Happy Belated Turkey Day (and other ramblings)

Hope every one had a relaxing and enjoyable holiday this past week. I was supposed to use the time off from school and work and life in general to catch up on some reading and get some other blog and review related stuff done. I had committed myself to it even. I was going to get a lot done. Really. The there was the matter of two year old twins who came down with the stomach flu on Turkey day and then passed it along to their two older brothers. Then the dog apparently got a sympathy case of the flu but only from one end (and not the more pleasant one of the two options.)

Then the heater stopped working on the first truly cold day of the year thus far and my internet router managed to crap out a couple of hours later. What is it about the holiday season that guarantees everything you plan to do will have to be saved up and used as a resolution for the new year? Oh well. We are all healthy again and more or less happy and I am only about 4,900 words from completing the novel I started for National Novel Writing Month. I just might do it…but I’m certainly not going to “plan” on it as I have now seen exactly how that goes!

So here goes my rant of the week as it seems every week I must find something in the literary world to complain about.

What’s up with the stream of crappy, less than acceptable books coming from A-list authors?

We all have our favorite authors and I guess we unintentionally idolize them and expect everything they put out to be up to a certain standard. I seem to be finding that with few exceptions, the first ten or so books that an author who has hit the ‘big time’ puts out are the best books they will ever put out.

I don’t know if it is the pressure they are under from the publishers to deliver work on a certain schedule or if they just start thinking they don’t have to try as hard after they have hit and kept a spot on the bestseller list, but I can tell you right now, I have been sorely disappointed with the offerings of some of the recent NYT bestsellers! Oddly, my favorite books this year have all been books that were either published independently or by a small press. Perhaps it is because without the backing of a major house they feel the need to cater more to their readers. I don’t know. What I do know, is that it seems silly to me to waste my time reading a book with a weak plot and no character development just because it is by a ‘favorite author.’
I know these books get chopped apart by the editors before they are distributed to the masses, but what the heck? Are they cutting out the best parts and leaving us with the scraps? Perhaps the publishing houses do not realize that a name is not everything. With the ability for us to sample a chapter before making a purchase, I find that I am making smarter choices. For every one of those mediocre books, there are a million other choices in something to read.

I think the authors and their editors need to come back to reality and realize how they became who they are in the first place. Your adoring fans should always be your first concern! Offer us books worth reading!

Accidental Farmers by Tim Young

 

 

BOOK DESCRIPTION
When Tim and Liz Young decided to leave their comfortable suburban life and become first-time farmers in rural Georgia, they embarked on a journey that would change their lives. The Accidental Farmers reveals how the couple learned that hamburgers, bacon, and eggs don’t come from the supermarket but from real animals that forge emotional bonds with their human caretakers. Seeking a middle path between a meatless lifestyle and the barbarism of factory food, Tim and Liz created Nature’s Harmony Farm, a sustainable oasis where rare breed animals and humans live together searching for something nearly lost by both humans and the animals…how to live naturally off the land.

Rather than a how-to guide, this book is a personal memoir of the Young’s journey to farming and is sure to delight those interested in moving to the country or simply learning more about the struggles of sustainable farming.–Description from Amazon.com

 

This book made me stop and think about a lot of things. I think the author is right when he says that as Americans we tend to think of all of our food in terms of coming from the grocery store. I know that I, at least, don’t take the time usually to consider where my food comes from. I usually spend more time considering what I am going to do with it when it comes to how to prepare it. This book, kind of like Food Inc., gives the reader a chance to consider how things should be done in regards to meat and food production Vs. how it is actually done.

What I really liked about this book was that I felt like I was listening to a friends describe a great transition in his life, rather than a million mile long diatribe about what you should and should not do. I liked the easy, conversational tone of this book and came away feeling like I’d had a pleasant reading experience and actually learned something in the process.

This book was eye opening and enjoyable and I respect the author and his wife for deciding to leave the fast-paced world for a simpler more natural life. Moving story with plenty of entertaining factors. I recommend you check it out.

 

The Dog That Talked To God by Jim Kraus

 

 

 

A wonderfully quirky, heart-breaking, heart-warming and thought-provoking story of a woman’s dog who not only talks to her, he talks to God.

Recently widowed Mary Fassler has no choice except to believe Rufus, the miniature schnauzer, who claims to speak to the Divine.

The question is:  Will Mary follow the dog’s advice, and leave everything she knows and loves?  Is this at the urging of God?  Or is it something else? Will Mary risk it all or ignore the urgings of her own heart?–Description from Amazon.com

 

I waited for a few days after finishing this book to decide how I would write a review for it. This was a book that I found entertaining, and yet there were things about it that I didn’t like very much. I will detail what I did like first.
I thought the author did a really good job of giving his female lead character life. She had a past that was described enough to make you understand her and feel sympathy for her without going into so much detail about her life up to the point of the story to make you lose interest. I thought the dog was great. Jim Kraus did an excellent  job describing the temperament of the breed and I don’t think he could have chosen a better breed to work with in general. When you look into the eyes of that kind of dog you almost believe they are thinking something important.
The way the author portrayed the life of a widow seemed adequate to me and her reawakening into the world of dating and meeting people and moving on after tragedy all felt like it was natural and easy to follow. I thought the relationship she had with her dog, particularly at one point in the story where she suddenly realized that his company was truly enough to make her feel blessed, was done beautifully and was believable. I place great importance on my relationship with my dog and I’m sure many others do as well.
The single thing that I love about this book more than anything else is that this author was so good at giving this woman a life as a writer that some of the other reviewers forgot entirely that it was written by a man and have actually tried to look up other books by this fictional character. I guess he fooled them; which says a lot for how good his character building is.

 

Although there were many things I loved about this book, there were some things I didn’t as well. For a book that is titled “The Dog That Talked To God,” I felt there should have been a little more talking dog rather than whining grown woman. I understand her position, I truly do. She is struggling with her faith and trying to figure out what to make of her life after a horrific event changed the course. Still, there were times when I found this character downright unlikeable. She is obsessed with having the upper hand over her friends by having the better grammar and the best vocabulary and even picks on her best friend about it. I found that offensive and it made me feel distant from her plight within the story. I was kind of hoping that this non-biting breed would give her a good nip in the tush.

The fact that she was ever satisfied with a husband who thought she was more or less “good enough,” instead of absolutely beautiful made me gag. She apparently needed to do more than find her self a talking dog and reestablish a relationship with God to make her less self-conscious. I couldn’t reconcile her high opinion of herself professionally with a woman who was content with a husband who simply thought she was “pretty.” The two traits didn’t fit in the same body.

At times the story didn’t seem to flow and especially at the end, I wondered how the author was content to describe every step of her move to a new place including the packing and the contents of her refrigerator, and yet suddenly at the end she is married but apparently the readers weren’t invited to the wedding as it was a complete shock. I found that she sounded like she was bragging throughout the book about her accomplishments as a writer and yet at one point she is afraid to spend more than fifty bucks on a “dutch” date.

Certain points in the book had me scratching my head. How easily she accepts that her dog is actually talking to her and the way she treats him like he is a dog/human/love interest/counselor…really? There were times when the dog appeared to be much smarter than she was. The effect was laughter on my part where I am sure there was no humor intended.

Finally, the woman can’t throw a punch worth dog poo. If I were going to punch out the guy who had been irresponsible with the life of my dog, I would have made contact with his nose.
Overall this was a pretty good story and after much consideration, I think the dog deserved three stars and the author deserved one for coming up with him. The main character gets a big fat ZERO for being a parvenu (ooh vocabulary) of the literary world. I guess that means this book gets four stars. Really, read it and see what you think. The dog deserves the love.

A Hearth in Candlewood

 

What a beautiful story. There is something to be said for authors who use their imaginations for good rather than evil. With so many dark books on the market filled with murder and mayhem, finding a great book where the bonds of friendship and family ties are the center of the novel has gotten increasingly hard. Don’t get me wrong, I like action and adventure in my books as much as the next person, but when I want to settle down for the day and enjoy a cup of tea next to the fireplace, it is this type of book that calls to me.

This engaging book is set in 1841 and is about a woman who operates a boarding house. I will not give away too much of the story as I would hate to ruin it for prospective readers, but there are so many layers to this story and so much to love about the characters that I found it impossible to put down.

This book has no foul language or anything offensive and would be perfect for an afternoon of Christian reading. What I found most captivating about this book were the author’s descriptions of Hill House and the property that surrounds it. You can imagine sitting on that porch watching the sun fade into moonlight with Emma and her guests. I loved the romantic feel of this book. I felt like I was transported back to a time when life was not as complicated as it is now; a time when people worried only over things they needed to.

I truly would like to thank Delia Parr for this amazing escape from reality and will be certain to check out her other books.

 

A Christmas Home by Greg Kincaid

Todd McCray, hero of A Dog Named Christmas, is now twenty-four years old and working at a local animal shelter, where he meets and quickly becomes best friends with Laura, a young volunteer. Laura, like Todd, has disabilities of her own, but her struggles are more physical than developmental. Their friendship is sealed when Todd—with the help of his trusted companion, the tenacious Labrador retriever named Christmas—trains a beautiful dog named Gracie to help Laura with the day-to-day life tasks that are difficult for her.
Life seems good for Todd, but all is not well in his hometown. Struggling families unable to make ends meet are abandoning more and more dogs, and the shelter is swelling to capacity.  The local government is struggling to meet its obligations too, and in early December, on the cusp of another holiday season, Todd’s boss delivers the bad news.  Due to funding problems, the shelter will close its doors before the end of the year.  But what will happen to all the animals?
As the Christmas holiday approaches, Todd has limited time to find homes for all the dogs. Not to mention that he needs to secure a new job and figure out what to do when his friendship with Laura takes an unexpected romantic turn. All this seems overwhelming unless you’ve got a loving family, dedicated friends, and a couple of very special dogs behind you. In which case, nothing is impossible.–Description from Amazon.com

When I first picked up this book, I guess I expected another fluffy, sappy Christmas story as seems to be the norm for holiday tales. After reading the first couple of chapters, I felt myself being drawn in closer and closer to the story of these small town residents struggling to keep the important pieces of their town together. I found that I could easily relate to the characters and the crisis the town was facing. I too, am from a small town where the local shelter has faced hard times due to the economy and could sympathize with the character’s plight.

I love that this book deals with real issues that are being faced in small towns all across America, while still providing an entertaining, feel good Christmas read. While reading this book I was reminded not only how important our four-legged friends are in the greater scheme of our lives, but also how just one small group of people can pull together to make a real difference in their community.

The sweet love story that blossoms along with the rest of this story adds an element of tenderness that makes you want to keep reading. I could imagine things happening just as they unfolded in the story and thought the author did an excellent job of making the reader feel close to the characters.

This is a great Story. I highly recommend you pick up a copy and give it a read. You may want a cup of cocoa and a warm soft blanket as an accompaniment to this heartwarming tale.

I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review by WaterBrook Multnomah Publishers.

 

Trip of a Lifetime by Elizabeth Johnston

A young Mayan woman called Mai, living in Palenque in 812AD is trying to find out the truth about her mother’s execution for the alleged murder of her mother’s friend’s son.

Following rumours in Palenque, Mai finds out that both her mother and her friend also had an affair with the attorney of Palenque who ordered her mother’s execution. Her neighbour, Hanab, who also holds the answers to what happened with her mother has put himself forward as a sacrifice in Tikal. Mai’s mother’s friend has since moved to Flores, so she lies to the attorney and asks for help explaining that she would like to travel to Flores to make peace with her. The attorney puts on a facade of believing her and provides her with an escort and tries to arrange their demise on the way. Not surprisingly, she comes across several obstacles before and during their journey.
Mai also hasn’t yet told her escort that she would like to travel further than Flores.

Whilst this story is being told, so in another one, set in the same place but in 2006 AD. A small coach party is touring from Mexico City to Tikal and travelling the same places in order that Mai is travelling.

Unbeknown to the other travellers on the coach, one of the party is a god who’s taken human form and made himself look a convincing travelling companion. He is known to others on the coach as Ramiro. His motive is to stop Mai intervening in the sacrifice of Hanab. He is on the coach because if he doesn’t succeed, he will have to substitute one of the coach party for Hanab.

Slowly, it becomes clear to some of the other tourists that Ramiro is not all that he seems.–Description from Amazon.com

 

Trip of a lifetime is a clever book spanning two different time periods. Initially, I was surprised on reading this book that the author managed to stay true to form in her characters, using names that were period appropriate and descriptions fitting to the age she described. I find that many books that are set in days long passed tend to forget to use the proper language and MS. Johnston accomplished this beautifully.

I liked that she wove two stories together throughout the book, one from years before and one set in the year 2006. She crafted a story that was compelling and interesting and I commend her for setting the book in a location I have not seen used a million times previously. This work is very original and captivating.

The author managed to blend the past and present together without making it confusing or irritating. I like that she took a concept that has been seen before and gave it a new twist that made it her own.

I would have liked to have seen her flesh the story out a bit more with more vivid descriptions and  a little history on the characters to fill in the gaps a little bit more and make a more dimensional story, but overall I thought it was a great effort and deserves to be read. For anyone who is interested in Gods and historical civilizations this book is for you. Give this one a try, it would make a great fireside read!

 

 

 

A Smoking Gun by Patrick Freeman

 

Jacob Franks was arrested and convicted for a crime he didn’t commit. Did the experience leave him bitter? Not really. Angry? Maybe a little. Cynical? Sarcastic? Absolutely. But he doesn’t let that get in his way when he has a job to do.
Stanley Morrison, a thirty-year-old autistic man is arrested for the murder of his friend and landlady. But private investigator Jacob Franks doesn’t believe Stanley’s guilty. In a race against time he must learn where the gun came from and what the motive was in order to determine who really killed Joan Cubrik. It’s a mystery adventure where the good guys aren’t all good and the bad guys aren’t all bad.–Description from Amazon.com

 

At first, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this book. I have seen a lot of second rate murder mysteries in the last few years and for a while I even refused to read any that weren’t published by a trusted author I had read before. Patrick Freeman’s “A Smoking Gun” is much different. Not only was it fun to read and intelligent, but I found that I couldn’t help but fall in love with the main character in this book. He is internally sarcastic, realistic and hilarious. He tells things like they are and isn’t afraid to put his nose in the middle of everyone’s business. He is an optimist and great at what he does. Many of the the thoughts Jacob Franks expressed during his investigations were so familiar to me as they were things I would have (and already had) thought myself. I find when I can forget that the character I am reading is fictional and relate to the opinion they express, it is much easier to make a connection with the rest of the story.

The crime in this book is intertwined with other stories and I thought the author handled it very well. The main character has a life outside of work and the author goes into enough detail to make the rest of the story seem plausible without boring the reader with minute details of the character’s life.

As for the actual mystery itself, I wasn’t certain I knew who did it until I was close to finishing the book. I guessed along the way and was wrong more than once. That is what I ask for in a mystery, that I can’t figure it out on page one. The author managed to twist a believable tale that was entertaining and fun to read. I would have liked to have seen a little tighter editing, but all in all, the few errors were forgivable and in one instance made me laugh which added to my delight with this story.

Along with the murder mystery, the main character is trying to decide what to do with his love life, which adds another element and layer to this already entertaining story. I personally think he is wrong about who his dream woman is…and that is the joy of reading a well written work, you can plainly see what would be best for the character you grow to like so much.

Give this one a shot, you won’t leave without a smile.