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

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

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

pj - christina

Michelle’s Review: September Girls by Bennett Madison


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pj - michelle

Michelle’s Review: For the Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund


Michelle’s Review: For the Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana PeterfreundFor Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
Published by Harper Collins on 2012-06-12
Genres: Family, General, Love & Romance, Visionary & Metaphysical, Young Adult
Pages: 448
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
four-half-stars
Fans of Divergent will love Diana Peterfreund’s take on Jane Austen’s Persuasion set in a post-apocalyptic world. In the dystopian future of For Darkness Shows the Stars, a genetic experiment has devastated humanity. In the aftermath, a new class system placed anti-technology Luddites in absolute power over vast estates—and any survivors living there. Elliot North is a dutiful Luddite and a dutiful daughter who runs her father’s estate. When the boy she loved, Kai, a servant, asked her to run away with him four years ago, she refused, although it broke her heart. Now Kai is back. And while Elliot longs for a second chance with her first love, she knows it could mean betraying everything she’s been raised to believe is right. For Darkness Shows the Stars is a breathtaking YA romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.

I have found my way back to reading by getting sucked into a series. But instead of just reading each book in the series back to back directly, I thought I would add a book or two in between, the lemon to refresh my palette so to speak. For the Darkness Shows the Stars was intended to be that fresh lemon and it ended up being more than that to me.

I understand now why everyone was loving this book and its companion. It’s a retelling that was very refreshing because while it kept a lot of the details that are important from the original (I presume, because I’ve never read Persuassion) it was enough removed to feel entirely original.

A disaster to human kind occurs after the majority of people began to recode their DNA and basically become bionic humans. It backfired, creating the Reduced, those humans who maintain a little of their humanity but are basically little evolved from livestock. The Luddites had resisted the appeal of science and were therefore spared from the Reduction. Now, in a post-apocalyptic world where the Luddites are the ruling class and the Reduced the serfs, there are a new group of people emerging from the Reduced, seemingly no different than the Luddites.

I could go on about this premise because it was so entirely fascinating to me. It was exciting to read and learn more about it. It wasn’t overly complicated and allowed the story to grow. The story itself is one of complicated love, but it is not too overwrought. The epistolary nature of the book really helped build the story and reveal enough to keep the suspension there. Without those parts, I doubt I would have enjoyed the book half as much.

I would definitely recommend this book to others. It was a nice escape and was the perfect refreshing sorbet.

pj - michelle

Michelle’s Review: Voyager by Diana Gabaldon


Michelle’s Review: Voyager by Diana GabaldonVoyager by Diana Gabaldon
Published by Delta Trade Paperbacks on 2001-08-01
Genres: Fiction, General, Literary, Romance
Pages: 870
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
three-stars
In this rich, vibrant tale, Diana Gabaldon continues the story of Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser that began with the now-classic novel Outlander and continued in Dragonfly in Amber. Sweeping us from the battlefields of eighteenth-century Scotland to the exotic West Indies, Diana Gabaldon weaves magic once again in an exhilarating and utterly unforgettable novel.... Their love affair happened long ago by whatever measurement Claire Randall took. Two decades before, she had traveled back in time and into the arms of a gallant eighteenth-century Scot named Jamie Fraser. Then she returned to her own century to bear his child, believing him dead in the tragic battle of Culloden. Yet his memory has never lessened its hold on her ... and her body still cries out for him in her dreams.When she discovers that Jamie may have survived, Claire must choose her destiny. And as time and space come full circle, she must find the courage to face what awaits her ... the deadly intrigues raging in a divided Scotland ... and the daring voyage into the dark unknown that lies beyond the standing stones.

*Because this is a review of a book in a series, there are some spoilers regarding the previous books in the series, not this one.*

At this point in the Outlander series, I’m becoming quite torn about them.

I was able to defend the series when I had already read the first one. Outlander was unlike anything else I had read at the time and I was definitely hooked. It was romance, it was adventure, historical fiction, and science fiction. It was basically everything without being too crazy.

Dragonfly in Amber was a struggle with France but I still enjoyed it and wanted to continue.

Now with Voyager it was back to being an adventure and it was still enjoyable, but now I have found myself having a hard time defending this book against those who call it drivel or far-fetched.

“Well, Jamie survived Culloden, and then he went and lived in a cave. But he kept living and then became a smuggler and now they’re dealing with pirates…”

There’s no way for it to not sound ridiculous. Which unfortunate because it’s still enjoyable book, it’s just no longer at the same level as the first book.

Another thing that detracted from my full enjoyment is the way the language seemed to skip to me. I know that I have the tendency to read paragraphs out of order, but I swear that too often I thought the characters were in one place only to learn that they were somewhere else. It was like certain details were missing.

All that said, I loved the return to high adventure and I went ahead and bought the next book in the series. Because I’m a sucker for Jamie (as he was manufactured to be irresistible).

pj - michelle