Book Review: Lesson Plans by Suzanne Greenberg

24 04 2014

Thank you Prospect Park Books for providing me with an advanced readers copy of this book.  Image

Title:  Lesson Plans

Author:  Suzanne Greenberg

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Available:  NOW

My Rating: 3 Stars

Summary:  Three California homeschool families have their lives intersect as they deal with the problems and challenges of everyday life.

Review: First of all, as a homeschool mom, I must say that I have NEVER encountered homeschoolers that match up to the characters in this book. I’m curious to know what the author based her character formation on.  She does set it in California, which has a reputation for “anything goes.” Yet, I still struggle to see how the homeschool component is really any basis for the actual plot, other than providing the “connection” for the families, and giving the author the liberty to portray one of the parents as a tree-hugging, all natural nut job of sorts. 

The story follows three families, each in different place in their life and homeschool journey.  David is the homeschool dad – the environmentalist – more of what you might call an unschooler.  He uses whatever the day might bring to provide lessons to his little ducklings.  He’s also an organizer and an encourager of homeschoolers in his area of Southern California.  Beth’s husband has just left and she seeks David’s help as she starts her daughter, Jenny off at home.  We also hear Jenny’s voice during the book as she struggles with her father’s departure, visitation arrangements and her own over-the-top food allergies.  Winter and Patterson have decided to homeschool their obnoxious twin sons.  They hook up with Beth to do classes together and try to find money-making ventures.

The book is really about the adults of this group and how they each are dealing with their own identity crises at this juncture of their lives.  Homeschool provides the coincidence of their interactions. The story itself has many twists and turns as each family tries to reach a balance in their world.  The author provides some very unusual scenarios to get the reader to the conclusion. 

The plot is compelling in some ways, although I failed to really identify with any of the characters strongly enough to care as to whether or not they got the ending they should have.  I think some of the nuances of this book would be ideal for a book discussion.  The author does include a guide in the back.

I probably wouldn’t recommend this book to my Christian homeschool group or associates.  It’s plot lines deal with more modern issues, and none of the main characters have any type or real religious connection to what they are doing.


Note:  I was provided a copy of the book by the publisher.  All opinions expressed are my own.


Book Review: Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub

13 03 2014

Book TitleYear of No Sugar

Author:  Eve O. Schaubcover40299-medium

Genre: Health and Nutrition Memoir

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Release Date: April 8, 2014

My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

After watching a Youtube video, Eve digs into research about the harmful affects of sugar on our bodies and decides she and her family must embark on a year long adventure of limiting sugar in their diets.  Oh, and she is going to blog about it along the way.  This book was born in that year of blogging.  Eve recounts the 12 months in 2011, where her family tried to avoid infusing the fructose that pervaded their diets and lifestyles.  She, her husband and two girls looked at their meals, their snacks, their drinks and especially their desserts to eliminate the added sugar.  Along the way they learned many things about nutrition, food, and how the American culture has elevated foot and eating to an experience rather than a necessity.

Schaub offers up their story with facts, figures and a bit of humor.  She chronicles their frustrations, mistakes, victories and leanings.   She gives readers enough information to pursue the knowledge base that she used to make their decisions, and through their adventures provides tips and tricks, also pointing out traps along the way.  (Agave – so natural, but pure poison.)  Her daughters embrace the experiment to some degree.  Shared excerpts from her oldest’s journal show the social frustrations of the experiment.

While the health consequences of this lifestyle seem to be the focal point, I almost felt the whole thing was a commentary of how America has elevated food to godlike status, with sugar as the leading lady in this drama.  It is our comfort, our babysitter, our reward, our social tool- yet it kills us, poisons us and we don’t even pay attention.  We can’t do anything without eating, and if we are eating, it better be tasty and satisfying.  The author herself ties events in her childhood to the delicious food, social activities and rewards.  No doubt eating is essential.  A good meal can be satisfying.  But we eat to survive, not survive to eat.

I enjoyed Schaub’s humor and writing style, but the book seemed to drag towards the end – with her minute details on food prep, killing chickens, and cooking techniques driving me to skim the last few chapters.  Overall I liked the book, the story, the experiment, but had a hard time identifying with Schaub personally.

Recommend for:  Everyone.  This book is an easy and lighthearted approach to the sugar problem.  But especially recommend for those who have a burning desire to embrace this lifestyle or improve their health through better nutrition.

Extra:  Author’s Tips for Eating Sugar Free

Note:  I was provided a copy by the publisher.  All opinions expressed are my own.


The Story is Told by Those Who Lived It: Love and Loss by Mary Octavia Smith Tabb

3 03 2014

Love and Loss: A Virginia Girl's Civil War DiaryLove and Loss: A Virginia Girl’s Civil War Diary by Mary Octavia Tabb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mary Octavia Smith kept a diary starting in January of 1863 through November of 1868. While her initial entries are more representative of what a Southern woman’s daily life might be like, in 1864 she gets into the remorse and loss of a young soldier lost during the Battle of Big Bethel. Her pain in quite vivid in these extremely well written and descriptive passage. Later on her diary become a combination of both.

At the end of the diary, there is some research material included. These sections explain the relationships of the people mentioned in the diary to its author – as it is not always apparent from her texts. A number of family trees are provided for the Smiths and other families mentioned.

I will say that for the average reader this book would probably hold little interest. Tavy’s diary is mostly a log of life in the mid-18th century. Students of history will find it more interesting, and be able to link up historical events to some of the entries in the diary. It also represents the consequence of the war – the loss felt by so many women across both the North and South. Tavy struggles to the point of feeling unable to extend her heart to another. Her sorrow doesn’t subside and is compiled by the other losses of friends and a way of life.

Recommend for students of the Civil War.

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Book Review: Runaway Saint by Lisa Samson

12 02 2014

Title: Runaway Saint

Author: Lisa Samson_140_245_Book.1119.cover

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Genre: Women’s Christian Fiction

Available: February 18, 2014

My Rating: 3 of 5 Stars.

I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher. Thank you Thomas Nelson. All opinions provided are my own.

Like many of Samson’s books, Runaway Saint takes place in Baltimore, MD where Sara and Finn run a print shop/design studio. It is a husband/wife venture, small, stylish and trendy. Sara is an artist of sorts, a designer, a creator. But on her 30th birthday, her hippie mom drops a bomb on Sara. Aunt Bel is back in town, the long lost missionary who disappeared from the US and their lives some 25 years previous. Sara is the only one who has space for her.

Something is not quite right with Aunt Bel, and really the whole family dynamic. As Sara continues forward in the pursuit of growing the business and deciding where she stands on having a family, she struggles with her relationship with her sainted aunt.

I’m a long time lover of Lisa Samson’s books. Since first stumbling across her Embrace Me on a “new releases” stand at the local library, I have made my way through most of the body of her work. (Including the Hollywood Nobody Series which is one of my favorite teen series.) She writes with clear, concise description, weaving the details into the story in ways that draw readers right in. Typically her stories are a little edgy, filled with Christian themes, and characters struggling through their faith. Her devotion to the greater Baltimore area and the way she links books together through characters and settings is charming for her regular readers. For some reason, this offering did not resonate with me like most of her books have.

The characters overlap a little bit on her last book The Sky Beneath My Feet, which is typical Samson. Her stories have become more “young urbanite”, almost Neta Jacksonish, rather that reflective of the characters and situations that Samson has previously tackled. While her writing is still spot on with its descriptive character, the plot line in Runaway Saint, seemed to lose it’s steam in the web of secrets that needed to be unraveled. While I still enjoyed the story in general, I felt like I had a harder time connecting to Sara. Her conflict, although buried in the plot, didn’t seem realistic and the resolution and faith component less relevant.

Still Samson is a force in Christian fiction and this new book is filled with surprise elements, some depth and spectacular descriptions. There is nothing “fluffy” about her approach. This one just seemed to miss the mark for me.

Recommend for: Women’s Fiction Readers who aren’t afraid of a little God in their stories.

Book Review: Learn the Story of the H.L. Hunley – Confederate Submarine

7 02 2014

The H. L. Hunley: The Secret Hope of the ConfederacyThe H. L. Hunley: The Secret Hope of the Confederacy by Tom Chaffin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the story of the H.L. Hunley – the storied Confederate Submarine, the first one to sink an enemy ship. The book encompasses the conception, construction and building of the Hunley, including it’s two prototypes. It takes readers from the beginnings in New Orleans through Mobile, AL and then finally to Charleston including it’s recovery from the ocean floor in 2000 and the attempts to discover information on what happened to the ship, and identify the remains of the crew.

I absolutely loved this book. While the author is complete in his telling of the tale, he also doesn’t get too wordy or over intellectualize the story. He looks into the historical record to try and give some personality to these men who built her (some who survived the war to write about it) and those who sailed her. I had long heard of this story, but never really investigated it. So glad I took the chance to read this book.

The saddest part of the story is the infighting in the state of SC as to whether spending money on the Hunley project, is “glorifying the Confederacy.” Yikes. Really? We are all Americans now, aren’t we? The Hunley was an amazing project, conceived and carried out by brave men in a tumultuous time of our country. We should not let political correctness of the day overwhelm the boldness and historical significance of the moment.

Recommend for: Students of the Civil War and lovers of Naval stories.

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Old Memoir breathes New Life into the Story of Jeb Stuart

29 01 2014

Memoirs of the Confederate War for Independence (Southern Classics Series) (Southern Classics Series (Nashville, Tenn.).)Memoirs of the Confederate War for Independence (Southern Classics Series) (Southern Classics Series by Heros Von Borcke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Heros Von Borcke was a Prussian Soldier who came to the states to serve the Confederacy. He ended up becoming the chief of staff for JEB Stuart during his historic year of rides, wounded in June of 1963. He eloquently shares his story – his experiences in battle, in camp and in the fellowship with his fellow officers and soldiers. His story is filled with deeply intimate stories of this time – stories of courage and loss.

Very much enjoyed this snapshot of the Confederate Cavalry in the ANV through the eyes of Von Borcke. Von has a flair for sharing details that might not find their way into an average story. He talks of the camaraderie of camp, the trials of foraging and the challenge of keeping and feeding horses. His decidedly European perspective gives this memoir a different feel – though he fights for the Confederacy, he is not a Southerner.

The decidedly best parts of this book, were the little bits of intimacy between soldiers – Stonewall Jackson gently waking Von from a deep sleep, General Lee making sport of Von’s carriage, Stuart’s last words to his close friend – plus many little stories of lesser known soldiers in the Confederacy. Through Von’s eyes, we are there. While he doesn’t give us characters descriptions of these men, he does show us those human sides of them and the tragedy of war, enjoying the company of a close friend, only to have him end up as a corpse.

Kindle edition at 99 cents is a great deal and this book is a must read for any student of JEB Stuart and the ANV.

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Book Review: The Rosie Project

17 01 2014

<a href="The Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Don Tillman is a genetic scientist at an Australian university. Despite his academic brilliance – and very structured life, he struggles with social interactions (may even resemble those with Asperger’s Syndrom). He has had troubles in the dating world, so decides to develop an inventory to find a suitable wife. One of his friends sends him Rosie to consider. Her personality is completely contrary to most of the items on the inventory. While eliminated from the “Wife Project” – Don agrees to assist her with a genetic search to find her real father. In the process, she dismantles his highly refined structures and makes him rethink his approach to everything.

Loved this book and it was one of those “read in a day” books. The protagonist, Don Tillman absolutely cracked me up. The dismantling of his over-structured lifestyle by the free-flow Rosie was highly comical. But I think the best parts were when Don went outside himself to use his giftings in ways that made him fit in – and absolutely wowed people. Rosie, too, had her charm and realism that perfectly clashed with Don’s way of doing things. Minor story lines and characters added to the tale.

The engaging plot was not entirely unpredictable, but often the methods to the final ending were. Lots of little quirky things in this book. I laughed through the bulk of it.

I’d actually give it a 4.5 on here if I could. Great fun book that will make you consider the relationships in your own life.

View all my reviews” title=”Book Review: The Rosie Project“>Book Review: The Rosie Project