The 3 Rs: Reading, Reviews & Recs.
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Runaway Saint by Lisa Samson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher. Thank you Thomas Nelson. All opinions provided are my own.
Like many of Samson’s books, Runaway Saint takes place in Baltimore, MD where Sara and Finn run a print shop/design studio. It is a husband/wife venture, small, stylish and trendy. Sara is an artist of sorts, a designer, a creator. But on her 30th birthday, her hippie mom drops a bomb on Sara. Aunt Bel is back in town, the long lost missionary who disappeared from the US and their lives some 25 years previous. Sara is the only one who has space for her.
Something is not quite right with Aunt Bel, and really the whole family dynamic. As Sara continues forward in the pursuit of growing the business and deciding where she stands on having a family, she struggles with her relationship with her sainted aunt.
I’m a long time lover of Lisa Samson’s books. Since first stumbling across her Embrace Me on a “new releases” stand at the local library, I have made my way through most of the body of her work. (Including the Hollywood Nobody Series which is one of my favorite teen series.) She writes with clear, concise description, weaving the details into the story in ways that draw readers right in. Typically her stories are a little edgy, filled with Christian themes, and characters struggling through their faith. Her devotion to the greater Baltimore area and the way she links books together through characters and settings is charming for her regular readers. For some reason, this offering did not resonate with me like most of her books have.
The characters overlap a little bit on her last book The Sky Beneath My Feet, which is typical Samson. Her stories have become more “young urbanite”, almost Neta Jacksonish, rather that reflective of the characters and situations that Samson has previously tackled. While her writing is still spot on with its descriptive character, the plot line in Runaway Saint, seemed to lose it’s steam in the web of secrets that needed to be unraveled. While I still enjoyed the story in general, I felt like I had a harder time connecting to Sara. Her conflict, although buried in the plot, didn’t seem realistic and the resolution and faith component less relevant.
Still Samson is a force in Christian fiction and this new book is filled with surprise elements, some depth and spectacular descriptions. There is nothing “fluffy” about her approach. This one just seemed to miss the mark for me.
Recommend for: Women’s Fiction Readers who aren’t afraid of a little God in their stories.
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Year of No Sugar: A Memoir by Eve Schaub
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
After watching a Youtube video, Eve digs into research about the harmful affects of sugar on our bodies and decides she and her family must embark on a year long adventure of limiting sugar in their diets. Oh, and she is going to blog about it along the way. This book was born in that year of blogging. Eve recounts the 12 months in 2011, where her family tried to avoid infusing the fructose that pervaded their diets and lifestyles. She, her husband and two girls looked at their meals, their snacks, their drinks and especially their desserts to eliminate the added sugar. Along the way they learned many things about nutrition, food, and how the American culture has elevated foot and eating to an experience rather than a necessity.
Schaub offers up their story with facts, figures and a bit of humor. She chronicles their frustrations, mistakes, victories and leanings. She gives readers enough information to pursue the knowledge base that she used to make their decisions, and through their adventures provides tips and tricks, also pointing out traps along the way. (Agave – so natural, but pure poison.) Her daughters embrace the experiment to some degree. Shared excerpts from her oldest’s journal show the social frustrations of the experiment.
While the health consequences of this lifestyle seem to be the focal point, I almost felt the whole thing was a commentary of how America has elevated food to godlike status, with sugar as the leading lady in this drama. It is our comfort, our babysitter, our reward, our social tool- yet it kills us, poisons us and we don’t even pay attention. We can’t do anything without eating, and if we are eating, it better be tasty and satisfying. The author herself ties events in her childhood to the delicious food, social activities and rewards. No doubt eating is essential. A good meal can be satisfying. But we eat to survive, not survive to eat.
I enjoyed Schaub’s humor and writing style, but the book seemed to drag towards the end – with her minute details on food prep, killing chickens, and cooking techniques driving me to skim the last few chapters. Overall I liked the book, the story, the experiment, but had a hard time identifying with Schaub personally.
Recommend for: Everyone. This book is an easy and lighthearted approach to the sugar problem. But especially recommend for those who have a burning desire to embrace this lifestyle or improve their health through better nutrition.
Note: I was provided a copy by the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own.
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Thom Hatch is releasing Glorious War:The Civil War Service of George Armstrong Custer on December 10, 2013. There is more to Custer than the Battle of Little Big Horn. His Civil War experiences define him in many ways. You won't want to miss this if you are a Civil War fan! Check out my full review...
Title: Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
Author: Bill Dedman, Paul Clarke Newell, Jr.
Genre: Non-fiction, history/bio
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Summary: The author discovers a number of deserted mansions around the country, operational with staff, but vacant. He discovers that the owner is Huguette Clark – the last surviving daughter of W.A. Clark – and early 20th century millionaire whose story has been mostly lost to modern history. The book tells the tale of Clark’s climb to the top, and how his daughter turned from a wealthy socialite to a recluse who collects empty mansions.
I find the forgotten stories of American History particularly fascinating. This is one of those stories. Clark lost his chance to be remembered in history with the Rockefellers and Carnegies by staying outside the realm of philanthropy. Yet during his lifetime, he was just as wealthy – and his fortune was on display everywhere he went. He builds one of the most obscene mansions in the heart of New York City where he raises his youngest children (including Huguette) with his second wife. It was a golden age.
But the story takes a turn – as wealthy Huguette turns from her life as a socialite to that of a recluse. Slowly, gradually she fades from the public record. The author does a great job of giving readers the story and asking questions about who was protecting the rights of Ms. Clark? Were there people who were taking advantage of her and her fortune? Dedman and Newell do a great job of bringing this story to the eyes of the public.
While this type of history read is usually right up my alley, I never really connected with Ms. Clark and her tale. I had a very hard time finishing it and really skimmed some of the parts on Huguette.
Recommend for: Fans of 20th Century History.
Thanks to Netgalley for providing an advanced readers copy in exchange for my review. All opinions expressed are my own.
This book is the diary of Elisha Hunt Rhodes of the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers which served during the Civil War. Rhodes keep a diary of his activities and movements and also shares some letters which he sent. The book gives the idea of life in the Union Army. Rhodes moves up through the ranks to Colonel in his time and serves from Bull Run to Appomattox court house.
I read this book to my boys as a "read aloud" to accompany our studies on the Civil War. While we often study battles, this book gave a us a great view of the day to day things a soldier in the Union Army did. We saw the organization, the mess, the picket duties and more. We noticed the change in Rhodes tones as the war progressed. His mantra "All for the Union" changed meaning through the war.
Since we ultimately know the outcome and any student of the conflict will understand the progression of events, we see that the day to day soldiers were insulated from a lot of the things going on around them.
I think this diary is particularly telling if read alongside a confederate diary or memoir. The contrast is remarkable. Reading Rhodes account of the surrender vs. that of a Confederate work we have is reading sorrow and joy in the same moment and effectively tells the entire story of the end.
Recommend for: Civil War students. This would be great for a high school class studying the conflict, even if only read in part.
Named the Dragon is one of Susana Kearsley's first books, and while she is still mastering her style in this tale, it still drips with the mysterious connections and intriguing plot lines that have characterized her later works. Lyn is a London literary agent invited to Wales for Christmas by one of her clients. She still nurses wounds from a baby lost many years ago. In this mysterious environment, she stumbles across another little boy whom she must help.
The story is filled with the lush imagery of the Wales countryside - the castles, the seas, the legends. Kearsley deftly weaves the story of King Arthur along with the local lore to draw the reader in. The characters, as always, are marvelous and varied. A slight romance pulses it's way through the story, and some unlikely events develop along the way. Not as compelling as her later works, but still an enjoyable read.
Recommend for: Lovers of historical mysteries
W.T. Poague was a Confederate officer during the Civil War who not only served under Stonewall Jackson, but also for the duration of the fighting - being on hand at the final surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. This account was written by him in 1903, a work for his children.
I enjoyed reading Poague's account of his role in the Confederate effort. It is a short read, hops around a lot and reflects his opinion on various Union and Confederate officers and men. You see in him the great fondness for his men, his cause, his army and his commander. While Poague's narrative is no literary masterpiece,it is a valuable window into the efforts of the Southern armies. Our history books have for too long misrepresented the Civil War - have only told part of the story. Accounts like Poague's give us back the humanity of the war. Who were these soldiers?
Poague writes with little emotion, until that day at Appomattox, where he learns of the surrender. What a hollow and heartbreaking day for the men in gray. Could not read it without some emotion.
Just for the record, I grew up in the North, but have been enjoying reading various accounts of both sides of the Civil War, and learning the full story. This little book surely adds to the mix.
Recommend for: Civil War enthusiasts.
This it the Civil War Memoir of Henry Kyd Douglas - who served the CSA for the entire war. He shares his recollections of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, JEB Stuart and many other Union and Confederate officers. He also shares day to day life, the resilience of the army and the final deterioration. You won't find much of what he speaks of in history books. While it's possible that he may have embellished his work, there is an unmistakeable larger truth about the war that rings clear.
The book was a slow starter, but once I got into it, I could hardly put it down. I found myself filled with different emotions through it. The battles were full of heartbreak, but the character of the author and his fellow soldiers along with their relationships was quite heartwarming. Douglas takes a lot of small rabbit trails in his discussions, but it only adds to the charm or the work. A must read for Civil War Buffs.
Author: Colleen Coble
Genre: Christian Fiction
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Rating: 4 of 5 stars.
Summary: Amy comes to Rosemary Cottage to help heal from the pain of her brother's mysterious death off the shores of Hope Beach. Was it really an accident? Curtis is also morning the loss of his sister under tragic circumstances. While they work through the mystery involving the loss of their loved ones, will they also find love?
This is the second book of Cable's in the Hope Beach series. Set on an island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the story is a mixture of romance and mystery. While the beautiful surroundings of the island seem the perfect place for a romance, the atmosphere is disrupted by wrongful deaths and intrigue. Who killed Gina and Ben and why?
I love this series, because Cable creates for us interesting and diverse characters and sets us on edge in a place where we should usually feel comfortable and peaceful. I think I liked this one even better than the first.
Recommend for: Readers of Christian Romance/Suspence
Note: I was provided a copy of the book by the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own.
Author: Ian Morgan Cron
Genre: Memoir, Christian Non Fiction
Publisher: Thomas Nelson Publishers
My Rating: 4 stars
Cron shares the story of his life – from his troubled childhood to Episcopal priest.
I got the chance to read and review, Chasing Francis, (which I loved) so when this book came up on my list, I jumped on it. Memoirs are great reads. No one writes a memoir about what a storybook childhood or life that they have had. There is always some point of breakthrough or overcoming, or maybe even a place of breaking. This book has all of those things.
The book seems to be a loose collection of stories, pivotal moments – both good and bad – in the author’s life, and the people that helped him overcome. He starts with his childhood, showing us the broken boy that emerged with a father who was an alcoholic. Even though as a youth Cron felt very close to God, he seemed to be spun away by the many hardship of his life. Yet there was always someone to buoy him along and get him to the next wall to climb over.
The story is written in a wonderfully, amusing way. Cron uses humor to keep the reader from feeling sorry for him, and to help them believe in the hope of what is yet to come. He ultimately battles with many demons, and ones which many of us will find that we have faced. He conquers many things, and I cheered for him the entire time.
Recommend for: Christian memoir lovers.
Note: I was provided a copy of the book by the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own.
Title: The Photographer’s Boy
Author: Stephen Bates
Genre: Historical Fiction/Contemporary
Available: July 22, 2013
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Summary: Gene and Izzie Hofsettler are an upscale NY couple who buy a rural home in Massachusetts after the 9/11, to get away from the madness from the city. While renovating the home to transform it to a Bed and Breakfast, they come across a trunk of old photographers plates from what appears to be the Civil War. The author then brings the reader back in time to the Civil War era and also the 1930s to discover who the photographer was in his youth and in his old age. There are real stories of these characters buried in the action of the various time frames – stories of mistakes and heartaches, and yet of honor.
Review: This is a very different book for a lot of reasons. It’s hard to decide who the main character is, as in the various pieces of the story, the main emphasis is not on the same character. The pieces of the story fit together in an odd way. The reader is pulled into a commentary on how our culture has shifted in the 150 years since the Civil War. In fact, in many ways, the Civil War has been marginalized and left to a group of reinactors, who (according to the story), may or may not represent it in a positive way. We see that the youth of today’s culture do not understand it at all.
The part that I most enjoyed was the story of how Albert came to be “The Photographer’s Boy”- and the details shared about Matthew Brady and his group of photographer’s assistants. It discussed his famous gallery and portrait studio and the thinking behind the creation of these post battle shots. These men were the paparazzi of their day – following the army and waiting for the battle to end so they could record it. They were another kind of pioneer in the era as well. There was no established code of conduct for this type of thing and they made it up as they went along. The author uses actual Civil War photos from the era and weaves their creation into the story.
I enjoyed the book, but ultimately it is a sorrowful tale – talking of cultures past and the present that refuses to see it. Although the contemporary storyline carries the plot, it is the detail of the past that will draw the reader into the action.
Note: I was provided a copy of the book by the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own.
A wonderful and detailed narrative that keeps the reader moving on. Yes, we all know and live the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg. Sears gives us the big picture view starting after the death of Stonewall Jackson. Robert E. Lee comes up with a plan to invade the North. He sells his plan and then begins his move. Meanwhile, Washington is having a stand off with it's own general Joseph Hooker and as this conflict escalates, George G. Meade finds himself as the leader of the Army of the Potomac. Realizing Lee is moving up to PA, Meade's army stumbles into him in a little town called Gettysburg. The rest, of course, is history.
Over recent years, certain parts of the Battle of Gettysburg have been glorified and others seemingly forgotten. While we often hear of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's 20th Maine and Pickett's Charge, there was so much more to this three day battle. The Confederacy had the Union on the ropes many times, only to fall back. Many glorious deeds and many mistakes (on both sides) throughout the days finally give favor to the Union. Sears tells it all, highlighting with drawings, maps and photos.
To me, this is a great basic history of the engagement. Sears concludes the book with a post battle summary through the Gettysburg address. His appendix includes an order of battle showing the havoc of death and wounding to the generalship of both armies. He also has many notes and an appendix. With his journalist background, Sears writes a readable history for all of us.
Recommend for every Civil War buff. I really recommend for everyone, because reading American history up close and personal will blow the average American away if you are willing to take this challenge.
Note: I read about 60% of the book, listening to the rest in audio version. Enjoyable on both accounts.
Author: Ian Morgan Cron
Genre: Christian Fiction
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is a wonderful novel that reads like a memoir. It is the story of Chase,a New England mega church pastor, who loses his faith when tragedy strikes his congregation. He heads on a pilgrim to Italy and walks in the steps of Francis of Assisi to try and find what it means to be a Christian.
I really, really enjoyed this book. Chase comes from the “modern” church – seeker friendly, prosperity gospel, internally serving. He steps over the line in looking into a Catholic saint’s life. And while he has his misgivings, instead he looks beyond the “Church” and sees what Francis faced in his lifetime to follow Jesus – ignoring what the church and society thought he must do. Chase faces many different demons in his own self analysis. He opens his heart to believe in the possible, and to see the truth.
Chase is a charismatic protagonist and his journey is serious, but lighthearted. He is honest in his search for the truth. As we read his story, we are bound to find a piece of our own faith journey there, something we even struggle with in our churches today.
Bringing St. Francis into the equation and jumping the line into Catholicism points out another of the church’s weaknesses – the division between the various factions of the church, and their unwillingness to accept other forms of Christianity as heaven bound.
His cast of sidekicks are wonderfully enlightened, likeable and helpful. Chase is open to the change, even as other characters are not. The study guide in the back is quite detailed and helpful in guiding the reader to think more about what this book is trying to say. Would make a wonderful selection for a Bible Study type group or book club.
Overall I agree with many of the things that Chase discovers in his search for faith (not 100% though). He puts his finger squarely on some of the biggest problems in American churches today.
Personally I found things to carry with me on my own church journey. If nothing else, this book will make you think.
Note: I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions provided are my own.
With the Gettysburg 150th anniversary this year, this book makes a great read.
I have read and enjoyed a number of the historical fiction accounts of the Battle of Gettysburg, but there is nothing like a well-written narrative account to truly give the reader the full experience of the event. This is one of those books.
Guelzo gives us the usual background information on events preceding the war, but also discusses the politics of being in the Union or Confederate Army Leadership. Virginia rules in the South. There's a pecking order in the North which still has an umbilical cord to McClellan. This is very helpful information in understanding events as they unfold, and why certain decisions are made by different generals during the battle.
The books relis on many, many accounts left behind by participants and eye witnesses to the fighting - more than 100 pages. But yet the story flows and keeps the reader engaged. The quotes are expertly woven into to the author's writing, where one enhances the other. The average reader who has an interest in the Civil War and this battle could easily read and enjoy this book.
The author obviously has his own opinions on who is accountable for the successes and failures of the day, but he writes it in such a way that allows the reader to also draw some of his own conclusions. But, as with any historical narrative, the author's own bias can never really be discounted.
Overall I LOVED this book. It really filled in gaps in my own Gettysburg knowledge. It didn't ignore the "popular" Gettysburg stories, but gave a more balanced account of the various points of fighting and their significance in the overall picture of things, not pushing the "romantic" favorites, but standing on the true deeds of men who did not always live to tell the stories of the day. I appreciate that perspective in trying to teach my own children about the past. The best stories are sometimes the ones you have to dig deeper to find. And the author did dig deep.
Highly recommend for non fiction lovers - especially those who enjoy history and the Civil War. I recommend it for everyone, because history is important, and this book will expand even the most average American's knowledge of this pivotal battle and the Civil War in general.
In the tradition of his past books on history, Philbrick gets down to the nitty-gritty on what really happened to jump-start the American Revolution. While there was some discontent in other parts of the colonies, it was the spark lit by the New Englanders that started the raging fire. These colonists would not be denied. It is a much more detailed account of some of the things happening in the Boston area in those early days of rebellion.
Philbrick is once again at his best, flushing out the real stories of history for readers. In an era when the American Revolution has been reduced to a handful of questions on a standardized test in our school systems, Philbrick walks us through the characters and in-depth circumstances of this pivotal time. Through this work we see that the colonial fight was not always a grand and honorable endeavor, but it was in fact a “Revolution” – a rebellion and overthrow of those in charge.
This book impressed me. Once Philbrick actually got us to that fateful day in 1775 – the shot heard round the world – I was completely fascinated because of how many gaps of knowledge that this account filled in. What was it like at Lexington and Concord? What was it like on Breed’s Hill? What were the British thinking about the events? This last part is the little studies side of our historical story. While we often see the British as the pompous Lords trying to manipulate us in our freedom story, Philbrick reveals not only arrogance, but their indifference and fear in dealing with the rebellion.
I also enjoyed the section on George Washington as he takes over what will become the Continental Army. Washington is as human as the next person in this story – fighting his own pride in several instances, but also growing as he understands the army he’s inherited and what he must do to prepare them for this fight.
I love that this book is full of “real” history – quotations, annotations, references. It is not a Hollywood version of our history, but instead the real thing – eyewitness accounts, letters and other historical documents. The author does not imagine what the characters feel – he reads their own words.
This book will rock your history perceptions on the American Revolution.
Recommend for: History lovers and students of the American Revolution.
Note: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own.
Title: John Wilkes Booth: Beyond the Grave (Preorder at Amazon)
Author: W. C. Jameson
Genre: Biography, History, Criminals and Outlaws
Publisher: Taylor Trade Publishing
Available: July 16, 2013
The history books tell us the story of the escape of John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated President Lincoln – how he left the DC area, sought medical help in Maryland, crossed the Potomac River and was discovered and shot at a Virginia Farm by a Union soldier. But is that what really happened? The author walks us through the “official” government report version, and then points out the discrepancies from eye witnesses and physical evidence. He also addresses the many Booth sightings that followed and points out the ones that may have more credibility than others.
People who follow my reviews already know that I’ve been studying the Civil War with my children this year, so I was quite fortunate to receive a copy of this book to read at this time. I had read about the “official” version of the events following the shooting at Ford’s theater. I even saw a documentary on the History Channel. But I had also heard that Booth escaped and lived for many years afterwards. I was curious to see what the author would come up with.
As it turns out, he lays out a scenario that may seem statistically unlikely (my husband's thoughts), but in light of the background details provided - it makes more sense than the government version once the details are flushed out. In consideration of things happening in our country today - events where our government is telling us half truths, it's important to see how history can be written for us rather than the truth being told. It seems in the years following Lincoln's death, it was widely believed that Booth escaped, yet today it has crossed over into "urban legend" rather than historical fact or even unsolved mystery, despite contradictions in the documented details.
I like that the author also added a variety of the “Booth Sitings” instead of just the ones that he believes are true.
I probably would give it a 4.5 rather than a 5 star. Despite the extensive bibliography, a few footnotes and quotes would have added more weight to the story. It’s one thing to reference what a report says vs. quoting what a report actually reads. It’s not the type of work that needs bulk annotation, but a few direct references wouldn't have hurt.
Recommend to: History lovers. People who have heard of this mystery, but have read about the details.
Note: I was provided a copy by the publisher for review. All opinions expressed are my own.