Friday, February 28, 2014

The Johnstown Girls

This book was provided through NetGallery in exchange for my honest opinion.

Ellen has spent almost a century restlessly seeking a lost life of possibilities. Nina wishes her life would stop wandering in so many different directions.

The Johnstown Girls follows the lives of three women, all born in Johnstown: Ellen, Anna, and Nina. Nina is a young journalist looking for a foundation on which to build her life, the right job (not simply a bit journalist), the right guy( her coworker who can't quite leave his wife or the heroic firefighter she met on the job), and the right place to call her own. For Ellen and Anna, the story is reflective, remembering a lifetime amid a world of rapid changes and devastating losses as forgotten memories start to resurface.

First off, the premise of The Johnstown Girls is a solid one.
The concept of a young survivor from a well-known tragedy, like the Johnstown flood, who holds on to the belief that her twin also survived and was brought up without knowledge of her original family is naturally intriguing and one I was particularly interested in given my experience in counselling and psychology. The usage of the centenarian's life to explore the changes in Johnstown and the Pennsylvania area over the years was also intelligent as Ellen came to life in the role of kindly grandmother. Ellen was a delightful character with her wit and lively portrayal and the highlight of what should have been a wonderful read blending history and fiction.

Sadly, the story fell flat for me.

I believe the reason this story failed to keep me interested (and, indeed, I almost gave up on the book a number of times) is a combination of factors.

The first issue I had with this novel was its structure. When balancing between past/present as well as numerous characters: Nina, Ben, Anna, Ellen, Rose, Julia, etc. . . There needs to be clear transitions from one character to the next. These were not present in the novel making the story hard to follow and lessening the impact of the overall text.

The second issue I had were the characters of Nina and Ben. I truly could not enjoy these characters and their relationship seemed more plot convenience and an attempt to be edgy/relevant than a true driving force to the story. While Nina made great strides in the final chapter, it was still not enough to redeem the character and make me feel for her. If anything, I felt like speeding up and rolling my eyes when I realized that another Ben and Nina section had arrived.
The early intimate scene between the characters felt out of place in the story and more like a cry for attention in an attempt to make a serious story "appear" adult.

Historical fiction is a genre that reignited my passion for reading, however, Kathleen George's The Johnstown Girls, won't be a novel I'll be picking up again.

2 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Stepping into Toddlerhood

The sun almost feels deceptive today as it radiates warmth throughout our living room. I know it isn't really warm out but, for now, Sherlock the kitty and I will enjoy the illusion that this never-ending polar vortex has kindly removed itself from the province.

We're in a rare space today for a (relatively) new Mama. The house is mostly clean, diapers are in the wash, and little dude is enjoying his afternoon nap . . . in his crib! Yes, our little Peanut is truly growing up and now spends his afternoon dreaming up adventures in his own bed. I'm honestly not sure whether this should make me happy (cleaner house, free time, more space for reading, reviewing and blogging) or sad that my little is not so little anymore.

It's a delicate balance moving into toddlerhood. This little life that has been so reliant on Mama and Daddy for so many months is now spreading their wings, learning and growing at an astonishing pace as they take in their world and claim their own space. I have to wonder though are the toddler years not also a chance for Mama's to experience a similar growth spurt?

It would appear that as my son starts exploring his world, I'm relearning how to embrace mine.
I can write again, I can do chores, embrace time working on my marriage, establishing community connections without my infant attached to me (quite literally - babywearing for the win). For this introverted Mama it's like relearning social convention all over again.
I have found there is a measure of grace and acceptance for new mama's, a safety net, when I make awkward connections or quirky references. I'll miss that as I relearn how to embark on my own.

At the same time, it's exhilarating watching Peanut take his first wobbly steps into the boy he is becoming, the boy I pray he'll be. To see him develop his passions, his interests. To see the wonder in his eyes as he sees the mysteries that adult realities crowd out and make dim.

So, while this Mama's heart is sad over the things that are no more. I look forward to this new chapter - to naps and runs, to songs and giggles, to wonders, amazement, learning and love. Now, where did I leave that book?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Avatar the Last Airbender The Rift - Part 1

If you've been following this blog for any length of time you may have begun to notice a trend. Book Reviews!

Now, I'll be honest with you. I meant to have, at least,  slightly more balanced content when I restarted blogging.
However, this winter's really kicked our family in the butt.
The last month has been filled with doctor's appointments, teething, and illness in the middle of a polar vortex that's meant it's rarely safe enough to venture out.
Not exactly the kind of things I want to write about, or remember.

Books have always been a great source of entertainment and stress relief for me though and with all these amazing titles crossing my path. Given the winter we've been having curling up with a good book and a cuppa just seems like the logical thing to do once Peanut goes down.
As a good blogger, I'd be remiss in my blogging duties if I didn't share what I found and, oh boy, have  I found a good one this time.

Some of you may recall I'm a geek.
Card-carrying geek to be honest.
I've done the convention thing. I game with my hubby. I have fandoms (and write fanfiction). I love quite a bit about the geek culture and the different stories that give it life. One of the gems I've encountered on my geeky journey is a series called Avatar.

Now, for the uninitiated, I'm not talking the blockbuster movie with the big blue creatures.
Actually, i'm not referring to any movie . . . let's forget the Airbender movie happened, agreed?
Avatar the Last Airbender and it's sequel The Legend of Korra just consist of some great television.

The basic premise follows the idea that some people are born with the ability to control one of the four elements: air, water, earth, and fire. Into each generation is born, a leader or hero, who can control all four elements - the Avatar. In the case of the series, we follow Aang - the Last Airbender and his successor Korra a waterbender the latest to take up the mantle.
 So what does all that have to do with book reviews?

Guess what book crossed my desk!

Alright, I suppose my title may have lessened the mystery a little :) but I actually squealed with delight when this title crossed my inbox! More adventures with Aang and friends, how did I not know about this??

In The Rift - Part 1 (this is a serial for those of you who like the entire story at once), readers rejoin Aang and the gang following the events in the television show (nope, not telling you what events, it's honestly a fun show, go watch some it's worth it).
Aang is working hard to unify the nations and rebuild the fallen Air temples.
What better way to teach the newest acolytes about Air traditions than to revive Yangchen's festival complete with traditional music and food (vegetarian of course much to poor Sokka's disappointment)? Unfortunately, time has changed many things and Aang must determine what the past is attempting to teach in a rapidly changing present.

Basic thoughts?

I loved this book and will eagerly be awaiting part 2!
For new fans, this is an easy read and doesn't require having watched the entire series, though a few episodes wouldn't be amiss.
For older fans like myself, it's like coming home. The book reads as an unaired episode, drawing on much of the humour and personal interactions fans came to love (I was so excited to see Uncle Iroh back with his tea). The characters fell quickly into believable rhythms and old tensions in order to bring it's audience to a yet unfinished lesson.

That said, I will confess I may be a little biased.
This book offers a lot of Aang and Toph with a quick cameo from Uncle Iroh which are my three favourite characters in the series.
Fans of Katara, Sokku, and Zuko may feel a little less love, although I'm not convinced Sokka and Katara won't  feature more strongly in later sections.

All in all this was a great continuation of a well crafted universe and fans of the avatar series new or old should definitely check out this latest offering from Dark Horse Books

I was given a chance to read this book for free from Dark Horse in exchange for my honest review, the opinions are my own.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Praying For Boys

A copy of this book was provided by Bethany House in exchange for my honest review, the opinions are my own.

Have you ever read a book where you can't help but find yourself nodding along to in agreement?
What about a book that instantly brings  to mind the names of multiple people who could benefit from reading it too?
Have you ever read a book and been amazed by both the simplicity of the text's message while amazed at the difficulty of its execution and the profound potential of the difference it could make?

Welcome to Praying For Boys by Brooke McGlothlin.

As a Bible College grad I can be extremely picky when it comes to any faith based book, especially in regards to children and youth. This may have something to do with almost a decade of post secondary education in related fields (youth and counselling) and with professors who encouraged questioning, critiquing, and excellence.

Brooke certainly provides the excellence.

One of the first things I noticed (with grateful relief) was Brooke's layout. Although my son is little and not yet mobile, he still requires time and energy (lots and lots of energy). Recognizing this endearing quality of boys, Brooke has structured her book to be enjoyed in large or small sections, in quick reference or at length in a group setting. I love this versatility! When I had time, I sat and read larger chunks (occasionally sharing insights with my dear hubby) and when I didn't it was simple enough to pick up a chapter and have a few minute break and recharge.

The second thing I noticed about Brooke's work was how it resonated with my new Mama heart and gave expression to the struggles I was having. Raising a boy in today's world is hard and, if I'm honest, I always thought raising girls was more in line with my personality (God has a sense of humour but I do love my little boy fiercely). Brooke's open, honest communication made the book feel more like a friend walking alongside. At many points her reminders that we cannot change our sons hearts and that she didn't have all the answers, helped her authenticity and were easily read as encouragement for one just starting out on the path of motherhood.

Finally, I love how Brooke continually takes her readers and turns them back to scripture. This is the central theme of her heart for Mama's and it resonates loud and clear. I haven't actually had the chance to really try this yet (although I've tried a little, after all who hasn't had those weeks where teething, viral infections, birthdays, and daddy starting a thesis haven't coincided, right? We've all been there ;) I'm intrigued to see how this will go (evidenced by my Heavily bookmarked book)

Praying for boys is one of those practical books that is good for any Mama, regardless of how old their sons or grandsons may be.

5 out of 5 stars

The Tyrant's Daughter

This book was given to me free of charge in exchange for my honest opinion. The opinions expressed are my own.

Over the past decade it hasn't been difficult to find news regarding the Middle East. Every news station has their opinion, every paper has an angle, every webcast has the latest tales to share in the quest for readers.
What is rarely considered is the lives of those being affected,especially for those caught on the sides we may villianize in broad strokes.
This is what makes Carleson's book so compelling and why I found myself up in the wee hours unable to put it down. 

Carleson introduces readers to 15 year old Laila, a young woman who's world has literally exploded. Following the death of her father, her surviving family consisting of 6 year old brother and mother are whisked away to the relative safety of the US, but not everything is as it seems.

Instead of the relative peace Laila hoped for as an exiled family, Laila finds herself confronted with the world's image of her father's reign, and their truth is a far different person than the man she remembers as her old life steadily invades the new.

At first glance, The Tyrant's Daughter is not the sort of book I would normally pick up off the shelf. I like stories, characters, interweaving narratives. I don't like politics. I am so happy this book landed in my inbox though because although politics, world events, and government intrigue have their say. At its heart, this novel is about a young girl trying to make sense of her rapidly shifting world and the relationships she builds and navigates during a time of painful and chaotic transition.

Laila's character is beautifully written and rightly remains the center star of her story. The contrast of her old life represented by her mother and Amir vs. the newness of her American life summed up in Emmy and Ian provide a healthy tension while Bastien counterbalances with his youthful innocence, in many ways representing the girl Laila would have been herself.

I think the most haunting strength of this novel is Carleson's ability to take the families of the those leaders we see on the television and make them human. To read Laila's story, though fictional, is to put a human face on a conflict we too often view as a disconnected narrative of it's own through our screens and media. Carleson humanizes, on both sides,the conflicts which have shaped the world stage in this century. 

Final rating, 4.5 stars out of 5