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

From The Pages to the Screen: Outlander Review by Ellen

From The Pages to the Screen: Outlander Review by EllenOutlander by Diana Gabaldon
Published by Doubleday Canada on 2010-12-22
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 613
Format: Paperback
Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another...In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon—when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an

It’s no secret that two of my favorite things include history and time travel (I’m a bit obsessed with Doctor Who), so I’m not sure how it took me this long to read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.  I’d seen Michelle rave about the books and knew about the television show, but somehow it took forever to convince my stubborn self to give the series a chance.  I’m happy that I did.

Outlander follows the life of twentieth-century girl Claire Randall as she unexpectedly and accidentally finds herself in the eighteenth century Scottish Highlands.  Throughout the story you find a blend of action, humor, and romance as Claire learns how to survive in an unfamiliar environment.  Ultimately, she must make the decision between staying in the past and finding her way back to the future.

I thought Outlander was a great read.  It’s a nice change to read a story where the female protagonist doesn’t set out on an adventure to discover romance, but instead, romance discovers her.  Instead of giving a typical review – you can find Michelle’s here – I thought I would compare how the story translated from the pages to the television screen.

Starz released the first half of Outlander in 2014 with plans to continue the TV next month.  The show has remained true to the book so far excluding one major piece.  In Outlander the book, we do not receive glimpses into the life that Claire left behind.  We have no idea whether time has continued onward or whether she would return to the same moment in which she left.  From the author’s perspective, it would not make sense to add snippets from the twentieth century because it would disrupt the overall plot.

The show answers any questions concerning time.  Outlander the show creates scenes surrounding Claire’s husband Frank Randall.  We are able to see the mental struggle that occurs following Claire’s disappearance and learn about Frank as a person.  He is a relatively undeveloped character in the book unsurprisingly because he is absent for most of it.  Instead of Frank, we have Jonathan Randall, who is Frank’s ancestor and doppelganger.

An oft-debated discussion occurs with character casting.  When you read a book first, you develop your own idea of how the character should look and act.  Sometimes your vision is captured in the show or movie, and sometimes you develop an irrational disdain towards the actor because he or she does not match your vision.

This is a very subjective topic, but for me the show falls flat on capturing the characters correctly.  In the show, Claire, portrayed by Caitriona Balfe, looks as I imagined but does not seem to be as strong a woman as in the book.  Sam Heughan on the other hand does a fantastic job portraying Jaime but, in my mind, is not how I pictured the character.

Where the translation from book to screen excels is the setting.  Outlander is filmed in Scotland, so we are able to see the natural Scottish beauty that Gabaldon details in the book.  We hear Highlanders speak Gaelic, we see castles, and, of course, we see wondrous kilts.

In my opinion, Outlander is one of the better page-to-screen stories that I have encountered.  I was so happy with the book that I binge watched the show.  My hope is that the show creators continue to follow the story as true as possible.  With the second half of the season beginning in a couple weeks, Starz has released a couple exclusives.  An important difference that will occur is that the show will now feature episodes told through Jaime’s point of view.  I can understand this need, as Jaime has a complex history, but I don’t want the story sacrificed just to give the lead “hunk” more screen time.


Christina’s Review: The Exchange of Princesses by Chantal Thomas

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Christina’s Review: The Exchange of Princesses by Chantal ThomasThe Exchange of Princesses by Chantal Thomas
Published by OTHER PressLLC on 2015-07-07
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Literary
Pages: 329
Format: ARC
Set in the French and Spanish courts of the eighteenth century, this novel is based on a true story about the fate of two young princesses caught in the intrigues and secrets of the moment   Philippe d'Orléans, the regent of France, has a gangrenous heart--the result of a life of debauchery, alcohol, power, and flattery. One morning in 1721, he decides to marry eleven-year-old Louis XV to the daughter of Philippe V of Spain, who is only four. Orléans hopes this will tie his kingdom to Spain. But were Louis to die without begetting an heir--the likeliness of which is greatly increased by having a child bride--Orléans himself would finally be king. Orléans tosses his own daughter into the bargain, the twelve-year-old Mlle de Montpensier, who will marry the Prince of Asturias, the heir to the Spanish throne.   The Spanish court enthusiastically agrees and arrangements are made. The two nations trade their princesses in a grand ceremony in 1722, making bonds that should end the historical conflict. Nothing turns out as expected.

Before beginning, I wanted to note I received this review from the publisher, The Other Press, which has no effect on my review. This book is set to be released in the United States on July 7, 2015.

The Exchange of Princesses is a historical fiction by Chantal Thomas set in France and Spain, 1720s. The main characters of focus include: Louis XV (to become King of France) and Luis I (to become King of Spain); and the princesses Mariana Victoria de Borbón (to become the Queen-infanta of France) and Louise Élisabeth d’Orléans (to become Queen of Spain).

The story is one of: politics, scandal, love, hope, passiveness, deceit, and a touch of disease thrown in during this tumultuous time of history in the two countries. The Exchange of Princesses started off so politically with the marrying off of children (the two princesses; one of whom was only four years old) and the crossing of the border between France and Spain to exchange the two of them. The children did not seem to grasp the full meaning of this exchange at first. It was so interesting to compare the attitudes of the children with those of the parents during the performance of the exchange.

It took me a couple of chapters to adjust to the writing style (it is a book that has been translated by John Cullen from the French) and to pair out the characters. It may have helped if I had a background in French or French history from this period to help with the titles and small formalities, but after a few short chapters in, that was no longer an issue for me. I found myself enjoying the book and especially looked forward to reading the chapters on the infanta, whom I had grown attached to.

It was startling for me to discover how protected these princesses were from the outside world, which added to the comprehension of the politics behind their marriages off. In one chapter on the infanta, it was noted in her travels that she would cover her eyes from the outside world of her carriage because “[t]he outside world is too ugly.” (61) This line really caught me and caused me to linger for a moment on the page. Leading up to the exchange of princesses itself, it was so ceremonious. Within seconds, it was over as the princesses crossed each others’ path over the border of the two countries.

Continuing the read, Thomas alternated chapters between Mariana Victoria and Louise Élisabeth. Following each character and their interactions with their princesses (soon to become Kings) and their new surroundings, I started to sense the difference in relationship perceptions of the princesses and their future kings. For example, when reading the infanta’s chapters I sensed the child-innocence and the little girl’s infatuation with her future husband and King. She was the youngest of the four (and her betrothed was eleven).

As the story progressed, I discovered the relationships and behaviors were not all that was hoped for in each relationship. Could two people in a political arrangement come to love each other? Would the age difference have any effect? How would these exchanges affect the futures of the two countries? For myself and other readers, did one feel sympathy for the two princesses, the kings, or the couples in general? The story was a fascinating one. Thomas did a wonderful job transitioning between the two princesses and their developing situations. I found myself growing attached to the book as I continued to read and infatuated with how the story would end and what would happen to the two relationships.

Outside of the formalities, the writing was different – more straight-forward and to the story. Whether this was with the translator or the original story, I cannot say. But I found it easy to play the story out in my head and attach myself to certain characters. (I may have almost cried at one point too…) In the end, there was a note on the sources from the author, including the fact that “[a]ll of the extracts and correspondences quoted in this book are authentic.” I appreciated this addition and found the history-lover in me grow all the more attached with the book. One thing I would have liked to have seen, although I do know I had the “Advance Uncorrected Proof” copy that was not for sale, was the addition of footnotes. To see where these sources came from and piece out what exactly were the authentic quotes would have been more enjoyable and helpful for me. Following this author’s note was also a brief history of the main characters (the two Kings and two Queens). I loved this addition as well – it allowed for both a good history refresher as well as a satisfying end to their stories. Do not read these until you have finished reading the book itself or the story will be spoiled.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book. The writing style took me a moment to adjust to, but once I did I found it difficult to put the book down. It was a tale of politics and arrangements, differences in emotions and in how things can be unpredictable and be changed. I have already recommended this book to two friends I think would enjoy the story very much. I cannot wait for the book to be released in the U.S. this July and see what others have to say. For me, it was a captivating, refreshingly different, and a unique read I will continue to recommend for both the historical fiction lover and the casual reader.

pj - christina

Playing Jokers is Two Years Old!

Can you believe it? I barely can.

Two years ago, I was bored with only having work and no school (oh those were the days!) and I wanted something to do in my free time. And so I embarked on this journey that has led to so many opportunities. In particular, I’d like to think that this year I have made closer connections to others in this reading and blogging community than I made the year before. I feel like I have real friends in this community now and it’s wonderful.

This year brought us a new layout, a new co-blogger, and a new contributor! I started graduate school and dealt with some reading slumps. I craved a good series and discussed how I always bring a book with me.

I got to moderate two panels at the Northern Virginia Teen Book Festival and meet with some lovely authors, like Marie Rutkowski and Kristen Simmons.

A photo posted by Michelle (@deckfullojokers) on

And what’s been the best is all the comments and  conversations across the blog and the web.

So to celebrate, I’m hosting giveaways across all platforms throughout the week!

The first one went up last night on Instagram…check it out below:

So the next one is obviously the one for this right here, the blog! (Twitter and Facebook will each have their own as well!)


So for the blog-proper giveaway, one follower can win:


The Roving Party by Rohan Wilson
The Twistrose Key (ARC) by Tone Almhjell
Randi Rhodes Ninja Detective Book 1: The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit (ARC) by Octavia Spencer
A Wounded Name (AudioCDs) by Dot Hutchison
The Red Dragon (AudioCDs) by L. Ron Hubbard

To enter, please follow Playing Jokers (the blog) on Bloglovin’, Networked Blogs, or by email (or any other format I’m not currently aware of) and comment below with which platform you follow on. This giveaway is open to the US only and ends on Tuesday, March 24 at 11:59pm.

Good luck and most importantly, thank you.

Michelle, Christina, Ellen, and Calvert

Christina’s Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Christina’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:

The Maze Runner was our book club read for March. I was not too excited to read the book (not my genre) but I was shockingly surprised and so glad I read it because I LOVED it.

The author did a brilliant job keeping readers engaged from the start. Reading chapter one I was instantly hooked and my brain was working to piece together everything and try to figure out what was going on. It was a mysterious adventure, and I felt as though I was finding answers and making the discoveries with the characters.

The story follows a teenage boy, Thomas, who is brought up in the box to the Glade. The other boys in the Glade, like Thomas, have no memory of their past. They live in this home-environment they created and have assigned jobs and rules to make life run efficiently and keep order. Thomas sets his eyes on the “Runners” – a group of the fittest guys who are quick at decision making as they run the maze outside of the Glade every day searching for answers and a way out. There are some catches: the Maze changes every night; the door to the Glade shuts every day at the same time; and outside of these doors at night the Grievers come out… nobody outside of the great doors during the night have ever survived the Grievers. What is this place? Why are these boys all here? Why can they not remember their past? Are they in prison?

And then, everything changes…

Something about the book made me think of past reads and movies I have seen, including: The Shining, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and The Village. This book was a serious page-turner. My thoughts and questions aligned with Thomas’… there were so many mysteries, I could not wait to get the answers and solve them.

This book was a great science fiction read… typically, not my style with the mechanics and apocalyptic style. However, I very much enjoyed the book Lexicon, and this book reminded of the read and kept my attention. I highly recommend it, even for the reader not so into sci-fi. The author’s writing style and mysterious nature of everything kept me hooked. I give the book a 4.5 out of 5 stars (although closer to the 5 star side than 4). I cannot wait to read the second book of the series, hopefully soon.

Now, onto the movie… I was so into the book I finished it in less than two days. We went out to rent the movie and watched it immediately after. Boy oh boy was I disappointed after finishing such a great read. I had so many images in my head and could not wait to see how they would portray them in the movie. I did not mind at all how they portrayed the maze, the Glade, the Gladers, the Greavers, or even the actors… all that was fine. It was the details they left out or just totally changed. There were too many liberties taken and caused the story and whole mystery and suspense to change for me. I wish I could vent a little more on the details missing, but I am afraid that would ruin the book for others who have not read it. Feel free to email me: to chat more.

Back to the book, again, I highly recommend it. I have a feeling it will be a great read for our book club with so many questions and probably different interpretations that developed. Enjoy and let me know what you think!

pj - christina

Christina’s Review: Beyond Jefferson’s Vines by Richard Leahy

Beyond Jefferson's Vines by Richard Leahy
Published by Sterling Epicure on 2012
Genres: Beverages, Cooking, Wine & Spirits
Pages: 226
Format: Hardcover
For 30 years, Thomas Jefferson grew grapes in his Monticello vineyards in hopes of producing fine wine --but to no avail. Today that has completely changed. Virginia wine now has a reputation as some of the best in America, with increasing sales and more wineries (nearly 200) welcoming an ever-larger number of visitors. Richard Leahy, a former editor for Vineyard & Winery Management magazine, has written the essential book on Virginia wine, covering its history, interviews with the state's top winemakers, and updates on the latest industry developments.

beyond jeffersons vinesI purchased the first edition of this book over a year ago to reference when I was building my website for a digital public history project. I had skimmed the book and read select sections then, but never finished it. When I found out Richard Leahy would be speaking at our first Business of Wine class at George Mason University, I decided it was about time I read the whole thing, and I am glad I did.

As many of you know, I am passionate about learning and sharing the history of Virginia wine. Virginia wines have grown in national and international prominence, and are important to our local economy. The history of Virginia wine traces back to the colonial origins of Virginia. It is a rich history, filling the centuries and impacting the state economically and agriculturally. The history of wine in Virginia is one of failures and progress… after some failed attempts and shattering events such as Prohibition, the industry is now thriving, productive, and profitable. Leahy explored this history and where the industry is today, featuring wineries from across the state and wine enthusiasts who have helped to bring light to this growing industry for the state and country.

Leahy started with some of the history and direction for Virginia wine. From there, he moved into information on how to attend tastings like a professional and a suggested route to follow, touring vineyards throughout the state. Leahy divided the state into its six viticultural areas:

  • Monticello
  • North Fork of Roanoke
  • Northern Neck (George Washington’s Birthplace)
  • Rocky Knob
  • Shenandoah Valley
  • Virginia’s Eastern Shore

Personally, I found the directions from vineyard to vineyard to be an unnecessary addition, but understand others may use these as a guide to trace his journeys through the state from each vineyard.beyond jeffersons vines autographed

A new edition of his book was released in November, 2014… I highly recommend starting with this edition if you can get your hands on it! The state’s wine industry has grown exponentially since his first edition was published in 2012. There are many new vineyards that have opened, and sadly, a couple that have sold or closed since his first book. Virginia has continued to grow in prominence and increase their presence and awards on the national and international stages. In his new edition, Leahy highlighted some of this recent information and Governor’s Cup winners and expanded his research/travels.

I enjoyed some of the fun facts that were presented throughout Leahy’s book as well. For example, I did not know Dave Matthews (of the Dave Matthews Band) owned a winery here in Virginia. Yes, he does! It is Blenheim Vineyards, located just south of Charlottesville. Another personal fun fact I learned is there is a term for two of my passions combined into one real thing called “wiking” – for those who like hiking and wine! How did I not know there was a larger group out there in Virginia who enjoy “wiking” like me… this book exposed me to a new world!

I do recommend this book for anyone interested in the wine industry, especially the growing Virginia industry. If you are looking to map out a summer plan, vacation to the east coast/Washington, DC, or just looking for a day-escape in the beautiful Virginia countryside, definitely check out this book. For the history lover, the first few chapters touch on the history of wine in the state. (my personal favorite) Cheers!

pj - christina

Christina’s Ten Books for Readers Who Like the Civil War

Top Ten Tuesday

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

Ten Books for Readers Who Like the Civil War

With a background in early American history, the Civil War was one of my favorite subjects to study and read about. I have compiled a list of a couple of fiction books along with non-fiction reads for the reader who loves the Civil War and history:

  1. This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust – One of my favorite books on the Civil War. Sounds morbid (and the book is) but I highly recommend it and have passed this book along to multiple friends. It is brutal, shows the disease and deaths behind the war, and is a must-read to truly understand the effects the war had on the men who fought, their families, and the country.
  2. Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! by George C. Rable – Love this book. I may be bias since I grew up just across the river from Fredericksburg in Stafford. The writing style, again, is vivid and sickening at times. Rable focused on the conditions of the soldiers prior to war, the monotony in camps and waiting for battle; he moved onto the battle itself; finally he looked at the aftermath of the war… the psychological effects on the soldiers and the physical. Worth the read.
  3. Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson – You cannot avoid reading James McPherson when you study the Civil War. I will argue this book is another one of the best to read on the war. McPherson started with the Mexican-American war’s end and continued through the events of the Civil War. It is a long book, but a great event-by-event read on the outbreak and events during the Civil War.
  4. For Cause & Comrades by James McPherson – Great short read (and another by McPherson). In this one, McPherson looked at why men fought in the war as revealed through letters and diary entries. It is a unique and deep approach to what was going on in soldiers’ minds and why they risked their lives to fight for their country, their brothers, and the cause.
  5. Deliver Us From Evil by Lacy K. Ford – I apologize that at least three of these books I recommend are what we call “door-stoppers”… they’re thick, heavy books (and ones I recommend reading the book itself and not on an e-book reader or you’ll get fatigued). Ford focused on the slavery question in the South prior to war and how it led to the outbreak of the Civil War. The lower south and the upper south’s slavery debates differed from each other. The slavery question went back to the Continental Congress and forming of the nation. It is a rich and diverse history, different depending where you were in the south… keep sticky notes by you for this book.
  6. The Impending Crisis by David M. Potter – Copyright 1976 and still a relevant read. Potter was ahead of his time as he looked at the causes of the Civil War from the year 1848 to 1861. This book is highly referenced and one every Civil War historian must read.
  7. Lincoln’s Sanctuary by Matthew Pinsker – This book is a little different than typical Civil War reads. It looks at the personal life of Lincoln and his escape to the Soldier’s Home in Washington, DC . I reviewed this book here, so you can read more about it. I recommend it for the reader looking for a more intimate approach to the life of the Civil War president. (A trip to the Soldier’s Home following the read is also highly recommended!)
  8. The Approaching Fury by Stephen B. Oates – This is a fun read because it puts voices to those names one reads about all the time during the Civil War. It is almost like a first-person perspective of the events leading up to the war and causes to the outbreak. Readers can follow speakers like: Thomas Jefferson, Henry Clay, Nat Turner, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Jefferson Davis. It is a different read and a fun take on the causes of war.
  9. Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara – Another fictional “first-person” story on the war. Have you seen the movie “Gods and Generals”? Well, here is the story it was based on. Shaara followed the leaders of the war (Lincoln, Jackson, etc). It’s a great historical fiction read for those who love the Civil War’s history.
  10. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara – Michael was Jeff’s father. They shared a passion and wonderful style for writing, as evident in their two books. Killer Angels was a great read on the battle of Gettysburg and events that took place as told through the perspective of key players. Another great historical fiction read I highly recommend!

pj - christina

Michelle’s Review: September Girls by Bennett Madison

Michelle’s Review: September Girls by Bennett MadisonSeptember Girls by Bennett Madison
Published by HarperCollins on 2013-05-21
Genres: Adaptations, Dating & Sex, Fairy Tales & Folklore, General, Legends, Myths, Fables, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
In September Girls, Sam is spending the summer in a beach town filled with beautiful blond girls who all seem inexplicably attracted to him. But that’s not the only reason why he thinks the Girls are strange. They only wear flats because heels make their feet bleed. They never go swimming in the water. And they all want something from him. Sam finds himself in an unexpected summer romance when he falls for one of the Girls, DeeDee. But as they get closer, she pulls away without explanation. Sam knows that if he is going to win her back, he’ll have to learn the Girls’ secret. Bennett Madison, author of The Blonde of the Joke, brings a mix of lyrical writing, psychologically complex characters, and sardonic humor to this YA coming-of-age novel about first love…and mermaids.

How I came to own and read this book: I went to a local author event, where there was a panel of four authors. Bennett Madison was one of the authors. I was interested in all the authors’ works so I bought one copy of each of their books. I got them personally signed. They then sat on my shelf for almost two years for no good reason. I have finally started reading them, with varying levels of enjoyment.

What I thought before I started: I had thought the premise sounded interesting during the author event, but then when I went on Goodreads and saw some of the reviews of other friends and readers, I was shocked. Many did not enjoy the book at all, not finishing it, critiquing it harshly for being misogynistic, too crude, etc. I was dismayed that I had already bought the book and had it signed because after those reviews, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read it. However, I decided to go into with as much of an open mind as I could given that I had already read other reviews.

What I thought after I finished: It has been so cold that it was nice to escape to the beach. I could really picture the beach, the weather, the sense of summer. It was fantastic.

I was at first very shocked by the presence and sheer quantity of curse words in the book, but decided that it was authentic given the point of view. However, I would say that while authenticity creates an original voice in a book, perhaps the cursing could have been less dramatic. While it is completely common for others to curse as much as Sam, the main character did, it’s not really that fun to read.

While I understand people’s thoughts on the misogyny or the cursing in this book, neither bothered me. I didn’t quite agree with the former and the latter felt realistic to me. Now whether it was necessary or appropriate for a book that was pitched as young adult is another question, one I don’t have an answer to myself.

I would venture to say that this is not really a young adult book. The main character is a young adult, but I don’t think it’s a young adult book in the way that others are. It is perhaps better suited for ‘new adult’ or whatever.

My main complaints are not related to either of the above points. I just wanted to understand what was going on. Who were The Girls? What was the curse? What happened to Kristle? What happened to DeeDee? I read it all, and perhaps there were explanations within some of the more poetic pieces, but I couldn’t grasp at it myself. Which is unfortunate because I did want to like it more.

pj - michelle