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
Goodreads
three-stars
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
Goodreads
three-stars
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
Goodreads
three-half-stars
"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: 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
Goodreads
five-stars
“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

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
Goodreads
four-half-stars
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 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
Goodreads
three-half-stars
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

 

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
Goodreads
four-half-stars
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.

Ellen

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
Goodreads
four-half-stars
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

 

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
Goodreads
five-stars
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.

Ellen

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
Goodreads
four-stars
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