Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My take on: Liar Temptress Soldier Spy

Narrative non-fiction is usually a tough one for me. I've given it a try many times only to not finish. Thankfully, that's not the case here. Liar Temptress Soldier Spy by Karen Abbott is the tale of four women, each of whom played a pivotal role in the Civil War.

Teenager Belle Boyd boldly shot a Union soldier, eventually becoming a spy for the Confederate army.

Emma Edmonds became a master of disguise, enlisting as a Union soldier named Frank Thompson.

Widowed Rose O'Neal Greenhow was a well-connected Southerner who used her own daughter to deliver messages to the Confederate army.

Elizabeth Van Lew is so repulsed by slavery, she's become a staunch abolitionist--even against the beliefs of her some of her family members.

The Civil War was not America at it's finest. I find books on this time period to be dry and boring. But Karen Abbott manages to make this topic interesting with a hint of mystery. I found Emma's story the most compelling. I'm not trying to be mean, but she didn't look overly feminine or overly masculine. I can see how she managed to fool people. Imagine trying to keep a secret like that. President Lincoln put out the call for volunteers. Emma felt it was not just her patriotic duty but her religious duty to serve. She believed in helping others. No mission was too big or too small, even becoming a Pinkerton spy.

This whole book reads like fiction. Each chapter you want to know more. Each chapter you want to know how these women inserted themselves into history. At the time, they were doing things that went against what was considered normal for women. Rather than being ladies of leisure, they become ladies of espionage. Rather than waiting for the men to come home from war, they jumped into the fray. Rose openly hide coded messages in her home, clothing, and many other places. Even in prison, still found a way to spy on her Union captors--using her daughter as a courier. Elizabeth built a large network of spies, even planting a former slave, who could read, at the Southern White House. She proved to be a valuable piece, relaying information from top secret documents. Each woman played a part. Whether they were right or wrong, each of these women were very passionate about their causes and that shines through in Karen Abbott's engrossing narrative.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Harper Perennial) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.

Monday, August 31, 2015

My take on: The Girl on The Train

Ok, this is take two for this review. Blogger was going through some growing pains last night. I worked on my post for more than an hour, saved several times, hit post.....only to lose everything I had written. I just didn't feel like starting from scratch last night. I'm giving it another go today.

Onto the business at hand!

I jumped on the bandwagon. I read another popular book that is setting the publishing world on fire. The last time I read a popular book, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, I was deeply disappointed. I loved the movie adaptation of Gone Girl, but I hated the book. I thought the same thing would happen with The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. While the movie won't be out for at least another year, I was pleasantly surprised by the book.

After reading more than half of the book, I was debating giving up on it. Why? This is a book full of unreliable characters. But ..... as a whole this was a good book.

Rachel Watson is the girl on the train. Everyday Rachel rides the early morning train. Everyday she rides the train to escape from reality. Everyday she rides the train past her old neighborhood. Everyday she rides the train she is reminded of her failed marriage, and of her ex-husband's new life. But everyday she rides the train, Rachel gets a glimpse into the lives of a young couple. A young couple she doesn't know, but wishes she could. In her head, this young couple is happy. Their names are "Jess" and "Jason." Rachel lives vicariously through this young couple. But one day "Jess" shatters the fantasy. She has an affair. How can "Jess" do this to "Jason?" Weeks later things take a turn for the worse when "Jess" disappears. Did Jason have something to do with it? No, that can't be. The man "Jess" was having an affair with has to be at fault! Rachel has to go to the police. She has to tell the police what she saw. But will they believe her? Highly unlikely. Why? Rachel is a hopeless alcoholic.

When she's not riding the train, Rachel is drowning herself in alcohol. She's been fired from job. Her roommate/landlord is on the verge of evicting Rachel. Her ex-husband, Tom, and his new wife, Anna, think Rachel is a pathetic, drunk, stalker. When Rachel is coherent enough, she phones Tom constantly and shows up at his home, frightening Anna. The deck is stacked heavily against Rachel. Who would believe anything she says? I certainly didn't. I found Rachel to be extremely annoying and whiny. I wanted her to just grow a backbone. Every chapter was just more of the same. Every time I thought she got her act together, Rachel would just get drunk all over again.

Fortunately the book offers more than just Rachel's perspective. We also get to hear from Anna and Megan Hipwell a.k.a "Jess." Anna isn't the greatest character. She had an affair with a married man, leading to the end of Tom and Rachel's marriage. She's in constant fear of Rachel, but I didn't really care. Morally, Anna just didn't have a leg to stand on. Megan on the other hand, was a slightly interesting character. We learn that Megan and her husband, Scott a.k.a. "Jason," have a troubled marriage. Scott thinks therapy for Megan will save their marriage. It works and it doesn't work, if that makes sense. Megan was hiding big secrets, she lets some of those out. She feels better about herself but not her marriage. She doesn't know what to do with her life. When she disappears, suspicion falls on Scott. But reading the book, you know that's just too easy. 

Rachel alone almost made me give up on this book. But I kept going. I wanted to know what happened to Megan. There had to be more to the story. None of the characters has any redeeming qualities, but there was just enough to hold my attention. If you're struggling with this one, keep reading. The ending will be worth it. Hopefully, the movie will be even better!

Rating: As a whole, Superb! The first 60-70 percent, Meh.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Mini review: The Nightingale

According to my Goodreads account, I started reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah on January 19 and finished on August 10. Seven months to finish a book? It shouldn't take that long. But I made the mistake of starting this book the week before my final semester of grad school. Once school started, reading for pleasure took a backseat.

Although.....I did manage to finish other books because of blog tours. I picked up The Nightingale, put it down, picked it up, put it down, picked up, put it down. It's not because I didn't like the book. From January until the end of April, my free time was scarce. After that, I was catching up on sleep and the mountain of shows on my DVR! But I was determined to finish this book. It takes place during World War II and I love historical fiction.

Two sisters, one conservative and controlled the other a free spirit who won't be contained. At the height of the war, both will be put the test, risking not just their freedom but their lives. Viann's husband, Antoine, is a soldier, fighting against the Germans trying to take over France. In Antoine's absence, Viann has to be both a mother and a father to their daughter, Sophie. She doesn't have time to deal with her wayward sister, Isabelle. The Nazi's are overtaking the small town of Carriveau. Food is scarce. The town is in shambles. Not a good time for Isabelle to get kicked out of yet another school, or to bring her ideas of a "Free France" to town.

Viann is forced to house a Nazi soldier in her home. It's the only way Viann can keep her home and her family safe. Isabelle disagrees. Isabelle wants to do more than just sit back and live according to the rules set by the Nazis. There has to be a way to fight back. But fighting back can put her life at risk. She has to leave Viann and Sophie. She has to help others. Neither sister believes in what the other is doing. Both sisters believe that the other is wrong. Neither sister wants to back down.

While this is a fictional story, The Nightingale is based in reality. It's well-researched. The book shows that Isabelle is more than just a wayward, fly-by-the-moment woman. She has a good heart. Viann is stronger than she realizes. She does whatever it takes to hold her family together. It's a story of love and family and the ties that hold us together. Definitely a book worth reading!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (St. Martin's Press) in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Mini hiatus!

I know.....I have not posted in a while. I was away on vacation. But I'm back now and will start posting reviews again this weekend.

What reviews are coming up?

Yes, I have jumped on the bandwagon. I'm reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Halfway through the book, this is falling in the Gone Girl category. What do I mean? I'm not liking the book. Rachel, the main narrator, is getting on my nerves. But....I hear this is going to be made into a movie. Like Gone Girl, I think this will make a better movie. I have a little more than 100 pages left. If the ending knocks my sock off, I might change my mind but I don't have high hopes.

I finished The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah two weeks ago. and it was great. But my review might be short. I started it in January....when I was still in grad school. So, I put it down, picked it up, put it down, picked it up, read other books. You get the picture. But I was determined to finished The Nightingale. My memory of the book from start to finish might be a little fuzzy, that's why my review will be short.

Time to step out of my comfort zone! I'm reading a graphic novel, Blankets by Craig Thompson. As an intern for a children's publisher, I did read a short one. But Blankets is the first graphic novel I'm reading on my own.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Time for a giveaway!!

It's summertime! It's time to stock up on some great books!

Make sure to put The Idea of Love by Patti Callahan Henry on your reading list. Thanks to Sullivan and Partners, I have one finished copy available for giveaway. This is open to U.S. and Canada residents only. Simply leave a comment below and that's it! One winner will be selected at random on July 31. Happy reading!

Book description:
The Idea of Love is a duplicitous and compelling story of love lost and found in unexpected places and is praised by New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank as "so wonderful I wish I had written it myself...This is a huge winner--no lie!"
A Nicholas Sparks-esque screenwriter lacking inspiration in the wake of his divorce, Blake is desperately in search of a love story beautiful enough to translate into big screen success. Disguising himself as a travel writer, he treks down the east coast to sleepy southern Watersend in search of a love story he can borrow. When he speaks with the young and beautiful Ella Flynn, he's convinced he has his screenplay: Ella's beloved husband died saving her life. It's the perfect love story for his audiences...and it's also a lie. 

Reeling from the shock of her very much alive husband's affair, Ella is lost. When she speaks to Blake and dismisses him as a stranger she'll never see again, she creates the life she wants and paints herself as a successful wedding dress designer recovering from her saintly husband's sacrificial death.

Drawn to each other's lies and grappling with their flawed understandings of love, Ella and Blake's chance meeting gradually leads to more encounters and a larger web of deceit. As Blake and Ella bind themselves tighter with the lies they tell, the inevitable unraveling of their stories will end as neither imagined.
Patti Callahan Henry is a New York Times bestselling storyteller of eleven books, including The Stories We Tell, Between the Tides, and Driftwood Summer. Patti lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama with her husband and three children, where she is crafting her next story.

Friday, July 24, 2015

My take on: Orphan #8

Imagine yourself as a scared 4-year-old girl.

Your mother is dead.

Your father abandoned you and your brother.

You and your sibling are sent to separate orphanages.

Unfortunately, one of the "orphanages" is really just a front for a doctor to turn young kids into human guinea pigs.

You survive the horrors of the orphanage.

You become an adult.

As fate would have it, you cross paths with your tormentor. If given the chance, would you take a shot at revenge? Or would you learn to forgive? Nurse Rachel Rabinowitz is faced with that tough decision in Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemade.

It's beyond disgusting to think doctors would use children for their medical experiments, but it happened. The Hebrew Orphan Asylum opened in the late 1800s and closed in 1941. Author Kim van Alkemade used the real-life experiences to create an engrossing piece of fiction.

In an instant, Rachel Rabinowitz and her brother, Sam, lose everything. Their parents, Visha and Harry, were once a happy couple. Harry paints himself as a family man, but when his lies are exposed they have deadly consequences. Rachel is deeply attached to her parents. She's deeply attached to Sam. The family knows how to calm her down. The family knows how to show her love. What will happen when all of that is taken away. A social worker tried her best to to keep the kids together, but to no avail. The orphanage Rachel is sent to is nothing but a sham. Each child that comes in is just another test subject, yet the outside world doesn't know what's really going on.

Rachel went in healthy, but came out scarred physically, mentally, and emotionally. When she ages out of the home, and is reunited with Sam at another orphanage, Rachel's life isn't much better. As an adult, she seems to have it together. She becomes a nurse, working at a rest home. As fate would have it, Dr. Mildred Solomon -- the leader of all the experiments -- ends up as one of Rachel's patients. At first glance, Rachel isn't sure who the doctor is but can't shake the feeling that she knows this person. When she knows for sure, Rachel is faced with a tough choice. Revenge? Or forgiveness?

The book alternates between the past and present. The book slows down a little, when veering off to Rachel's love life. The book still would have been good without it. Some parts were hard to read. Some parts made me mad. My modern brain can't fathom incidents like this. But I'm a fan of historical fiction, so of course I kept going. It's an emotional roller coaster, but it's worth it. Start reading!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Please welcome Alexandra Burt !!

 Today Alexandra Burt, author of Remember Mia, is stopping by for a guest post, writing about her fascination with memories and their importance.                                                            
                                               On Forgetting: by Alexandra Burt

    Insomnia haunts me at night. Some people count sheep, others read, but I choose to summon the past; in my mind I visit my childhood room again—a small recessed bookshelf, underneath a crooked stack of board games, a record player and my beloved collection of fairy tale vinyl’s, psychedelic pink and red wallpaper with oval interlaced shapes.

     Fascinated with memories, I have always been able to recall glimmers, mere match strikes in the dark, illuminating the world for a short moment in time. I told my mother once that I remembered my crib—sideways in front of a large window, facing away from the door—and that my world was bathed in shades of pastel colors and fuzzy edges, and grown-ups leaning over me, making silly faces. I have memories of my great-grandfather sitting in a wingback chair by the window. According to his headstone he died days after my first birthday.

     No way, says science. There is ‘childhood insomnia,’ and the gist of it is that we can’t remember much, if anything, from before the age of three. The older we get, the hazier memories become and by the age of ten very few of them remain. On one hand my mother confirmed the crib story, on the other hand I have to agree that there’s so much that goes into memories in order for them to survive—seasons, days of the week, physical locations, relations to the people around us—that I couldn’t have grasped at such a young age. But how is it that I so vividly recall the old springy couch covered in a knobby fabric, and my father lifting me unto my great-grandfather’s lap where I cried with fear?

     Memories are at the very center of my writing and I have often wondered why that is, especially because my stories are not so much a conscious decision as they are subject to organic development. As I plotted Remember Mia—a story of a mother who is unable to explain her daughter’s disappearance—I decided to take it to the highest level of suspense and the ultimate eraser of all memory; amnesia. The mother holds the key to what happened to her baby but she doesn’t know whether she is responsible. With the help of a psychiatrist she attempts to solve the puzzle that is her missing daughter.

     But what about my own memories? I refuse to believe that they are imagined, after all, wouldn’t I lose part of myself? I prefer to be a curator of sorts, tending to them, so they remain. Maybe our entire life is nothing but a kaleidoscope of isolated moments: finger painting, hanging upside down from monkey bars, and scratchy tights on Sunday mornings. Science is one thing, my persistent mind another. And tonight, after the house goes quiet and dark, like the mother in Remember Mia, I will descend, once again, down into the mine and bring up sparkly jewels that are my past.

     After all, we are, in a way, just the sum of our memories.
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