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  • Kelli @ I'd So Rather Be Reading - Another outstanding novel by Afshar!

    Tessa Afshar has written two outstanding novels: Pearl in the Sand, and now Harvest of Rubies. Both novels are historical Christian fiction, and are more biblical than other Christian fiction, which I really like. Pearl in the Sand tells the story of Rahab, a Caanonite harlot who falls in love with one of Israel's leaders. I read Pearl in the Sand back in 2010 and still think back on how good that book is! In fact, I gave it as a gift to my mom. Then, this Mother's Day, I gave Harvest of Rubies to my mom. She was so excited to see that Tessa Afshar had written another book! I didn't think that I would like Harvest of Rubies more than Pearl in the Sand, but I liked it even better (and my mom agrees).

    Harvest of Rubies tells the story of Sarah, who is the prophet Nehemiah's cousin. I am foggy on the Old Testament, but the name Nehemiah did ring a bell. I don't remember Sarah as his cousin though, which allowed me to start Harvest of Rubies with no preconceived notions of how the story should go. I love it when I can go into a book with no expectations!

    I liked Sarah from the very beginning. She is a reader---which is very unusual for a woman in 457 B.C.---and I love to read about fellow readers. Sarah's father is a scribe and teaches her to read and write in several languages. Sarah's cousin is Nehemiah, who is King Artaxerxes' cupbearer. The cupbearer is the person who tastes all of the king's food and beverages before the king, to make sure they are not poisoned. I had thought this position to be a somewhat lowly one, but the cupbearer was actually a person of great influence and respect, due to how much time he spends in the king's presence. Nehemiah speaks on Sarah's behalf to the queen, and as a result, Sarah becomes the chief scribe to queen Damaspia.

    Sarah is a workaholic, and finds her happiness and validation in her work. She believes in God but does not turn to Him with her problems, as she is holding a grudge of sorts for her mother's untimely death and subsequent feelings of abandonment by her father. Her father loved her, but did not know how to raise a young girl, and his treatment of her (which pretty much consisted of leaving her to figure things out for herself) left Sarah feeling unloved and unwanted. She has struggled with these feelings for her entire life, and thus throws herself into her work to suppress the pain of her past. Sarah soon rises to be a highly respected and valued member of the court and it is her work ethic that ends up getting her in trouble. Queen Damaspia rewards Sarah's loyalty and hard work by giving Sarah an aristocratic husband. But the last thing Sarah wants is to be taken away from her job as a scribe and to be married, especially to an aristrocrat.

    But her feelings are not taken into account---how could she defy the queen?---and Sarah is married to Darius. By her own thoughtless actions and focus on her work, she bungles the marriage right from the start, earning Darius' disdain and becoming the laughingstock of the court. Sarah is at the lowest point in her life, having lost her work, which was her only source of validation, and has to make a choice: wallow in despair or ask God for help and try to turn the situation around. She chooses the latter, and most of the book is about her journey to becoming a different person: a person who relies on God for validation and self-worth. Her husband may not love her, but God does, and that has to be enough for Sarah.

    What I loved so much about Harvest of Rubies was Sarah's journey. Afshar seamlessly weaves Sarah's tale of personal growth into the setting of biblical times. I felt like I was learning something about history and about the Scriptures as I was reading, but without feeling "preached to." I loved watching Sarah grow and change. I especially loved how she quotes the psalms of David for strength and guidance. One of my favorite passages in Harvest of Rubies is:

    "David knew how to walk the path of affliction while being settled firmly in the joy of God's presence. I wanted to learn to be like David, to have eyes that saw the loving hand of the Lord even in the midst of unfulfilled dreams" (Afshar 327).

    Isn't that so beautifully written? So many times while reading, I thought, "Yes, this is exactly how I feel!" I love that. I felt like Afshar was really speaking to me personally. I felt encouraged and lifted up after reading Harvest of Rubies.

    Until I realized there was going to be a sequel, I was not totally thrilled with the ending. There were certain things that were left unfinished, things I wanted to see finished. But, I will have to wait until the next book for Sarah and Darius' story to be completed. I can't wait to read more from Tessa Afshar. I highly recommend Harvest of Rubies.

  • GrahamI - I love this tablet!!! The only way I would give it up is if you pried it from my cold dead hands!!!!

    I received my tablet on Thursday of last week and since then we have been inseparable. As soon as I received it I pulled it out plugged it into the docking keyboard and attached it to the charger. I turned it on and put in my account info and it immediately found my wifi with no problem and it had full signal anywhere in my four floor house with my router in the basement. I was also able to take it a good distance from my house and the wifi is fine. I went to a local Starbucks and the wifi picked up on their network well also. I did all of this wilh the standard Android Honeycomb 3.2 that came on it before running the update to ICS that I was prompted to install. Notice that I did not even test GPS before running the upgrade because whether GPS works or not is a mute point for me. I use my droid with car dock for GPS if I need it and will not use this for that purpose. Incidentally, the Mapquest app in the market works better with the turn by turn navigation than even the stock navigation. I was prompted to run the system update that brought me up to download and install ICS 4.0 and it works extremely well in all the apps that I have used. My games move well and do not lock up, except for the occasional software bug associated with the app itself. This is a definite buy for anyone who isn't willing to settle for Apple's piece of crap iPad 2 or 3 when it comes out. The speed and performance of this tablet is amazing. For those of you shying away because you know they are coming out with the tf700 model save your money and buy this it works great for me and it will for you too.

  • Jack L. Aiello - Blue Lines is a New Classic

    This is the first CD from Massive Attack and though their subsequent efforts are just as fine, it is Blue Lines that still outshines and sets the musical standard for the '90s and beyond. Never have I heard an album mix rap, reggae, dub, pop, dance, club and R&B so homogeneously, that it practically reinvents a new sonic vocabulary. Every song is surprisingly brilliant and authentic with one misstep (I'm not very fond of "Five Man Army"). () While various vocalists are featured on all the tracks, the album maintains its sense of uniformity through the experimental and modern sheen of its sound; keyboard blips, thick vibrating bass lines, piano, violin, etc. are all funneled through a Cuisinart and the results are still truly astonishing today. Keep an open ear for Shara Nelson's haunting vocals on "Safe from Harm", "Lately" and "Unfinished Sympathy", or Horace Andy's reggae warble on "One Love". Blue Lines is highly recommendable; you'll be a Massive Attack fan before the close of the last track.

  • Rolf Dobelli "getAbstract" - Useful look at how electronic and social media are transforming society

    Author Clay Shirky tackles a daunting task: He sets out to explain how new electronic media are transforming society. In itself, that sounds common enough, but Shirky's focus and specificity raise his book to a level of much greater value and utility than its peers. He examines the social nature of human beings, and analyzes how tools ranging from e-mail to text messages change the way people organize into groups. His style is easy, and he tells vivid, interesting and highly convincing stories to illustrate the changes he observes. The result is a book that anyone dealing with group organization and communication should read. getAbstract recommends this innovative work to marketers, social critics, readers interested in human nature, and entrepreneurs who hope to tap into or develop new social structures.

  • R. Anderson - It does everything I need for tracking my finances

    I've been using Quicken since 2006 to track my personal finances. I've always liked their products, and have never had any real complaints about the software. Deluxe 2012 is no different. I upgraded from 2011 with this software. I don't see a lot of changes/improvements, but that's OK with me because the software works, it's stable and once you get use to the navigation and report writing, it's a breeze to use.

    I bank with a small credit union, so I am unable to download my banking transactions automatically into the software. Those have to be manually entered as I make them. However, my credit union only requires 12 debit transactions a month, so once I meet that requirement, I start using my credit cards since I get cash rewards for using them. So the amount of transactions I have to manually enter a month is pretty small.

    I do have my credit cards (currently Chase, American Express, Citibank) set up to auto-download transactions into Quicken. This definitely makes tracking purchases and keeping balances up to date an easy task. Quicken is reasonably good at assigning the correct expense category to purchases, but sometimes it does require manual correction. I also have my 3 Scottrade accounts (one regular account and 2 Roth IRA accounts) linked to Quicken which is nice for keeping track of trades and current balances.

    I also have a car load synced through Chase, and that seems to work fine as well.

    I really enjoy the ability to run monthly and annual expense reports to see what we spend our money on, and which vendors we spend money at the most. Sometimes that can be a bit shocking (hello Jimmy Johns!). Bill reminders are also a great feature. You can set up a list of all your monthly recurring bills with reminders, so when they get close to due dates, the software will remind you. This has saved me several times in making sure I don't forget to pay the power bill.

    I'm an accountant, and so is my wife, so one thing we really like is the budgeting feature. About every 6 months I like to go back and compare our budget expenses to actual and see how we did. This is useful to see if we've been dining out a little more than we should, stuff like that. Keeps you honest and in view of your spending.

    Overall I really like this software, it's been stable, reliable and very helpful to our finances. It does seem that people have issues with it after reading several reviews, but maybe they're using features that I don't, so I don't encounter those issues? Personally the software does exactly what I need it to do and without issues. If you're looking to track your personal finances and get rid of that manual checkbook ledger, this is a great solution.