Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Weight of Silence Heather Gudenkauf

The Weight of SilenceThe Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am giving this book three stars, however, i don't know if I really liked. Confused, me too. I liked the book in the moment, it was an enjoyable read that held my interest, but it won't stand the test of time. Ask me how I feel about it in a week and I will probably be indifferent or won't even remember it.
My biggest criticism of this book is that nothing about it stands out as being memorable, the characters are blah, the story line should be exciting, but its blah, the writing is blah.... You get the point.
Set in North East Iowa, The Weight of Silence tells the story of Callie and Petra, 7 year old best friends, who are discovered missing in the early morning hours of a hot August day. Callie, a selective mute, and Petra are gone with no signs of a struggle and no evidence of foul play, they could have just wondered off into the woods to play together. The investigation is led by Loras Louis, the deputy sheriff, who use to be Callie's mother's (Antonia)boyfriend. Told through the perspectives of various characters in alternating chapters, Callie, Griff (Callie's alcoholic father) Antonia, Deputy Louis, Ben (Callie's teenage brother) and Martin (Petra's father), the story can become a bit repetitive and full of back story that does not add much to the story other than to illustrate Deputy Louis's conflict of interest and introduce a suspect of or two.
I don't think that the author had a plan for this novel, as the ending was really far fetched and we lack motive for many of the characters. And the police work - ewwwww.
Living in Iowa and traveling through the location of the novel frequently I will have to say that the author captured the area well, her descriptions of the bluffs and forests rang true.
This is an enjoyable light read that you will probably quickly forget.

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The One & Only Emily Giffin

The One and OnlyThe One and Only by Emily Giffin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Shea Rigsby needs therapy. I usually enjoy Emily Giffin's flawed but relate able characters, but Shea Rigsby is just plain yucky. Obsessed with Walker football her entire life, Shea spent her childhood volunteering to help Coach Clive Carr, father of her best friend & good family friend, attends college at Walker while working for the football team and eventually lands a full job in the athletic department. Shea's constant hero worship of Coach Carr, her propensity to only date Walker football players and her constant need to spew football facts, make Shea and very unlikable character and to top it all off is her somewhat incestuous relationship.
Giffin seems to be all over the place in this book, tackling a number of issues - which distracted from the main storyline and made most of the book seem like needless filler. Giffin's treatment of the NCAA investigation against Walker was the most off putting, mainly because we see it through the naive, hero worshiping eyes of Shea Rigsby.
While this novel is a quick summer read,it left me with a dirty feeling. After finishing, even the title seems a bit creepy! This isn't Giffin's best effort by a long shot!

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

ARC Review One Plus One Jojo Moyes

One Plus OneOne Plus One by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jess, a young single mother, Nicky, her goth step son, Tanzie, her math whiz daughter and Norman their large drooling shaggy dog need to get to a maths competition that could win Tanzie enough money to attend a prestigious private school. However, like everything in their lives this trip is a struggle. A few miles into the trip the cops pull the family over for driving an unlicensed car with no insurance. Just as things could not get worse Ed, a wealthy techie who has hired Jess as his cleaning lady arrives on the scene. Facing his own problems, he volunteers to drive the whole family to the math competition.
The trip is chaos, full of car sickness, Facebook hacking, food poisoning, bad food and crappy hotels and numerous mishaps - but you cannot help rooting for this little family and for Jess and Ed as they break down their walls and open themselves up to new possibilities. Prepare to laugh and cry this is one of the best books of summer 2014!

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Monday, May 19, 2014

The Last Letter from your Lover Jojo Moyes

The Last Letter from Your LoverThe Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review

This novel was a let down after reading Me Before You and it struggled to gain my full attention as I slogged through it. Split into two books, the first set in the 1960's and the second sent during the present day the novel explores the relationship between Jennifer and Boot, and wealthy housewife and and alcoholic foreign corespondent.
Jennifer Stirling is a wealthy socialite who appears to have it all, when she meets Boot during a dinner party he is at to interview her husband, its not love at first site. However, once he convinces her to give him a second chance the two embark on a passionate love affair. Injured in a severe car accident, Jennifer awakes remembering nothing of her affair with Boot, slowly recalling details of the affair and uncovering his identity.
Ellie Haworth, is a young journalist with career that is quickly falling apart, when she discovers a letter to Jennifer from Boot in a stack of papers in her newspapers archives. Driven to uncover the identity of the two people in the letter and what happened to them, Ellie sets of on a mission that changes her relationships and revives her career.
The first book, is far to long and confusing bouncing back and forth between Jennifer before the car accident and after, often times I had to double check several times to verify what year each chapter was taking place, considerably slowing down my pace and causing me to quickly loose interest in the stereotypical, vapid characters. I didn't like them and I didn't care about them. I didn't not find the love affair or the circumstances around it believable and many of the incidences to convenient.
The second book was much more enjoyable with a story line that was easier to follow and a bit more compelling. However, Moyes novel began to become more stereotypical and formulaic as it progressed leaving me longing for a lot more that it delivered.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

ARC Review The Fortune Hunter Daisy Goodwin

The Fortune HunterThe Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

I have given this novel 5 stars, not because it is destined to be a classic or because it is a masterpiece of writing but rather because it possesses everything a good novel needs to completely draw its reader in. Likable, sympathetic characters, action, romance and a really great original story. I read this book while vacationing, I couldn't put it down, leaving my husband to hike on his own while I holed up by a warm fire and immersed myself in this fantastic story.
The characters and many of the events in this novel are factual, however, there time line has been adjusted to fit the novel. Elizabeth, Empress of Austria (Sisi) did have hair to her ankles, was known to be very vain and concerned about aging, packing raw veal on her face to prevent wrinkles and avoiding photographs. Often compared to Princess Diana, Sisi had reluctantly married into royalty and hated the trappings of being a royal figure. She was know to have several extramarital affairs, have periods of depression and to be one of the best horse women in Europe.
Captain Bay Middleton was also one of the best horseman, having won several prestigious steeplechases including the Grand National, and was selected by Earl Spencer to pilot SIsi when she came in England to hunt in 1875. He too had a reputation for seeing married women and he did eventually marry Charlotte Baird.
This novel is primarily focused on Charlotte and her relationships with Middleton, her family, and SIsi's effect on her relationship with Middleton. Charlotte is a very likable, unique characters, avoiding all things women in her position should have embraced, instead becoming an accomplished photographer (a fictional hobby) while navigating life with her future sister-in-law and her complicated relationship with Middleton. The sole heir of the Lennox fortune, Charlotte must be careful to avoid fortune hunters, looking to marry only for her money. Captain Middleton's reputation and rumored relationship with Sisi have everyone concerned about his intentions with Charlotte, but despite his past and caddish behavior he is very charming and despite everything that happens you find yourself pulling for Charlotte and him.
I recommend this book for anyone looking for a great summer vacation read, lovers of English history and anyone looking for a great story. This is a highly entertaining novel.

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Me Before You Jojo Moyes

Me Before YouMe Before You by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review*

Me Before You was my introduction to Jojo Moyes, and boy was it and introduction! This was an extraordinary tale of two people brought together due to very difficult circumstances. Lou, a very ordinary, unmotivated young women and Will a charismatic, handsome man struggling to come to terms with becoming a quadriplegic. I really hated every character in this book, but Moyes had a way of making me care even though I hated them and eventually she made me love and respect the two main characters.
I knew nothing of this story before I began reading it, thinking, based on the cover and a few quick synopsis's that it was a romance. I'm not a big fan of romance and so I had no expectations for this book, which may have been for the best.
This is a love story, but not a romance. Its the story of two people bringing our the best in one another and pushing one another to live their fullest life possible. Its a story of letting go and saying good bye, a story of facing our greatest fears and coming out stronger.
The novel packs a punch, throwing the reader for a loop and tackling the incredibly tough and controversial issue of assisted suicide. Moyes does so in a way that does not leave you feeling judgmental, but rather sympathetic for all those facing tough decisions. Have your Kleenex box handy, I shed more than a few tears as I finished this novel, but walked away feeling oddly uplifted.
I look forward to reading more of Moyes novels and have an ARC of her latest novel, One Plus One awaiting me!

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Winter People Jennifer McMahon

The Winter PeopleThe Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Set in 1908 and the present day, The Winter People, weaves a mildly spooky and gruesome tale of people brought back from the dead and the consequences. In 1908, Sara Harrison Shea's daughter, Gertie, dies in a sudden accident leaving the mother mad with grief. Recalling a letter her auntie left her, explaining how to bring the dead back to life for seven days, Sara calls Gertie from the grave with many unexpected consequences. In the present day, Ruthie returns home to discover her predictable mother missing and in her attempts to locate her, solves the mystery surrounding the deaths of Gertie and Sara Shea.
The book began with a lot of promise and based on the reviews I read I had high hopes for it, however, the second half of the book was to ridiculous, quickly wrapping the book up in a way that took removed any of the spook factor.
Initially, the novel was hard to get into, the first three chapters were confusing and it took me a bit of time to sort out who was who and in what time period they were in. Once I had the characters sorted out, I was quickly drawn into the story with the initial disappearances of Gertie Shea and Alice Washburn. I liked how the author switched between the two stories slowly sharing details from Sara's secret diary and the search for Alice Washburn.
Beginning with Part 4, this novel began veer towards ridiculous and convenient, with kooky characters such as Candace, Katherine and Auntie the perfectly timed trip to Sara Shea's former home and the Devil's Hand. And then, I promise no spoilers, that darn camera bag!! This book had plenty of opportunities to be spooky, like Sara Shea wondering through town and folks putting out food for her or the sleepers in the woods. But instead it went down a predictable and silly path that destroyed any creep factor.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Un-Remarried Widow Artis Henderson

Unremarried WidowUnremarried Widow by Artis Henderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

***I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.***
Un-remarried Widow is hands down the best memoir I have ever read, and simultaneously the saddest book I have ever read. Summer of 2004 Artis Henderson finds herself working an unfulfilling job, lonely and spending her spare time reading travel books in the library. During a night out with her roommates, she meets Chief Warrant Officer 2 Miles Henderson. Despite describing herself as being the type of girl guys didn't pick up, Miles easily won her over, she liked that he had a job, his easy smile and the way he leaned into listen to her. He was at Fort Rucker for flight school and spent his weekends pursuing Artis, and when he graduated in December and relocated to Fort Bragg Artis moved with him.
Life as a military girlfriend/wife was a hard adjustment, moving to Fort Bragg to Fort Hood and back to Bragg, working jobs Artis was over qualified for and always preparing for Deployment. On July 1st, 2006, three weeks before his first deployment Miles and Artis married on a Florida Beach and than quickly began the preparations for his fifteen month deployment to Iraq. The night before he left as he frantically rushed around their house packing Artis struggled to stay awake, as she drifted off, Miles said, "You're going to feel bad if something happens to me over there and you spent our last night together sleeping."
November 2006, Artis returns home to find the soldiers waiting with her mother in their living room, Miles helicopter had gone down, he would not be coming home. Artis is officially classified as an un-remarried widow and begins a journey of grief, acceptance and healing.
Artis and I are approximately the same age and in her stark, poetic writing she was able to describe so many of the emotions of navigating through your early twenties in a way I could truly understand. Our stories are vastly different, however, I could identify with so many of her experiences. The loneliness and struggles that followed graduation, relationship struggles, career woes etc. In 2006, I was with an ex-boyfriend as he packed all his gear into tough bins the night before he deployed, and I was with him in the armory as the buses pulled in and he left. And I understand the struggle of maintaining a relationship during war. Being a soldier myself, I then waited for my turn to deploy. Years later I experienced giving up my career and home to follow my fiancé half way across the county for employment, struggling to find a new job, filling my long hours alone and making new friends.
I sobbed through more than half of this memoir, pages of my copy are wrinkled and tear stained. My sadness was only a small fraction of Artis's and as I read and sobbed I admired her courage in sharing this story, her raw emotions and her darkest hours. I read some reviews that described the author as cold and detached, I don't understand how a reader could view her this way, especially when her emotions spilled out on every page.
As I was reading this book, I did a google search for Artis Henderson, and amongst the images on my computer screen was one of her and Miles sitting on a concrete floor the day he deployed, she had her had on on Miles knee and the look being shared between them was on of pure love. That image was seared inside my head as I finished her memoir and made reading her story more painful but more real, to see them frozen in time, to see real people touched me very strongly, this is a story I won't forget.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Belle Cora Phillip Margulies

Belle CoraBelle Cora by Phillip Margulies

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bella Cora is an epic historical saga which captivated me early on but sadly loosed its grip as it drug to an end.  Arabella Godwin, born to a middle class New York family in the early 19th century had a wonderful childhood until her mothers death from consumption, quickly followed by her fathers sudden death. With her rebellious brother Lewis, Arabella is sent to live on a farm with relatives in upstate New York, to prevent them from becoming consumptive. It is with this move that Arabella's life takes a dramatic turn away from her puritanical up bringing and begins her journey to becoming one of San Francisco's most famous madams.
Spanning from 1828-1919, Bella Cora gives readers an intimate look at a rapidly growing and changing United States. From New York City, early farm life, the Gold Rush and westward expansion, Civil War and finally the great San Francisco earth quake.
Arabella, in an unlikeable, unsympathetic character right from the beginning. As a young child her drive to be good and to always do the right thing is sickeningly sweet. Once she is sent to relatives her story becomes focused on the injustices heap upon her by her aunt and her cousin Agnes, however, Arabella is almost never completely innocent, often finding herself in sticky situations.  Despite her character faults, she weaves a compelling story and you can't wait to find out what her next sticky situation will be.
The first half of this book is fast paced and full of dramatic situations and I quickly devoured it, not wanting to put the novel down.  The second half, beginning with her arrival in San Francisco slowed, became wordy and full of confusing characters and political situations as San Francisco and Belle Cora's house of ill-fame grew together.  I struggled through this section and had a difficult time understanding Belle's motivations, finding much of it unbelievable and to coincidental. 
Despite the books weak ending I still found it to be a great romp, full of murder, love, scandal and sex.  I recommend this for anyone looking for a light historical novel.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

February in Review

So February flew by, and thank God, I am so ready for spring! But Spring looks like it could be holding out on us - early March and with the wind chill today it feels like 17 below. A great day to snuggle with the worlds greatest dog, turn on the fireplace and read a book.

To start off the month I enjoyed a community theater production of Of Mice and Men, it was an amazing play and the first time I had seen a live production of this Steinbeck classic. I went with several people who had never read the book or seen a movie version so it was fun to see their reaction to the play. Of Mice and Men has always been one of my favorite books, if you have not had the chance to read it, put it on your TBR, it's a quick book but so worth it!

For a month or so my generation 2 Kindle has been acting up and just as I neared the end of Burial Rites, it died. I HAD to finish it that day, I could not wait, so I rushed to Best Buy and picked up a Kindle Paperwhite. It was my lucky day as it was on sale and I got the last one in stock. I rushed home and quickly picked up right where I left off. My cousin mentioned that Burial Rites was an appropriate book to be reading when my Kindle died and then I realized the first book I read on it was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Perfect! I love the Kindle Paperwhite, with the built in light and touch screen. Despite my love of actual books, the smell, the weight, the piles of them around my house, I have been a Kindle convert ever since my husband gifted me my first one.

On one of the rare warmish days in February I slipped and fell going up the icy stairs into work, fracturing my lots of rest, no stairs, no riding my horse....I am taking consolation in the fact that it is really to cold to do anything and that I feel like I am healing quickly. Maybe late March I will be back in action, I hope.

Now, what I read this month (in order from least favorite to favorite) and how I am doing on my New Year's Book Resolutions.

5. Be Safe I Love You Cara Hoffman
4. The Wind Is Not a River Brian Payton
3. The Fault in Our Stars John Green
2. Serena Ron Rash
1. Burial Rites Hannah Kent

As for my New Year's resolution, I tried the young adult genre with the Fault in Our Stars.

So here is hoping for spring and more happy reading!

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Serena Ron Rash

SerenaSerena by Ron Rash

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Serena, oh my gosh, I loved her, despite her cold, calculating, murderous ways. I loved the whole story and once I got started I could not put this book down. George and Serena Pemberton are newly weds returning to North Carolina to manage their timber company, upon arriving they are greeted by a women, pregnant with Pemberton's child and her father. The father is killed by Pemberton and the women, Rachel Harmon, is told in no uncertain terms, by Serena, that she will get nothing from them.
In the first few pages we learn that the Pemberton's will stop at nothing to get what they want. After suffering a miscarriage and learning she will never have her own children, the one thing she wants and cannot get, Serena sets out to kill Pemberton's child with Rachel Harmon.
This book kept me hanging right up until the ending, I had ideas of how I wanted things to turn out and hopes for what would happen, but the ending snuck up on me, it was truly shocking, but fitting. I really enjoyed the authors writing style, the descriptions of the Smokey Mountains and all the minor characters through out.
There were times I felt like I missed something in the book, such as when the doctor and Harris were killed. I didn't need explicit details but felt like something was missing in explaining what happened to them.
The house fire, it sounds like Serena and Pemberton lost everything, yet for his birthday she wears her old green dress. It also sounds like other personal items of theirs were saved. A few inconsistencies such as these through me off, but not enough to ruin the book for me.
I would like a Serena prequel, it would be fascinating to learn more about Serena's time in Montana and why she was so cold.
As I read this book, I didn't see either Jennifer Lawrence or Bradley Cooper in these roles, but still excited to see the film version.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

ARC Review Be Safe I Love You Cara Hoffman

Be Safe I Love YouBe Safe I Love You by Cara Hoffman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lauren Clay is an Army Sergeant returning home from Iraq. Despite experiencing trauma while deployed Lauren is able to rush through her our processing and return home to her father and brother just in time for Christmas. Lauren also reunites with her ex-boyfriend, Shane, best friend Holly and her former music teacher. It is evident from the beginning that Lauren has changed but it takes a crisis to realize just how changed she is.

Lauren had a tough up bringing, her mother abandoned her and her brother Danny as young children and her father was bedridden due to depression. Lauren was the provider, cook and parent forcing her to grow up quickly and learn to hide her emotions. Her relationship with her brother was unique and real. His letters to her while she was in Iraq were great and a nice addition to the book, it brought their relationship to life.

I was bothered by her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, Shane, from the first moments we meet him through the end. I have a feeling their relationship was always dysfunctional. I didn't quite get the inclusion of Shane's uncles in the story, I found them an unnecessary distraction and I couldn't really figure out who was who or if it mattered. I liked Lauren and Holly's relationship, it seemed to be the least strained and Lauren was most like her old self when with Holly.

I had several big issues with the novel however, first how the author tried to make the story a thriller/mystery by leaving out some information and teasing us with little bits of information. Secondly, there were some off little side stories, such as Shane's uncles, their intelligence and failure to leave the neighborhood. Finally, I found the jumping around in time to be distracting and hard to follow.

I didn't like ending, it felt rushed and any problems were solved to conveniently. I really disliked how we learned about Lauren's experience in Iraq and wish the author would have explored that more as well as her connection to Daryl. There were also details that were not cleaned up, such as hints that Lauren spent time in jail or that she could face charges for her conduct in Iraq. These things could have been explored more so we had a better sense of how and why Lauren had become who she was.

As a former female Army sergeant there were parts of this novel I strongly identified with, that felt very real. While I never deployed to Iraq, I have some sense of what it is like to try and transition between military life and civilian life. However, I think Lauren's transition could have been more fully explored.

I received a copy of the novel from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Review of: The Wind is Not a River Brian Payton

The Wind Is Not a RiverThe Wind Is Not a River by Brian Payton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was interested in this book because of my lack of knowledge regarding the World War II battles on the Aleutian Islands, the only battle to be fought on American soil. The book disappointed though, I didn't learn as much as I hoped, the characters were not compelling and the love story fell flat.
It took me a while to get into this book, I struggled to connect with the story, to figure out exactly what was going on. I am glad I stuck it out and finished, the book was enjoyable and it has inspired me to learn more about the Aleutian Islands during World War II.

John Easley is a journalist covering the Japanese take over of the Aleutian Islands until all journalists are kicked out. After the death of his brother he feels compelled to return, leaving his wife with little information about where he is going. Helen Easley, a young wife, is desperate to find her husband, leaving her ill father to join a USO traveling troop and travel to Alaska to try and get any information possible about her husband.

The best part of this novel was Easley's and Karl's struggle for survival on an Aleutian island occupied by the Japanese. Their relationship, team work and self discoveries were this novels finest parts. It was thrilling as the pair, and later Easley alone, snuck around the Japanese, even moving through the enemy camp.

Helen's story was less compelling and to0 convenient. Her ability to join a USO traveling entertainment troop and get to Alaska and to find all the right connections to her husband was a little unbelievable. I didn't feel her stress of being abandoned by her husband for three months with out word of his location and didn't feel like the two were really in love.

The ending and the resolution of John and Helen's journeys was also too convenient and again didn't reflect the love between them or what they had endured. This book was enjoyable and had some great moments, I would recommend for any one looking for a novel about the lesser known aspects of World War II.

I received a free copy of this novel from Goodreads first reads in exchange for a fair review.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars, My Introduction to Young Adult Novels

One of my New Years book resolutions was to try new genres, to experience a variety of books.  I very rarely read young adult, almost never.  I have a few on my to-be-read list, such as,

But for my first young adult novel in a very long time I chose The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  I am not going to write a review of this book because so many have been written already, and doubt I would add anything new to the conversation.  I rated the book four out of five stars on Goodreads.  I liked it, I cried like a baby and I would recommend it to others. 

So will I keep reading young adult?  Yes, I really can't wait for Leonard Peacock, just don't ask me to read Twilight!  So what young adult novels have you loved and what would you recommend?

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Historical Fiction at its Best, Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Burial RitesBurial Rites by Hannah Kent

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Burial Rites is historical fiction at its best. The way the author intermingled historical documents, real people and places with the fictional story was masterful and spellbinding. The characters Kent imagined were perfectly imperfect people, multidimensional people who struggled with their situations, trying to do what was best for them and others. As Margret stated, “no one is all bad.”
Kent’s knowledge of Iceland and its history was evident throughout the book, her painstaking research into Iceland during the early 1800s was very much appreciated and I enjoyed the bits of everyday life, lamb slaughter, meat preservation, haymaking etc. This gave the novel a depth and realism it would have lacked without such detail.
Agnes is the most fully realized and central character of the novel, she was the last person executed in Iceland during the early 1800s, despite her conviction of murder, she is a sympathetic character. I often found myself hoping she would get an appeal, or that her story would end differently. You can’t help but root for her! Agnes grew up as a pauper, shuffling from foster family to foster family, enduing great hardship, loss, cruelty and loneliness. When she meets Natan, she thinks she has finally found someone who sees her and loves her. I wanted Agnes to see Natan for who he was before it was too late, but her infatuation blinds her to the truth.
This book is close to flawless. A few characters are stereotypical, such as Bjorn Blondal and to some degree Reverend Toti, but the character of Agnes was so well done I was able to overlook these characters. And, I really liked Reverend Toti and his approach to Agnes, sure it helped drive the story but he care and compassion for her was so real and so necessary.
I did struggle with the start of the novel, learning the Icelandic names and placing characters, but once I overcame those initial struggles I could not put the book down. The ending was very poignant; I finished it with tears streaming down my face.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

January in Review and a Giveaway!

Did any one else feel like January was the longest month ever? I have been trying to be optimistic about winter, having several motto's to get me though the long sunless sub-zero days. "It can't get much worse", really it can't, once it is about 20 below it doesn't matter what the temperature is, so really can't get much worse! "It is bound to get better soon", this is really optimistic thinking unless you consider late March soon.

This is my first monthly recap, I have been intending to recap each month, however, just haven't got it done. I guess you could consider it a blogging New Years Resolution! My intention is to recap what I read and reviewed, keep you up to date on my New Years Book Resolutions and look back on any fun happenings that month. I also am working on some changes to update this blog, I do have a neat new signature! Don't be alarmed if you see big changes.

I kicked off the New Year with my birthday, woot woot! I always take a personal day on my birthday. as a little gift to myself, so I slept in, rode horse, went shopping, had drinks with friends and the finale was dinner and cake with my husband. It was the best day!
Other highlights include cheering on friends at the Winter Challenge horse shows, way less stressful that competing. Trying two new restaurants in town and learning that I definitely do not like lamb, on the upside I had room for creme brule!
We celebrated a belated Christmas with my in-laws, nieces and nephews, which was fun and chaos all rolled into one! And I got the most fabulous insulated winter riding boots, if any of you are riders and are tired of cold toes or bulky winter boots jammed into your stirrups try the Ariat Brossard winter tall boot. Seriously, the best piece of winter riding apparel I own. I got mine from Schneider's Tack cause they had the best price!

And now, the books I read this month, beginning with my favorite and ending with my least favorite

*After I Am Gone  Laura Lippman
*The Bear: A Novel   Claire Cameron
*Rome Sweet Home
*The Weight of Blood Laura McHugh
*Cover of Snow  Jenny Milchman 
*The Widow's Guide to Sex and Dating   Carole Radziwell

New Years Book Resolutions
*6 out of 40 books read      34 to go! 
*Home Sweet Rome - book outside of my typical genre

And Now for a GIVEAWAY

Enter for a chance to win an ARC copy of Laura Lippman's  After I am Gone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

ARC Review The Weight of Blood Laura McHugh

The Weight of BloodThe Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I debated for some time whether this was a a three star book or a four star book, I think I wanted the book to live up to the hype I had created for it.  Ultimately, I liked this book, it is a promising debut by a talented new author, however, she hasn't hit her stride yet and this is a three star book.

Lucy Dane, is coping with the disappearance and eventual murder of her friend Cheri and the disappearance of her mother when she was a baby.  Despite her deep connections to Henbane, Missouri, the small town in the Ozark's, where she has lived all her life, she feels like an outsider with few friends.  People whisper about her mother, an exotic beauty, who many thought to be a witch.  As Lucy investigates Cheri's murder, she learns more about her own mother as well as her family, and just how far people will go to keep Henbane's secrets.

This book lacked the suspense I was expecting, based on its comparisons to Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl.   I had it figured out pretty early on, leaving the book rather un-suspenseful.  The story was interesting enough and the writing masterful enough to keep me reading, despite the lack of suspense.

The best parts of the novel were the chapters from Lila's perspective, that is where author Laura McHugh's talent really shown.  Lila was a very interesting and complex character and I felt like her story ended a little abruptly, even when we finally discovered how she came to be a missing person.  Her disappearance didn't feel very true to character or believable.  I would have liked to had more from Lila.

The town of Henbane was a very interesting place, its secrets, its crime and its prominent citizens.  Having grown up in a tiny town, I can relate to the secrets the deep family ties and the suspicion of outsiders.  Henbane took this all to the extreme, and I found it a bit unrealistic that all the secrets Henbane held were kept so well.  This book touches on some unsavory topics, human trafficking, exploitation of children, extreme poverty, drugs and dismemberment, most of which Lucy's family or friends are involved in.

I found this book to be an enjoyable read, with some good insights, however, it left me a bit unsatisfied.  I look forward to reading more from McHugh is the future, The Weight of Blood is a strong debut and proves the author has great talent waiting to be refined.

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"You grow up feeling the weight of blood, of family. There's no forsaking kin. But you can't help when kin forsakes you or when strangers come to be family."

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Buy and Read This Book Today I Shall Be Near to You

In October, I had the pleasure to read a really, really great book. It was a book that will stay with me for a long time, a book that touched me as a former female soldier and a historian, one that I will re-read and keep on my book shelf forever and one that will encourage me to research and read about the real women this novel was based on.

I Shall Be Near to You is the Debut novel my Erin Lindsay McCabe and it is available today, January 28th!  I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for a review, however, I will be going to my local book store tomorrow to purchase my own copy in support of this wonderful new author and this amazing novel.  

Rosetta doesn't want her new husband Jeremiah to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they'll be able to afford their own farm someday. Though she's always worked by her father’s side as the son he never had, now that Rosetta is a wife she's told her place is inside with the other women. But Rosetta decides her true place is with Jeremiah, no matter what that means, and to be with him she cuts off her hair, hems an old pair of his pants, and signs up as a Union soldier.

   With the army desperate for recruits, Rosetta has no trouble volunteering, although she faces an incredubous husband. She drills with the men, proves she can be as good a soldier as anyone, and deals with the tension as her husband comes to grips with having a fighting wife. Rosetta's strong will clashes with Jeremiah's while their marraige is tested by broken conventions, constant danger, and war, and she fears discovery of her secret even as they fight for their future, and for their lives. Inspired by more than 250 documented accounts of the women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is the intimate story, in Rosetta’s powerful and gorgeous voice, of the drama of marriage, one woman’s amazing exploits, and the tender love story that can unfold when two partners face life’s challenges side by side.
(Synopsis taken from

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But don't just take my word for it, see what others are saying on Goodreads and Amazon 

I have known for a long time that women served as soldiers during the Civil War, but never researched in much.  While earning my M.A. in history I took several classes on the Civil War and focused much of my research on women's roles during the war, but that mostly covered their efforts on the home front, their role in forming the Sanitation Commission and in various other positions.  I never explored women as soldiers.  I Shall Be Near to You, is based on the real letters of a women, Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, who disguised herself as a man and fought.  You can read her letters and learn more in.....

I just received a copy of this book and have read a tiny bit, but I am very excited to learn more about Sarah Wakeman and her experiences as a solider.  Having served as a female soldier myself, I know a bit about what it takes to serve alongside men and to prepare for combat, however, I cannot comprehend the courage these women had to live as men and fight in the incredibly brutal Civil War.  They deserve our recognition and our admiration.  

I strongly encourage you to read this book, it is truly an amazing experience.  And like I mentioned in my review, I would love to see this as a movie, so long as it stayed true to the novel.  I just want to keep reliving Rosetta's story! 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

ARC Review The Bear: A Novel Claire Cameron

The Bear: A NovelThe Bear: A Novel by Claire Cameron

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anna awakens one night, while camping, to hear her mother screaming. Confused and afraid, Anna and her brother Stick, unknowingly listen as their parents are killed in a bear attack. The two young children leave the island by canoe in the morning spending two days lost in the woods, searching for their parents.

Narrated by six year old Anna, this novel offered a unique perspective on survival and the world according to young children. The first portion of the book, which covers the attack, started off strong. Anna provides a strong background for the family camping trip and excellent descriptions of the events occurring outside the coleman cooler where her and her brother are hiding. Once the children leave the island, the narration becomes more inconsistent, with Anna frequently going off on tangents which muddled the story and made it hard to follow. It was tough to get through this section, but persevere because the ending of this novel is its strong point. The conclusion left me in tears and and boosted my rating to four stars,

The Bear is based on a real bear attack in 1991, which occurred while the author was working as a camp counselor nearby. This gives the story some authenticity and makes it all the more compelling. I highly recommend this unique and compelling story.

I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

ARC Review The Widow's Guide to Sex and Dating Carole Radziwell

The Widow's Guide to Sex and Dating: A NovelThe Widow's Guide to Sex and Dating: A Novel by Carole Radziwill
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I enjoy watching the Real Housewives of where ever after a long stressful day of work, its the perfect mindless entertainment, for an hour I don't have to think and can relax.  Carole Radziwell, author of The Widow's Guide to Sex and Dating, is a cast member of The Real Housewives of New York and one of the more intelligent and least irritating. A former ABC news correspondent and previous New York Times best selling author, I had somewhat high expectations for this novel.  However, it was much like an episode of The Real Housewives, mindless entertainment, just not as good.

Claire Bryne, a thirty something, is a widow.  Her husband, suddenly killed, by a sculpture falling from the sky.  Charlie Bryne, is a well know sexologist and author, best know for his philosophy that love and sex cannot coexist.  We know sex didn't exist in his marriage to Claire, but it never feels like love existed either.  Claire bumbles through her first year of widowhood, anxiously awaiting loosing her widow virginal cherry, going on many bad dates and seeing numerous therapist types.  Nothing really ever happens though and thats the problem with this book.

It started out strong, Radziwell is a good writer, she is able to craft beautiful passages about nothing, it's to bad she cannot craft a plot with the same beauty.  The novel starts strong and I enjoy her talking about how it was a beautiful day when Charlie died, bright blue skies, wonderful weather.  Tragedies always happen when the sky is blue - and that statement feels true.  The way that Radziwell discusses what each person who was attached to Charlie or the sculpture was doing around the time of his death and how all these events came together to ultimately culminate in Charlie's death was fascinating.  Charlie, despite his ego and fame, was one small part of a bigger story of the world continuing to move on.  Once Charlie is dead and all we have left is his one dimensional unlikeable wife and her crew of unlikeable friends and dates the novel nosedives quickly.

Claire Brynes has no depth, she never seems like a grieving widow, only a very shallow socialite who is more concerned with maintaining a social status and landing a new wealthy husband so she can continue to basically do and be nothing.  Her friends are just like her, nobody feels like a real person, the situations they are in are not relatable and the dialogue feels very forced.

I will continue to indulge in Real Housewives episodes but perhaps this will be the last book I read by a Real Housewife.

I received a free copy of this book from First Reads in exchange for a fair review

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

ARC Review After I Am Gone Laura Lippman

After I'm Gone: A NovelAfter I'm Gone: A Novel by Laura Lippman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from First Reads in exchange for a fair review

On July 4th 1976, Felix Brewer disappeared, leaving behind his wife, Bambi, three daughters and his girlfriend. 10 years later, his girlfriend, Julie Saxony disappears and is found dead over a decade later. Sandy Sanchez is a retired police office who works cold cases on contract, after a photo of Julie Saxony draws him in, Sandy sets out to solve her murder. According to Sandy, the name is always in the file.

The novel examines the evolution of the Brewer families lives before and after Felix. Beginning with Felix and Bambi meeting for the first time 1959 through 2012. Bambi and Julie always believed Felix was still alive, Bambi keeping up appearances and awaiting his return, Julie waiting his call to come and join him. The Brewer daughters, Linda, Rachel and Michelle all have unique perspectives on their father, his life and his disappearance that shape their lives for better and worse and each of their experiences effects the out come of this novel.

Initially, I found this book hard to follow, the way each chapter skipped from decade to decade, but once I figured out the authors flow and got to know the characters better, the leaps in time didn't bother me. However, I did find myself referring to the beginning of chapters occasionally in order to orient myself time wise.

I found the characters to be well developed, complex and believable and enjoyed their perspectives and insight into their situations. The chapters featuring Sandy were some of my favorite and his process of solving Julie Saxony's murder was fascinating, I loved the glimpses back into Felix's life and his friends and acquaintances. And ultimately solving Felix's disappearance.

My only beef with this novel was the conclusion, while it fit and made sense, I found it to be a bit rushed, like the author needed an ending and quickly came up with a killer to throw us off.

This is the second novel I have read by Laura Lippman, I have previously read What the Dead Know and enjoyed that novel as well. I will definitely read more of her work in the future.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cover of Snow Jenny Milchman

Cover of SnowCover of Snow by Jenny Milchman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from First Reads in exchange for a fair review

Nora Hamilton awakes one morning to discover that her husband, a respected police officer, has committed suicide. Brendan Hamilton left no note and gave no indication that any thing was wrong leading up to his death and shortly after his funeral Nora sets out to discover why her husband killed himself.

This story line has the potential to be a great thriller or mystery, but falls flat at every effort. Nothing about this story makes sense, I kept waiting to find out why people in this small town had their bizarre secrets, but we never find out why we just keep finding out that people are "hiding" the truth about some really trivial stuff, that ultimately leads to arson and murder.

Nora is an unsympathetic widow and her constant bumbling around becomes frustrating quickly, she never really makes any big discoveries instead runs into the right people to give her what she needs. Constantly reminding us of how hungry she is or what sort of renovations she would do to various houses makes her even more unlikable.

I was really bothered by the story line of Melanie Cooper and her husband, which had nothing to do with the mystery of Nora's husband, however, it did illustrate that the Wedeskyull police department was truly messed up. Dugger was also an odd character, and it was amazing that he was always around at the right time with his recorder recording just the right incriminating evidence and no one ever noticed him, completely unbelievable.

This book kept me reasonably entertained as I waited to see how everything would come together, but in the end nothing came together and the book was just ok.

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

2014 Books to Movies

I don't go to the movie theater often, typically once a year, and I saw Anchorman on New Year's Day. I thought I would be good until 2015 but then I saw this list......
"16 Books to Read Before They Hit Theaters This Year"
So many good books and hopefully so many good movies, Gone Girl, Dark Places, Serena, Unbroken, Wild.......
I have a few on the list I want to read before they come out, The Monuments Men, which could be one of the three history books I pledged to read this year, and Labor Day top the list.
How many of these books have you read and which movies are you most looking forward to?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Soy Sauce for Beginners Kristen Chen ARC Review

I have fallen behind in writing reviews but this review maybe well timed as Soy Sauce for Beginners by Kristen Chen is available January 7th.

Soy Sauce for BeginnersSoy Sauce for Beginners by Kirstin Chen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I purchased this book through Amazon's Kindle First promotion, it wasn't a total waste of a $1.99, but not the best money spent either.

Gretchen Lin has returned to Singapore following her separation from her husband and a sabbatical from the graduate degree in music she is pursuing. She has returned to her families Soy Sauce business that it stressed due to a poor product launch and family strain and to her mother, an alcoholic.

Gretchen struggles to learn and do what is right for her and for her family, however, this book lacks depth and emotion, making it a very superficial look at spoiled, unlikeable Gretchen. Ultimately, I was disappointed by this novel. Many the the scenarios were hokey, predictable and sort of silly. Especially, Gretchen's return to San Francisco and her run-in with the famous talk show host. Everyone she knew had the perfect connections to culminate in a predictable ending.

If you are looking for some light chic lit with stereotypical characters this could be an enjoyable read.

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Friday, January 3, 2014

Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism Scott and Kimberly Hahn

In my New Year's Resolution post one of my goals for 2014 was to read a greater variety of books and at Christmas Eve Mass I received a copy of this book as a Christmas gift, so here it is my first book of 2014, a Christian testimony. *Spoiler Alert* I'm Catholic, so this may not be the most objective review.

Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to CatholicismRome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism by Scott Hahn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from my church as a Christmas gift this past Christmas, I am sure I would have never read this book if I had not received a free copy, but I am glad that this story has crossed my path.

Scott and Kimberly Hahn were passionate protestants and very anti-Catholic, even working to turn people away from the Catholic faith and referring to the church as the "the whore of Rome." Scott had not grown up in an overly religious family, discovering religion while in high school and participating in Young Life. He eventually decides to study theology and become a Presbyterian minister. Kimberly was raised in a very religious family, her father was a prominent Presbyterian minister and her brothers eventually became ministers, her dream was to be a pastors wife and minister along side her husband. Both their dreams and plans were shattered as Scott's studies in Theology gradually convince him that the Catholic Church is Scripturally accurate and again and again comes up with the right answer.

Two issues are at the heart of Scott's research Sola Fida and Sola Scriptura, two very Protestant beliefs. The first that faith alone with save you and the second that the Bible along is the christian authority. Scott presents thoughtful, scriptural evidence to prove that the Catholic idea that faith and works will save you as well that the scriptures do not teach that the Bible is the sole Christian authority, instead, we must "hold fast to tradition, both written and oral." Scott also struggled with the term "the church" continually mentioned through out the bible, what church? He watched as Protestant churches continued to split and divide, and gave the stat that five new Protestant churches are formed each week. Which church was the true church and who had the truth?

Kimberly had the most resistance to becoming Catholic, however, oddly it was her research into contraception that began Scotts research into Catholic Theology. Kimberly's biggest struggle was embracing Mary, viewing Catholics admiration of Mary as a vulgar worship, but eventually through Scripture seeing that Mary is honored as being the Mother of God, not worshipped, but revered as the a sin-free women who was given a great honor and as the mother of us all.

The two things I found most interesting in this book were Scott's research into the Covenant and the Scriptural evidence for the Pope as well as the start of the Church. Scott cites Matthew 16:17-19 as well as the Old Testament passage Isaiah 22:20-22 as Jesus establishing a prime minister of sorts, to guide and govern his church. This also supports the view of the Covenant or the church as a family, led by the Pope, bishops, priests etc. This also support his argument against Sola Scriptura and supporting Sola Verbum Dei, or the word of God alone, the Catholic principle.

I learned about as much about Protestant theology as I learned about Catholic theology while reading this book, one area that really stood out was Scott's discussion regarding the very Protestant phrases, "born again" and "accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior." Two phrases that I personally don't care for and don't understand. Scott's explanation from both perspectives helped me to see both sides clearly and understand why those two phrases have bothered me as much as they have and to see that the belief I have held is backed by scriptural evidence.

This book was a very informative and quick read and I would recommend it to any one wanting to learn more about Catholicism and to develop an deeper understanding of how Scripture gives basis for all aspects of Catholic theology and doctrine. I definitely developed a deeper appreciation for the tradition of the Catholic Church as well as learning a great deal about Protestant theology.

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014 New Year's Book Resolutions

2014 - how did that happen so fast!  A new year and a new age, not only do I celebrate the start of 2014 but I also celebrate my birthday, 34 - how did that come so quickly!  I was looking at holiday cards at my moms house over the weekend and remarked how fast peoples kids were growing up, seemingly over night they went from 3 to 13, and I feel like I haven't aged.  And on a non-related book New Years resolution, I have declared this is the year I must start coloring my hair to cover my grays.  It's funny though, I only seem to notice them in the bathroom mirror at work!!  So tomorrow, new hair color!

And now on to my five New Year's Book Resolutions.....

1. I pledged to read 40 books on Good Reads, I read 34 in 2013, I think I can hit 40!

2. Read more history books.  Not historical fiction but actual history books, this may slow me down in my book challenge but I pledge to read 3 actual history books!

3.  Read Anna Karenina, it has been on my Kindle for a year plus I need to get this read!

4.  2014 is the year of the horse according to the Chinese calendar, so obviously I need to read some horsey books.  Maybe I should read a book while hanging out with my horse.....

"Hey, read me a bed time story!"

5.  Explore other genres, I read a lot of contemporary fiction and I need to branch out, excited to see what I come up with!!

Here is hoping for a productive happy 2014!  What are your New Year's Book resolutions?

Ashenden Elizabeth Wilhide

Ashenden: A NovelAshenden: A Novel by Elizabeth Wilhide

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from First Reads in exchange for a fair review.

I enjoyed Ashenden and found the concept of the novel interesting. Ashenden is really a series of short stories that follow the history, told through its occupants and these connected to the home, of a grand English country home from the time building begins in 1775 through 2010.

The first Chapter of the book, the Cuckoo's: 2010, was a great introduction to the story and I was excited to continue to read about those who had lived and worked in the home and to discover what Charlie and his sister would ultimately decide to do with the home. However, the next two chapters, Stonework: 1775 and A Book of Ceilings: 1796 were a struggle to get though and I seriously considered abandoning the novel. My patience was rewarded in the next chapter, The Portrait: 1837 and several other standout chapters. Butterflies: 1844, The Janus Cup: 1889, The Photograph: 1916 and Hut C: 1946 were the novels finest, with the most fully developed characters, the strongest connections to history and the most emotion and depth.

The author, Elizabeth Wilhide, has written many books about interior design and architecture and her attention to the details of the house are evident, many times through out this novel I found myself busting out my dictionary to look up what things meant and finding examples on line. At times I found this distracting from the story itself, however I really appreciated the authors research into the home. I was also distracted at times when the author used british terms for things, but that made the book more authentic and once I grew use to them I hardly noticed.

i enjoyed this book and would recommend it to those interested in English country living, architecture, and English history.

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