only to make it to the LAST TWENTY PAGES AND MY NOOK DIED. This hasn’t happened often in four years, but it was devastating. I literally charged my nook JUST ENOUGH to power back up so I could finish this book before fully charging it. (Remember this post? It’s a good thing I wrote it before my nook betrayed me, or I would’ve sung a different tune!)

I gave this book five stars on Goodreads! I’ll definitely be looking for more from Jenny Wingfield, and I’d encourage you to do the same.

Author Love: Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Every once in a while you come across an author and then want to devour everything that they have ever written. Anne Lamott is that author for me. Amy Krouse Rosenthal is that author for my 3 year old son Isaac.

You guys, her books are adorable and sweet and beautiful and clever. Let’s just start with a rundown of the big faves:

This is one of the cutest kids’ books I have ever read. It is about this little spoon who feels sad because he feels like his friends fork, knife and chopsticks have such better lives than him. He complains to his mom and his mom reminds him that his friends will never know the joy of, say, diving headfirst into a bowl of ice cream. Then when he is still sad at night, she invites him to get into bed with her and… spoon. Awww!

This is kind of a companion book that goes with Spoons. It is equally as cute. We don’t own this one but we have taken it out of the library no fewer than 8 times, so it is very much like we own it. It is about these two chopsticks who are BFF but when one gets broken, the other has to learn to have fun on his/her own and that, in turn, makes them closer friend. Again, sweet message, great puns, adorable artwork.


Little Pea, Little Hoot, and Little Oink can be purchased separately, but we got them as a gift in this cute little boxed set of board books. You guys. I cannot tell you how adorable they are. They are about a pea who is forced to eat candy but wants spinach, an owl who is forced to stay up late but wants to go to bed early and a little pig who wants to be neat and tidy but is forced to be messy. It’s funny because their parents are telling them the opposite of what we tell our kids and Isaac thinks it is an absolute hoot. One of the super fun things about Amy Krouse Rosenthal is just how many puns she comes up with and works seamlessly into all of her books and that really shines here. These have heart and I just love them.

Another that we’ve probably taken out of the library enough times for them to reorder copies. This one is so, so fun. It is subtitled “Life’s Little Equations” and is full of little stuff like this:
anything + sprinkles = better

soul + words = literature

good days + bad days = real life

chores ÷ everyone = family

laughter + keeping secrets + sharing = best friend

And about 400 other equations that are so sweet that I cannot even deal. Although all of her books are cute, this is maybe my favorite visually. I mean it is honestly just perfect. It is a great kids book, but it would be a great gift for a friend too. At least I give my adult friends children’s books as gifts. If you think this is weird, you should probably not befriend me.

She has other great ones too that we’ve only read once or twice at the library but have loved: Duck! Rabbit!, Exclamation Mark, Wumbers, and Plant a Kiss. She also has a whole slew that we have *gasp* not gotten around to yet.

Seriously, I know that I’m gushing but these books are delightful. Some kids books are just annoying to read for whatever reason (and of course those are usually the ones that the kids latch on to) but these are just so fun to read and I get excited when the boys get hooked on one. Right now we have Chopsticks out from the library for the 900th time and we’ve been reading it and enjoying it daily. If you haven’t read any of these, do it. So, so fun.

Added bonus: While I was looking for new books by her to get for the boys, I found out that a book that I read a few years ago and LOVED called An Encyclopedia of Ordinary Life is by her too. How great is that?

Do you have any children’s authors that you just can’t get enough of?

Review: The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen

From Goodreads: The minute I saw the letter, I knew it was hers. There was no mistaking it: the salutation, the tiny, precise handwriting, the date, the content itself, all confirmed its ancient status and authorship…Samantha McDonough cannot believe her eyes–or her luck. Tucked in an uncut page of a two-hundred-year old poetry book is a letter she believes was written by Jane Austen, mentioning with regret a manuscript that “went missing at Greenbriar in Devonshire.” Could there really be an undiscovered Jane Austen novel waiting to be found? Could anyone resist the temptation to go looking for it?

Making her way to the beautiful, centuries-old Greenbriar estate, Samantha finds it no easy task to sell its owner, the handsome yet uncompromising Anthony Whitaker, on her wild idea of searching for a lost Austen work–until she mentions its possible million dollar value.

After discovering the unattributed manuscript, Samantha and Anthony are immediately absorbed in the story of Rebecca Stanhope, daughter of a small town rector, who is about to encounter some bittersweet truths about life and love. As they continue to read the newly discovered tale from the past, a new one unfolds in the present–a story that just might change both of their lives forever

Jennie’s Thoughts: I’m going to start this review with a confession. I am not a big Jane Austen fan. At all. I’ve read a few of her novels and all of them required a great deal of determination just to finish.

That said, I love Syrie James novels about Jane Austen. I read The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen a few years ago and loved it.

Anyway, back to the book I’m actually reviewing. I love these types of stories – current timeline and a historical timeline- such a fun mix of then and now. I was so caught up in both stories, I was mad when I had to switch time periods, but also thrilled. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

Samantha is a perfectly bookish character, full of love for novels and Jane Austen. Anthony is an interesting guy, a little closed off, but as his story developed he grew into a full character, one that could anger me and delight me.

The Rebecca story was possibly my favorite aspect if this book. The exquisite details of the past, with vivid descriptions and lots of drama!

I highly recommend this book! Have any of you read it? Also, do you like books that simultaneously tell a present story and a past story?

Review: The 5th Wave

Goodreads summary: After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

Jenny’s thoughts: I requested The 5th Wave from the library after reading super-author John Green tweet about staying up all night to read this fantastic new book that he couldn’t possibly put down.

I love post-apocalyptic stories. I love John Green. I don’t love my lack of book budget, but I do love my library. Lucky for me, I must have been the only local Nerdfighter who read John Green’s tweet because I didn’t have to wait for this new, JG-approved book.

I think I’m addicted to the suspension of disbelief because it is SICK that I love post-apocalyptic stories like I do.

The 5th Wave is fantastic. It’s scary; it’s sometimes funny; it is sweet in places; it is packed with action. It’s full of page-turning, nail-biting, vividly described fight scenes that really get your brain dirty as the characters battle against the odds & their enemies.

My only complaint is that I read it before the remaining books have been published. I’ve been spoiled this year by playing catchup on what’s been published in the last three years, so many of the new series I started already had one or two subsequent books already in circulation. I definitely don’t regret starting Rick Yancey’s series, but I’m antsy to find out what happens next. Now, I wait!

Review: And Then I Found You

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This book is loosely based on and wholly inspired by the author’s sister, her decision to give a child up for adoption, and the way Facebook helped them reconnect years later.

Andrea’s thoughts:  I listened to this book while traveling to and from the beach. It was a relatively short book (Goodreads says 261 pages, and I think the audio was less than 8 hours) and perfectly suited for vacation listening reading. I found it on this list of must-read new Southern books for the summer.

The book follows Katie, IMO a slightly annoying and self-centered character (that may have possibly been the result of listening to her “talk”, though) and her decision to put her unborn child up for adoption. She maintains contact with the father over the years, and never, never forgets the baby. Eventually the kid finds her on Facebook and makes contact.

I thought this book was pretty good, overall. I did give it 4 stars on Goodreads, but 3.5 would probably be more appropriate. I did find Katie to be a bit on the whiny side, but I was rooting for the outcome and interested in the progression of the story.

I also found it interesting that the author was basically writing from experience- a foreword read by the author informed the listener that this was not her sister’s story, exactly, but she did try to convey the emotions and the process as purely as possible.

 

Moms Answer: Earliest Reading Memories?

Reading is one of those things that is steeped in nostalgia. If you ask a reader what their favorite childhood books are, get ready to sit down and fake-listen for a long time. A LONG time. I think part of this is that when you learn to read, you are- maybe for the first time- able to “travel” independently. You can choose books and pursue interests and imagine things that you couldn’t possibly choose or pursue or imagine before. That’s huge.

When we celebrated our One Month Birthday earlier this month, a reader asked us what our earliest reading memories were. Let us go on and on about something we love and how that love began? Don’t mind if we do.

Andrea:
My earliest reading memory involves my paternal grandmother, “Me-ma”. My sister and I went to a home daycare 4 days a week, but Thursdays were spent at Mema’s. We spent our days working in the garden, swimming, and reading. Mema bought me one of those “Teach Me Readers” and she encouraged me to read, read, read. I was reading Dr Seuss books by the time I was three. I think my first independently read book was Green Eggs & Ham! (Side note: my Mema is now 76 and she loves to gather my children in her lap and read those old books)

Jennie: I almost don’t really know how to answer this, because I don’t have a specific reading memory (in my sleep deprived state at least) until my obsession with Lurlene McDaniel novels in middle school. I know I read growing up, but I can’t pinpoint a specific memory.

Jacki: I learned to read before kindergarden at some point- I don’t actually remember learning, it just seems like I’ve always known. As soon as I realized that letters each made their own sound, I was in. My first reading memory was of my teacher having me read to the class while she… who knows? Took a nap? Anyway, my first clear memory of reading is reading a Berenstain Bears book to my kindergarden class and feeling like just about the coolest person of all time. While I was thinking about this I remembered a picture I have of tiny-Jacki reading and just thought I’d share :)
Jacki---10a
I was maybe in third grade here? Wearing a Tweety Bird shirt and reading American Girl books. Did I mention how cool I was, because… yes.

Jenny: My first reading memories are a bit abstract. I remember the smell of picture books I took home from the library and how much I loved cracking open the plastic handles of the books on tape. I don’t remember going to story time, but I distinctly remember being small enough that the kids’ section was my space, and I remember when I first felt old enough to enter the YA room without getting shooed out. Oh, libraries. I love you so!

Review: Fields of Grace

fields  Fields of Grace: Faith, Friendship, and the Day I Nearly Lost Everything, by Hannah Luce

Synopsis (Goodreads): On May 11, 2012, a small plane carrying five young adults en route to a Christian youth rally plummeted into a Kansas field. Only two survived the crash: twenty-seven-year-old ex-marine Austin Anderson, who would die the next morning from extensive burns, and his friend Hannah Luce, the twenty-two-year-old daughter of the renowned youth evangelist Ron Luce, cofounder and CEO of Teen Mania Ministries. In the moments after the crash, Hannah was injured and frightened, but together, she and Austin, who appeared miraculously out of the rubble, managed to reach a deserted road, where a passing driver found them and called for help.

For the first time, Hannah tells her story, not just of what happened in the plane that day and of her long road to recovery, but of how the crash changed everything she thought she knew about friendship, family, and faith.

Jacki’s Thoughts: Alright, you guys. It is time for a little story time. After high school, I accidentally joined a teenage cult.  I didn’t want to go to college and I loved Jesus and I heard the pitch and signed up and took a road trip to Texas (which is another story for another day… let’s just say: breakdown lane, mom to the rescue, bologna sandwiches.)… and found myself in the midst of the craziest thing ever.

Some may say “cult” is too strong a word but, evidence: we chanted things, we wore matching rings, there were lots (and lots) of ceremonies, there were (are) secret groups within the group, we fasted every week, for a 3 day stretch we were not allowed to eat or speak (this happened twice). I have rolled in the mud, went without sleep, watched as guys ziptied a girl to a tree overnight, threw someone in a pit, worked without pay- in fact, I was paying them, and slept in a 10×15 room with 5 (FIVE!) other girls. You get the picture. I think ” cult” is just the right word.

Anyway, the founder of the ministry is Ron Luce. He is huge on the evangelical scene. He’s passionate and loud and excitable and heads up events of tens of thousands of teens and just whips them into an absolute frenzy. He has three kids and even while I was part of the internship, I was totally curious about what life inside his house was like. How do you live with someone who is totally over the top? Is he like that at home too?

When I saw that his oldest daughter, Hannah, had written a book, I squealed out loud. Last year, the alumni group for the internship exploded with the news that Hannah had been in a terrible plane accident, that everyone else died and that Hannah was in bad, bad shape and was covered with burns. I followed the story closely because it is just utterly heartbreaking. This is her story about living with one of the biggest evangelical names of our day, figuring out her faith in the midst of that and then how this awful crash and losing two of her closest friends impacted that.

I LOVED IT. I mean, I read it in 12 hours loved it. I stayed up late reading loved it. I was hooked.

Here is the thing: I think that Hannah did this perfectly. She was obviously disillusioned with her dad and his take on Christianity and she was really blunt about that. But she also painted in him a light of “this is my dad, I love him, I respect him, I was desperate for his affection, but I knew that the things he preached were just wrong.” There was a great balance struck there and I was super impressed. I don’t think that she pulled many punches but I also don’t think that she punched too hard or needlessly.

I was totally drawn in by Hannah’s college life and friendships and then by the details on the plane crash. It was hard to read, of course, but I think that again a good balance was struck. There wasn’t too much emphasis on the crash but there were enough details to keep me reading. I really do think that the whole thing was well done.

The only problem is this: this is a memoir written by a 23 year old. Her story is so far from being complete that it kind of just ends abruptly. There is only so much perspective you have when you are 23 and this is, of course, no fault of Hannah’s, but it does make you wonder what she will think when she reads this in 5, 10, 25 years. I want her to write a follow up when her thoughts on friendship and family and faith are a little more fleshed out, but I think that this is a great first volume.

If you have been affiliated with Teen Mania Ministries or are just curious about evangelical Christianity in general, I would highly recommend this.

(I read an Advanced Reader Copy of this via NetGalley, but all opinions are my own!)

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