Christina’s Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten ALL TIME Favorite Authors

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is the popular meme created and run by The Broke and Bookish.

Christina’s Top Ten ALL TIME Favorite Authors

The top three on this list are hands-down my three all-time favorite authors at this point based on the books I have read, want to re-read, and have collected on my shelves. It is clear I must really enjoy epic-adventure, historical, mystical, and long novels. Don’t forget to share your top ten (or at least top three) authors of all time!

  1. J.R.R. Tolkien – Hands down, geek out, J.R.R. Tolkien fan. I recently re-read The Hobbit and am so glad I did. To carry out my book obsession with Tolkien, I have also seen and own the extended versions for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and I went out to see The Hobbit trilogy movies on opening weekend each time. (Yes, the third Hobbit movie I purchased my ticket for opening day over a week in advance and in reserve seating) I love Tolkien’s writing style, I love his characters, I love the world he created in his books… I even have his Book of Lost Tales series and Unfinished Tales.
  2. Ken Follett – If you ask me to recommend a book to you, I will more than likely jump to a Ken Follett book. I was first introduced to this author when I started watching The Pillars of the Earth mini-series on television. I stopped the series a couple of episodes in, started the book, and have been hooked on Follett since. I have lent out and bought new copies of The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End books just to ensure I always have them on the shelf. I loved his book A Place Called Freedom. I’m still working through his Century Trilogy and have read Fall of Giants. My next Follett book I will be starting soon is A Dangerous Fortune. He is an excellent historical fiction writer.
  3. George R. R. Martin – Take Tolkien and Follett, combine Tolkien’s mystical world with Follett’s writing style and you get Martin. I am hooked on the Song of Ice and Fire series and am dying for the 6th book to come out. (like the rest of the world) I am one of those people who love the HBO Game of Thrones series, but I get so irked when they divert from Martin’s story-line in the books. He is so meticulous and the direction of each character is so planned and yet unpredictable for the reader… come on Martin, hurry up and release the next book of the series! (And HBO, stop messing with the story line!)
  4. Jeff and Michael Shaara – This father-son duo has a knack for historical fiction. I love their books on the Civil War and have another on the American Revolution on the shelf to read soon. They both carry a unique writing style that brings me into the war and makes me feel like I am witnessing the battles in action.
  5. The Brothers Grimm (Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm) – When I was a little girl, I received The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm from my grandpa. I sat there in my room and read this book from cover to cover. I was fascinated by the stories, the fairy tales, the quality and quantity, the lessons, and the number of Disney and other films who developed movies from their stories. I believe this was the first “door-stopper” book I ever sat down and read. I will always treasure this book I received from my Gramps and the stories contained within by these masterful writers.
  6. James McPherson – Excellent non-fiction writer on the Civil War and surrounding period. McPherson has written a couple of my favorite books, including Battle Cry of Freedom and For Cause and Comrades. One can really learn a lot from his approach to history and advancements he’s made through his research in the field.
  7. Tony Horwitz – Horwitz is a fun and different type of historical non-fiction author. He explores history from more of a journalist perspective as seen in his books Confederates in the Attic and A Voyage Long and Strange. Horwitz explores the countries through the eyes of the historical period he is writing about. For example, in Confederate sin the Attic, Horwitz travels through the southern states visiting towns and events such as battle reenactments to see how history is being remembered today, how it has had an influence on the people through generations, and tells the story of the history he is exploring in this sense.
  8. David McCullough – Another fun and easy-to-read historical non-fiction writing. Many people know him for his work on 1776 and John Adams. He tells a broad history in a fun and succinct fashion. I find I can read his works pool-side and relax while taking in the lessons he is trying to teach.
  9. J.K. Rowling – I suppose I can’t write this list without include Rowling who has done so much for the fantasy genre. Rowling worked magic through her Harry Potter series. Now she is on to writing a new genre of tales. While I was not the biggest fan of A Casual Vacancy, I loved her writing style and how she brought everything together in the end. The Cuckoos Calling was a classic murder mystery piece I enjoyed and particularly liked talking about with the book club.
  10. Gillian Flynn – As twisted as she is, I can’t get away from her books. I look forward to reading them and I blow through her books reading them non-stop. Flynn has a mind she brings out on the paper that I don’t think can be matched by another. Her books leave me thinking “what the f***” and yet I can’t put them down and crave more.

Honorable Mention:

  • Margaret Mitchell – I had to include Mitchell on this list simply because of her masterpiece Gone with the Wind. I will forever treasure this book on my shelf. It was ahead of her time, and a classic that will forever be read and adored. A beautiful depiction of the Civil War, of romance for the ages, of life, perseverance, and lessons learned… Mitchell is worth the read.

pj - christina

Michelle’s Thoughts: Rediscovering Audiobooks

I was going to write about the various stresses of this time of the year, with two major term papers due in just a week and a half. But I figured you all have pretty much heard enough of that by now. :) But one of the things that I’ve rediscovered this week: audiobooks.

I feel like every time I listen to an audiobook, I wonder why I didn’t listen to them to more often. Audiobooks:

  • Are easy to fit in with a busy schedule. I can listen on my commute, even when I’m driving and not taking the train.
  • Technology has advanced! Audible has improved sooo much since the last time I used it, and it’s become easier to pick it up and pause on multiple devices.
  • Are relaxing. Although this can also be a con because I become very sleepy after a while…
  • Allow for the story to be experienced in a very different way.

audibleIn case you didn’t read Christina’s review of The Alchemist, it is our April book pick for our VA Wine and Book Club. I have done a pretty bad job of reading the books for the club lately. Part of it stems from my lack of interest in the specific books, but also because I’m reading so much slower these days. I can’t seem to finish my pleasure read in time to pick up the club book.

My solution for this month? I re-signed up for Audible, taking advantage of their free credit for their trial. The last time I had a subscription to Audible two years ago, I had to download their audiobook manager to play the books and download each book. But now?

I can stream the book from my browser. I can use their free app (but still have to download the book) to have the audiobook play through my phone, and then thanks to Bluetooth, through my car. Each syncs so well that where I leave off of my computer, my phone picks up.

It’s making it so easy for me so I think it’s safe to say that I will actually be able to discuss the book at the club’s meeting this Sunday!

pj - michelle

Christina’s Review: All the Light We Cannot See

Christina’s Review: All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See: A Novel by Anthony Doerr
Published by London Publishers on 2014-05-06
Pages: 494
Format: Hardcover
From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, a stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel. In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr has been on my to-read shelf the past few months (both on my Goodreads to-read and my actual book shelf).  I was lucky when I received this book through our holiday gift book exchange last December and finally got around to reading it. Overall, it was a good book but long, so definitely plan out some time to sit down to this read.

Towards the beginning of the story, the reader is introduced to Marie-Laure, a blind girl who lives with her father in Paris prior to the outbreak of World War II. The story of Marie-Laure and her father is told the same time a different story is told across the country in Germany. This story is one of an orphan boy, Werner, who is led down the path of many other Hitler youth to become exceptional (and relentless) soldiers for their country. Doerr crosses between the two stories of Marie-Laure and Werner during the tumultuous period prior to and through World War II in Europe. In addition to the crossing of stories, Doerr also crossed over time between 1944 and the events that led up to that point in time for Marie-Laure and Werner, which was a nice touch that added to the story build-up and understanding.

The story did have suspense. It was emotional, gripping, and revealing of the hardships and cruelty individuals may have gone through during the war years. Families were separated and were forced to leave their homes. Food was hard to come by for many, and dangers grew to the point people barely left their homes. Soldiers were trained to be machines that took down others who were weaker than them. And through this, Doerr paints the story of a brave little girl who learned the way around her city through the model town her father created for her with replicas of the streets and houses so she can memorize each turn and find her way home.

This book was voted the top historical fiction of 2014 in the Goodreads Choice competition. I have read at least one other book that was on the finalists for this category… Even though All the Light We Cannot See was telling and brought the reader emotionally in, it was not my favorite of the historical fiction selections. I think I took the hype and held the book in too high of standards going into it.

It was a good read, however, and I loved Marie-Laure’s character. She was so interested in the natural sciences, and Doerr did a nice job carrying this passion on throughout the book (integrating 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea throughout, even in the outcome). I also enjoyed reading the story come together and felt my heart race a little towards the end. The book was very well written and thought out, clearly.

In the end, I felt sad… thinking back to the war and the devastation and destruction it may have caused some families. These events can haunt a person through their life… On a personal note, I have the urge to go to the World War II memorial in Washington, DC and sit there in silent thought, taking everything in.

This book was a good read I do recommend picking up if you have the time to dedicate to it and enjoy historical fiction. I do not recommend it for book clubs because I think it is a little long (from experience with book club reads, this can be difficult if not everyone can complete the read in a set time). I gave it 3.5 stars because it was not my favorite 2014 historical fiction, but it was not a bad read. I think this is one of those books I need to ponder on a little more…

pj - christina

Christina’s Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Christina’s Review: The Alchemist by Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist - 10th Anniversary Edition by Paulo Coelho
Published by Harper Collins on 2009-10-13
Genres: Body, Mind & Spirit, Fiction, General, Inspiration & Personal Growth, Literary, Spirituality
Pages: 208
Format: eBook
Paulo Coelho's enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world. This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts.

April’s VA Wine and Book Club pick was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. A couple of the club members have read this book before and enjoyed. When starting the book myself, I met many others who have either read the book themselves (for fun or through school), or who have heard of the book and were interested in talking about it. The book was a quick read (I finished it in my short metro commute over a few days) and it was fast-paced. I am still trying to decide how I feel about the book – I have mixed feelings and cannot decide if I totally liked it – but overall I thought it was worth the read and a good lingering-thinker.

The story has been translated from Portuguese into dozens of different languages (I read the English translation). Coelho introduces the reader to Santiago, a shepherd in Spain who wants to travel and explore the country. This shepherd meets a Gypsy who helps to decipher his dreams and sends him off with his vision of a buried treasure he will find in the pyramids of Egypt. Soon after meeting the Gypsy, Santiago then meets a King who talks of life and this same destination. In pursuit of this treasure, Santiago then meets the alchemist who helps to guide him along his journey. The reader has the pleasure of following this boys journey has he seeks the meaning of life and buried treasure. It is a tale of exploration, understanding, diligence, dreams and of following one’s heart. The end features a nice twist I found humorous and profound at the same time.

If you do read this book, I recommend either reading it on as an e-book so you can highlight and mark pages or buying the book and keeping a sticky pad and pencil by you to mark pages and keep notes as you read. You’ll want to own this book because it is stock-full of life quotes. These quotes ranged from motivational to “follow-your-dreams” and other parts of life.

One lesson I took away to share was to never loose focus or abandon your dreams. The story of Santiago read fast and was almost exhausting as he followed this life-lesson. I am still pondering the author’s intentions with this book… Was it meant to be a satire? Was it supposed to be philosophical? Did he pile on the quotes as a life’s lessons book? Was it just supposed to be a fun read?

I am very much looking forward to the book club’s discussion on this read. I think this book makes a great club pick because it was short and posed a lot of questions that could be answered differently. The book’s ending and purpose is also up for debate. I cannot wait until our April meeting.

pj - christina


Christina’s Review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Christina’s Review: Water for Elephants by Sara GruenWater for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Published by NY Books Pages: 375
Format: Paperback
Orphaned, penniless, Jacob Jankowski jumps a freight train in the dark, and in that instant, transforms his future.

By morning, he's landed a job with the Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. By nightfall, he's in love.

In an America made colourless by prohibition and the Depression, the circus is a refuge of sequins and sensuality. But behind the glamour lies a darker world, where both animals and men are dispensable. Where falling in love is the most dangerous act of all...


I found this book in the library book sale and had heard high raves about it. Naturally, I bought it and added to me to-read list as soon as possible. Unfortunately, I was not a fan of the book…

Water for Elephants follows a man in his nineties as he reflects back on his time with a traveling circus around the 1930s and the Great Depression. Jacob was training to be a veterinarian when unexpected events guided him onto a train carrying the circus to town. Readers will meet many different animals, circus entertainers and the crew behind the circus set-up, the ring master himself, and other wonders of the circus. The circus wonders mix with a little romance, scandal, “business,” and trouble for some. Overall, a story is created that brings the reader behind the scenes of the traveling circus and its people.

To begin, I have to say I liked the seamless transitions between present day and the past circus days. Jacob is in a nursing home when the circus comes to town. The hype behind the circus causes him to reflect back on his time spent with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. This cross between time added another element to the story I enjoyed. In the end, I did not much care for the story of the circus, but I did like Jacob’s character (both young and old). I wish I could have sat there with him in the home and spent the afternoon listening to his story.

Although the book was a fast read overall (I finished it in only a couple of days), for me, it took a while to build up to the main story. Once it did reach its climax, I thought parts were predictable and the story was familiar to others told. Quite frankly, I thought there was too much animal abuse for me to really get into the story and fall in love with it. In addition, I felt there was a lack of chemistry in the romance that was supposed to be building. It felt forced and not natural.

If you are looking for a book on the circus, I would go back to recommending The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. There was a more mystical factor to this book that brought the magic of the circus alive with its characters and drama.

Water for Elephants was not the worst book I have read recently, but it was far from the best. I could not grasp what the “bestseller” aspect of this story was… it was not the best story told on a circus, it was definitely not the best romance love-story, and the ending was unrealistic. This book makes a good fast-read for the poolside or beach, but I would not recommend it outside of that. (I’m sorry!!)

pj - christina

Ellen’s Review: Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

Ellen’s Review: Edge of Eternity by Ken FollettEdge of Eternity by Ken Follett
Published by Penguin on 2014-09-16
Genres: Fiction, General, Historical, Sagas
Pages: 1120
Format: Paperback
Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy follows the fortunes of five intertwined families—American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh—as they make their way through the twentieth century. It has been called “potent, engrossing” (Publishers Weekly) and “truly epic” (Huffington Post). USA Today said, “You actually feel like you’re there.”Edge of  Eternity, the finale, covers one of the most tumultuous eras of all: the 1960s through the 1980s, encompassing civil rights, assassinations, Vietnam, the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, presidential impeachment, revolution—and rock and roll. East German teacher Rebecca Hoffman discovers she’s been spied on by the Stasi for years and commits an impulsive act that will affect her family for generations… George Jakes, himself bi-racial, bypasses corporate law to join Robert F. Kennedy’s Justice Department and finds himself in the middle of not only the seminal events of the civil rights battle, but also a much more personal battle… Cameron Dewar, the grandson of a senator, jumps at the chance to do some espionage for a cause he believes in, only to discover that the world is much more dangerous than he’d imagined… Dimka Dvorkin, a young aide to Khrushchev, becomes an agent for good and for ill as the Soviet Union and the United States race to the brink of nuclear war, while his twin sister, Tania, carves out a role that will take her from Moscow to Cuba to Prague to Warsaw—and into history. These characters and many others find their lives inextricably entangled as they add their personal stories and insight to the most defining events of the 20th century. From the opulent offices of the most powerful world leaders to the shabby apartments of those trying to begin a new empire, from the elite clubs of the wealthy and highborn to the passionate protests of a country’s most marginalized citizens, this is truly a drama for the ages. With the Century Trilogy, Follett has guided readers through an entire era of history with a master’s touch. His unique ability to tell fascinating, brilliantly researched stories that captivate readers and keep them turning the pages is unparalleled. In this climactic and concluding saga, Follett brings us into a world we thought we knew, but now will never seem the same again.

With the final installment of Ken Follett’s The Century Trilogy finished, it really feels like I’ve ended an era (Edge of Eternity is a whopping 1100+ pages).  Within three months I’ve explored the evolution of war in Fall of Giants; I’ve read about the devastation of Europe in Winter of the World; and finally, I’ve experienced the constant fear of nuclear war, the battle for human rights, and the fall of the Iron Curtain in Edge of Eternity.

In short, I loved this book.  If it hasn’t been apparent from any of my previous reviews, I’m such a Euro history nerd and especially for Central Eastern Europe.  Although I’m Eurocentric, the best parts of this book focus on events outside of Europe and the United States.  In my studies – again because I’m a Euro girl – the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War are often overlooked; however, they are such important moments in history.

I don’t like to dive too much into specific moments in the books I review because I want to be as spoiler free as possible.  I am ignoring my rule for Edge of Eternity.  In the 1960’s, Jasper Murray, who is not a particularly likable character, is drafted into the American army.  Jasper is a British citizen, but due to his permit to work in the United States, he becomes eligible for the draft.  During a mission to find out where the Vietcong are hiding, Jasper’s group finds a Vietnamese village.  In the subsequent scenes, the horrors committed by U.S. soldiers are detailed.

My generation may not know many men or women who fought in the World Wars, but many Vietnam veterans can be found across the United States.  Follett makes no attempt to hide the atrocities that took place in Vietnam: the rape of young girls, the torture of civilians, and murder.  The most stomach churning moment of it all was when Follett wrote about officers forcing their soldiers to participate so that no one could claim innocence.  You know it’s fictional story, but U.S. atrocities in Vietnam are not fiction.  For a character that I disliked so much, Follett placed him in a situation that I would not wish upon anyone.  It is hard to imagine Vietnam veterans that we encounter take part in anything similar but some may have.

My problem with Edge of Eternity is that I wish it had been split in two.  When the story begins, all of the characters are young.  When the story ends, each is graying.  Beloved characters from Fall of Giants pass away, and many characters from Winter of the World are ignored.  It became difficult to keep track of characters’ ages.  Being such a long book, there were some stretches that I wanted to skip.  Also being selfish, I want more time with the characters (because forty years isn’t enough…).

Any of these books can be enjoyed as a standalone work.  However, if you are going to read them all, do so in order.  Of the three books, Fall of Giants remains my favorite.  This is perhaps because I find the events of the early twentieth century to be the most interesting and impactful of the century.  Edge of Eternity is a very close second.  Follett is a great storyteller and did extensive research to write these books as accurately as possible.  The series lacks a maturity that older, long-time historical fiction audiences may desire, but if you are interested in history and want major event after major event, The Century Trilogy is for you.


Christina’s Review: I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

Christina’s Review: I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabeI Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe
Published by Crown/Archetype on 2014-01-28
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fiction, General, Historical, Romance, War & Military
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
An extraordinary novel about a strong-willed woman who disguises herself as a man in order to fight beside her husband in the Civil War.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. When Jeremiah leaves, Rosetta decides her true place is by his side, no matter what that means, and follows him into war.Rich with historical details and inspired by the many women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is a courageous adventure, a woman's search for meaning and individuality, and a poignant story of enduring love.

I very much enjoyed the book, I Shall Be Near to You, by Erin Lindsay McCabe. I received this book from a friend for Christmas because she thought it was right up my alley… she knows me too well. (Thanks Cassie!)

I first met the characters Rosetta and Jeremiah in their hometown in New York during the early start of the Civil War. I instantly felt a connection to Rosetta – she was a passionate, strong woman, one-of-the-boys and loyal.  McCabe does a nice job opening the story and introducing these characters whom I instantly fell in love with. The farms needed working on, mending needed doing, and early news of the war started coming into the town… death, duty, honor, and camaraderie. Jeremiah is ready to go into war, and Rosetta is ready for them to take the next step to marriage before he leaves. After their vows are said and Jeremiah leaves to fight for the Union, the real story of the hardships and brutality of war begins, and the evidential love between Rosetta and Jeremiah blossoms and pulls the reader in.

All I kept thinking from the start was “don’t you dare make me cry in the end.” I felt like I was there with Rosetta and Jeremiah in the story. Their love and travels kept me hooked and pulling for them throughout. If there was ever a moments hesitation in their love for each other, McCabe continued to make me fall in love with them over and over again. For example, the lake scene at night (you’ll know it when you get to it)… my heart melted for them.

Overall, I felt McCabe did a nice job keeping the characters’ voices, which allowed for me to stay invested and connected with the story. She also did a good job sharing the brutality of war… it was not all picturesque and romantic. The war was harsh. There was blood, a lot of blood. There were limbs severed off, bodies obliterated, letters that never made it home, and people that were never found. The war was cruel, and McCabe captured these details.

Looking at my collection of Civil War books from when I was working on my MA, I found a few I felt reconnected with reading McCabe’s book. Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! by George C. Rable was a book that really kept the brutality of war in the forefront, like McCabe’s battle and camp scenes. For Cause and Comrades by James M. McPherson is another great read on why men went to fight in the war – the comradeship, duty, honor, letters home and even the desertion and post-traumatic stress that followed. One last read that really resonated throughout McCabe’s read and was clearly well researched by her was An Uncommon Soldier by Lauren Cook Burgess.  Did you know there were women who went into battle and fought along side men… not as nurses, not as camp followers and laundresses… there were real women who changed their appearance – cut their hair, put on men’s clothes, and marched into the camps to join up and fight in the war. These reads are worth the reference before or after you read I Shall Be Near to You.

One last note to compliment the book and a little side fieldtrip I took during the read: I am currently taking a Business of Wine class for fun through George Mason University. We had a fieldtrip this past week to The Winery at Bull Run, where they really do embrace the Civil War and preserve its memory. I highly recommend a trip to taste their wines if you are in the area and touring the battlefields. As I finished McCabe’s book, I needed to think on it some more so I poured myself a glass of their peach wine from The Winery at Bull Run. Excellent wine made with 100% peaches… not too sweet or syrupy like many fruit wines come off. Light, great chilled, and made a perfect glass to allow me to sit back and reflect on what I had just read.

Overall, great book by McCabe I highly recommend for the historical fiction lover. I am so glad I had the opportunity to read this book and reconnect with our country’s past. Enjoy!

pj - christina


Christina’s Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books She Recently Added To Her To-Be-Read List

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is the popular meme created and run by The Broke and Bookish.

Ten Books Christina Recently Added to Her To-Be Read List

I have fortunately received some great book recommendations lately. Thanks to Goodreads, it’s so easy to keep track of my to-read list! Looking at the books I recently added, here are ten I’m looking forward to getting to:

1. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott – This book was recommended by Erin Lindsay McCabe (author of I Shall Be Near to You). Given my love for Civil War history, I am looking forward to reading this.

2. Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas – I read Thomas’ book The Exchange of Princesses and very much enjoyed it. I would love to read her previous book on Marie Antoinette.

3. A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine by Jay McInerney – I was recommended this book by my Business of Wine class teacher to further my knowledge of the wine industry. Looking forward to reading this!

4. The Scorch Trials (Maze Runner, #2) by James Dashner – As you all know, I recently read The Maze Runner with the book club and loved it! One of my friends brought me the rest of the series to check out. Can’t wait to dive on in!

5. The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1) by Brandon Sanderson – One of my old roommates saw I was George R. R. Martin obsessed after finishing his A Song of Ice and Fire series. He recommended I check out this book series if I like Martin – it’s epic, fantasy, adventure. Awesome.

6. Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey by Fred Minnick – This book popped up on my recommended for me by Goodreads based on what I had read and others were reading… it sounds fun, entertaining and like a good casual read.

7. A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1) by Sarah J. Maas – This book is expected to be released May, 2015. I came across it in a give-away and tried to win it (I failed at that). But it seems so up my alley fantasy-wise. I am really looking forward to this book’s release!

8. The Other Boleyn Girl (The Tudor Court, #2)  by Philippa Gregory – I have seen this movie and was recently recommended the book by a colleague of mine. I love historical fiction so added this straight to my to-read shelf.

9. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn – I could not put down Gone Girl or Sharp Objects… I need to complete my Flynn craving!

10. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – This is our April book-club selection so naturally one of the next on my to-read lists. As soon as I finish Water for Elephants I plan to start this one!

pj - christina


Ellen’s Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Ellen’s Review: The Maze Runner by James DashnerThe Maze Runner by James Dashner
Published by Random House Children's Books on 2009-10-06
Genres: Boys & Men, Friendship, Social Issues, Visionary & Metaphysical, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Format: eBook
Read the first book in the #1 New York Times bestselling Maze Runner series, perfect for fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent. The Maze Runner is now a major motion picture featuring the star of MTV's Teen Wolf, Dylan O’Brien; Kaya Scodelario; Aml Ameen; Will Poulter; and Thomas Brodie-Sangster and the second book, The Scorch Trials, is soon to be a movie, hitting theaters September 18, 2015! Also look for James Dashner’s newest novels, The Eye of Minds and The Rule of Thoughts, the first two books in the Mortality Doctrine series.   If you ain’t scared, you ain’t human.   When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.   Nice to meet ya, shank. Welcome to the Glade.   Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive.   Everything is going to change.   Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.   Remember. Survive. Run. Praise for the Maze Runner series:

In simplest terms, a maze is a puzzle.  There might be obstacles along the way, but every maze has an entry point and an exit.  Imagine being sixteen and waking up in the center of monstrous man-made maze.  Not only do you have no idea where you are, but you also have no idea who you are.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner follows the life of Thomas, a teenager who finds himself trapped with other teenage boys in a maze.  Thomas learns that several of the oldest boys have lived within the maze for two years.  They made a home in the Glade, the center of the puzzle, and have built a society run by the laws of order.  Gladers, as they call themselves, work a variety of jobs to maintain this order.  The Runners run each day through the maze to search for an exit and map their findings; the Med-jacks provide medical care; the Cooks prepare food; the Slicers slaughter livestock; and others work in typical farming occupations.

The boys do not live in a normal maze.  Every day the structure changes; the walls move.  Thomas learns quickly after arriving about the Creators, the people who built the maze and observe the boys’ actions.  Gladers hate the Creators.  They provide supplies each week, but also unleash the deadly Grievers, a mechanical, weaponized creature that hunts and attacks Gladers.

After Thomas’s arrival, life as the Gladers know it begins to change.  No one remembers anything before the Glade, but several boys who survived hallucinogenic Griever attacks recognize Thomas.  The Glade also provides a strange sense of comfort and familiarity to Thomas, which was not a sensation the other boys felt upon arrival.  The day after Thomas arrives, the Glade receives its first female inhabitant who carries an unnerving message.  The Gladers soon find themselves forced to solve the puzzle or risk being killed by Grievers.

The Maze Runner reminded me of a cross between Ender’s Game and Lord of the Flies, both books that I also recommend.  I found it interesting how such an innocent game was turned into a fearful habitat.  This is not a new concept – the Triwizard Maze in Harry Potter is another example – but the main difference is that the characters have built a society within their nightmare.

The maze becomes a symbol for all the Gladers.  It represents life and death, identity, bravery, freedom, and manipulation.

  • Life and Death: Runners risk their lives each day to map a way out of the maze.  Gladers fear the maze, and their number one rule is never to enter the maze if you are not a Runner.  The worst punishment a Glader can receive is banishment.  When banished, you are forced to survive outside of the protective Glade walls against Grievers.  Banishment is a death sentence.  No one survives being trapped in the maze after dark.
  • Courage: Entering the maze is a choice.  The Glade, with its moving walls, protects the Gladers each night from Grievers.  When their daily routine changes, the Gladers must find it in themselves to face their fears and fight back.  The maze is fear, but it is also courage.  When Gladers enter the maze, they become a symbol of bravery and hope for each other.
  • Identity:  Solving the maze represents the simplest of questions: why.  Why were they sent there?  Why are they being watched?  Why can’t they remember their lives, parents, and childhood?  The maze has become their identity, and solving it is the only way they believe they can regain all of their memories.
  • Freedom and Manipulation: The maze is manipulated by the Creators, who can control and set new variables.  The Gladers know that they are not in control of their environment, and the maze is a constant reminder of this.  To battle manipulation, the maze becomes a sign of freedom.  If it can be solved, everyone can return to their families and live the lives of their own choosing.  Freedom of choice does not fully exist within the maze, but it represents the freedom beyond its walls.

The Maze Runner is a quick read and recommended for anyone interested in science fiction, dystopias, and puzzles.  I enjoyed the book and plan on reading the rest of the series.  My only complaint is that I believe the ending happened too quickly.  Dashner builds up to an exciting finish, but the events become so confusing and are left unexplained.  I hope that the second installment, The Scorch Trials, will answer my remaining questions.

Christina also reviewed “The Maze Runner” by James Dashner. See her review here.


Christina’s Review: Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt by Mark Will-Weber

Christina’s Review: Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt by Mark Will-WeberMint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt by Mark Will-Weber
Published by Regnery Publishing on 2014-10-20
Genres: General, History, United States
Pages: 398
Format: Hardcover
In the more than two-hundred-year history of the American presidency, there has been one element present in each and every administration: alcohol. In the beginning, there was George Washington, who sold whiskey distilled at Mount Vernon and preferred to quaff a well-crafted port. More than two hundred years later, Barack Obama beckoned some master brewers to advise his White House staff on how to make mouth-watering batches of White House Honey Ale with a key ingredient from Michelle Obama’s beehives.And then there was the matter of the forty-two other gentlemen in between…Journalist Mark Will-Weber strolls through our country’s memorable moments—from the Founding Fathers to the days of Prohibition, from impeachment hearings to diplomatic negotiations—and the role that a good stiff drink played in them in his new book, Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking.So grab a cocktail and turn the pages of Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt for a unique and entertaining look into the liquor cabinets and the beer refrigerators of the White House. Cheers!

I heard about this book when it first came out, and then I saw an interview with the author on a TV news show. I knew I had to add it to my to-read list as a history lover, and tried to get to the read as soon as I could.

Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt by Mark Will-Weber was an entertaining read, and it was a good pick-up and stop read. You can read each president individually if you wish. The book was not designed to be a history lecture. It was fun to learn about the histories of the presidents in a different light, through their drinking, leisure activities and policies related to or involving alcohol during their time in office. The focus was not just on the presidential period for reach president but also included parts of the person’s life before or after the presidency and how alcohol may have had an influence in decisions or events. (For example Ulysses S. Grant’s drinking-focus was a lot on the Civil War period.) Will-Weber also did research into some of the drink recipes the presidents may have enjoyed or had named after them at local bars. There was variety in the writing style and fun stories… I caught myself laughing out loud on occasion while riding on the DC metro.

The book did show some patterns and phases with the presidents and their drinking habits. For examples, Madeira wine was a popular drink of choice for many of the founding fathers. From there, there was a series of presidents who were war leaders and had a Civil War legacy left behind before they entered the office. Teetotaler presidents and activists started to make their way into the book, then Prohibition hit and affected policy and presidents/guests in the White House. As Prohibition came to an end, the drinking stories and presidential habits picked back up. Hard liquor and beer entered the stories more and more.

From this read, I think it would be fun to drink with: Thomas Jefferson (his love for wine and potential for the Virginia wine industry, although he failed at growing wine grapes); Ulysses S. Grant (especially with his cellar of fine wines); Frederick D. Roosevelt (“How about another sippy?” -255); Lyndon B. Johnson (for a night out on the town). As for Teddy Roosevelt and his mint juleps, I will have to try one of these after my next tennis match to attest to its refresh-ness post-court time.  Although, I now learned there is such thing as “pulling a Nixon” and serving guests a cheaper bottle of wine than the one you are drinking…just be sure to wrap a towel around the label when serving to hide this fact from your guests.

I read the book from cover-to-cover, but I did stop somewhere around the middle to start and finish another book. This did not set me back on my read or confuse me. The luxury of this book was that I can be read section-by-section with the ability to skip a president if that is what you want. (I did not) When reading straight through, it can get repetitive at times. (For example, the same sentence on gout and its causes was repeated in multiple sections for the presidents affected) But it was not too distracting. Overall, it was an entertaining read and a different read on the presidents we think we know so well. I recommend having this book on the shelf as a pick-up on the occasion read… the chapters are quick and broken down by different headers. Enjoy it!

I’ll leave you with this great proverb from my Irish ancestors as quoted in the chapter on Ronald Reagan:

“if I had a ticket to heaven and you didn’t have one, I would give mine away and go to hell with you.”


pj - christina