Scrapbooking Your Family History – Maureen Taylor

Scrapbooking Your Family History by Maureen Taylor.jpg
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Readers will learn how to:
– Choose items already in their family’s possession for presentation in a scrapbook
– Find and identify family photographs
– Locate and interpret historical documents about their ancestors
– Discover new information from old postcards, keepsakes and other family artifacts
– Put their ancestors in historical perspective
– Tell the story of their family in different ways
– Take their research beyond the limits of a heritage album
My Rating: 4 Stars – Worth re-visiting
My Review:
The book is beautifully put together, as you might hope for a book about scrap-booking. The illustrations are relevant and pleasing to the eye, and the design echoes that of a scrapbook.

However, while the book does carry a heavy scrap-booking theme, there are quite a few tips and how-tos in regard to genealogy research as a whole. There’s a timeline of the history of handwriting, of genealogical milestones, instructions on how to care for your documents and photos (archival materials only, acid free, and keep your newspapers, paperclips, and staples away from your photos and documents!), and commands to double-check and cite your sources.

I would say this book is largely a very visual, entertaining “getting started in genealogy book.”

However there are sections dedicated to picking themes for your books, how to organize them prettily and properly, what paper to use, a section on rubber stamping, stickers, and ways to save money during your family history scrap-booking journey.

The book stretches beyond the promised subject matter in a pleasant way. I would say it’s a worthwhile read for beginners, as well as those vetted in the world of genealogy, who are ready to begin scrap-booking as a way to showcase their years of intensive research.

Who Would Benefit: Beginning genealogists, and experienced genealogists interested in a new way to showcase their years of intense research, as well as those non-genealogists who want to make family scrapbooks and make sure their books last for their children, and great-grandchildren to enjoy.

The Kraken Sea – E. Catherine Tobler

The Kraken Sea by Catherine E. Tobler

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Fifteen-year-old Jackson is different from the other children at the foundling hospital. Scales sometimes cover his arms. Tentacles coil just below his skin. Despite this Jackson tries to fit in with the other children. He tries to be normal for Sister Jerome Grace and the priests. But when a woman asks for a boy like him, all that changes. His name is pinned to his jacket and an orphan train whisks him across the country to Macquarie’s.

At Macquarie’s, Jackson finds a home unlike any he could have imagined. The bronze lions outside the doors eat whomever they deem unfit to enter, the hallways and rooms shift and change at will, and Cressida – the woman who adopted him – assures him he no longer has to hide what he is. But new freedoms hide dark secrets. There are territories, allegiances, and a kraken in the basement that eats shadows.

As Jackson learns more about the new world he’s living in and about who he is, he has to decide who he will stand with: Cressida, the woman who gave him a home and a purpose, or Mae, the black-eyed lion tamer with a past as enigmatic as his own. The Kraken Sea is a fast paced adventure full of mystery, Fates, and writhing tentacles just below the surface, and in the middle of it all is a boy searching for himself.

My rating: 2.5 Stars

My Review:

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Kraken Sea is a short book, a novella, that I would describe as a fantasy coming-of-age story.

Jackson is an orphan who gets adopted by a mysterious woman called The Widow. He’s drawn from his average, if miserable, life at the orphanage, and is chucked into one full of magical creatures, and unspoken rules which, when broken, mean death or serious bodily harm. There’s a steep learning curve as Jackson struggles to understand who and what he is, and how he fits into the grand scheme of things.

A few things I liked about this book: I love the idea of a magical world enmeshed with the ordinary human one. One that only some humans are privy to. One where anyone you see, could in fact just be in human form, but certainly inhuman.

I love the idea of this woman, Cressida, gathering these inhuman people and mystical creatures, and giving them a home. I even love the idea that she may have nefarious intentions for this.

A few things that bothered me: The book needs more editing, and quite a bit of it. There were sentence fragments, misused words, and typos that slipped past the spell checker.  Characterization, character development, pacing, and the plot need tweaking. There were a few formatting issues as well, such as breaks in the story that weren’t clearly noted.

The author used some intense imagery, and that was both a boon and a detriment to the story. There were beautiful lines like this, “These human-like shapes peeled away from clotted darkness; Jackson was certain if he was close enough, he would have heard a wet puckering kiss as they separated from the black.”

And then there was a clumsy descriptions of a mirror that I had to take a second to realize was indeed a mirror, and not some magical new thing I needed to pay attention to. Also, there was a tendency for the writing to get too abstract during every intense scene, from Jackson’s heady moments with Mae, to brawls with the neighborhood boys.

Overall, I like the book, but I think it could almost be considered a work in progress. It needs a good polish.

Type of Readers Suited for: Readers who want something quick and easy.

Additional notes: The cover art is beautiful.


The Martian – Andy Weir


Synopsis (from the back of the book):

Six days ago astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’s surface, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, Mark won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

Armed with nothing but his ingenuity, his engineering skills — and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–Mark embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive. but will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

My Rating: 5/5 Stars — Worth re-reading at least twice more.

My Review:

The Martian is the story of one astronaut, Mark Watney. The unluckiest man on Mars.

Watney finds himself stranded on the red planet injured, alone, and unable to communicate with his crew or NASA. The Martian follows Watney in his attempt to not die, which is already a difficult task on an empty planet with limited supplies. The situation is made worse as problems arise, and Watney’s solutions create new, bigger problems.


Let me begin by saying that I have never seen a writer put so much technical detail into a book. You get all the nitty-gritty details regarding hydrogen, how to convert x into y, and how long it takes. There’s good reason for this – The author, Andy Weir, is a huge space nerd.

The Martian is the lovechild of his affair with science. So there is a lot of science in the text. The good news is he’s written it in a way that a layman can understand, and enjoy! Not once was I bored or bogged down with the details.

The details are delivered to us through Watney’s internal dialogue. Watney is not a dull man. His humor is down to earth (hah!), sarcastic, and admirable. The way he takes every hit to his morale and turns it around into an entertaining problem solving session is so clever, so authentic that you can truly fool yourself into believing that Mark Watney is a real man, and that this story is based on his actual experiences.

I have to say that the text is flawless. There aren’t any awkward breaks in sentence structure or plot, or typos (that I could find) that interrupt the reading experience. The most brilliant part of this book is how the author managed to maintain suspense in a story where you as the reader are spending your time almost exclusively with one character.

And he did it without getting deeply psychological or disturbing. I have read so many stories where a character is stranded or alone in a cabin in the woods or otherwise isolated, and they suffer this internal roller coaster. It’s something you might expect, but in many of those stories they are hard on your “reading energy,” and you need a break with something a little more light.

That is unnecessary with the Martian. Watney’s character will carry the reader on his back, from start to finish. I highly recommend this book to science lovers, and to those looking to get their feet wet in the science fiction genre. 5/5. This is going in my re-read pile!

Bonus link: Here is where The Martian was born.

Dark Hour – Ginger Garrett


Synopsis (From Goodreads):

A long time ago, women bent on exercising their wit and prowess in a kingdom not their own made treason and murder fair game. Marriage became manipulation, a means to an end. Children were the enemy. And the days of the House of David were numbered–unless one woman could find the strength to conquer them all.

My Rating: 3/5 Stars – A good one-time read. (This is the first of a trilogy)

My Review:

Dark Hour is a typical scandal-among-the-royals story. All the tragedy stems from inside the palace, and most of the manipulation is spurred by one, hateful character that is hellbent on securing the throne to their benefit. The main character, Jehoshebet, plays less an active role than I had hoped. I had thought she would be more heroine-like, but she comes out more as a survivor. I’m not entirely disappointed by this because of the book’s roots, though (more on that later).

The characters are well crafted, their personalities are very different, and consistent. I can see them as real people (and they are based on real people, but that makes the character building territory all the more treacherous!). This is crucial, particularly because the characters are numerous and their names are so foreign that you can mix them up quite often as I did in Dark Hour. Their unique personalities helped me recognized them, and thank goodness, or I’d have really been lost.

The story is well crafted and the plot is thick, but it is a bit wordy. I think many paragraphs could have been cut out and I wouldn’t have lost anything pertinent to the storyline or character development. What really sold me on the book, believe it or not, is the explanatory bit at the back where the author shares where her inspiration came from. She wrote Dark Hour based off of brief tidbits of scripture from the bible.

The sheer magnitude of research the author must have faced and the amount of effort she must have put into this book impressed me all the more. I definitely recommend the book, and the author as well.

My overall impression is that the book is a brilliant tale, but perhaps too wordy for those just dipping their toes into the biblical fiction pool. If you’re a bookworm, though, hit it!

The Winter People – Jennifer McMahon

The Winter People

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter.

Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that has weighty consequences when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished. In her search for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked into the historical mystery, she discovers that she’s not the only person looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars – Worth re-reading

My Review:

The Winter People is eerie. The synopsis is misleading in that Ruthie isn’t as great a focus as it makes her out to be. There are several other characters the book goes in depth with, enough for me as a reader to feel more connected to Sara Harrison Shea and her husband, Martin than to Ruthie and her little sister Fawn. The book could be tagged as horror, paranormal, historical fiction, and mystery.

Many of the main characters are women and I like that. Only Ruthie and her mother Alice appear as heroes, but most of the action is driven by women and it was fun to compare these characters of different ages and backgrounds. There’s a Native American, and a rich girl who has luncheons with her friends and then hosts seances with them afterwards.

The book is partly in diary format and well organized. I wish there were more entries by Sara Harrison Shea. The author won my respect when the spooky little legends mentioned in the beginning of the book are explained and make sense within the context of the story by the end. There aren’t any loose strings, and if there are plot holes the story was written so skillfully that they didn’t pop up in my face and throw me off while reading.

My overall impression is that the book is brilliant and I wish it were several hundred pages longer. I’ll be re-reading it in the future.