Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category:

Christina’s Review: The First Emancipator by Andrew Levy

Christina’s Review: The First Emancipator by Andrew LevyThe First Emancipator by Andrew Levy
Published by Random House on 2005
Genres: Colonial Period (1600-1775), History, Revolutionary Period (1775-1800), United States
Pages: 310
Format: Hardcover
Robert Carter III, the grandson of Tidewater legend Robert “King” Carter, was born into the highest circles of Virginia's Colonial aristocracy. He was neighbor and kin to the Washingtons and Lees and a friend and peer to Thomas Jefferson and George Mason. But on September 5, 1791, Carter severed his ties with this glamorous elite at the stroke of a pen. In a document he called his Deed of Gift, Carter declared his intent to set free nearly five hundred slaves in the largest single act of liberation in the history of American slavery before the Emancipation Proclamation.How did Carter succeed in the very action that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson claimed they fervently desired but were powerless to effect? And why has his name all but vanished from the annals of American history? In this haunting, brilliantly original work, Andrew Levy traces the confluence of circumstance, conviction, war, and passion that led to Carter's extraordinary act.At the dawn of the Revolutionary War, Carter was one of the wealthiest men in America, the owner of tens of thousands of acres of land, factories, ironworks–and hundreds of slaves. But incrementally, almost unconsciously, Carter grew to feel that what he possessed was not truly his. In an era of empty Anglican piety, Carter experienced a feverish religious visionthat impelled him to help build a church where blacks and whites were equals. In an age of publicly sanctioned sadism against blacks, he defied convention and extended new protections and privileges to his slaves. As the war ended and his fortunes declined, Carter dedicated himself even more fiercely to liberty, clashing repeatedly with his neighbors, his friends, government officials, and, most poignantly, his own family.But Carter was not the only humane master, nor the sole partisan of freedom, in that freedom-loving age. Why did this troubled, spiritually torn man dare to do what far more visionary slave owners only dreamed of? In answering this question, Andrew Levy teases out the very texture of Carter's life and soul–the unspoken passions that divided him from others of his class, and the religious conversion that enabled him to see his black slaves in a new light.Drawing on years of painstaking research, written with grace and fire, The First Emancipator is a portrait of an unsung hero who has finally won his place in American history. It is an astonishing, challenging, and ultimately inspiring book.

I am embarrassed for how long it has been since my last book review and for how long it took me to get through this last book. I have clearly not been on my A-game! However, I am back at it…

I just finished a book I was recommended: The First Emancipator: the Forgotten Story of Robert Carter the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves by Andrew Levy. I loved the history in the book and the relevance to my work in the Northern Neck at a founding father’s home. In addition, my graduate research focused on freedom suits brought forth by slaves against their masters around the late 18th and early 19th centuries in select Virginia counties. I was looking forward to potential connections I could make from this book and the motivating factors from the period that caused slave owners to emancipate their slaves and the reactions of those surrounding them. I was hoping this book would give me more insight on why Robert Carter made the decisions he did. In the synopsis of the book, Levy noted Carter’s act was “the largest single act of liberation in the history of American slavery before the Emancipation Proclamation.” Carter was a leader… what made him different over other slave owners of the time?

Levy’s book read more as a biography than a thesis-centered piece. Levy began with a background on Carter’s family, from his father, Robert “King” Carter, to his wife and children. He also added interesting insights on the family as recorded by Philip Vickers Fithian, the family’s tutor. (Whose journal is also a well-known and recommended read I hope to get to soon) Overall, the book was good, however, I felt there was not a strong argument or connection that really answered why Carter was a leader in offering the Deed of Gift to nearly 500 slaves.

There was a lot on Fithian, perhaps because his journal contains such well-documented information from the period. There was a lot on Carter’s immediate family, but some of the information I did not find totally relevant. Levy wrote about Carter’s rowdy sons, one of whom was believed to have slid into bed with one of the house slaves, and he wrote about Carter’s troubled wife and her fear of thunderstorms. There was also a daughter who one day shaved off her eyebrow… while the stories of the family members were interesting on their own, they were lost to me and irrelevant to the story as a whole.

The chapter titled “Deed of Gift [1789-1804]” was the chapter I had been waiting for that addressed my questions more directly. So when did this change from slave holder to emancipator begin? From the book, there was not one set event or answer to this question. Some of the factors that may have played a role:

  • Revolutionary sentiments – how can one fight for freedom of tyranny from the British while still holding slaves and denying their freedom?
  • The Enlightenment – Carter did undergo some religious and spiritual transformations like others during this period, and he turned to the Baptist Church.
  • The “Redemption Song” (137) – Taking the ideas above and combining with “a strong marriage, an active church, and an egalitarian government,” according to Levy, Carter became a good man.

In this chapter, Levy noted the news of Carter’s Deed of Gifts freeing 442 slaves, and how this news did not spread far and wide like one may think. (146) Levy also noted Carter’s fascination with death and the end of the world. He noted Carter was convinced he was dying by the 1800s, in addition to the effects of the French Revolution on his emotions. (163) There were so many interesting facts throughout this chapter and the book, but I still did not receive information that made me fully understand Carter’s decision to emancipate his slaves over other founding fathers (with the exception of Jefferson who was unable to due to his debt).

One thing I would have liked to have seen more information on and statistics related to was the 1782 law in Virginia that legalized manumission. The act of manumitting one’s slaves through their last Will, or through a Deed of Gift (as Carter chose) was not even legal until 1782. Carter would not have been able to legally free his slaves prior to this date… it is a significant date in Virginia and in Carter’s history. The story of Robert Carter would have benefitted with more information on this law and perhaps information on the statistics behind owners who freed their slaves following the passage of this law. Carter’s actions were revolutionary, he was a visionary, and more information on the 1782 manumission law and actions taken as a result of this law would have further demonstrated why.

Another fact that would have been interesting to investigate further was Carter’s move from Virginia’s Northern Neck and his home, Nomony Hall, to Baltimore. During his time in Baltimore, his religious loyalties picked up more. Levy noted he had business motivations to move to Baltimore as well as two daughters in the area. However, Levy did not note that Baltimore was in the north and different from other cities. Baltimore was progressive in the free black labor movement. Without exhausting this review, I recommend checking out Seth Rockman’s book: Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore. In his book, Rockman looked at the labor population in Baltimore which consisted of not only enslaved individuals, but also free black and white workers, as well as immigrants. Baltimore had a mixed-race labor population who worked together side-by-side for the same wages, something not seen in many other areas of the country. (Rockman, 47, 56) In my opinion, there may have been more in Carter’s decision to move to Baltimore to live out the remainder of his days.

Overall, The First Emancipator was a very interesting look at a historical leader from Virginia. Robert Carter III has been forgotten by many, so it was refreshing to have a look at his character and influence from Andrew Levy. However, I felt the book needed more… there could have been a stronger focus on the act of manumission itself with more supporting research added to Robert Carter as to his motivations and title as the “First Emancipator.”

Christina’s Review: The Lees of Menokin by Suzanne Semsch

The Lees of Menokin by Suzanne Hadfield Semsch
Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform on 2009-09-25
Genres: Biographical, Fiction
Pages: 646
Format: eBook
Francis Lightfoot Lee is known in the annals of Virginia history as one of the colony's signers of the Declaration of Independence. Yet little is known of Lee's personal life, a void which novelist and long-time Virginian Suzanne Hadfield Semsch set out to fill with extensive research and a healthy dose of creativity without distorting historical fact. The result is The Lees of Menokin, a biographical novel documenting Lee's career as well as his courtship and marriage to Rebecca “Becky” Tayloe. A descendant of one of Virginia's “first families,” Lee was a staunch patriot and reputed ladies' man serving in the colony's House of Burgesses when he fell in love with Becky, who was half his age. From the early days at Menokin, their plantation home, through the turbulence of the Revolution, to the lean post-war years, readers will enjoy a glimpse into this formative period of early America. The Lees of Menokin is an engaging love story set against the chaotic backdrop of revolution.

Lees of MenokinI mentioned in my last post I had fallen behind on my reading and blogging because I was moving. I moved to Tappahannock, Virginia and now work in the Northern Neck at Menokin – the home of Francis Lightfoot Lee, one of Virginia’s seven signers of the Declaration of Independence. I LOVE my job! We are working to preserve and interpret Menokin in a revolutionary way – by encasing the house in a glass shell.

I started seeking out new reads on Francis Lightfoot Lee and came across The Lees of Menokin by Suzanne Semsch. I instantly bought it to read on my Kindle… how perfect! The book is a classic love story. It is fiction – important to keep that in mind – but is well researched and has a lot of information on Francis and Becky’s life and the revolutionary period. The story starts with Francis Lightfoot Lee, living in Loudon County, Virginia and heading to the Burgess in Williamsburg. During his time there in Williamsburg, he sees the daughters of John Tayloe in their garden and is enthralled by their beauty, especially Becky’s. They talk, they flirt, he woos her and she plays along… long story short, Becky and Francis fall in love and marry. As a wedding gift, Tayloe grants them approximately 1,000 acres of land and a house, Menokin, in Richmond County, Virginia.

From there, the story progresses through the love of Francis and Becky and the events that give the revolutionary period its name. Becky joins Francis when he is elected to the Second Continental Congress and moves to Philadelphia with him. They have to flee the city as the British come into town, alongside the other delegates fleeing. Politics have their ups and downs, and Semsch captures this. Francis and Becky are seen alongside other founding fathers, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and Francis’ brother, Richard Henry Lee.

Semsch builds in conversations and events to connect the reader with the life of Francis and Becky. I felt a new, personal connection with this founding father who was such an influence in Virginia as he picked up that quill to sign the Declaration. He and Becky lived a passionate, loving life together… even though life did not always go their way. For those of you who do not know their story, I will not spoil any more.

It is important to know this book is a work of fiction. Not all of the events and characters are real. But it is a pleasant read and can make the reader feel connected to these important figures in history. It is also a long read… I started the book on my Kindle and regret that decision. I was getting Kindle-fatigue and took almost a month to get through the book (this is not typical for me!) I recommend buying the book itself if you feel you get Kindle-fatigued like I do.

As my final note about The Lees of Menokin, it is a book meant for the history-lover. It is filled with politics and conversations revolving the political nature of the colonies and the turn towards independence. It is long with pages of romance mixed in between the politics and travel. If you are interested in the period, I have other books (fiction and non-fiction) I could recommend. Any questions about the life of Francis Lightfoot Lee, Menokin, or if you want to talk about the book, comment or send us an email!

Happy readings!

pj - christina

Michelle’s Review: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

Michelle’s Review: The Silkworm by Robert GalbraithThe Silkworm by robert galbraith
Published by Little, Brown on 2014-06-19
Genres: Crime, Fiction, General, Mystery & Detective, Thrillers, Traditional
Pages: 464
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Private investigator Cormoran Strike returns in a new mystery from Robert Galbraith, author of the #1 international bestseller The Cuckoo's Calling.When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days--as he has done before--and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine's disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives--meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before...A compulsively readable crime novel with twists at every turn, THE SILKWORM is the second in the highly acclaimed series featuring Cormoran Strike and his determined young assistant, Robin Ellacott.

I found this book as enjoyable as the first one, but perhaps a little hard to follow as an audiobook. There are so many characters that it was sometimes hard to keep up with them all without the ability to quickly flip to a previous chapter. The audiobook was well-produced and it was fun to listen to these characters…

…with perhaps the exception of Robin. She is such the eager sidekick and her drama with her fiance is simply not interesting to me. It almost felt like contrived drama and wasn’t a satisfying subplot for me.

If you’re looking for an intriguing mystery with pretty cool characters, I would recommend this book and the series. But if you get frustrated by being able to figure out the ending, or by slower paced mysteries, perhaps this wouldn’t be the pick for you. I imagine that I will be picking up any sequel as a good beach read in the future.

pj - michelle

Apologies and Back At It – A Note (and Review!) from Christina

Apologies and Back At It – A Note (and Review!) from ChristinaThe Chardonnay Charade by Ellen Crosby
Published by Simon and Schuster on 2008-07-29
Genres: Fiction, General, Mystery & Detective, Women Sleuths
Pages: 368
Format: Paperback
"The Chardonnay Charade" begins with a daring helicopter flight in the middle of the night. Facing a freak spring frost that threatens to kill the grapes in her vineyard, Lucie Montgomery hires a chopper to fly over the vines in order to blow warm air on them. But her thoughts soon turn from grapes to murder when she discovers the body of Georgia Greenwood, a controversial political candidate, lying near the fields. Georgia's husband, Ross, Lucie's friend and doctor, immediately falls under suspicion. To make matters worse, Ross, a renowned collector of Civil War documents, has just discovered a letter that seems to prove that Confederate president Jefferson Davis had prior knowledge of the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. In the small town of Atoka, Virginia -- proud home to the "Gray Ghost," the Confederacy's legendary guerrilla commander -- the letter is a bombshell.Three years ago Ross saved Lucie's life after she was involved in a near-fatal car crash. Now she intends to return the favor and prove Ross's innocence. As the search for Georgia's killer escalates, Lucie crosses swords with her attractive but cantankerous winemaker, Quinn Santori, and confronts her own unwelcome feelings of jealousy over his new romance and job prospects. Her worries about her kid sister's out-of-control drinking and a second vineyard-related death further ratchet up the tension. Even though Lucie believes that in vino veritas -- in wine there is truth -- she finds that the path to uncovering a murderer involves making a heartbreaking decision that will alter the lives of those she loves.

I had fallen off of the grid for the past month and am ready to get back on my reading, research and blogging A-game. I am sorry to have been so M.I.A – Recently, I started working in the Northern Neck of Virginia and picked up and moved from northern Virginia. I LOVE my new job, I LOVE the area, I LOVE the history. It has been a wonderful experience! During the moving process, I still found time to read…

The Chardonnay Charade by Ellen Crosby

We read The Merlot Murders by Ellen Crosby, book one of her Virginia “Wine Country Mysteries” series, and the book had overwhelming praise from our book club. A couple of years into the club, Michelle selected book two of her series so we can revisit the wine, the history, and the murder mysteries set in Loudon County. The main characters from The Merlot Murders, Lucie and Quinn, were also the main characters in The Chardonnay Charade.  A little overwhelming that murder seems to follow this couple, but it made character introductions shorter and the characters easy to attach to.

I particularly liked The Chardonnay Charade because: 1) It had more great wine knowledge. The spring frost and the process to keep the fruit from freezing in the cold was intriguing to me. 2) The history in this book was fascinating and right down my alley. There was a mix of Civil War and early American history. I geeked out when I was reading about a piece of furniture in an antique store they said once belonged to Francis Lightfoot Lee… I just started working at his home, Menokin, in the Northern Neck. The additions of the history made me attach myself to the book and kept me engaged.

Overall, another enjoyable read by Crosby… great for book clubs! Paired with a nice Virginia chardonnay, such as the 2013 Reserve from Paradise Springs, and you will be set!

Currently reading…

I currently have a list of books on my to-read shelf, which has grown tremendously since my last blog post. I am now finishing up The Lees of Menokin by Suzanne Semsch and am then turning to The First Emancipator, a story on Robert Carter of Virginia by Andrew Levy. Following these books, I also have: The Lees of Virginia by Paul C. Nagel, Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen, A Tale of Two Plantations by Richard S. Dunn, and a few others. I expect I will be busy these next couple of months playing catch up! Stay tuned for future posts from me, not only on the books, but also on the history of the Northern Neck and historical sites paired together with some of these historical fictions and non-fictions.

Happy readings!

pj - christina

Michelle’s Review: The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne – Books 0.4 through 4.5

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen a series of tweets, just about a single series:


I hadn’t binged read a series in a while and I actually referenced my “I am craving a good series” post to remember which ones I was interested in diving into. I chose The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne and became obsessed. I literally listened to the short stories 0.4 and 0.5, relistened to Book One, and then raced through the rest of the short stories and books all the way to the short story that’s 4.5 in the series. The audiobooks were just so good and it was refreshing to listen to books instead of reading them, particularly when I was feeling tired and stressed. I would listen while going to sleep, listen during my commutes, or when I was doing a particularly boring task. I raced through the books and only stopped once I found myself getting a little tired of them and was ready to listen to something else. I still plan on finishing the rest of the series, but I thought I’d share my thoughts on all the books I listened to in one post so I’m not posting like five different reviews on the same series. Also, if you want more details on the book itself, I recommend visiting their Goodreads’ pages. I don’t necessarily want to repost each synopsis in this post…that would make this entirely too long!

But to give a very brief description of the series:

Atticus O’Sullivan is not his real name but the name he has used for the past decade or so. He is the last living druid, a man with the ability to tap into nature’s power to wield magic to deflect danger and safeguard the planet. All the world’s gods exist (Egyptian, Norse, Greek, Christianity, Irish, etc.) and they all seem to want different things. Atticus, along with his trusty Irish Wolfhound companion, Oberon, has to deal with different challenges and adventures when events are set into motion that prevent him from hiding anymore.

I’m quite proud of that little summary! Now, for the reviews!


First up was The Grimoire of the Lamb, a short story with events that precede those in the first book. I had already read the first book a while ago, but wanted to go back and listen to these short story companions. The Grimoire of the Lamb introduces the Egyptian pantheon which is pretty exciting. Despite having read a lot of the stories in this series back to back, this story still stands out to me. I can still remember details which is a pretty good standard as to how I enjoyed the story. I rated this one 4/5 (I really liked it).

clan rathskellerClan Rathskeller is another short story (0.5 in the series). I actually read it online first a few years ago, but listened to it again when it came with another of the audiobooks. I think I agree with my original assessment of the story.

Taking place 10 months before the events in Hounded, it was enjoyable. Perhaps it was too short to really judge, but I think it was missing some of the earnest/innocence/untainted (really can’t think of the right word) of Hounded. But you always got to love Oberon. I rated this one 3/5 (I liked it).

There’s actually another short story in the series, Kaibab Unbound, but it was not available on Audible and I haven’t managed yet to find it online (though I’m sure if I tried hard enough I could figure out how to purchase/read it.

Hounded is book one, and while I read it a few years ago, I listened to it again to refresh my memory. If you want to hear my thoughts on it, I actually already posted my full review a while ago. I stand by my initial rating of 5/5 (it was amazing).hexed

Next was book two, Hexed. Hexed introduces witches and the powers that they have. I enjoyed the expansion of the world and it made sense. That said, you have to be able to take the world with the humor that it has. It is meant to be fun and light, so when things start getting ridiculous, like the neighbor hording rocket propelled grenades, you just got to roll with it.

The humor is enough to make me smile and it was definitely a nice pick me up to listen after the end of a long day. I think I started getting a little weary of the stories by this point, but the way that it ends makes you forget the moments when you were ready to go to a different book and read the next one straight away.

The narrator is absolutely amazing and I would highly recommend listening to these books! I rated this one 4/5 (I really liked it).


Continuing on with the ‘H’ theme, the third book is Hammered. I think this was my least favorite of those I binged listened. Instead of a solid 4 stars or even a 4.5, I felt like Hammered was a 3.5. I simply couldn’t buy into the whole mission of having to go kill Thor. I didn’t fully understand why Atticus would go through with it, despite his overtures on being from the Iron Age and keeping his word. It just seemed like such a dumb decision for a druid that had stayed alive for so long by being smart. Because I didn’t quite enjoy the mission at the heart of the book, it wasn’t one of my favorites.

And still, and still…I enjoyed it enough. Barum (or however the Russian God of Thunder’s name was spelled) was one of my favorite characters. I liked the rest of the supporting characters and hearing their backstories. That was the best part–hearing their stories through their own voices.

And of course, the ending had that hook that immediately had me wanting to read the next. I rated this one 4/5 (I really liked it) but again I think this was really more of a 3.5.

And so the binge continued…

There’s A Test of Mettle, a short story that technically has events that run concurrent with Hammered. I did some speed reading of it to quickly understand what was going on with Atticus’s apprentice while he was dealing with the craziness of Hammered. It was okay, but I didn’t really want to rate it or write a review because of how I only sped read it.

trickedBy the time I started listening to Tricked, I was getting worried that perhaps the series had lost its momentum after Hammered. But as the change of the title letter would denote, Tricked is the beginning of a new story arch. Taking a break from the Norse pantheon, we are introduced to the Navajo gods, in particular, the specifics of Coyote and these monsters called Skinwalkers.

It was refreshing in that it was dealing with new myths, new characters, and a new setting. I enjoyed learning more about the druid training.

If you don’t have a sense of humor, these books may be a little too nuts for you. But it’s very funny and clever, and there are some very memorable characters in it that make it a great series to read.

Again, if you have the opportunity to listen to these books, I’d recommend it as long as they have the same narrator. He’s amazing! Because of him and the overall enjoyment, I rated it 4/5 (I really liked it).

two ravensFinally, I ended my binge with Two Ravens and One Crow. As a short story that comes after the events in Tricked, Two Ravens and One Crow does a great job at setting up the stage for what I imagine the next few books will be about. The highlight was definitely learning about more of the druid magic and the Morrigan. I did feel that was something was lacking by this point and perhaps the action was getting a little redundant.

And so ended my series binge because 6 books of a series in a row was enough for me. I rated this story 3/5 (I liked it).

I definitely intend on continuing with the series to see where things end up. And continuing listening them…so good!

Have you read any books in this series? What did you think of them? Have you binged on a series like this recently? What series should I binge on next?

pj - michelle

Michelle’s Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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

Michelle’s Review: Uprooted by Naomi NovikUprooted by Naomi Novik
Published by Random House Publishing Group on 2015-05-19
Genres: Action & Adventure, Epic, Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology, Fantasy, Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction
Pages: 432
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

I have only read the first book in the Temeraire series but it was enough to make Naomi Novik one of my ‘must read’ authors. His Majesty’s Dragon was such a fun fantasy and while I plan on reading the rest of the series eventually, when I heard about Uprooted, a standalone novel, I definitely wanted to read it.

Uprooted was such an intense read. Every time you think things are starting to get resolved, things get crazy again. It’s extremely action-packed. The fantasy world is that of an alternate historical Poland, a world that feels real given that it somehow resembles the fairy tales kids are fed on. Yet there’s a very dark layer to it that sticks with you.

Agnieszka is an unlikely heroine and the Dragon isn’t what you think. The Woods are an evil that stick with you even when you go to sleep. I definitely had a lot of Uprooted-tainted (or corrupted, haha) dreams while reading this. They even stick with me after finishing it.

My biggest complaint is that I felt like I was missing some details or sentences. It could have been that it was a review copy. But you know when you are reading something particularly exciting you may skip a few sentences to see what is going on? That’s how this book sometimes read, even though I would go back and see if I did skip a sentence or two. There were some scenes that could be hard to follow, but I was able to get through them with a good idea of the point and still thoroughly enjoy the book.

I would recommend it to someone who is looking for a good standalone fantasy novel with an ending that is completely satisfying.

pj - michelle

Michelle’s Review: Jane by April Lindner

Michelle’s Review: Jane by April LindnerJane by April Lindner
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on 2010-10-11
Genres: Classics, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Forced to drop out of an esteemed East Coast college after the sudden death of her parents, Jane Moore takes a nanny job at Thornfield Park, the estate of Nico Rathburn, a world-famous rock star on the brink of a huge comeback. Practical and independent, Jane reluctantly becomes entranced by her magnetic and brooding employer and finds herself in the midst of a forbidden romance. But there's a mystery at Thornfield, and Jane's much-envied relationship with Nico is soon tested by an agonizing secret from his past. Torn between her feelings for Nico and his fateful secret, Jane must decide: Does being true to herself mean giving up on true love?An irresistible romance interwoven with a darkly engrossing mystery, this contemporary retelling of the beloved classic Jane Eyre promises to enchant a new generation of readers.

Bottom Line Up Front: I was missing the ghost story element of this that was present for Jane Eyre, and it felt like a hollow retelling to me.

That sounds really harsh, I know. But as with any time that I don’t particularly enjoy a book, I understand that in the end of the day it was just not my cup of tea. It might be yours.

I found that while I really enjoyed the original, there was just something missing from this retelling. I couldn’t get over the grossness of the relationship between Jane and Nico. He’s just so much older than she is and didn’t feel old for her age either. Perhaps the original benefits from the historical lens where perhaps the age difference matters less.

The twist of Nico being a rock star I think worked. It gave him certain liberties that were needed for the retelling.

But when asked about this book, I think the most I can say is: what if Mr. Rochester was a rock star? The book was missing important elements from the original and made few other changes to make it stand out as its own story.

If you want to read about rock stars, perhaps this is a fair choice for you. If you want to read a haunting story, perhaps the original is better.

pj - michelle

Christina’s Review: A Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follett

Christina’s Review: A Dangerous Fortune by Ken FollettA Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follett
Published by Random House Publishing Group on 2010-07-21
Genres: Fiction, General, Historical, Sagas, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 576
Format: Hardcover
In 1866, tragedy strikes the exclusive Windfield School when a young student drowns in a mysterious accident. His death and its aftermath initiate a spiraling circle of treachery that will span three decades and entwine many lives.   From the exclusive men’s clubs and brothels that cater to every dark desire of London’s upper class to the dazzling ballrooms and mahogany-paneled suites of the manipulators of the world’s wealth, one family is splintered by a shared legacy. But greed, fed by the shocking truth of a boy’s death, must be stopped, or the dreams of a nation will die.   Praise for A Dangerous Fortune   “A terrific page-turner.”—Los Angeles Times   “Political and amorous intrigues, cold-blooded murder, and financial crises . . . old-fashioned entertainment.”—San Francisco Chronicle   “Breathlessly plotted . . . relentlessly suspenseful.”—The New York Times   “Gripping, complex plot . . . sexual intrigue . . . fascinating characters . . . You won’t be able to put down this exciting page-turner.”—Lexington Herald-LeaderFrom the Paperback edition.

Ken Follett never disappoints me… As I have repeated in numerous reviews, I love his writing style. His stories always captivate me and I feel connected to the characters. Follett’s A Dangerous Fortune was the 8th book on my “15 To-Read of 2015” list I have gotten to this year (tracking ahead of the game!) I came across this book in a library book sale and bought it because 1) It was Ken Follett and 2) It was set in Victorian England and had an intriguing synopsis.

A Dangerous Fortune began with the story of a group of boys away at school, one of whom was found dead in the nearby creek. It was unknown if the boy drowned on accident or was killed, but there were suspicions. However, the boy’s death was soon buried under the crash of a local bank and businesses associated with. An elite and powerful family looks to secure their future and prestige in the community, a boy in the family is taken in under charity by his relatives after the passing of his father… on the other side of town, another family affected by the crash as the father was laid off were separated, and a girl and boy were left to their own will as they leave to start new and separate lives.

The story continued crossing over years of time, and the wealthy Pilaster family continued to grow in prominence throughout the community. The family’s power was invested in the great Pilaster bank, one of the more powerful and stable banks in London. As their power grew, the concept of “a dangerous fortune” also grew with the control and wealth.  Follett drew the reader into a world of scandal, affairs, money, corruption, power, deception and defeat.  In the end, Follett tied together the story through a climactic finish.

One of my favorite things about Follett’s books is how he always brings the stories together so well in the end. There are no loose ends that leave my hanging, and I feel content after finishing his stories. The characters always have a purpose and are intertwined in an intricate network. There are always certain characters I end up siding with and routing for throughout the book, hoping the best will come to them. In this book, I sympathized for Hugh Pilaster and wished evil things would fall on Augusta Pilaster and Micky Miranda. At the same time, I found the manipulation and selfish doings of Augusta and Micky to be tantalizing and wanted more.

Side note on this book: A Dangerous Fortune featured a more sexual and mature environment than some of the others books of Follett’s I have read. There is scandal, adultery, brothels and more. Just a heads up for those going into this book! (Though I felt this added to the story and did not bother me)

One other side note: The edition I read needed better proofing. (Delacorte Press, hardcover, 1993) On a few different occasions, I came across sentence and grammatical errors. On at least one occasion, I also came across Augusta’s name missing the “a” in the end, spelling “August.” While this is not a big deal, it was distracting to me and I began to notice small errors like this. For example, one sentence on page 446 read:

“Edward, you cannot go the prizefight”

… missing the “to” … “Edward, you cannot go TO the prizefight.”

While this may seem nitpicky, there were a few minor errors similar to this I kept getting hung up on.

Overall, however, another great Follett book I am glad I found on the used book shelf. Whenever I start one of his books, I find it difficult to put down. At the same time, I never want to rush through them. Instead I want to take my time and picture the story playing out in my head. This book in particular would make an awesome movie.

I recommend this book for a wide-range of readers. It is great for the history lover, as well as the drama seeker. Anyone who likes George R. R. Martin will find Follett has a similar writing style and would probably enjoy his books. I recommend starting with his Pillars of the Earth series before proceeding to A Dangerous Fortune and other books of his. (Just to get you ready for his writing style and stories so you will fall in love like I did!)

pj - christina

Christina’s Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Christina’s Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John GreenThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Published by Penguin on 2012-01-10
Genres: Death & Dying, Love & Romance, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: eBook
Now a Major Motion PictureTODAY Book Club pickTIME Magazine’s #1 Fiction Book of 2012

May’s book club pick was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. This book is a popular book many have already read, and I know many have enjoyed. Please do not hate me or take this the wrong way when I say I am glad I am through this book and do not intend to read it again…

Recently on our Playing Jokers Facebook page, we posted the article: 16 Books to Read and Love Forever. This book was on the list… do you agree with it belonging here? I guess I should get into my review and thoughts before I answer this…

The Fault in Our Stars follows a teenage girl, Hazel, on her journey with cancer. Her parents push her to go out of the house and hang out with her friends more, so she does. While in her weekly cancer support group, she meets the handsome Augustus and the story really begins… Hazel and Augustus begin a friendship that turns into a romance of the ages. There is humor and tears intertwined with life lessons, experiences, inspirations and difficult times. The reader will be brought through a roller-coaster of emotions as they fall for Hazel and Augustus and wish for them a happily ever after.

For me, the story told is not truly about Hazel. Hazel may be the person whose life experiences are followed and who the reader sees through the eyes of. However, the story is more about Augustus. Augustus has his own hardships he has had to endure, particularly with losing his leg to cancer. He, like Hazel, grows through the book. The Fault in Our Stars reads as a definite YA, coming of age and understanding, book.

Now for the grit…

This book was hard for me to read. It was a book club pick and I wanted to contribute to the discussion, so I picked it up on a Friday night and read through it, finishing it by Saturday afternoon. I just had to get through it and did not want to linger on it. I had a feeling that would be the case going into it… as I got a couple of chapters in this initial thought was confirmed… I just was not ready to handle it. The Fault in Our Stars caused me to relive experiences I did not want to remember. I do not want to remember those hard times a loved one experienced but rather the beautiful memories I had shared with them before… I will not go further here on my personal experiences…

The Fault in Our Stars was revealing of the monster cancer is. It does not matter where you are in your life… 6…50…90 years old. Cancer is destructive and does not care about time or the person it eats. It does not care about love and the people around. Cancer is an evil in this world I would give anything for to cure it and give life back to those it stole from.

So for those who have not read this book: I felt it was a good book to read and understand the power and effects cancer can have. However, if you are familiar with cancer and its effects, this can be a hard book to read. For me, it was and I was not ready for it. Instead of making me attach myself to the love story taking place, I was caught up on the side effects of cancer told. So to answer the question I asked above if I believe this book should be included in Huffington Post’s article on “16 Books to Read and Love Forever” – no, I do not feel this book should be included. It is hard to like a book that brings back sad memories of loved ones, rather than the happy, beautiful, loving times you spent with them. I have returned this book to the library and will not revisit it again after book club.

I really hope I do not offend anyone… these opinions are my own. I just wanted to share because, sometimes, it helps.

pj - christina

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