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Interviews | March 17, 2014

Shawn Donley: IMG Peter Stark: The Powells.com Interview



Peter StarkIt's hard to believe that 200 years ago, the Pacific Northwest was one of the most remote and isolated regions in the world. In 1810, four years... Continue »
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Customer Comments

Melinda Ott has commented on (84) products.

Sinners and the Sea: The Untold Story of Noah's Wife by Rebecca Kanner
Sinners and the Sea: The Untold Story of Noah's Wife

Melinda Ott, April 14, 2014

Sinners and the Sea is touted to be in the same vein as Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, which made me a bit nervous--such comparisons are usually unfair and incorrect. While I wouldn't say that this book brought The Red Tent to mind, I did greatly enjoy this book.

The story is told from the point of view of Noah's wife (traditionally named Naamah, but she is unnamed in this work). I felt rather stupid while reading this book--I never thought about the role of Noah's wife in this whole story but, really, she is practically a second Eve--the mother of all--if you take a strict interpretation of the story.

What I like best about the character of Noah's wife is that she is very dynamic--she grows during the course of the book and she does in a natural way. Many times, when a book is sort of centered around a character's growth, it doesn't come across realistically--but that is not the case here.

I also really enjoyed reading the character of Noah. He started out not being at all the way I've always imagined Noah. I always pictured Noah as being sort of hermit, living away from all the sinners. Instead, here he is living among them and trying to "save" them. There is more than a bit of fire and brimstone about his tactics, but that begins to make sense as we get to know more about his character.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but I did have a few quibbles. There were a couple--literally only 2 or 3--times in the book where the narrative of the action got a little muddy and I had to read the passage more than once to be sure I knew what was going on. There was also a minor plot point, in fact it may have been more of a detail, near the end of the book that was just too much for me and I found it a bit ridiculous. However, in the grand scheme of things, I found this to be an entertaining book that I will be recommending to others.
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Hidden by Catherine Mckenzie
Hidden

Melinda Ott, April 2, 2014

Honestly, I'm torn about this book. There are things I really liked about it, and things I really did not. When I read a book like that, I'm left with a lingering frustration about the whole thing--not a way you want to finish a story.

On the plus side, McKenzie has a very readable style. It is almost as if someone is sitting there telling you a story rather than you reading it. That isn't to say that her prose is fluffy--but, rather, down to earth. I also found her ability to craft characters to be mostly admirable. While I had reservations about the motivations of some of the characters, I did find them to be believable.

McKenzie also has success with the three-person narrative in this book. Using multiple narrators can be tricky, and it is especially so when one of the narrators is, well, dead. I was a little apprehensive with her use of Jeff as one of the narrators, but she makes it work--as longs as you don't question it too much.

For me, though, here is the problem with this book. I didn't like the subject matter. Adultery--phsyical, emotional, or even just implied--is a hard sell for me and, on this count, McKenzie did not succeed. While I found the three main characters to be mostly believable, I never really believed that any of them had the motivation or reason to contemplate any adulterous act. Unfortunately, just this subject matter was enough to leave me frustrated at the end of this book.

I don't think I would recommend this book to others, but I would not write off Catherine McKenzie. I think, with different subject material, her books could be quite enjoyable.
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Mom Seeks God: Finding Grace in the Chaos by Julia Roller
Mom Seeks God: Finding Grace in the Chaos

Melinda Ott, April 1, 2014

I find myself reading several of these Christian parenting books--this is the second one in a month that I've come across. Because of that, I usually start my reading with a sigh and wonder if there is anything new under the sun when it comes to Christian parenting.

I am usually pleasantly surprised and Mom Seeks God was no exception. I found myself relating to Julia--from her introversion to her dislike of taking her child to play at the park. She has a very readable writing style that is down-to-earth but not dumbed-down. I think the fact that her plan was to examine 12 disciplines, but only being able to do 10 just made me like her more.

I do have 2 caveats--not criticisms!--about this book. First of all, this is not really a parenting book. It is a book about spirituality for women who happen to be moms. If you are looking for parenting tips, this is not the book for you (don't worry, there are thousands of other books out there that will fit that bill). Also, this is not a book for someone new to Christianity. I won't say that this is an academic book, but it is academic enough that you need to have a firm grounding in theology to really get into it.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read and I plan to implement a few tidbits from it into my own life.
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The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson
The Mark of the Dragonfly

Melinda Ott, March 27, 2014

I need to preface this review by saying that this is not a book like anything I've read. It is written for the "Middle Grades" group and it is certainly unlike anything I would have read at that age. It is also described as "Steampunk" and, honestly, I'm not even sure what that is. I say this because I really have nothing to compare this book to.

However, I will say that I greatly enjoyed this book. I did have some unmoored feelings at the beginning of the book--what is this? where are they? sort of thing--but I'm chalking that up to my unfamiliarity with the genre rather than the book. I will say that this book had a definite dystopian feel, although I don't know if that is consistent with the Steampunk genre.

Piper is a very interesting character. Her motives are very clear from the start, yet she still grew as a character throughout the book. The other two main characters--Anna and Gee--were more static, but that fit with the overall story.

There were plenty of twists in this book and, while there were a few story elements I could see coming, the book kept me on my toes throughout my reading. Johnson also does a very good job of pacing this book. I was beginning to worry if this was going to be one of those books where everything ties up too neatly in the last to pages or, on the flip side, I'd be left with an open cliffhanger, but neither happened. While Johnson completed the plot well, and it did not feel rushed at all, there is still room for sequels.

And I do hope there are sequels. I can't say that this book has turned me on to Steampunk (I'm sure someone will tell me exactly what that is), but it has turned me onto the characters in this book and Johnson's writing. Even though it is written for a much younger crowd, as an adult I still found this to be a worthwhile and entertaining read.
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Empress of the Night: A Novel of Catherine the Great by Eva Stachniak
Empress of the Night: A Novel of Catherine the Great

Melinda Ott, March 25, 2014

Catherine the Great is one of the biggies in historical fiction lore. However, I had yet to actually read any historical novels about her before this. I was familiar with her reign from my classes in college, but I had yet to really get the more emotional portrait of the Empress that historical fiction can supply.

As far as creating a nuanced portrait of Catherine the Great, I feel that Stachniak succeeded with Empress of the Night. It is told as Catherine's life "flashes before her eyes" between a massive stroke and the moment of her death. Everything is told from Catherine's point of view and the reader gets to see some of her thought processes during her reign.

That being said, I did feel that this book was muddled. While Stachniak's prose is lovely, it ran hot and cold for me. There were portions that I found fascination and parts I just had to slog through. Overall, I felt the book just rambled a bit--this may due to the lack of any actual chapters.

I do also wish that Stachniak had a clearer focus for this book. While she doesn't cover too much of the nuts and bolts of governing, Stachniak tends to jump between Catherine's never-ending line of lovers, her family and the intrigue of the court. I believe that this book would have been more successful if Stachniak had chosen one of those topics as her focus.

While this was not a successful book for me, I do appreciate Stachniak's style and I would be interested in reading some of her other books.
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