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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