Monday, April 30, 2012

Paper or plastic?

Last week my Nook, my beautiful, hard-working Nook, stopped working. Just stopped. It quit on me. All I could think about was the hundreds of books that were right there and I was unable to read them. Suddenly, I panicked thinking that I would have to spend weeks waiting for the Geek Squad to finish repairing it, and what about my reading? I guessed that I would have to go back to my paperbacks... but I just wanted my Nook. And then it hit me: what has happened to me? I used to be the one who almost swore that she would never give in to the ebooks and readers' fad. Oh, how I loved (and still do) the good smell of a new book. That wonderful paper, cover, and binding smell that only a new book can give you. Oh, how I loved going to Borders (the only bookstore that used to be close to my house) and just breathe.

But now, now that I have tasted the sweet freedom of reading page after page with only one hand, now that I have obtained so many free books (most of them pretty good) and I'm able to read them without suffering through the unmerciful glare of the computer screen, now that I can have my books delivered in seconds instead of waiting impatiently at my mailbox, I realize that I am addicted. Without the Nook I felt almost lost. No bookstore near, not a library in sight, I was doomed.

But, alas, my guarantee had not expired, and they gave me a "new" one the same day I went to have it checked out. And once the nice lady gave me my package, I was able to breathe once again, not the nice smell of a new book, but the great relief of having my reading time restored.

So what has happened to me? Am I so dependent on technology that I just cannot grasp the idea of curling up with literally a good book anymore? Oh, if only my computer teacher could see me now! I mean, technology is NOT my friend. I still need someone to explain to me, step by step, how to do most things in my own blog. Most of the time I have no idea what I'm doing. And I'm considered tech-savvy in my home, so I come from a technologically challenged family. But I simply love my reader and the many books I have been able to download and read because of it.

I still enjoy a good paperback book every now and then. I have many still waiting to steal a little of my time. And I could never part with my old, beloved editions of so many books that I fell in love with while reading them and breathing their intoxicating, new-book aroma. Reading "old school", I fell in love with places, characters, scenes, situations, words and books in general. I got to experience many wonderful, new and strong sensations from a very early age, all because of the printed word in actual paper. And I think that is why at first I was so reluctant to give readers a try: not having that rugged paper feel takes away from the romance aspect of reading that reminds us of how and why we fell in love with reading in the first place. But trust me: it's all there, every word, every feeling, every sensation, only in a different format.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Leaving Lancaster: A Novel, by Kate Lloyd

Overview (from NetGalley): More than anything else, thirty-something Holly Fisher longs for family. Growing up in Seattle without a dad or grandparents, she wonders what it would be like to have a heritage, a place of belonging. Holly is furious when her mother, Esther, reveals a long-kept secret: Holly's grandmother and uncles are still alive and begging Esther to return. And Holly is shocked when she learns that the family she's never known lives on a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, farm-as part of an Amish community her mother once abandoned.

Guilt-ridden Esther, terrified to see her mother and siblings, begs Holly to accompany her on a visit to Esther's mother before she dies. But can their journey to a conflicting world heal their emotional wounds and finally bring them home?

Set in the heart of contemporary Lancaster County,
Leaving Lancaster explores the power of forgiveness, family reconciliation, and love where least expected. 

Review: Love, regret, forgiveness, redemption, second chances, new beginnings; these are some of the words that best describe the idea or themes behind this novel. This is the story of a woman coming home to the family she deserted, and the story of this woman's only daughter finally feeling at home with the family she never knew she had. Both women are afraid, scared and in desperate need of love, mercy, grace and each other. It could have been such a wonderful, beautiful, touching story, but the execution prevented it.

This is the problem I had: the two female leads were so unlikable, their attitudes so undesirable, that it was very hard to find a redeeming quality in them. The thing is that both women appear to have been written with much younger versions in mind. Holly, the daughter, sounded like an 18 year old, and the mother... maybe a 30 something, but they were both so childish and immature in their thinking, actions and in the way they spoke that it was hard to sympathize with either one. They were fighting constantly, and contradicting their thoughts with their words; for instance, the daughter would do a little soul searching and realize that she needed to cut her mother some slack, but then almost immediately say something rude to her, out of the blue. She was a brat. Half the time I was expecting them to start a "You did!" "I did not!" "Did, too!" "Did not!" fight.

Also, sometimes it felt as if the author had forgotten her own plot and previous scenes. For example, the mother mentioned her 5 brothers to her daughter, and Holly says: "Mom, you're talking gibberish. First a mother. Now, five brothers?..." Then, a few pages later, the mother mentions her five brothers again, and Holly says: "Five brothers and this is the first I'm hearing of them?" Really, no. Other times the characters' words and actions made no sense, their expressions and reactions coming out of nowhere.

I will say this, however: the author did a beautiful job writing the big confrontation / redemption scene. It was beautifully written, expressed and managed. It was really moving. Also, Nathaniel was a very nicely written character, as well as Jeremiah and Beatrice.

The novel did keep my interest as it slowly unraveled the mysteries and secrets behind this family and their actions. But not all was revealed, which I think means that there would be more to come.

2 1/2 stars out of 5 

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher, David C. Cook, through NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Get Yourself Organized Project: 21 Steps to Less Mess and Stress, by Kathi Lipp

Overview (from NetGalley): An organizational book for women who have given up trying to be Martha Stewart but still desire some semblance of order in their lives.Most organizational books are written by and for people who are naturally structured and orderly. For the woman who is more ADD than type A, the advice sounds terrific but seldom works. These women are looking for help that takes into account their free-spirited outlook while providing tips and tricks they can easily follow to live a more organized life.
In her inimitable style, Kathi Lipp offers:
  • easy and effective ways women can restore peace to their everyday lives
  • simple and manageable long-term solutions for organizing any room in one’s home (and keeping it that way)
  • a realistic way to de-stress a busy schedule
  • strategies for efficient shopping, meal preparation, cleaning, and more
Full of helpful tips and abundant good humor, The Get Yourself Organized Project is for those who want to spend their time living and enjoying life rather than organizing their sock drawer.

Review:This is a fantastic book written with people like me in mind (you know, people who would like to be organized but don't think a little mess is the end of the world because there are things more important in life). Kathi Lipp has a no-nonsense writing style: funny, to the point, very sincere and candid. She does not pretend to be an expert, a Martha Stewart type. She just knows what the daily life of the average family looks like and gives us pointers on how to make it less messy based on her own experiences and organizational methods, as well as with the help of a few, very clever friends.

The goal is not to have a picture perfect home cut out from a magazine. The goal is to have a home organized around what works for you and your family; it has to work for you instead of you  having to work hard to be organized. And we are not talking about your house only, no. Mrs. Lipp sets out to help us organize our life, from the basics (the living room, the bedroom and bathroom) to the more complicated (schedules, paperwork) and even the car. But again, she does all this not with a I-know-more-than-you attitude, but with the attitude of a friend who has been through the same thing and wants to share with you what works for her.

To be completely honest, we have a very messy home, and we've tried to make it better, but every clutter book out there seems to be written in a foreign language for us. Now, we have a space that looks good and works for us. This book made all the difference. The only thing that I didn't love about it was the use of so many plastic bins. I get that they are great (I use them, too), but if I were to use as many as were suggested here we would have very little free space. But we came up with other solutions, which in the end is what the author expects and encourages us to do.

4 1/2 stars out of 5

*I received a copy of this book from Harvest House Publishers through NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Plain Death: An Appleseed Creek Mystery, by Amanda Flower

Overview (from NetGalley): 24-year-old computer whiz Chloe Humphrey moves with some uncertainty to Appleseed Creek to direct technology services at a nearby college. Her first acquaintance is Becky, an ex-Amish teenager looking for a new home. While driving Chloe’s car, Becky collides with a buggy, killing an Amish elder. But what looks like an accident is soon labeled murder when police discover the car’s cut brake line. Now, Chloe must take on the role of amateur sleuth to discover who the real intended victim was before the murderer makes a second attempt. Becky’s handsome Amish-turned-Mennonite brother, Timothy, a local carpenter, comes in handy along the way. With God’s help, they’ll solve the mystery that’s rocking this small community.

Review: I really liked the premise of this book, and for the most part, it delivered. It is nicely written, very simple but, nevertheless, nice. The main characters —Chloe, Timothy and Becky— were ok. It has a very good pace; never felt dragged or too slow or boring. The mystery is a good one; you form your ideas here and there, you try to piece it all together and you kind of know, but then you're not so sure, so you go back and then you're pretty sure and the author changes it up a bit once you get to the climatic scene. So it keeps you interested.
That said, I had a few problems with this novel:
  • The romance is very lacking. I was expecting something more romantic or substantial to happen between the romantic leads, but no. It left me hanging, waiting, expecting until it was over.
  • The climatic scene was just too bland and rushed. It left a few questions unanswered but I'm not going to get into them because I don't want to spoil it for the rest of you.
  • The hero. Yes, it is someone unexpected, but the reason this person gave for being there is laughable, it made no sense.
  • Finally, the portrayal of the Amish left much to be desired. I will not get into the details, but suffice it to say that in this novel the Amish who stayed Amish were presented in a very bad light and those who left the Amish were great, the good guys, with the exception of the Troyer family and Aaron.
In the end, I had a nice time reading this novel; it is entertaining and kept my interest, but I wish and hoped it was better. It ended with a few loose ends, so I'm thinking there will be more to come.

3 out of 5 stars

*I received a copy of this book from B&H Publishing Group through NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Beyond Bath Time: Embracing Motherhood as a Sacred Role, by Erin Davis

Overview (from NetGalley): Motherhood is under attack. Nearly one in five American women ends her childbearing years without having borne a child, compared with one in ten in 1970. In 2007, among Christians, 47% felt that the roles of marriage and motherhood should not be emphasized for women. And unfortunately, the church isn't talking about why motherhood matters, nor is it equipping young mothers to see their family as a mission field. Erin Davis was a young Christian wife who had made the decision to not have children. She had multiple degrees, a great husband, a promising career -- she had it all -- at least according to cultural standards. But most days she felt anything but fulfilled. In Beyond Bath Time Erin shares her journey to the place of true fulfillment in responding to the call of motherhood. Women will be challenged, convicted, and wonderfully encouraged by Erin's honest and provocative look at motherhood and its divine call.

Review: Excellent, amazing and life altering. Some will say it's radical; others will say it's extremely traditional. I'll guarantee this: you will certainly have an opinion about it. Here is this book, completely unassuming, with a little rubber duckie in the cover, and you think "Aw, how cute!", and then it hits you, and hits you hard. This book will challenge your views about motherhood, about your priorities and about your mission in life. But you have to read it with an open mind and an open heart because, you see, here's a book that doesn't treat motherhood as a choice but as a calling; it doesn't call children a burden but a blessing; it doesn't focus on the trivial, daily stuff but on the things that are eternal. It's a parenting book focused on the things that matter most: the importance God gives to motherhood, and the biblical responsibility we, as mothers, have with our children and seeing them as our mission field.

It is very well written; funny, poignant, very much to the point without making any excuses, with sound, biblical teachings. It's a call to arms to all Christian mothers and mothers-to-be. It is not perfect, but the few glitches it has are minimal. It, however, does a great job in challenging you to take a good look at motherhood, really, a good look; see what you think about it, what the world thinks about it; and now see it through God's eyes. There is a big difference.

5 out of 5 stars

*I received a copy of this book from Moody Publishers through NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

In sickness and in health

Oh, wow, I'm very sick. You know how it is: your little one gets a cold, nothing big, just a little cough. But then, he preciously passes it on to you and the cold morphs into a sinister, devious illness. You can hardly breathe, your eyes wont open and they burn, your head feels a few pounds heavier, your throat hurts and your body aches. There's no way to concentrate on the tasks at hand, words do not make sense and you even forget how to spell. You just want to go home and sleep for a week because, let's face it, you only understand half of what people tell you, a third of what you see on tv and a fraction of what you read. That's how I feel today.

But there is something very important that I can't forget, that I will not allow myself to let fall through the cracks, and it is this: Jesus' sacrifice for me. Literally, for me. He came, He lived among us (well, you know, among the people in that time), He perfectly obeyed God's law and redemption plan with me in mind. We're not talking about a random act of love: we are talking about a specific action geared toward someone in particular. We are talking about Jesus laying his life for my sake, to save me. I am talking about God loving me, although I didn't love Him, since before I was born; loving me so much He gave His Son, His only Son, to live a life of perfect obedience for me (because He knew well that I couldn't do it), in my place, and to die taking my punishment so that I could be forgiven and to rise from the dead so that I could live forever with Him. He did all that with me in mind. What about you?

Trust in God and do not lean on your own understanding. Get to know Him, and appreciate all He has done for you: the life you have, the family and friends that surround you, your health, your strength, and everything else. God is in control of all things, which means that, although we fail to acknowledge Him, He is still working things out to forward His plan for our lives. Everything we have is because of Him and for Him.

I am grateful for what God has done for me through Jesus, and how He, through his Holy Spirit, strengthens me even in the midst of this awful cold. To Him be the glory.