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Winter Solstice Winter by E.J. Squires

I want to start by saying that I enjoyed reading Winter Solstice Winter. The plot, especially contained within the last half of the book, was very fast paced and kept you on the edge of your seat as a reader. However, this book fell short of its potential for me.

First of all, I greatly adore beginnings. I want to revel in the newness of a world, learning all of its intricate workings and figuring out its occupants. At first, Winter Solstice Winter seemed to promise that, but then the descriptions fell away. Now most readers will be just fine with this, but the style did not satisfy my own personal taste. Likewise, I often felt events were rushed – not due to a lack of understanding how to write – but due to a wish to string the action along and continuously engage the reader. This is not a fault. Again, it’s my personal taste. However, I do think the writing of important events should slow a little to give the reader some kind of bearing as to what is really going on.

On the same bent, characters often seem a little forced – especially the dialogue. I like characters who I can intricately come to know, and although I feel the author makes a solid attempt to make this a reality for readers, the writing falls a little short. In all honesty, I didn’t feel a connection to any of the characters.

Overall, I loved the plot of Winter Solstice Winter and plan to purchase the next book in the series to find out exactly what happens to Ailia, Soren, Eiess, Lucia, and the rest. I just wish it could have been slowed down to make the incredible chain of events, and the characters, more believable.

The Genealogist’s Guests by Ann Simpson

The Genealogist’s Guests, a paranormal mystery, by Ann Simpson is an interesting and fast-paced read.  Overall, the plot is intriguing and keeps you guessing, even though it sometimes feels like you’re reading a Soap Opera.  Elizabeth’s family has been through so much and continues to have so many evil things happen to them that you eventually guess what is going to happen next.

Simpson also does a wonderful job of weaving the past and present together in The Genealogist’s Guests. When I first started reading, I was worried that the two worlds wouldn’t seem real if they were mashed together, but when the worlds collide, they seem to make sense. This is mainly due to the fact that we learn the history of the family as the ancestors are being introduced and figure out the mystery right along with them.

Although the concept of the book and the plot work well, I wish Simpson had taken more time to flesh out her living-breathing characters.  Scenes often feel rushed, and because we often infer a character’s personality, readers need to have time to digest a character’s thoughts, actions and words. When a scene moves too fast, readers tend to forget details in the melee.

The Genealogist’s Guests is intriguing, but it could soar above mediocre if the author would look back over the work, or employ an editor, to fix the constant switches between past and present tense.  I understand that the book moves between characters from the past and present, but the switch does not need to occur in the middle of a paragraph. Actually, the switch doesn’t need to occur at all. A couple errors aren’t a problem, but I was constantly thrown out of the story due to the multiple tense switches. It seemed like the author had written the story first in one tense and then decided to change it, but didn’t catch everything.

Overall, The Genealogist’s Guests is interesting, fun, and fast-paced.  However, for a reader like me, I would have liked to slow down the action a little more to connect to the characters and suggest the work be re-edited.

Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects by Martha Kolln and Loretta Gray

Rhetorical Grammar is a wonderful resource for writers and teachers alike. I would recommend it to anyone who wishes to become more knowledgeable in the art of rhetorical grammar – understanding the grammatical choices available to you and the effects those choice have on the reader.

Although Rhetorical Grammar looks like just another guidebook or style guide when it comes to the rules of grammar, it really shows how the rules influence how readers perceive a writer’s meaning. So the rules aren’t just rules anymore – they’re a way of expressing what you really want your readers to focus on. And Kolln and Gray aren’t saying, “Don’t ever break the rules.” They’re saying, “Use readers’ knowledge of the rules to your advantage.”

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander is one of those books that I could visit time and time again. In fact, I’ve just finished my second round. When I first read the book, approximately a year ago, I was floored by the story. Now that I’ve finished it for a second time, I’m still floored, but with a light, floaty afterglow.

Why did I read the book so soon after reading it the first time? Two reasons: 1) I got through the first two books in the series last year, couldn’t find the third until November, so decided to start from the beginning, and 2) just around November, I discovered that the last book of the series (#8 I think) would be coming out in 2014, with Diana engaging in a book signing nearby, so I convinced a few friends to jump on the Outlander book wagon with me.

Outlander takes place first in the 1940s, just after World War II, when Claire and Frank set off on a second honeymoon. While visiting Scotland, Claire is introduced to the standing stones of Craigh na Dun. Fascinated by their history and other-worldy charms, the two secretly venture forth to watch a Beltane festival, conducted by the local “witches.” The trouble doesn’t start until Claire ventures forth alone and suddenly ends up in the 1740s. Nearly two hundred years in her past.

I could talk about Outlander all day, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. I will say this: Although strange and mysterious, and rather outlandish (haha), events occur in the novels, Gabaldon has a way of making them all seem so believeable. There’s never a moment where you’re jolted out of the text to say something like, “Oh really? I bet not.” That’s what is so extraordinary about the writing. Even though you could never imagine all of the bad things that happen to Claire (and Jamie) occurring over the span of a lifetime, everything still seems believable.

Outlander is a science-fiction/fantasy, romance, mystery, historical fiction masterpiece.

In the words of the Ninth Doctor (Outlander is a time-travel novel) FANTASTIC.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

I was so disappointed by the ending of this book. Other than the last chapter, I really enjoyed it. But the cruel, unnecessarily cruel ending was uncalled for and disgusting.

The only other thing about the book that kind of irked me was the lack of time with characters. The Imperfectionists details the beginning and end, and middle, of an international paper that is referred to as “The Paper” and is based in Rome. We first meet Lloyd Burko, a stringer in Paris, suffering from old age – or rather a terrible fear and resentment of technology – who is hard up and needs some cash. Not to mention his younger wife is having an affair with the guy in the apartment across the hall. We then meet Artur Gopal who loses the only thing that matters to him and suddenly has all the time in the world to excel as a journalist. Then Hardy, a female staff member who focuses solely on her career and being an adult until she finds a childish Irishman to love. Then the publisher, Cyrus Ott stricken with cancer and trying to make amends with his family; Kathleen, the new boss, trying to prove herself at the Paper so she can go back an conquer journalism in America; Ruby Zaga, the lone female copyeditor who hates her life but doesn’t want to lose it. More and more follow over the course of two and a half generations.

What Tom Rachman does, is paint a picture of humanity. What it means to be human. What it means to hate and desire and struggle and survive. What it means to find the one thing or one person that can push you over the brink or save you from the edge. And how the thing we need is never what we think we need.

Beautiful.

Except for that disgusting, atrocious ending. If that’s what humanity is, then we’re all going to die. And rightly so.

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

Blah.

That sums up this book. Don’t get me wrong, it had some really amazing parts, but it had more than a few really, truly dismal sections.

I basically skimmed the last 150 pages. I’d been reading it since December, and if it wouldn’t have been a loan from a friend, and if it wouldn’t have been good for the first 100 pages and then went crappy for the last 300, I would have given it up.

I’m not even sure what to say. I guess the moral is this: The past influences the future, and because of this fact, we can never escape from who we are because we’ve been created by our ancestors. Trying to break the molds of the past is our destiny.

If this book would have been about half the size it actually is, it would have been wonderful.

Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke

This book was actually loaned to me by a student. We’d sat down for SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) time and he pulled out this book. The cover looked familiar. I don’t know what it was, but I had to read this book. I asked to borrow it when he’d finished.

I’m not going to say this book was wonderful, nor that it changed my life. It did bring up a lot of points that hit home with me. Here are the three points that had me nodding “yes” the entire time I was reading:

1. We’ve sugar-coated what it means to be Christian by sugar-coating the Bible. Noah’s Arc is featured heavily in nursery themes with cartoon-ish barnyard animals and rainbows after the storm. But the Bible depicts something gruesome and terrifying. Something akin to Edgar Allen Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.

2. Jesus went to the cross knowing that I would turn out to be a sceptic who tries hard to believe, but can’t seem to wrap my mind around the concept. He died a barbarous death so that I could live.

3. The word church comes from the Greek ekklesia, meaning a people who gather. That’s what the Church should be – a people coming together to spread God’s grace, rather that’s within a brick and mortar building or scattered throughout the world. The Church should not be known as dusty hymnals, uncomfortable pews, locked doors, and extravagant stained glass and murals. The Church is simply a gathering of people sharing the same faith.

The last point hit very close to home for me. I’ve always struggled with the concept of Church as we (or at least people in my area know it) – a way to show off that we have the best alter, or the largest congregation, or the most events.

So, was this book life changing? No. Did it make me feel like I wasn’t alone? Yes. Did it make me feel like I wasn’t a terrible Christian for believing differently than my fellow worshippers? DEFINITELY.

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