Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Oracle of Stamboul - Book Review

The book arrived in the mail last week. I tore open the shipping package to find a ornately wrapped package with a seal. When a book comes specially wrapped this way there's only two things it could be--a treasure or a disappointment.

The Oracle of Stamboul is the first novel from Michael David Lukas. The story takes place in the late nineteenth century and begins with the magical and simultaneously violent birth of Eleonora Cohen. Raised by her father and step-mother/aunt in Constanta, Eleonora learns quickly and remembers everything she reads or hears. Fluent in seven languages, Eleonora is a young savant.

The plot moves to Stamboul, the capital of the declining Ottoman empire, when Eleonora's father travels there for business and Eleonora stows away on the ship. While in Stamboul, Eleonora and her talents will come to the attention of the Sultan.

The novel flows steadily along. The language is beautiful in its simplicity and melodious tone. The characters are charming, fascinating and entirely believable in spite of being completely unique. The reader cannot help but fall in love with the delightful and quiet character of Eleonora. The mysteries are intriguing and the setting is in itself inspiring and magical. All things necessary to create a fabulous literary work.

However, while I appreciated Eleonora's ultimate ending, I felt that the climax is weak and many of the mysteries are left unanswered and simply left to dangle loose at the end. The reader is left to wonder what might have been, which is probably the point.

The novel left me with plenty of things to think about and would make a great book to read for book groups because of the possible discussions regarding predestination, personal choice and how ultimately one person can effect and change history.

Lukas is a skilled story teller and I look forward to reading his future works.

I won a free copy of the book from FirstReads. However, this review is my own honest opinion and no additional compensation has been received.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Yellow Lab - Review and Give-away

A year ago, Utah Dad decided he wanted a dog. Really!? I was shocked. He and the kids kept working on me and in April we got a beagle puppy. That nine day experience was very emotional. We were all devastated to lose our sweet little puppy and the following week we adopted a yellow lab puppy.

To be honest, when I contemplated owning a dog it was always a yellow lab. I raised a yellow lab puppy to be a Guide Dog when I was a teenager. My family's favorite dog was Pete a giant yellow lab. I didn't believe we would have a dog at all for many years. Part of our pre-nup said that we wouldn't have a dog unless we had at least three acres of land. Since our yard is not even a third of an acre, I figured a dog wasn't really in the cards for many years. But when my family started working on me last year, obviously the first dog I would think of was a yellow lab.

Summer is a beautiful yellow lab. She's sweet and playful. She loves to run. We started out training her to live in the house but by autumn she lived outside all the time (we do let her sleep in her crate in the garage on the very cold nights). My house was simply too small for such a big dog.

Summer needs a lot of attention--time I don't always have with so many little kids. She knocks Lilly down every single time we go out to play with her. She barks. The neighbors complain. We got a bark collar and we get paranoid every time she lets out a squeak. She ate her house. Well, really just the front of her house but it's not very good at protecting her from the elements. She likes to climb up on top of the house, look over the fence and bark at the people running by. She does puppy things. She's bored and my children are overwhelmed by her size and exuberance.

Utah Dad discovered that--guess what--he really doesn't like dogs. And as I predicted, I am the one cleaning up the poop off the yard.

This picture was taken last summer, so she's bigger than that now. A LOT bigger.

So, here's the deal. We're trying to give her away to a good home--to owners who will love her and have time to play with her and train her.
If you're interested just leave a comment.
One random winner will be the new owner of a beautiful, already-spade and vaccinated yellow lab puppy/dog (she'll be one year old in March).

Obviously, you shouldn't leave a comment unless you are serious. I won't ship her any where so you'll have to come and get her if you win. She really just wants to be loved.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Day of Honey - Book Review

All right. Last book review today. I promise.

I received a copy of Day of Honey by Annia Ciezaldo from FreePress publishers last week and read it over the weekend. Honestly, I didn't expect to be so taken by this book. However, I was completely moved.

Ciezaldo writes so vividly that I couldn't stop dreaming of the food she described. I swear I could taste it. My mouth literally watered. She writes from the heart and she touched mine.

In 2003, Annia, who grew up in the Midwest, and her Lebanese husband, who grew up in New York, move to Beirut to Baghdad and back to Beirut to cover the war as reporters. She covers the events, people, culture and food there with a deep humanity that impressed me. For her it is personal. She makes it personal for the reader.

I was constantly amazed at how apolitical this book is. In spite of all the political factions vying for control in the Middle East, Annia removes herself from the governments, sects and groups and focuses on the people. During war, the people suffer. The people love. The people hate. The people eat.

Don't miss this beautiful, rich, nearly edible book. I devoured it. It will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about the Middle East.

While I received a free copy of this book from the publishers, this review is my honest opinion and no other compensation was received.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Book Review

Amberly is becoming such a good reader and it makes my heart sing to watch her devour one book after another. She, of course, favors the princess/fairy/kitten genre but I am especially delighted when I come into her room and find her reading one of my old Ramona books. I can't wait to introduce Anne of Green Gables and Utah Dad has already got her hooked on The Little House on the Prairie.

While, I am so glad that she enjoys these books on her own, I still like to read aloud to her. Last week I read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll to the girls each night before bed.

I'd never read the book before although I've seen several movie versions (who hasn't?). Honestly, I wasn't that impressed. I suppose I thought it would be a typical situation--that the book would be so so much better than the movies. It was fine. It just wasn't as magical as I imagined it would be. The movies are always so visually striking and I thought Carroll's descriptions a bit flat.

Obviously, the story is a classic non-sensical tale and it is good. I did especially enjoy the Mock Turtle's puns tales of the sea with slight variations on the words.  Amberly enjoyed it. So ultimately, it was worth it.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII - Book Review

I've been missing from this blog for a week. Utah Dad brought a nice bug home from his meetings and kindly shared it with the rest of us. Since, I didn't want to sound like a whiner (the only good thing was that Thomas and Lilly were so sick they spent an entire day in bed), I opted not to write for awhile.

I did manage to read a lot in between coughing fits and naps. I finished Alison Weir's The Six Wives of Henry VIII. My sister-in-law sent me a copy of this book almost a year ago and I've been trying to fit it into my reading schedule since then. My college roommates and I decided to read it this month for our long distance book club.

I was fairly familiar with the story of King Henry VIII's second wife Anne Boleyn, although mostly the tabloid-style rumors associated with her rise and fall. The history and stories surrounding the other five wives were new to me. Weir's history makes it accessible. It is fascinating and bizarre.

Alison Weir writes well. The book is entirely readable and in fact, I had trouble putting it down. Weir conducted in-depth research of her topic and discounts rumors when the evidence simply doesn't add up. She has a deep understanding of the period and grasps the political, religious and social reasons behind King Henry's frequent amours and intrigues.

I enjoyed the book so much that I ordered Weir's The Children of Henry VIII before I had read 200 pages of the first. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in English history.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Happy Baby - Review

There is not a mother alive that wouldn't give just about anything to have a happy baby. Seriously. I can't (and they don't) guarantee that the baby food from HappyBaby will make your baby happy, but it certainly won't hurt.

Molly doesn't really eat baby food any more. She's almost two years old and has been eating the same meals that the rest of the family eats for quite awhile now.  However, when we received the sample of the HappyBaby HappyMelts, organic yogurt snacks, I gave them to her and she devoured them. Now, to be honest, Molly will devour most anything, but she really seemed to especially enjoy these.

I liked that the HappyMelts melt in her mouth. Inspired by my mother-in-law, I've always had the fear of my toddler choking while eating and have been known to cut the food into the tiniest pieces. These 100% organic snacks just melt away in the baby's mouth. They're not sticky which means they're also easy to clean up. And they're high in protein and have added calcium and Vitamin D. Much better than a handful of sugar cereal. The packaging is light weight and if I still carried a diaper bag, I'd keep some of the HappyMelts in it.

Happy Baby is known for the 100% organic food for your baby and for their commitment to high quality.

I received a free sample from HappyBaby but this review is my honest opinion and I received no additional compensation for it.

The Winners of the Insideout Give-away

I almost forgot to wake up this morning. After I hit the snooze button for the third time, I reached over and turned the annoying thing off. Then I dreamed that I was getting out of bed and brushing my teeth. Fortunately, one of the kids woke me up for real and I got them all out the door on time. I even did Amberly's hair and they ate bagels for breakfast.

Now, that they're securely at school, I can focus on what's really important--randomly picking the winners (with help from for the Insideout A Capella give-away. (I really hope you know I'm joking about give-aways being more important than my children.)

Yip yip yipee! The winners of the two Insideout A Capella CDs are . . .


Congratulations! Please contact me with your information so that you can start listening to your new CD right away.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cleaned Up

After my expose post yesterday that even included pictures of my dirty children, I figured I better show some proof that we actually get clean occasionally.

This morning after the preschool kids left (V is for Valentines! Crazy bunch of love going on at my house this morning.) I tried to get the kids to pose for a few pictures. My children are hardly cooperative with this adventure.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

 What the heck is this face? A grimace/grin?

Exhibit C:

Molly decided picture time was really scream and fall back in the chair in a fit of giggles. She did it over and over. I should have pulled out the video camera.

Then, there was a complete revolt.

Now, they're playing orphans.

P.S. Please forgive my editing. I was in a hurry.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Headhunter's Daughter - Book Review

The Headhunter's Daughter by Tamar Myers arrived in my mailbox on Monday (from the Publishers) just as I was finishing the other book. Perfect timing.

The Headhunter's Daughter takes place in the Congo during the 1950's while still under Belgium rule. The rumor that there is a white girl living with the Bashilele headhunters reaches the ears of the Police Captain. Could she be the same girl that went missing as an infant thirteen years ago?

The mystery untangles after the girl, now known as Ugly Eyes, comes to live in the mission house with the American Protestant missionaries and specifically young missionary Amanda Brown. Who was responsible for kidnapping the girl in the first place and will she be able to assimilate into white society after being raised and loved by bushmen? These are the questions that unfold during this tale.

The story was interesting and the plot held a lot of promise. When the mystery unravels at the end, it seems almost anti-climatic.

I actually had trouble really enjoying this novel. The writing style is unique. The author, telling the story with complete omniscience, skips so quickly from one person's thoughts to the next that I regularly had to go back and reread a paragraph to see where I had missed the change.

The setting of the Congo is, as always, fascinating and rich. Describing the landscape, the wildlife and the indigenous people is definitely Myers's strong point. Myers, who grew up in the Congo with her missionary parents, clearly knows and loves the land. But I'd hoped for more. This is certainly no Poisonwood Bible.

While I did receive a free copy of the book from the Publishers, this review is my honest opinion and I received no additional compensation.

No Pictures

I realized that it has been weeks since I have taken pictures of anything (with the exception of my wrapped foot). This is pretty unusual for me. But really who wants to take pictures of the kids in their jammies with uncombed hair and dirty faces and boogers in their noses? I know it's getting bad when I go to get Molly dressed and she protests: "No. Want jammies!"

And the mess? Oh! The mess. They are required to clean up each evening before bedtime. I give the little people guilt trips. Would they want their mom to come in at night to check on them and trip over a Lego, Barbie doll, or Matchbox car and die? I lay it on thick.

But during the day, I've been pretty lenient lately. They can get out all the toys and make the biggest messes possible. The little three generally play very nicely together. There are just two rules:

1. No toys downstairs. None. Not one.
2. And give Mommy just a few minutes to blog, read or sleep.

Easy! And worth it.

But really, I think this is the last day. I'm feeling better from my cold. I've got my old-lady support hose stockings so I can wear my own shoes now. I'm ready to clean up, get out of the house and take some pictures of my children actually looking cute. As opposed to this:

Monday, February 7, 2011

Audition - Book Review

Audition by Ryu Murakami was listed as a give-away on a few months ago.  I was intrigued by the story and entered to win a copy. It sat on my shelf for awhile but I grabbed the other day on my way out the door.

The novel begins as a romance. Aoyama's wife died seven years earlier and his teenage son suggests that his father finally start looking for another wife. During a conversation with his close friend, a film maker, about the difficulties of meeting the right kind of woman, they decide to stage an audition for a movie that will never be made. With thousands of applicants to go through, Aoyama fixates on one woman. He starts to date the stunningly beautiful Yamasaki Asami and falls madly in love with her.

Aoyama is so blinded by his love for Yamasaki Asami that he completely ignores his friends and his son's warnings that something about her doesn't seem right. And they're correct. Yamasaki Asami is not who and what she seems to be.

I was sucked in by this thriller. The story is so short and the ending so intense that I almost feel out of breath reading it. Besides the goose-bump raising story, I enjoyed the brief introduction to the culture of a Japanese city. The food at the various cafes Aoyama and Yamasaki Asami visit is described so well, that it made me hungry. Until the ending. Not hungry any more. Just saying.

There were a few moments when the language seems stunted and not quite right. It might be a problem with the translation from the original Japanese or possibly just a cultural difference.  There is also a graphic sex scene. It contributes to the story line but some may find it offensive.

This novel and the movie it spawned (I think I will skip it) were big hits in Japan and now it is available to scare the pants off the English speaking world.

Inside Out A Capella - Review and Give-away

Last fall, Neal and Utah Dad joined the other fifth grade boys from his school for a night at camp. When they returned they couldn't stop talking about the songs that they had heard on the bus. Before long, I too was listening to songs about snowmen and peanut butter and jelly. My children could barely contain their laughter as they listened to the fun songs.

The musical group that inspired such immediate child adoration:

Since then, we have acquired two of their CD collections: Primary Colors and Sharing Time. Insideout A Capella, is a group of six guys who combined their music talent to produce fun and fabulous music. While it might not be appropriate for Sunday morning, their arrangements of well known and beloved Primary songs are fun for the kids and the grown-ups every other day of the week. It's so nice to find music for kids that doesn't have the adults pulling out their hair within minutes.

Inspiration: Maybe if I played it while we were all in the car, my kids would sing along instead of hit each other. It's worth a try.

Insideout A Capella has generously provided
one copy of each of these musical collections
 to give away to
two of my lucky readers.

The rules for the give-away are so amazingly simple:

1. Just leave a comment on this post.
2. Leave another comment on this post for a second chance to win, if you post about this give-away on Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog.

The contest is open to comments until Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 11:59 pm MST. The winners will then be chosen randomly from the comments and will be announced on this blog on Friday, February 11, 2011.

Open to residents of the US only.  

Saturday, February 5, 2011

No Road Trips For Us

Once upon a time, I loved road trips. When we lived in New Hampshire, Utah Dad and I would wake up early on Saturday mornings and head north toward the Canadian border, searching for moose (they're hard to see in the thick woods) and quaint Northern New England towns to visit. Lunch in Meredith. Shopping for books in Center Harbor. Eating candy in Littleton. Hiking in the White Mountains. Observing the loons on Squam Lake. The scrapbook store was in Derry.

Sometimes we'd just drive and flip a coin to see what direction we should turn. Occasionally, we'd end up lost in the vast, wilderness of  western Maine and discover a farm of domesticated elk or we'd covet the immense mansions along the seacoast (all eleven miles of it) of New Hampshire.

Gas was cheap then and we often made weekend excursions in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, all over Vermont, and into Upstate New York. We put a lot of miles on that trusty, little car in those days.

When we moved back to Utah, we continued our weekend road trips. We packed up the one or two kids we had by then and drove to Corrine to see the water fowl migrating through. We went out to the Salt Flats or to Hardware Ranch. We went up to Park City. Down to Cove Fort. Out to Vernal nearly every month. We drove to Yellowstone. To Jackson. To Star Valley, Wyoming to visit my grandma. Saw the Utah version of fall foliage in Monte Cristo. We drove the Alpine Loop and the Nebo Loop. We went to Mirror Lake and Bear Lake. Sometimes we just drove with no specific destination--turning around and heading home when we were tired and/or hungry.

We don't do that any more. Utah Dad often mourns this loss and wonders why. Besides the higher and ridiculous price of gas, the main reason is that we now have five children smooshed, uncomfortably in the minivan (it appears spacious in the commercials) and even on short drives to visit the grandparents in Salt Lake, like tonight, we hear this coming from the back seat:

Amberly: Neal, stop elbowing me!
Neal: You're leaning on me! Get off!
Amberly: Mom! Neal is elbowing me!
(Mom and Dad are having a conversation in the front seat about the larger garden we intend to plant this summer and are attempting to ignore the ruckus in the back.)
Lilly: Stop kicking my seat!
Neal: It was Amberly!
Amberly: Stop elbowing me! Mom! (said in the most grating, whiney voice imaginable--pure torture.)
Me: Don't touch each other. Thomas, look at the train.
Thomas: Where?
Amberly: Out your window.
Thomas: I didn't see it. Where was it? (Crying) I didn't see the train!
Amberly: Thomas, stop elbowing me!
Thomas: I didn't see the train! (He's still crying. I remind myself not to point out objects of interest in the future.)
Neal: Mom, Amberly just kicked me in the mouth.
Amberly: I did not!
Neal: She did!
Utah Dad: How did she do that?
Neal: She has her feet up on the seat.
Me: Amberly, put your feet down.
Amberly: Thomas took off his seat belt!
Thomas: No, I didn't.
Amberly: Thomas just elbowed me. Why is everyone elbowing me? (My view from the rear-view-mirror shows that Neal and Thomas are squished over to the opposite sides of the car as far as they can. Amberly apparently needs room to sprawl. I think that I might also be tempted to elbow her if I was forced to sit by her dramatic highness. Clearly, I'm siding with the boys. Utah Dad sides with his daughter and threatens major punishment if the boys do not cease and desist immediately.)
Neal: I think my mouth is bleeding.
Lilly: I'm thirsty! I need water. (The three-year-old currently speaks one language - Whinese. Fortunately, Molly has fallen asleep.)
Me: I don't have any water right now. We'll be home soon. (Thank goodness.)
Lilly: I NEED water, now!
Neal: It's so uncomfortable back here. Why do I have to sit by Amberly? We need a new car. (Utah Dad and I consider the possibilities of driving a bus or at least installing a chauffeur window between us and the children.)
Amberly: Neal just hit me again!
Neal: I did not. You are laying on me.

And on and on--until we ground them from video games and play dates for the entire week. They all went straight to bed when we FINALLY arrived home--where we will remain for quite some time.

My Stick Family from

The Forgotten Garden - Book Review

A friend recently recommended that I read The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. Since she is also in my neighborhood book club, we conspired together to read it this month, giving me a great excuse to buy it (and since I was buying it, I couldn't help but add a few more books to the order).

The Forgotten Garden is one of those glorious books that is easy to get lost within the pages. While the language is not overdone (just coming off Hawthorne, it initially seemed a bit simple, in fact), Morton does a good job of describing the setting and the fascinating, odd and frightening characters within it.

It's long but it's one of those stories that I really couldn't put down once I'd started reading it, much to Utah Dad's chagrin. The story takes center stage in this novel. Morton has no social agendas or deep themes. She is simply telling a fascinating and sometimes horrifying tale. Using various characters' viewpoints and skipping back and forth to and from the past, Morton carefully weaves the tantalizing and intriguing tale.

In 1913, a small girl disembarks from a ship in Australia. She is alone, carrying a small suitcase and has forgotten her name. The dock master takes her home to his wife. They name her Nell and raise her as their own. On her twenty first birthday, her father tells her the truth of her origins and she embarks on a quest to solve the mystery of her forgotten past. Even though she gets close, the full truth will remain hidden in spite of Nell's efforts. Eventually her granddaughter Cassandra will take up the search when she discovers that upon her grandmother's death she has inherited a cottage on the sea cliffs of England. With the cottage she also discovers a walled garden, a secret garden. A forgotten garden.

The garden and a few aspects of this novel reminded me of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and I had to laugh when later in the book, Morton works in a scene with the famous novelist and implies that the inspiration for Burnett's work came from this forgotten garden on the Cornish Coast. Clever indeed.

I certainly don't want to give anything away since my friends from book club haven't had the chance to read the novel yet. However, I highly recommend it as a fabulously pleasurable read. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Book Fair - Book Review

I volunteered to help the PTA at the Book Fair (it's the buy one get one free--my favorite) yesterday. Between my wrapped feet and head cold, I'm not sure I was much help but I got pretty good at crowd control during lunch. Observing hundreds of kids make a rush on the library with their baggies full of change is definitely an eye opening experience. Hot items--silly bands and fancy pens.

During the quieter times, I perused the book selections. Amberly spent her own money. She got two books about magic kittens--hmmm, fabulous literature, I'm sure (eye roll). At least I was able to steer her clear of the junky do-dads and overpriced pencils. Neal wants a book that they didn't have at the Book Fair. So, I chose two books for my younger children.

The first one is Now & Ben : The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin by Gene Barretta. It incorporates many of the things I love best about picture books (with the exception of goofy talking farm animals). So often, Franklin is remembered only for his political contributions, yet he was a fascinating character with a brilliant mind who was always developing new products and ideas to benefit society. This book is a little history lesson that tells with succinct factual text how the inventions of Benjamin Franklin back in the late eighteenth century are still in use now.

There is so much going on within the illustrations. My children enjoyed looking at the pictures that show the differences and similarities between Ben Franklin's world and ours. The artwork is colorful, humorous and contributes to the story with interesting and curious images. Even Neal took the book with him to bed last night.

The second book I purchased is Man on the Moon (a day in the life of Bob) by Simon Bartram. It is a beautifully illustrated, imaginative book that answers the question--what if there was a man who worked on the moon? It's Bob's job to commute every day to the moon, where he cleans up the trash, answers tourist's questions, and makes sure he turns on the light. It's funny and light hearted. My kids laughed and enjoyed the futuristic pictures.

The only thing I don't like about this story is the stickers included in the back of the book. They're cute but every mother knows that the stickers in the hands of children will eventually end up on something inappropriate. I might encourage Thomas to make some space-themed artwork today so that he can use them all up.

We've already enjoyed both books several times since yesterday. I am pleased with my purchase and rather impressed that I could limit myself to just two books. Of course, the books I picked from the book order should come home with Amberly by the end of the week (smile).

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pet Peeve #74 - Efficient Doctors' Offices

One of my favorite things about having an appointment at the doctor's office (Jiffy Lube works too) is the wait*. Seriously. There is really nothing better than finding a comfortable seat in the back of the quiet waiting room, pulling out the good book that I carry in my purse (there is always one in there--I've even been known to take one to a funeral, you know, just in case it gets boring . . . ) and getting in some good reading time free of the distractions from my children.

So, it's my pet peeve when the office is running so efficiently that they call me right in. I didn't even get to read a paragraph. I even arrived twenty minutes early to give myself an extra long, luxurious wait and they called me right back. I mean, come on!

*Of course, this entire situation and opinion is null and void if my children are actually with me during the wait.

The Scarlet Letter - Book Review

I have no less than fifty books literally waiting on the shelf in my bedroom for me to read them. Sometimes when I'm in the middle of a less-than-fantastic book for a review, I look longingly at that shelf and then hurry myself along (I'm also a one-at-a-time kind of girl). So, when I finished the book last week and needed something to read, it shouldn't have been hard to pick something. I surprised myself by reaching for my Nathaniel Hawthorne collection and opening up to The Scarlet Letter.

I read (or skimmed) The Scarlet Letter in high school.  B-O-R-I-N-G! After I fell in  love with The Peabody Sisters  (which I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys biographies and literature) several years ago, I was anxious to try some more Hawthorne (he was married to the youngest Peabody sister). I started The House of the Seven Gables but put it aside when I just couldn't get into it after fifty pages. Even though I really really wanted to like Hawthorne, I figured it was hopeless.

Perhaps I just wasn't ready or mature enough then. I devoured The Scarlet Letter this time. I was enthralled and fascinated with the story, themes and the beautiful language (makes reading most novels now seem like fifth grade work). I almost wish I was back in high school college so that I could discuss it with a group. I definitely have some ideas to contribute this time. And I apologize to my mom's friends--I shouldn't have laughed when I heard you were reading it for book club.

It just goes to show, that some books are worth another try.