Showing posts with label Book Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Reviews. Show all posts

Monday, February 4, 2019

Book Review: True Places: a Novel by Sonja Yoerg

True Places: A Novel by Sonja Yoerg
I chose True Places as my Amazon First Reads pick a month or so ago. I had not previously heard of the author, Sonja Yoerg. I chose the novel because of the setting: the area on and around the Blue Ridge Parkway. I could relate with many parts of this story and with several of the characters. The story kept my attention and I wanted to find out what would become of the woman, her family, and the wild child she found along the road.


True Places by Sonja Yoerg


This is a tale of country life, suburban life, and what may happen when the two are combined. 

The country story begins with a child living alone in a remote cabin in the forest with her mother. Tragedy strikes. 

The suburban story begins with Suzanne Blakemore, an over-extended mom, wife, and fundraising organizer extraordinaire. Feeling the pressures of too many commitments and too little time, forty-two year old Suzanne impulsively drives her Navigator (full of the over-powering scent of the hyacinths she is transporting for the Boosters auction) away from it all.

While driving at a break-neck speed on the Blue Ridge Parkway, she finds a sick and emaciated child. After hospitalization, that child - who turns out to be a very small 16 year old - joins the Blakemore family. We hold our breath at times as we watch Mr. Blakemore and his son, Reid, butt heads. And we watch as the Blakemore's daughter, Brynn, is guided by adolescent emotions, peer pressures, and social media. Social media - where mocking and bullying occurs by the minute and no one is immune - especially not the "wild child". 

Will this family be able to blend or will tragedy strike again? 

My prediction was that the author would portray one setting and it's inhabitants as better than the other. One group of people right. And the other group wrong. I would have put money on the story being about the civilized suburban folk saving the poor country bumpkins.  I was pleasantly surprised that the author showed the good, the bad, and the ugly of both worlds. 

The moral of the story is about the difference between doing things because they are the expected things to do and doing the things that make us feel right. It was about finding our True Places and our true selves. 




Amazon First Reads


Amazon First Reads is a program through Amazon in which each month a book from a selection of approximately 6 books are offered for free (for Prime members) or a reduced cost for First Reads subscribers. On the 1st of each month, I choose a book from those books are offered. 

I have found some new-to-me authors that I probably would not have read otherwise. I can't say that I've liked all of my First Reads picks, but I can say that I look forward to the 1st of each month and have found some authors that I will watch for in the future.

First Reads is one of many reasons I continue to renew my Amazon Prime membership. 





Image credit: photo courtesy of Fotojet


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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Weeds of the West: A Field Guide Review

The Best Weed Field Guide for the West I've Seen


I just discovered the best field guide I've ever seen for identifying weeds here in California. I'll finally be able to properly name all those I find and photograph while out walking and on my own property. The book was sitting on the shelf at my local public library. At almost an inch and a half thick, Weeds of the West includes almost every weed I've seen in my area. It's published by the Western Society of Weed Science. Its seven authors all have advanced degrees and specialize in weeds. I'm reviewing the 5th Edition published in 1996, but there are later editions I haven't yet seen.

Weeds of the West: A Field Guide Review
Wild Cucumber with Grasses and Mustard, Photo © B. Radisavljevic


What I Love about This Reference Book


It's more like what's not to love? The picture quality is excellent. The arrangement of listings is logical. The descriptions provide all the information farmers, campers, gardeners, or hikers need to identify the weeds they encounter. Finally, the pages at the back make everything easier to find and understand.

The Photographs

Poison Hemlock

There are three photographs for each plant listed. Let's look first at the poison hemlock plant listed on pages 22-23 in the 5th edition of Weeds of the West. It's a weed found almost everywhere in San Luis Obispo County that's not cultivated. Each listing has three images like this.

Weeds of the West: A Field Guide Review. This book has all one needs to identify weeds growing in the Western United States.
My scan of pages 22-23 in the 5th edition of Weeds of the West (Western Society of Weed Science)
First we see the overview of the plant in bloom in its habitat. We can compare its height to the other weeds near it. The opposite page shows a close-up portion of the stem, covered with the purple spots that help one distinguish poison hemlock from similar looking plants. We also get a close-up of the leaf. It's a much more detailed look that one would get from the overview shot.

In Roadside Plants of California, Thomas Belzer has given poison hemlock a playing-card size color photo of the top of one flowering stem. It has a good shot of the flowers and a couple of leaves, but the descriptive paragraph doesn't even mention the purple spots. It does mention that Wild Celery is a near look-alike that is not poisonous. Weeds of the West does not mention that.

The Sunset Western Garden Problem Solver's photos of  poison hemlock are so small they are almost useless. You get an overall idea of what one section of leaves and flowers looks like, but no view of the entire plant or its surroundings. You have to rely on the written description of the purple spots because the inset photo is only an oval of 1" x 1½."  It's a good book as far as it goes, but it's purpose is more to help gardeners identify the weeds so they can manage them.

The large full-page photo in Weeds of the West shows as much of an overview as possible, and if a plant is too tall for a photo to hold it all, you will see as much of it as possible for identifying its form. The two smaller photos on the opposite page under the description zero in on the two most important plant characteristics for identifying it. For poison hemlock you see the purple stem and a leaf. For western waterhemlock the smaller photos are a branch with leaves and a split distinctive root, its most poisonous part.

Matt Ritter in California Plants and Plants of San Luis Obispo County has photos with the same high quality, but the book lacks the overview shot. The book also has fewer plants included than Weeds of the West, since it's more specialized. See Review of California Plant Field Guides by Matt Ritter for a more thorough review of his field guides.

Jointed Goatgrass

When I work in my garden, it seems the weeds that bother me the most are the grassy weeds. So far I've had only the Ritter books and the Sunset Western Garden Problem Solver to help me identify these pests, and they haven't helped as much as I'd hoped. But Weeds of the West identifies at least twice as many of these grassy weeds as the other books. I'll admit it covers more than just California, and that may be part of the reason why.

My scan of pages 408-409 in the 5th edition of Weeds of the West (Western Society of Weed Science)
Look at the right page of the photo above. The top photo on that page shows the part of the plant where the leaf joins the stem -- something people like me might not even notice. (I do now.) This leaf juncture often provides key identifying information, but many books only show the grass blades or spikes and the flowering part of the plant (inflorescence) or seeds with or without a pod. I like that the photos in this book show a close-up of this juncture when important. The text also points it out so I know what I should look for.

The Arrangement of the Listings


Weeds of the West entries are arranged by plant families. Many other books are arranged by habitat. Both arrangements are useful, but I find the arrangement by family helps me see that plants I never would have suspected are related to each other. Since related plants don't always need the same growing conditions or share a habitat, having them together in a book section make the relationships more obvious. 

If you look at the tops of my scanned pages above, you will see the left page has the common name for the weed in boldface at the top. Under it is the scientific name in italics. On the page on the right we see the common name again followed by the plant family's scientific name. Under that is the common name for the plant family. I'm not surprised that poison hemlock is related to wild carrot and wild caraway. I am surprised that the bull thistle is related to the sunflower. I'm amazed at all the cousins the sunflower has.

Weeds of the West: A Field Guide Review
This photo I took in my yard features the wild cucumber (also called manroot.) Weeds of the West will help me  identify the wild grassy weeds that surround it. Photo © B. Radisavljevic


The Text Descriptions


The text that accompanies the photographs in Weeds of the West provides any other information it takes to identify the plant. It points out where to look for what in the photos. It tells you where the plant is native, its size, and its growth habit -- tall and erect  or prostrate and sprawling. Words describe the color and the odor of each plant part if it's a factor in identifying it..

Leaf descriptions include whether they are dull or shiny, how their edges look (smooth or sawtoothed), whether they are divided and if so how many times, how they are arranged on the stem (opposite or alternating), and anything special about how they are attached. Flowers and seeds are also thoroughly described.

The last paragraph explains where you are likely to find the plant (habitat.) It also mentions any other important  information you may need to know. Is the plant poisonous to humans or animals? If it's poisonous, does it resemble closely a plant that is safe?

Handy Helps in the Back of the Book


Many listings use terms laymen may not understand. So there is a Glossary at the beginning of the back matter. Next is an  easy-to-use "Key to the Families in Weeds of the West." It describes what the plant families have in common and what distinguishes them from one another. The final  aid to readers is an index that includes both common and scientific names.

Used editions of this book vary in price.

Should You Buy This Book?


If you live in the American West and garden or spend a lot of time outdoors where wild plants grow, I think you would find this book a helpful addition to your home library. I take a lot of photo walks in parks and I also garden. I like to be able to identify what I photograph, and most books don't supply the information I need. This book is more complete than any of the others I have seen or have on my shelf. The print is large enough for even me to read easily, and the publisher did not skimp on the photos.

 There are bound to be a few mistakes in a book this large -- 630 pages. I don't have the scientific background to judge the facts, but the authors certainly have academic credentials that indicate they know these plants well. I did find one omission quite by chance. I wanted to see if Queen Anne's Lace was listed in the book, since I hadn't seen it with others in the parsley family. It was in the index, but the name of the plant on the page I was directed to only said  "Wild carrot" with Daucus carota L. under it. Nothing in the page for Wild carrot mentioned that Queen Anne's Lace was another common name for it. I had to find that out on the internet.

As soon as I can afford it I will probably buy this book. I'm interested in nature and especially in wild plants, so for me it would be worth it. I like the convenience of a handy reference book when I have a question.



Buyers should be aware that this is not exactly a field guide. It's too large and heavy to take hiking. It does, though, draw attention to parts of plants you should remember to photograph to identify at home later. I have never realized how important it is to observe how the leaves are attached to the stem, for example. If you have found other books for identifying wild plants too limited, I believe you will find this book is different. I believe it's worth buying for the presentation and completeness of the information.




As I was finishing this review I saw another book that may be even more complete. If you're interested in California weeds, you may also like Weeds of California and Other Western States (in two volumes.) I used the "Look Inside" feature on Amazon to check it out and it, too, looks like a book I'd like to own.

Weeds of the West: A Field Guide Review
Photo © B. Radisavljevic

More I've Written about Common California Weeds


Poison Hemlock: Lovely and Lethal: a photo essay with original photos from my property and my nature walks.

Milk Thistle and  Hemlock: The Prickly and the Poisonous: A Photo essay that shows both these common western weeds at all stages of growth so you can easily identify them.

Oak and Poison Oak in Photos: Can You Tell the Difference?: This will help you recognize poison oak  during all stages of growth and in any season. Our local police department asked to use parts of this to help train their search and rescue teams.

Weeds I Love to Hate: Photos of my worst weed enemies and why I hate them

Vetch Runs Wild: Short post from my gardening blog with many photos of vetch I took while hiking

The California  Weeds You Need to Pull Now! If you get them while they are young they won't cause as much trouble later.





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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

When Women Ruled The World Reviewed

Women Ruling As Kings In Ancient Times

Egyptian hieroglyphs
Who was ruling when this was carved on a monument?
A man or a woman? (image courtesy of pixabay.com)
I recently read the book When Women Ruled The World and wanted to review it for you today. This non-fiction book was given to me by one of my lovely daughters at Christmas. She knew that I have a fascination of Ancient Egypt and thought that I would enjoy it. She was not wrong in her assumption, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. 

The book by Kara Cooney gives an historical account of six Queens of Egypt that actually ruled the mighty kingdom. Some only ruled for a short time and others ruled for several years. You will most likely recognize two of these remarkable women but the other four are probably not familiar to you at all. These female Pharaohs (a ruler of Egypt) were not usually called Queens, at least not in their own lifetimes or even when they were married to the King (Pharaoh). Some even tried to dress more like a man during their rule because for the most part the Ancient Egyptians did not consider a woman ruler to be desirable. There were times when it was a dire necessity but it was not a common occurrence if it could be helped.

The rulers outlined in the book are: 
  • Merneith (reign 3000 b.c. - 2890 b.c.) at the end of Dynasty 1
  • Neferusobek (reign 1777 b.c. - 1773 b.c.) at the end of Dynasty 12
  • Hatshepsut (reign 1473 b.c. - 1458 b.c. ) close to the end of Dynasty 18
  • Nefertiti (reign 1338 b.c. - 1336 b.c.) at the end of Dynasty 18
  • Tawosret (reign 1188 b.c. - 1186 b.c.) at the end of Dynasty 19
  • Cleopatra VII (reign 51 b.c.- 0 b.c.) end of the Ptolemaic Dynasty and during the Roman period
There were many instances when a mother of the heir to the throne would act as a Regent until their son was old enough to rule. Not all of the Regent mothers were considered the Pharaoh or King at those times but some took it upon themselves to be elevated to such a position. As you can imagine that did not bode well with the upper or lower classes of citizens. 

The Ancients of Egypt wanted to keep the pool of possible Kings at a minimum and to be what they considered "pure" in the bloodline. It was not uncommon for fathers to wed daughters and for brothers to wed sisters in order to keep the other nobility from seeking claims to the throne. If you notice from the list above these women all ruled close to or at the end of the Dynasty they belonged to. There was a reason for that! Most of the Dynasties of Ancient Egypt did not end because of a take over from an enemy but because the incest over many years created situations where the current ruler could not produce an heir either male or female. After so many years, children were born sickly, deformed and often didn't live long and eventually sterility would end a Dynasty. Cleopatra was the exception to the rule with a long reign only to be outdone by the Romans. 

This book was fascinating and I found it amazing that historians have been able to uncover these six women's sketchy stories. It isn't quite so difficult to know more about Cleopatra because the Romans wrote so much about her but the others might have gone unnoticed. A common practice was to destroy monuments that were built during the reign of an unpopular Pharaoh (male or female) after their death. Many monuments that survived have evidence of names of rulers scratched out and others put in their places. Such was the case of five of these women. 

If you have an interest in Ancient history and female rulers, I think you will enjoy this book. I do not generally read non-fiction so for me to recommend this book says a lot. It was not one of those books that you can't put down but it kept my interest and I am glad that I received it and read it. Perhaps you will enjoy it, also!




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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Joy Unleashed Book Review

Joy Unleashed Book Review
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I have always believed that dogs find us when we need them most.  In the case of Jean Baur, that dog was Bella, a young puppy rescued off of Dead Dog Beach in Puerto Rico.  As for me, I was found by Finn, who like Bella, through extraordinary circumstances, has become a bridge to what comes next in life.

The story of Bella and Jean goes far beyond your typical heart-warming adoption account.  Joy Unleashed is about finding true belonging and purpose, about reaching people who were previously unreachable, about providing primal comfort, and about bringing joy just by entering a room.  It is about the kind of human-animal bond that breaks through loneliness, fear, and the types of losses that leave us feeling shaken to our core.

Perhaps the best part of Bella's story is the element of unlikeliness.  Just as Bella was an unlikely candidate for what she became (a highly successful, much-loved therapy dog), nearly every one of us will also face times during our journey of becoming when others deem us unlikely—perhaps unlikely to become something special, or unlikely to make a difference.  The things that made Bella an unlikely therapy dog, her rough beginnings, her issues with other dogs and certain kinds of touch, as well as a general fearfulness, aren't really all that different from the types of things that keep many individuals from experiencing acceptance or success.

Both Bella and Jean needed something that only the other could provide.  As Jean wrestled with the loss of her job, with being uprooted from her home, and with starting over at the age of 65, she found that she and Bella complemented one another, and that they each enabled what would have been impossible to accomplish alone.

This is a book for anyone who has ever found herself unmoored and in need of a new direction, a new destination, a new love, or a new place of belonging.  This is a story that just may inspire you to be found by the animal who is waiting to become, in concert with you, joy unleashed.

I was drawn to this book because my rescue dog, Finn, and I are in the process of becoming a registered therapy dog team with Pet Partners (the organization through which Jean Baur and Bella have served).  It has been affirming of our new mission to celebrate all that Bella and Jean have accomplished even as we are joining together to bring comfort and cheer to those in need of a little extra tender loving care.

One of my favorite parts of this read was when the author realized that the heart of therapy teamwork is really about showing up and being present in ways that dogs, by nature, know how to do best.  It was at that moment that Jean Baur reflected on how she needed to become more doglike.  Isn't that the truth, that in learning how to offer up what dogs so innately, and beautifully, communicate—that we are not alone and that we are wonderful just the way we are—we become more human.




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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Review of The Steadfast Series by Nancy Moser

Not Your Typical Christian Fiction


When I was much younger, it was hard to find good Christian fiction. Grace Livingston Hill ( who wrote between 1877 and 1947) almost owned the Christian romance genre. Her books are still popular today, but many in younger generations find her books too old-fashioned. Today's Christian readers, however, have far more choices. Many excellent books now exist in the genres of Christian contemporary romance and Christian historical fiction. We also have Randy Singer's Christian legal thrillers to compete with John Grisham. And we have Nancy Moser's contemporary Christian fiction.




Amazon classifies The Steadfast Series as religious and inspirational, as well as mystery and suspense. In my opinion it lives up to both labels. I couldn't put the books down. After reading The Seat Beside Me I had to download the other two books in the series immediately. Warning: When I finish a book in this series, the end leaves me hanging. I always feel the book is not quite complete. But isn't real life also like that? We don't always know what's next.

The Theme of The Steadfast Series


The books in The Steadfast Series emphasize the importance of individual choices. God deals each of us a hand, but we choose how we play that hand. We humans make decisions that have consequences. Each chapter of the three books in this series is introduced by a short related portion of Scripture.


The Seat Beside Me


When you fly alone, do you wonder who will be sitting beside you on your trip? I do. So do the characters in The Seat Beside Me. They have made conscious choices leading up to their presence on Flight 1382 to Phoenix. We watch many of their choices as they board and discover their seatmates. We get to know six passengers very well. Sonja is a schemer who tricks her way onto Flight 1382. She wants to be one of the three from her company to attend a corporate conference in Phoenix and hopes her attendance will help her get a promotion. She uses information she overheard to betray her colleague who was supposed to go so that she could take her place. The seat next to her is filled by a handsome black man in a suit, Roscoe Moore, who immediately engages her in conversation.

Henry's job requires him to fly, but flying scares him. He is a Christian and you see him struggle with his fear as he takes his seat. He's not afraid to die, but hates the feeling of being completely out of control of his life while in the air. He sits in the aisle seat on one side of George (below).

George lost his beloved wife seven months ago. He is grieving and is going to Phoenix to commit suicide. He has one daughter. He has left money, a note, and important documents so that she can't miss them after he is gone. George is sitting between a widow in the window seat who won't leave him alone and Henry, who rescues him from her.

Merry has a husband and son. She is going to Phoenix to meet a single girlfriend and escape her family and responsibilities for a few days. Although she loves Lou and Justin and they love her, she is a discontented housewife and her marriage is going through a rough phase. Merry is not at all happy when Lou and Justin surprise her by boarding the plane, and joining her for the trip. No escape.

Anthony is an egotistical plastic surgeon. He is rude to everyone he meets as he prepares to board. He's a man with no real friends and the reader can easily see the reason why. The person who (in his opinion) overfills the seat next to him is an unattractive woman he immediately labels as "white trash." Even her substandard English offends him. She calls him a "rich la-di-da" and lets him know she hates doctors.

Tina is a high school English teacher who hates her job and doesn't like her students much, either. She is also a Christian. She is not happy to be seated next to a teenage girl who reminds her way too much of her students, but as she converses with Gayla she actually begins to like her.

Dora is a reporter who did not want to go to Phoenix. Then her mother called and begged her to come because she needed surgery and didn't want to be alone. So Dora got ready to make the trip. At the last minute her mother called and Dora didn't have to go after all because the doctor said her mother no longer needed the surgery. She is delighted to stay home.


The Weather

Book Review of The Steadfast Series Suspense Novels by Nancy Moser
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay


Although the passengers are ready to go, a blizzard has closed the airport and delayed all flights in or out. Even after boarding, the plane is delayed on the tarmac for several hours because of snow and icy conditions. This delay gave the passengers a lot of time to get acquainted with their seatmates. The extra time of quiet and boredom made passengers more willing to open up with each other and have conversations that touched on important issues. As we listen in we learn what choices Tina, Sonja, George, Henry, Merry, and Anthony are contemplating. We also discern a lot about their problems and characters.

Finally the pilot tells the passengers that they will be taking off. The author does a good job of foreshadowing what will happen. Readers know the plane will crash.

The Crash

We watch the passengers reactions as they begin to realize the plane is about to crash. Those who survive impact fight for their lives as the plane falls apart and they await rescue. We see the actions of the most selfless and the most selfish. None of the survivors will ever forget their experience in the icy water and the hospital. The memory of the horror and fear while waiting for the rescue helicopter stays with them. We watch  as the crash experience changes all of them. None can go back to exactly the lives they had before.

The crash, important as it is in the plot, is not the main focus of the book. It is the characters' catalyst for change. The focus is on the decisions the characters make after the crash and how those decisions affect their new lives and relationships. You will meet some of the characters in other books by Nancy Moser. One of them is the main character of the next book in the series.  

A Steadfast Surrender


In this second book in the series, crash survivor Merry, who lost her husband and son in the crash, tries to start over in the small town of Steadfast. Orphaned teen Sim runs away from her aunt and uncle guardians. Claire Adams, a famous mosaic artist, is challenged by a speaker at church to give away all her possessions in complete surrender to Christ. All three end up in the small town of Steadfast, Kansas. It is there they meet and begin to influence each other as their lives change. All three need to choose a future direction for their lives.

Much of this book is set in the public library where Merry is the librarian. I loved watching the antics of the regular library patrons and the library "ghost." Most of the characters in this book continue on to the next book in the series. In this book most of the focus is on Merry, Sim, and Claire.

The Ultimatum

This third book in the series has the most suspense. The main characters are restaurant owners, their employees, and their families. Readers will have met most of them before in A Steadfast Surrender. This book zeroes in on 
  • Annie McFay, waitress at the Plentiful Café, her husband Cal McFay, handyman, and their ten-year-old-daughter Avi  
  • Bailey, owner of Bon Vivant. the one upscale gourmet restaurant in town, and Jered (teen son) Manson
  • Merry Cavanaugh (town librarian) and Police Chief boyfriend, Kent Kendell
  • Sim, a teen runaway in previous book, now living legally with Susan
  • Susan, a nurse at the hospital emergency room
  • Claire Adams, a famous mosaic artist who now resides in Steadfast
  • Jinko, owner of Palamba Bar and Grill in Eldora, a town twenty minutes from Steadfast. 
  • Vasylko (aka Vasy), the cook at Palamba Bar and Grill

 

The Action


As the book opens, Jered is running for his life. He has been on the streets for  three months. He had argued with his dad Bailey and Bailey had collapsed with a heart attack. Jered, afraid he might have killed his dad, grabbed a few clothes and fled in his truck. First he'd gone to Kansas City, but he found it too big and dangerous, so he drove to Eldora, which was much closer to home.

He had run out of money and was eating from the garbage. As he raids a dumpster in front of the Palamba Bar and Grill, Jinko, the owner, discovers him, offers him a job and gives him money to clean himself up and return to work for him. Jered accepts and Jinko offers him a place to live. He starts by washing dishes. He is eager for Jinko's acceptance. I won't say more about this because I don't want to spoil it. 

Bailey is plotting to swindle Cal. Annie suspects it. But the marriage is in trouble because Annie recently became a Christian and Cal not only wants nothing to do with Jesus, but also resents Annie following Him. Annie has to be careful what she says. 

Much of the plot revolves around the relationships of people and how they are trying to get ahead any way they can, escape or face their problems, and make important life choices.  Jered's dream is to be a musician but his father mocks that choice and wants Jered to work at Bon Vivant and take it over some day. Jered longs to feel important to his father and know his dad loves him. Annie wants Cal to become a Christian, but Cal wants to pull Annie away from Christ. Jinko wants to control and use Jered. Claire, Sim, Merry, and Susan play supporting roles in this drama as they help, encourage, and pray for others. 

It takes a life and death situation to truly reveal the character of Cal, Annie, Jered, and Jinko. Personal choices brought each of them to play their part in this scene where it appears someone will die. Each reveals his character or lack of it in this scene. And each must endure the consequences of his own choices and those of the others.

The Challenge

What is the purpose of life? Where can we find the significance we humans crave? The characters in these books are looking for those answers. What does God really want from us? How do we follow him in today's world? What does it mean to be a Christian? Why do bad things happen to even good people? This book helps people think through the answers to these questions as they make their own choices.

Review of The Steadfast Series by Nancy Moser: Three Christian Suspense Novels
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay


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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Review of A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline


https://lighthouse-photos-mbg.blogspot.com/2017/08/mid-coast-maine-ligthouses.html
Scene from Port Clyde Area


For my book  club, we just read A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline.  I knew it was historical fiction and that it took place in Maine, but it wasn't until I started reading that I realized I had been to all of the small towns that were mentioned in the book.  I find it delightful to be able to picture the area that the story take place.  The photo above is one that I took on my visit.


The Book

I had read books by Christina Baker Kline before and really enjoy her writing style.  She wrote The Orphan Train and Sweetwater both books I would highly recommend.  So, I started A Piece of the World with high expectations and I was not disappointed.  Christina Baker Kline has a way of bringing you into her book and making you feel empathy with her characters.

Although this book is a work of fiction, the major characters are all real people and the author did a lot of  research into the characters and the area to give a realistic view.  The book is based on a painting by artist Andrew Wyeth  Christina's World , and in particular about the life of Christina.
The author alternates between describing Christina's early life in the early 1900's to describing her life when Andrew Wyeth is painting her in the mid 1900's.  Christina leads a simple and hard life on a farm in a remote area of Maine.  She grows up with her parents and three brothers on the family farm overlooking the bay.  Although it sounds like a beautiful setting the work is hard without any of the conveniences of modern day.  They have no electricity or indoor plumbing and Christina has a debilitating disease that makes it hard for her to move around.  Despite this she manages to do her chores and eventually take care of the household.

In her late teens and early twenties Christina meets some summer people who visit the coast each summer and we hear of her friends and love interest from Boston.

Later in life the painter Andrew Wyeth summers in the area and uses the upstairs rooms in Christina's home to paint.  Christina becomes friends with Andrew and his wife Becky and he is the one person that seems to understand things from Christina's point of view.

I found this to be a very intriguing book that really makes you consider life's choices.  I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. 



Amazon Links to the Book and the Painting


                                          

Rockland and Port Clyde Area Today

I have written about the Rockland and Port Clyde area in two different posts.  This post is primarily about lighthouses in the area and was written on my lighthouse blog.
Mid-Coast Maine Lighthouses

I've also written a post on Review This about the area Review of Port Clyde Maine

Today Andrew Wyeth's son is a prominent local artist.  There is a gallery just above the General Store that displays his works along with some of his fathers.
Photos of the Area
Here are some photos I took of the area around Port Clyde.  I found it to be very picturesque.







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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Apps to Help You Learn German in Small Doses: A Review

The Best Way to Learn German or Any Language


The best way to learn a new language is to immerse yourself in it and use it daily. Language is definitely a case of  "Use it or lose it." That's why my two years of college German had almost completely disappeared in the 45 years I didn't have any occasion to use it. A few years after graduation special circumstances compelled me to teach a bit of German to some select elementary students, but then I stopped teaching and started selling books and blogging. Spare time was scarce. I simply wasn't motivated to study when I'd rather be using my leisure time to read. But now I'm motivated since I discovered these two apps for my new Galaxy Note 9 phone.

Apps to Help You Learn German in Small Doses: A Review of Drops and DuoLingo

Small Doses of Language Work Best for Me


Both of the apps I use, Drops and DuoLingo, have very short daily lessons. Both have positive reinforcement built into their programs. You know immediately whether your answers are right or wrong. I have been using both of these for about two weeks now. I got tired of the ads so I bought the paid versions after trying them out. Both programs encourage you by keeping track of what you've accomplished.

In the image above are two images from Drops. The first, in purple, is my page at the end of a session. It shows me how many words I've learned so far and how long my session lasted. It also shows which level I've achieved in my current topic. Underneath the time is a brief review of the words I've learned and reviewed during this session. This is really handy, since some words need more practice than others. Sometimes I haven't quite gotten the pronunciation down. If I click on an image in this section, I will see the English meaning and hear the German pronunciation again. If I still didn't catch it, I can tap again and I will hear the word again --  more slowly. I use this feature a lot.

The second Drops image shows the current topic I'm working on. The yellow lines show how much progress I've made. The yellow stars on the red row of squares underneath indicates that I've mastered the words in those topics.

How Drops Works

I have the premium plan and no longer see ads. I also can choose the length of each session. I think the session length begins at five minutes. I am now doing fifteen minutes a session and often I do two or more sessions a day if I have time. It's fun. It keeps my brain exercising. At the beginning of each session you receive a word drop. It looks like a large water drop and it brings you a new word you haven't yet seen. You also see a picture that represents it and the English meaning as you hear the the pronunciation of the German word. If you don't want to practice that word because you already know it, you swipe it up. If you want to learn or review it, you swipe it down. 

Apps to Help You Learn German in Small Doses: A Review


The next screen shows you the word again and two pictures (far left of image.) It lets you choose the one picture it matches. You hear the German word again. After that you may have any of the other exercises pictured drop down. The rust-colored exercise helps you look more closely at the word and put the parts of the word into the blank spaces below. If you hesitate, they give you a hint of where to start by wiggling one of the ovals. If you've worked with the word a couple of times before they may add another group of letters that isn't a correct part of the word just to make it more challenging.

The blue screen shows one of my least favorite exercises. It's a word search. You get the first letter and have to tap the others in order to spell the word correctly. I've learned how to cheat when I don't know the correct article form and there's a choice. I find the blank oval and tap to get to it because I know it comes right after the article. It's tricky, though. Even if you know how to spell the word (which I often don't) you may have the same correct letter in two different positions you can choose. You have to look ahead to see which leads to spelling the rest of the word. If you guess wrong, the program will correct you until you make the right choice.

There's another spelling game I didn't show you. It has the picture and you have to keep picking letters from a group of a few letters on the bottom until you spell the word. When you pick a letter, another moves into its place, so you don't see all the choices at the beginning.

My favorite game is the last one -- the matching game. I don't have to spell anything for this one. I just tap the pairs that match. No matter which game, once you make the correct choice, you will hear the word that is the correct answer repeated again. Approaching the word in so many different ways -- as a whole, as an image, letter by letter, section by section, and as sound -- helps your brain cement it in your memory. Words you studied at the beginning keep reappearing in later lessons so that you don't get a chance to forget them. You can probably tell I really like this app. You can use it easily on a phone or a computer.




What I Don't Like So Much about Drops


Overall, I enjoy using Drops, but there are a couple of things I don't like. Part of the reason is in the program itself and part of it is my own lack of knowledge. I have a problem with the artwork. Now I definitely could not do better myself, but I have trouble figuring out what some pictures are supposed to be. Here are some examples in the screenshot below.

Apps to Help You Learn German in Small Doses: A Review of Drop and DuoLingo
Screenshot from the Drops App. Get more information here.

I had no problem with the words and pictures on the left side of this screenshot from the review at the end of the session. But I had a tough time figuring out just what that man on the right top corner was doing. I thought maybe he was doing some sort of dance. I had to check the English translation, which was "I like." Yes, his thumbs are up. But when I hear the words, this is the image with which I associate it. Verbs are hard to illustrate.

My other problem was probably one I inherited from my mother who used to keep a novel inside her geography book during class. I'm not very good at identifying countries other than my own by their map shapes and/or flags. So it's only the German word that helped me recognize Greece (lower right corner of image.) When we learn the words for nationalities instead of the countries, we keep the flag and instead of the map there is a common object or a building often associated with the country. I had no trouble figuring out that bagpipes were Scottish, but many buildings in Eastern European countries seemed similar to each other. So I had to learn flags, country shapes, and architecture along with the language. I suppose that's good, but it confused me. That's why I started to pull out the old German books from college and the children's illustrated German dictionary  I used to sell. Those books  were great supplements to the apps.

Visual dictionaries for children are very good even for adults beginning the study of a foreign language. Here are two of the best available now. Mine are out of print.



DuoLingo or Drops?


I find DuoLingo boring. There is little color as far as I've gotten. It's more like doing textbook exercises on the computer. I understand the logic behind it, but maybe I should be at a more advanced level than I chose. It seems the several short sessions I completed never got past various ways of mixing these words (in German and English, in and out of sentences) : man, woman, men, women, boy, boys, girl, girls, is, are, he, she, it, you, they, the, a, and that. They were used in questions and statements. I realize this is establishing basic sentence patterns and teaching forms of the verb "to be" and singular and plural nouns, pronouns and articles. It's still boring. More color and variety in activities would go a long way to making this more fun.  Below is the screenshot of a scorecard after a brief review exercise. These are the instructions and the right answers. 


Apps to Help You Learn German in Small Doses: A Review of Drops and DuoLingo

Below is a screenshot of the correction screen for one of the exercises above. This is about as visually exciting as it's gotten so far. I'll let you guess which app I use most often. 



In all fairness, I have not explored all the options in this app yet, even though I have paid for the premium version. I have not joined a club  to practice with other people. I can't find one in my community, and now I'm beginning to wonder if I misunderstood that. 

I did check out the stories -- one reason I got this version. They aren't very exciting.  More like the dialogues in beginning textbooks. Bilingual children's books are much more interesting and colorful. Check out the wide variety on Amazon. Many of them are available to read for free on Kindle Unlimited. That's how I've been able to read so many of them this week. Some with very familiar stories are only in German. I will need to improve my skills before I'm ready to read those, but they are on my wish list.

In my opinion Duolingo is like a textbook put on a computer. You hear or read German and write what you see or hear in English. Or you do the opposite. I can only use this program on the computer because I can't seem to switch to a German keyboard on my phone. To be able to hear and speak comfortably I need to be on my MAC because my headsets for speaking and listening on my PC are somewhat uncomfortable for a complete session.

I probably would not buy the paid Plus version of DuoLingo if I had it to do over. It does give me a kind of practice Drops doesn't have, but it is more academic than I wanted in an app. Drops is much more fun and I seem to learn better with that kind of practice. I have a stack of German texts if I want to study the subject academically. 


Apps to Help You Learn German in Small Doses: A Review
My College Texts and German References with Other Books I've Picked up Since Then
© B. Radisavljevic



My Current Plan for Studying German


My daily routine includes at least one session of using the Drops app a day, and I do it first thing in the morning on my phone before I get out of bed. That's the only way to make sure I get it done. I  also keep the Beginner's German Dictionary close to me in case I want to use it for visual review. It's a picture dictionary I used to sell. It's now out of print. For visual learning it's hard to beat Usborne books, but you can only get most of them used now. I don't think one book in my stack above is still in print, since I've had most of these for over fifty years.

Books in my stack are good for reference and review, but I need to update the dictionary. Many words have been added to the language since 1964. Here's my wish list to supplement my references. I didn't really see an adult dictionary I want yet. I will stick to the one I have until I find a more useful one. The DK Visual Dictionary (below) will have some of the more modern words in it. It will serve my purpose since it is intended for adults.

I also will keep downloading German or bilingual picture books I can read for free on Kindle Unlimited.  There are also many books there on how to learn German that I have downloaded to evaluate. When I have a bit more vocabulary, I will get the story book below. I need more experience with using the language. I hope to find my German Christmas carol book I got in college and start singing the carols again. I have some on CD's and can also listen to German music free as part of my Amazon Prime Membership. I've already found some great children's songs in German.


The most recent thing I've done is start following people on Instagram who speak German . This allows me to see how Germans actually speak informally to each other and I can read the German memes and jokes they post. I have found some real goodies so far. One of the most helpful accounts I follow is German for Mummies. Every day it posts a cute cartoon drawing with labeled thematic photos. Most of the posts include simple sentences using words in the drawing. Here's one of my favorite posts from the feed: a frog in a pond.

 I hope if you want to learn German, too, some of my ideas, reviews, and recommended materials may help you. Feel free to ask questions in the comments or talk to me on Instagram or Twitter. And don't forget to follow this blog, Review
 This Reviews, on Instagram and Twitter.







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Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo Book Review

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo Book ReviewThe book The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is the story of an elderly movie star named Evelyn Hugo who has decided to allow an author to write the story of her life. A tell all, no holds barred. For reasons known only to herself, Hugo picks an relatively unknown, inexperienced young magazine reporter named Monique Grant. In doing so, she astounds both the publishing house and the young woman.

Monique is at a low point in her life. She is newly divorced and frustrated with her unsuccessful career so she accepts this writing job without knowing why she has been chosen. She hopes that she will find success through the sought after story of a reclusive actress.

Immediately after announcing that she wants to have this book written and picking Monique, Hugo puts her to work and the two spend long days in her New York apartment discussing her life story. Hugo arrived in Los Angeles in the 1950s and had a very successful acting career until she finally left acting in the 1980s. As is obvious from the cover, she has seven husbands during that time frame. She has been ruthless in her choices and efforts to get what she wants and along the way found a few great friends and one forbidden love. Of course, it turns out that there is a connection between Monique and Evelyn.

This story is a trip through the Hollywood of times gone by, in both the good and the bad aspects, and it is also a voyage of discovery in which both women find out what it costs to face the truth. It deals with sexuality including LGBTQ, with race and with strong women in the 1940s and 1950s and in the current day.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo Book Review by Taylor Jenkins ReidIs The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo recommended by me? Yes, I enjoyed the book. It was an easy read but be warned that Grant is a not-very-nice woman who will go to any means to get what she wants and that the book includes many of the vices we associate with Hollywood. If you are interested in the history of Hollywood, I believe you will enjoy this story as I did.

The Historical Novel Society says, "Evelyn, her husbands, and others may be composites, but the story is fresh, and the end reveal is worth the wait." I agree.

I spent the entirety of the book wondering if it was linked in any way to the actress Elizabeth Taylor and her seven husbands and eight marriages and a bit of research cleared up the mystery. I do wish there had been a tagline like "based on the lives of real Hollywood actresses."

Anyway, when interviewed by Pop Sugar, author Taylor Jenkins Reid said she was inspired by true stories like those found in Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversation and Scandals of Classic Hollywood. Ava Gardner had herself hired a ghost writer to write her story and shared so many secrets with the writer that the book was eventually cancelled and not published until both Gardner and the writer had passed away. Jenkins Reid drew on many stories from real life and yes, that included the lives of Elizabeth Taylor and Rita Hayworth.

In the Pop Sugar story, Jenkins Reid said that she hopes we learn from this story and that "Hugo can teach us a lot about how to get what we want out of this world." Jenkin Reid goes on to say that she believes "It is time for women to get ours (but that) we've got to go out there and take it. (That) it is going to be uncomfortable, but that she thinks the rewards will be there for us. We need to find the confidence in ourselves to say, Pay me what I'm worth. Promote me when I deserve it. Don't take advantage of me. Don't underestimate me."

Have you read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo? Will you be adding it to your reading list? Are you interested in the history of Hollywood or could you care less?

See you
at the library!
Brenda

Quick Links:

Buy The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo on Amazon.
The best Elizabeth Taylor movies.







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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Anne of Green Gables Early Reader Chapter Book Reviews

Anne of Green Gables Early Reader Books
I do not have any wee folk around anymore nor did I ever have any wee girls about the house but that did not stop me from holding throughout my life a love of all things related to Anne of Green Gables and Prince Edward Island.  A hold over from my girlhood, I am thrilled to know that the red headed heroine we loved as girls continues to be introduced to successive generations of girls through some beautiful books and television programming.

Green Gables in Anne Arrives
Anne Arrives and Anne's Kindred Spirits are a retelling of the traditional Anne of Green Gables story for early readers in an easy chapter book format that have been adapted by Canadian author Kallie George. Kallie, that is, with an e. Anne Arrives was released in 2018 and Anne's Kindred Spirits will be released in 2019.

The first story introduces the young reader to Anne Shirley and sets her down at Green Gables where we all know that she belongs. She settles in, that is, after a rough start when they find out she is a girl and not a boy and after she has a run in with the neighbor, Mrs. Lynde.

The second story introduces Anne and the reader to her bosom buddy, Diana. In this book, Anne enjoys a community picnic, which is her first, although that outing is jeopardized when Marilla's prized brooch goes missing.

Author Kallie George has written a number of other books for children including a picture book about Anne Shirley called Goodnight, Anne. Kallie says that she believes that she and Anne Shirley are kindred spirits!

Anne Shirley in Anne Arrives

The illustrator Abigail Halpin says that she was gifted with a copy of the original book when she was a teenager and that that book still holds a special place on her book shelf.  The illustrations in Anne Arrives, she says, were "influenced by her memories of one of the most beautiful, magical spots on the planet, Prince Edward Island." Her illustrations were crafted using a combination of traditional and digital media.

Both of these books were written with children aged 6 to 8 or in grades 1 through 3 in mind. However, if you child is not quite ready to read these books on her own, you could certainly read them to her. Although intended for children, they are suitable for any one who loves Anne.

I think that this book is wonderful, sharing as it does a simple version of the classic story with the accompaniment of some charming illustrations. My favorite picture might be the two page spread that shows Green Gables in the distance, shown above.  It sets the scene in my head, for sure.

As you can tell, yes, this book is RECOMMENDED by me. I think it is lovely but I am biased toward anything from Anne's world.  However, Kirkus Reviews calls Anne Arrives, "A dream of an adaptation that is an unabashed love letter to the series that inspired it." In my mind that is high praise indeed.

I think that either book would make a beautiful gift for anyone who loves Anne but it would be especially appropriate for any young girl who is learning or will soon be learning to read. If you want to expose your children to Anne's world, you can never start to young!

You can find both books on Amazon by clicking here.  If you are looking to put a great gift set together, you might consider bundling one of these books with one of the beautiful Anne of Green Gables gift ideas found on this page.

See you
at the bookstore!
Brenda

Quick Links:

Buy Anne Arrives and Anne's Kindred Spirits on Amazon.
Find a page full of beautiful Anne of Green Gables gift ideas.


Anne Arrives by Kallie George

Anne's Kindred Spirits by Kallie George






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