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Adventure Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Historical Fiction Humor Poetry

Cowman’s Wife Western Ballads by Dee Strickland Johnson

Collection of cowboy poetry, western ballads, and original art. Awarded the Will Rogers award in 1997 for the “Female Cowboy Poet of the Year” by the Academy of Western Artists.

Cowman's Wife Western BalladsCowman’s Wife Western Ballads by Dee Strickland Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loved it! I’d recommend it to anyone.

It was a fun, thought-provoking, pick-me-up that I read in between my reads over the past year. Like a palate cleanser. It contains poetic stories of overall life perspective, the wild west lifestyle, culture, and history, romance and familial relationships, travel, and ranch life with cowboys, steeds, and hard work. Some were silly, some deeply reflective. It was refreshing and accessed parts of my brain that I typically don’t give enough attention to.

MY FAVORITE LINES:

I really appreciated The Warm November Sun poem and Arizona.

Arizona

Oh beloved Arizona, when God finished making you,
When He’d made your painted deserts and the sky’s deep azure blue:

When He’d made your wondrous canyons, and He’d laid his brush aside,
And looked down upon your beauty,
I think God was satisfied.

And I think, Oh Arizona, that He must have loved you best,
For He made you more like heaven than any of the rest.

He painted glorious sunsets, and put a soul in you,
Then splashed in the colored clouds above and let His love shine through.

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Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

In his long-awaited first novel, American master George Saunders delivers his most original, transcendent, and moving work yet. Unfolding in a graveyard over the course of a single night, narrated by a dazzling chorus of voices, Lincoln in the Bardo is a literary experience unlike any other—for no one but Saunders could conceive it.

Lincoln in the BardoLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was such an unusual yet interesting read. I listened to it via audiobook which I would recommend. The format was confusing and difficult to follow, even to the point that I initially thought there was an issue with the audio recording. However after going back and reading reviews, I realized that this was intentional. Anyway the audio narration made all the difference and helped to better define each perspective being told especially since it was told like a documentary but without any context or connection between scenes.

I’d recommend it to anyone who is looking for something totally different and refreshing from a writing style point of view. I appreciated the language and candor brought into each topic. It was more about expression in the here and now than the actual direction and flow of a cohesive story which somehow added an element of intrigue.

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Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

THE BLOCKBUSTER HIT—A New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Publishers Weekly Bestseller

For readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale comes a “thought-provoking [and] complex tale about two families, two generations apart . . . based on a notorious true-life scandal.”

Before We Were YoursBefore We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The storyline was heartbreaking, but certainly well-written. I’d recommend it to anyone.

The writing was beautiful. The character stories that were inspired by true events were told with deep perception as each one was introduced and grew along with the plot. I really enjoyed the chapter buildups with each changing POV/timeframe. I also appreciated the way that the author, Lisa Wingate, was able to convey the thought processes and emotion of a child when expressing fear, joy, doubt, resilience, desire, and distress.

I must say I did get lost in the who is who a few times and I had to go back through chapters to check several times. I also didn’t really know if the adult romance storyline played as much of a key role as I thought it was going to. The developing relationship became less fulfilling and engaging to read about especially as the last few chapters of the book moved at such a different pace than the rest of the book. Toward the end there were play by play descriptions and less progression which ended up being less fitting to my expectations of how it was going to wrap up. Nonetheless I thoroughly enjoyed the story.

An excellent book.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Historical Fiction Mystery Thriller

The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye

The new and exciting historial thriller by Lyndsay Faye, author of Edgar-nominated Jane Steele and Gods of Gotham, which follows Alice “Nobody” from Prohibition-era Harlem to Portland’s the Paragon Hotel.

The year is 1921, and “Nobody” Alice James is on a cross-country train, carrying a bullet wound and fleeing for her life following an illicit drug and liquor deal gone horribly wrong. Desperate to get as far away as possible from New York City and those who want her dead, she has her sights set on Oregon: a distant frontier that seems the end of the line.

The Paragon HotelThe Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Random House for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the First to Read program.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! I would recommend it to those who enjoy history within the time periods of the 1920s and 1930s and within the setting of the U.S. It really takes you back in time to the days of the prohibition era.

The writing style was excellent. Though I was definitely absorbed into the story from the beginning, I did have a slight bit of difficulty following at first, but ultimately really appreciated the detailed descriptions and changing POV, as well as the dialogue, which was well written to reflect deep emotion and the social climate of the time. The characters were rich as well as the plot, which made for very interesting revelations. There were so many intriguing layers within the plot, including cultural and social dynamics that added incredible dimension to the mystery of the story and brought an interesting perspective to well known events that I hadn’t realized before.

I would really like to listen to this via audiobook as I think it would be a great one.

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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Classics Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple is a classic. With over a million copies sold in the UK alone, it is hailed as one of the all-time ‘greats’ of literature, inspiring generations of readers.

Set in the deep American South between the wars, it is the tale of Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation. Raped repeatedly by the man she calls ‘father’, she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie and is trapped into an ugly marriage. But then she meets the glamorous Shug Avery, singer and magic-maker – a woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. Gradually, Celie discovers the power and joy of her own spirit, freeing her from her past and reuniting her with those she loves.

The Color PurpleThe Color Purple by Alice Walker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Though this was a heavy hearted read for me, it was an excellent book. I read this for SunBeamsJess Book Club. I’d recommend it to anyone.

The author, Alice Walker, matched the writing style to the storyline perfectly. It was written using the strengths of epistolary form. The diary entries themselves reflected the growing maturity of the characters and used relevant colloquialism which gave great insight into life and culture of the time, that being the American south, during the 1930s. It took me a few pages in to appreciate the dialogue, which was depicted as a form of unrefined Southern speech that gave power to the narrative through its beautifully written expressions of emotion, identity, authenticity, self reflection, innocence, joy, pain, hardship, discovery, and transformation.

It contained graphic scenes of highly controversial subject matter, while manifesting the hopes, joys, struggles, and despair of each character without a tone of contempt which made for an even more powerful story. It paralleled personal happiness and conflict with social injustice and gain which made for a work of high value and importance.

FAVORITE LINES:

“I look over at him too. For such a little man, he all puff up. Look like all he can do to stay in his chair.”

“She looks like a wet cat.”

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Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master’s Son follows a young man’s journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea.

The Orphan Master's SonThe Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed reading this book. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys books that focuses on life perspective and cultural norms, particularly themes depicting traditional North Korean culture and individual experience.

I appreciated how the author, Adam Johnson, was able to provide insight, engagement, and interest about the characters and stories he included.

I did feel that it was a bit filtered somehow though. The tone often read more like a report or a political news journal article than exploring the deeper aspects of human response and emotion.

I liked the premise. The delivery was less than favorable to me. First, I found it difficult to embrace both the main takeaway and the love story. Because for me, the love story got lost in the minutia of telling contrasting westernized viewpoints through simplistic observations. Other observations were belabored at some points. Second, I would have liked the comparing and contrasting (especially those seemingly from a westernized mindset) to be replaced with just the thoughts and actions of the characters and leave it to the reader to figure out what was different and similar. I found myself wanting the writer to just tell it like it is.

After reading the epilogue; however, I understood why and in what ways the writer wrote the more difficult tragedies and stories with restraint. But again, I felt the author had more to share and I would have liked to have seen it all be told unrestrained. And I was glad to read about an explanation for the less than realistic blood exchange piece.

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Book Reviews Books Classics Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison’s first novel, a book heralded for its richness of language and boldness of vision. Set in the author’s girlhood hometown of Lorain, Ohio, it tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. In the autumn of 1941, the year the marigolds in the Breedloves’ garden do not bloom. Pecola’s life does change- in painful, devastating ways.
What its vivid evocation of the fear and loneliness at the heart of a child’s yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment. The Bluest Eye remains one of Tony Morrisons’s most powerful, unforgettable novels- and a significant work of American fiction.

The Bluest EyeThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a reread for me, having read it in school, and I appreciated it just as much the second time around. Toni Morrison is one of my favorite writers. It was a heavy-hearted read. I would recommend it to those who enjoy learning about American literature, culture, and history, personal stories, and to anyone who appreciates the telling of life circumstances in its most raw form.

The author, Toni Morrison, told about moments in time with such relevant insight. Joys of innocence met with tragic yearning. The style of writing followed such a rich, loose, unrestrained, and descriptive language that read both beautifully and brilliantly. The content itself was difficult to read at times, which brought up highly sensitive, yet important topics and situations. It was a thought-provoking juxtaposition of the telling of a powerful and often painful narrative through prose and unfiltered, informal dialogue.

MY FAVORITE LINES:

“If happiness is anticipation with certainty, we were happy.”

“And you look like the north side of a southbound mule.”

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Historical Fiction Horror

Dracul by J.D. Barker, Dacre Stoker

The prequel to Dracula, inspired by notes and texts left behind by the author of the classic novel, Dracul is a riveting novel of gothic suspense that reveals not only Dracula’s true origins but Bram Stoker’s — and the tale of the enigmatic woman who connects them.

DraculDracul by J.D. Barker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Random House for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the First to Read program. All opinions are my own. Not sponsored.

Loved this! The writing was beautiful. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, suspense, supernatural thrillers, gothic literature, or horror genres and also to anyone interested in the backstory of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Stoker’s early life, and his inspiration for authorship.

The authors, Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker, did an amazing job with the preservation of the characteristic epistolary relationship to the narrative and changing of multiple points of view, dialogues, voices, tenses, settings, and time. The original thought was upheld and intention of the story and presentation was well executed in a way that I think brought proud justice to the works of Bram Stoker, as well as his writing process and personal life.

The tone was one of discovery and intrigue as it depicted feats beyond human strength within an allegorical context. This included revelations of Bram Stoker in life and story, which was further explained in the authors’ note and was fascinating to read. The language, syntax, and decision-making within the plot, though written in a retrospective manner, this being a prequel, maintained authenticity of the time it was written and complimented the original novel and original journal entries and letters perfectly. I loved the language, expression, and descriptions used, being from the 19th century timeframe, which showcased both the talents of the authors as writers and the essence of classic gothic literature. The characters, both protagonists and antagonists alike, had individual qualities with depth, passion, and a moral code to each their own that shed light into the driving theme of vampirism and offered an understanding of all its attributes and rationales.

As far as the plot itself, it was a real page-turner and I thoroughly enjoyed the way it was organized chronologically as it unfolded into a deeper interconnection of subplots. The shaping of the story was compelling as was the climax and epilogue. It followed a gripping timeline of events that captured the themes, imagination, drama, and emotion of the original Dracula novel, in addition to having a complete set of characteristics for a stand alone novel in its own right as well.

MY FAVORITE LINES: To be revealed upon final publication.

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Adventure Book Reviews Books Classics Featured Fiction Historical Fiction Humor

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Don Quixote has become so entranced by reading chivalric romances, that he determines to become a knight-errant himself. In the company of his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, his exploits blossom in all sorts of wonderful ways. While Quixote’s fancy often leads him astray – he tilts at windmills, imagining them to be giants – Sancho acquires cunning and a certain sagacity. Sane madman and wise fool, they roam the world together, and together they have haunted readers’ imaginations for nearly four hundred years.

With its experimental form and literary playfulness, Don Quixote generally has been recognized as the first modern novel. The book has had enormous influence on a host of writers, from Fielding and Sterne to Flaubert, Dickens, Melville, and Faulkner, who reread it once a year, “just as some people read the Bible.”

Don QuixoteDon Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book! It’s one of my all-time favorite novels and was even better the second time around. This was a reread for me, having read it in high school. For this read, I attempted to interpret several excerpts in Spanish and followed along with the Open Yale Course, SPAN 300 which was excellent and it made for a rich learning experience about comparative literature, art, and Spanish language and culture. I would highly recommend this book to everyone and to check out the course as a supplement to your reading as well.

The author, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, wrote with such depth, expression, humor, and passion. It transcended literature in the areas of ethnic, cultural, and gender expression at the time it was written and today, it marks such a bountiful telling of a story and text with representation, idealization, and realism that anyone at any life stage can appreciate.

The storyline itself was so full of adventure, emotion, and surprises. A picaresque novel at its finest.

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The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

The second book in Philippa’s stunning new trilogy, The Cousins’ War, brings to life the story of Margaret Beaufort, a shadowy and mysterious character in the first book of the series – The White Queen – but who now takes centre stage in the bitter struggle of The War of the Roses.

The Red Queen tells the story of the child-bride of Edmund Tudor, who, although widowed in her early teens, uses her determination of character and wily plotting to infiltrate the house of York under the guise of loyal friend and servant, undermine the support for Richard III and ultimately ensure that her only son, Henry Tudor, triumphs as King of England.

Through collaboration with the dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret agrees to a betrothal between Henry and Elizabeth’s daughter, thereby uniting the families and resolving the Cousins War once and for all by founding of the Tudor dynasty.

The Red Queen (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels, #3)The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thoroughly enjoyed this book! I read this for Allthatglitters/Glitterature Book Club (yes it’s been in storage for over 10 years). I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical accounts about the medieval period and English aristocracies or romance novels. More specifically, it focuses on the life of Margaret Beaufort who was a matriarchal influence during the time England experienced several civil wars over the throne of England during the 15th century.

The character of Lady Margaret was well distinguished from Elizabeth Woodville in this series. I appreciated the way the author Philippa Gregory depicted Lady Margaret as pious, yet was able to add an ambitious tone that helped to identify the qualities that came with her transition from powerless to powerful.

Though I’m typically not a fan of first person perspective and present tense, especially in combination, surprisingly, it actually made the story and Lady Margaret’s character much more palatable. I felt this style of writing helped to ease my dislike for Lady Margaret’s self-serving agenda and hyper-spirituality which dominated her life story. The writing accurately reflected both her sharp and clever perspectives during an age of innocence which in turn, further cut into Lady Margaret’s desire to constantly prevail and succeed in achieving her title and life for her son. Also the character’s loyalty to the House of Lancaster and well-learned interests were anchored in this style of writing. And I especially enjoyed reading about Lady Margaret’s introspective thoughts when her husband Thomas Stanley puts her in her place.

Like The White Queen, I appreciated the level of historical detail and character depth that Philippa Gregory delivered.

MY FAVORITE LINES:

“What was his coward’s way out? when the doors of the church open, and I have to walk forwards and take the hand of my new husband, and stand before a priest and swear to be a wife. I feel his big hand take mine and I hear his deep voice answer the questions, where I just whisper. He pushes a heavy ring of Welsh gold on my finger, and I have to hold my fingers together like a little paw to keep it on. It is far too big for me. I look up at him, amazed that he thinks such a marriage can go ahead, when his ring is too big for my hand and I am only twelve and he is more than twice my age: a man, tempered by fighting and filled with ambition. He is a hard man from a power-seeking family. But I am still child longing for a spiritual life, praying that people will see that I am special. This is yet another of many things that nobody seems to care about but me.”

“Gwyneth looks at me. “What does it say?” she asks.
“Nothing,” I say. The lie comes to my mouth so swiftly that it must have been put there by God to help me, and therefore it does not count as a lie at all.”

“For a moment out eyes meet, but we exchange nothing except a grim determination to get this parting over, to get this exile under way, to keep this precious boy safe. I suppose that Jasper is the only man whom I have loved, perhaps he is the only man whom I will ever love. But there has never been time for words of love between us: we have spent most of our time saying good-bye.”

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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory presents the first of a new series set amid the deadly feuds of England known as the Wars of the Roses.

Brother turns on brother to win the ultimate prize, the throne of England, in this dazzling account of the wars of the Plantagenets. They are the claimants and kings who ruled England before the Tudors, and now Philippa Gregory brings them to life through the dramatic and intimate stories of the secret players: the indomitable women, starting with Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen.

The White Queen (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels, #2)The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thoroughly enjoyed the level of detail in this novel. I read this for Allthatglitters/Glitterature Book Club (yes it’s been in storage for over 10 years). I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical accounts about the medieval period and English aristocracies or romance novels. More specifically, it focuses on the life of Elizabeth Woodville, one of the queens of England during the 15th century.

The author Philippa Gregory wrote extensively about happenings within the royal lineage and her level of research did not go unnoticed in this book. I found it fascinating and enjoyed the storyline that went along with it. The characters and their thought process were well depicted and flowed flawlessly, especially given the creativity it took to marry the fictional and nonfictional historical timeline of events. I appreciated how the language and historical accounts were not overshadowed by over-the-top romanticism and undue drama for sake of the true story line.

But of course, which I knew I would have qualms about already, is the point of view of the writing. First person is hardly ever my cup of tea unless it’s an excerpt from a diary or autobiography. Then there’s my dislike for present tense. And this book was written using a combination of both. It was an enjoyable read anyway though!

MY FAVORITE LINES:

“This is a woman whose belly is filled with pride. She has been eating nothing but her own ambition for nearly thirty years.”

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Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa

A stunningly ambitious and beautiful debut novel, perfect for fans of Sarah’s Key and All the Light We Cannot See, the story of a twelve-year-old girl’s harrowing experience fleeing Nazi-occupied Germany with her family and best friend, only to discover that the overseas asylum they had been promised is an illusion.

The German GirlThe German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A very interesting premise. I would recommend it to anyone who is unaware of the events surrounding the S.S. St. Louis, especially High School students. I don’t think it’s mentioned in school curriculum to any level of detail that it should be, at least not in my personal past educational experience.

The plot was developed around a refugee crisis and hones in on the experiences of a little girl named Hannah who flees the Nazi-dictatorship in Germany. It then alternates with the life of a girl named Anna. Their stories are connected mostly in parallel and I had a hard time distinguishing the voices of the characters and with why it was necessary to tell Anna’s story to such extent in this book. There were also overly descriptive details about the scenes rather than the feelings and connections toward them.

I appreciated what the book was about in overall premise. It was the character development and their behaviors that I didn’t understand. It made it difficult for me to gain a good sense of persuasion and connectivity to the circumstances they faced. I don’t doubt the ethos of Armando Correa, it’s obvious he’s a talented writer and did his research, but there were elements of emotion missing from the thoughts and behaviors of the characters.

As far as content is concerned, the book started out with Hannah’s incredibly intense vitriol toward her mother and that was the opening hook. The story moved so slow after that and I didn’t see where the source of chronic unhappiness stemmed from aside from the discrimination and resulting crisis she was about to face and I’m not convinced that her attitude would have changed at any rate. I got the feeling Hannah as well as her mother were inherently cynical of their circumstances in all light, even during happy times. They lacked vision and were picky about their circumstances even when the alternative could have resulted in broken relationships or even death. I don’t believe readers have to like the character of every book, but writers need to at least give a solid rationale for readers not to like them.

The thoughts and actions of Hannah were told in first person; however, they were met with vocabulary and behaviors that were more adultish in nature than what is reasonable for a little girl of her age. I think there were less relevant developmental milestones and writing from a preteen’s perspective. Hannah’s character lacked value and good judgment in addition to her inability to sympathize with others. Pure ignorance could have been excused by possessing a childlike innocence but that was undermined by the use of such robust vocabulary. She also resorted to day dreams and nostalgic yearnings for her friend Leo. However it was hard to get a good grasp of their relationship and unexpected disengagements throughout the book because of the mixture of juvenile adultism and emotional immaturity that didn’t really fit into any spectrum, whether child, adolescent, or adult.

There were also less developed sub plots and I felt the majority of hardships resulting in emotional, mental, and physical devastation that resulted from the war and Nazi regime was left out. The omission of words like “Nazi” and “Jew” and use of substitutes such as “Ogres” made the message less powerful in my opinion, like a self-censoring attempt to soften the realities of the time and how we perceive them today.

It’s an important and interesting story but I don’t think it was told in the most compelling way. I would like to try reading another book by Armando Correa in the future.

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