Monthly Archives: August 2016

Review: Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick

4 Stars

The full title of this book is Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution.  This book focuses on the middle years of the American Revolution and the relationship that George Washington had with the now infamous Benedict Arnold.  Most of us know only what we’ve read in our history books.  That Washington was the hero of the revolution and Arnold was a traitor who defected back to the British when he didn’t get his way.  He became America’s best known traitor and Washington became America’s greatest President.  If only it were that simple.

This isn’t a book for everyone.  This is definitely a book for those who have a love of history and just want to learn more.  It doesn’t read like a novel by any means, but there is still an element of suspense as the reader is taken from the early days of the Revolutionary War and follows the paths of both Arnold and Washington as they make their way through history.  The choices that each of them made changed the course of a war and the building of a nation.

Very few people recognize Benedict Arnold as anything other than a traitor to his nation.  There is no doubt that he was a traitor.  But what led this man, who was once a revered leader and passionate believer in the revolutionary cause, to turn coat and go back to the British side?  He was once hailed as the Hero of Saratoga.  He was injured twice in battle but still begged to be able to do his part for the Cause.  Brash, uncouth and self-important, Benedict Arnold ruffled feathers and rubbed people the wrong way everywhere he went.  He was passed over for promotion repeatedly and he felt that he was not being used to his potential.

This book takes you into the events that led up to Arnold’s decision to turn away from the American cause and go back to the side of the British.  He believed he was doing the right thing, or at least that was how he was trying to spin it.  Benedict Arnold had only one cause, himself.  The selfish whims of one man nearly brought about the end of the fight for independence.  Instead of bringing about the downfall of the American fight for their independence, his actions brought about a change in how most citizens felt about this long war and only strengthened their resolve to win this war.

I would recommend this to anyone who has a love of history and a fascination with the Revolutionary War.  My only dislike was that it wasn’t totally linear in fashion, it did jump around quite a bit and lots of back and forth.  But it was still a very good read and gives new insight into who Benedict Arnold was and what his motivations were.  There is an extensive bibliography at the end as well as portraits and drawings of the key figures and events.

 

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Filed under Historical, Non-Fiction

Review: Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

3 Stars

If you cry easily, don’t read the beginning and ending of this book in public.  I did so and received very concerned looks from my co-workers as tears were streaming down my face and I choked back a sob or two.

The story is about Ted and his dog, Lily.  They have been together for twelve and a half years and she is the greatest love of his life.  Sadly, that love affair is about to come to an end.  Lily has an octopus on her head.  That is the figurative term that Ted has given the tumor that is taking the life of his dear friend, his companion.

The book starts so well.  Any pet parent can empathize with Ted and I’m sure we’ve all had different descriptions for tumors, cancers and other things that threaten to take them away from us.  Ted’s calling the tumor an octopus is a fairly apt description and I wasn’t bothered by it at first.  But then it got a little out of control.  I think the story could have done without Ted going overboard on the whole octopus allegory.  The “trip” that he and Lily take was really over the top and.  For me, this wasn’t a good thing.  I think it really took away from what could have been a very moving story about a man and his dog.

The character of Ted was also somewhat of a disappointment.  It was hard to feel a lot of empathy with him at several points.  He just seemed incredibly selfish and shallow at times.  He was at his sister’s wedding and was wondering why more people weren’t asking him about how he was feeling because Lily had just undergone surgery.  What?  Really?  And his interactions with his therapist, instead of coming across as amusing, came across as arrogant and downright rude.

There is redemption in the end.  The last chapters were the hardest to get through but were also the most enjoyable.  They felt the most real and the most genuine.  The pain was visceral and heart-wrenching.  The hope at the end was uplifting and joyful.  If the rest of the book had been as powerful as the last few chapters, this would have easily been a 5 star book.  I still recommend this book, especially to pet lovers and pet owners.  If you can get past the awkward middle of the book, you will be rewarded at the end.

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Filed under General Fiction

Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

2 1/2 Stars

Louisa Clark finds herself without a job.  Her family depends on her paycheck to keep them afloat and without it, there is tension within the family.  She goes through a series of dead-end jobs and those that simply don’t fit.  Somehow, she lands a job as a care-taker for a quadriplegic man named Will Traynor.  The Traynor family are well-known in town and are quite fabulous and wealthy.  Will was an extremely active man who took life by the horns and lived every day to the fullest.  Injured in a freak accident, he is now confined to a wheelchair and must depend on others for his basic care.

Will has decided that this life he’s living is one that he’d rather not.  He has made a decision to take his life and his care into his own hands.  But what he didn’t count on was Louisa Clark.  He couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams that this colorful and chatty woman will change his life just as she can’t imagine that this abrasive and rude man will change hers in ways unimaginable.

My opinion of this book is quite different from pretty much everyone else.  Since the movie was announced, everyone has been falling all over themselves with praise for this book.  I can respect their opinions and can even see why many have rated it much higher.  But I just couldn’t get there.  There were too many things that annoyed me for me to give it anything higher than my 2 1/2 stars.  The plot wasn’t lacking, the writing wasn’t lacking.  It for me, it was the characters.

One of the main characters is Louisa Clark, alternately known as Lou or Clark.  She is a 26 year old woman who seems to have no ambition in life other than to dress herself in the most garish and outrageous outfits she possibly can.  She is immature, selfish and resentful.  Due to incidents that happened to her in the past, she refuses to even try to do anything that might better her life or the lives of those around her.  She engages in fights with her sister that I outgrew when I was in my teens.  She is in a relationship with a man that’s going nowhere and she does nothing to help it one way or the other.  I almost feel sorry for Patrick, especially when she whines about how he changed from a doughy couch potato into a hard-bodied runner.  Really?!

Louisa has absolutely no marketable skills beyond being able to make a cup of tea, smile and chatter on about nothing.  How she landed an interview as a care-taker in the first place is a bit of a stretch.  But being hired!?  She has absolutely no experience whatsoever but is hired by this wealthy family to look after their severely disabled son?  Not on your life.  I understand wanting someone who is not a stuffy, old Nurse Ratched, but come on.  It was such a stretch of the imagination for me that it really did detract from the storyline.  I just couldn’t get past it.

Will and Louisa don’t get off to a very good start.  He’s quite abrasive and rude, and I can empathize here because knowing the kind of life that he lived prior to his accident, I don’t think I would exactly be a ray of sunshine either.  He’s battling to take control of his life against the wishes of his family and the last thing that he wants is someone new intruding into his life and trying to wrest control away from him once again.  But he really is a jerk.

I know that a lot of people have a real issue with the elephant in the room.  Will wants to take ultimate control of his life and be the person who decides when it ends.  Everyone is going to have an argument either for or against the right to die.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion.  What I didn’t like was how Will tries to take control of Louisa’s life.  Will is telling Louisa that she needs to live.  She needs to not settle and live her life as fully as possible.  I can empathize with how Will is feeling in his present condition, but isn’t it a little more than hypocritical to tell someone how to live their life when you are begging for control of your own?  And how can you be so emphatic that someone go out and LIVE when you are counting down the days until you can die?  I don’t know, for me it just didn’t jive.

I will admit that I cried and that I did find some of the later interactions between Will and Louisa to be very touching and very tender.  I think that they did bring each other happiness for a brief period of time.  I was very surprised with the ending, especially given everything that led up to it.  I’m not sure what the message was that the author was trying to get across because with the way that the story ended, the message really became quite muddled and far too many people came away with what I think was probably the wrong message.

I will say that each person is going to get something different from this story.  This was just my opinion.  I would recommend that you pick it up and read it.  This was a well-written story, I just had some issues I couldn’t get over.  I will probably take up the sequel just to see what happens to Louisa after the epilogue.

 

 

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Filed under Romance, Women's Fiction

Review: The Ruby Brooch by Katherine Lowry Logan

2 Stars

As the sole survivor of a car accident that took the lives of her parents and best friend, Kit MacKlenna struggles with survivor guilt.  This is especially hard for Kit because as an EMT, she was trained to save lives and she feels that she failed to save her loved ones.  She comes home to her family seat, a sweeping horse ranch, only to learn that the life she knew was built on a lie.  In a letter from her father, he reveals that she was abandoned as a baby 160 years earlier and the only clues to her identity are a blood-splattered shawl, a portrait of a 19th century man and a Celtic ruby brooch, which her father claims has magical powers.  Kit decides to continue her father’s search for her true identity and solve her birth parents’ murder.

Kit travels back to 1852 and arrives in Independence, where she meets Cullen Montgomery.  He is a San Francisco bound lawyer who is leading a wagon train over the Oregon Trail.  Against his better judgement, he helps Kit join his wagon train.  She passes herself off as a widow and makes fast friends with one of the families on the train as she hires their son as a driver.  But Cullen doesn’t believe Kit is who she says she is and he is determined to find out why she’s lying and what she’s hiding.  Especially after a series of accidents and miraculous survivals show Kit to be more than a simple widow.

As someone who has read a lot of fantasy novels, it’s not too hard for me to suspend belief and accept the supernatural and unusual.  But The Ruby Brooch wants me to not only to accept the existence of magic and time-travel, it also wants me to ignore basic science and common-sense.  I just couldn’t do it.  I could accept that Kit took her iPod and a solar charger with her and could listen to music, it might just be possible to do so.  But to be able to watch YouTube?!  Also, people were far too accepting of Kit’s behavior.  They just shrugged it off instead of being distrustful of her.  The only person who even has a hint of distrust is Cullen but he tempers that against his growing feelings toward her.

I had a lot of high hopes for this book.  I was really hooked by the description and the first few chapters did have me looking forward to Kit’s adventures.  I did appreciate that the author made Kit a fairly strong female lead and not a typical damsel in distress, though she does seem to find herself in trouble more often than not along the trail.  Unfortunately almost all of the characters followed a typical stereotype.  You had the crusty but heart-of-gold sidekick, the ever-faithful and strong mother, the little girl that reminded Kit of herself, and of course the dashing hero.

The romance between Cullen and Kit was more annoying than interesting.  At times I wanted to just scream at both of them.  Granted, I think most novels with a romance angle have many readers doing the same thing as we get frustrated with the characters lack of common sense!

The writing wasn’t bad and it was a quick read.  I just couldn’t get interested in Kit and Cullen the way that many other readers have been able to.  There wasn’t a connection for me.  There are other books in this series, but I’m not sure I’ll be checking them out.

 

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Filed under Fantasy, Romance

Review: Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

5 Stars

I will readily admit that I have the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat most days.  I have memorized every line.  I will admit without shame or embarrassment that I’m quite addicted to this work of art and hope that someday I’ll be able to see the production in person.  For now, I’m going to make due with reading Hamilton: The Revolution.  Ok, I’ll probably read it more than once…or twice…

For starters, the book itself is absolutely beautiful.  In recent years, most of my purchases have been e-books and the random paperback.  It has been awhile since I’ve purchased a hardcover book and I can’t remember ever seeing one so well put together.  It reminds me of a book you would see in someone’s library with a heavy, embossed cover and thick pages with a natural unfinished edge.  I can attest to the fact that it looks wonderful sitting on my coffee table.  I would definitely recommend against getting this as an e-book.  As wonderful as e-books are, I don’t think that they can truly capture the beauty of this book.  There are a lot of pictures and I just don’t think that an e-book can truly do this book justice.

Surprisingly enough, I have never read a libretto, so I did not know what to expect.  I didn’t know if I was just going to be seeing the musical written out like a play, showing who is singing what part and some minor stage blocking and positions, etc.  I would have been happy with just that.  I would have found it a wonderful companion to the soundtrack.  But this book is so much more.

You’re given an insider’s view of the creation of Hamilton and what led Lin-Manuel to create this tremendous work of art.  You’re also walked through the production and how they created magic not only with the staging of the production, but how each of the original cast was brought in.  For those of us who are new to the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda, it’s an amazing insight into his creation process and the tremendous amount of respect that the Broadway community and music community as a whole have for him and his creations.  People were literally begging to be part of this endeavor before it was even much more than just an idea and a few songs.

On nearly every page there is an amazing photograph.  Some are photographs from the stage production and some are candid shots of Lin-Manuel or other people instrumental in the phenomenon known as Hamilton.  There is even a surprise for people who haven’t yet seen the show but are addicted to the soundtrack.  There is a scene in the show that wasn’t included in the soundtrack and you’re able to both read the scene and there is a gorgeous photographic background showing what it looks like in the production.

The annotations to every song are more than worth the cost of the book.  Getting the story from Jeremy McCarter was amazing enough, but to see into the inner workings of Lin-Manuel’s mind was just priceless.  To see where the inspiration came from for the different numbers and what went into them is just awe-inspiring.  The attention to detail and historic accuracy are amazing.  When he takes liberties with the timeline or with certain characters, Lin-Manuel is quick to point out what he changed and why.  I got almost giddy with anticipation when I turned the page and went to the next song, waiting to see what notes were in the margin and what new things I was going to learn.

I really can’t say enough about this book.  I know that it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but this is a work that is for everyone.  Even if you hate musicals, don’t follow theatre and don’t have a clue who Alexander Hamilton or Lin-Manuel Miranda are, take a chance on this book.  This is more than just a play.  More than just a musical.  More than just the telling of the life of one of our founding fathers.  Everyone is going to get something different from Hamilton, especially for those who have never cared about history.  This work opens up a whole new perspective into our past.

I hope to someday be one of the lucky ones to be able to see Hamilton.  I want to be in the room where it happens.

 

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Filed under Biography/Memoir, Historical, Non-Fiction

Review: Results May Vary by Bethany Chase

3 Stars

Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read this book prior to publication.

Can you ever really know the person you love?

This is the over-arching theme of this book.  Caroline Hammond asks herself that question as she discovers that her husband, Adam has been having an affair with another man.  As if that devastating news wasn’t already hard enough to bear, she also learns that he’s been  hiding a whole host of other secrets from her for years.  She begins to question how well she really knew this man that she’s spent half her life with.

The story follows Caroline as she works through the initial shock of Adam’s betrayal.  As she questions herself and everyone around her.  How could she not have known?  Did anyone have any idea?  She was completely blindsided by his affair, never had any clue that he was anything other than the loving man that she’s been with since she was a teenager.  The story winds through her life over the next few months as she learns more and more about this man she married.  Adam is more of a stranger to her now than someone who she’s shared her life with for nearly two decades.

I enjoyed the story and though the plot was a familiar one, it was handled very well.  There was a flow to the story that worked very well.  There were some awkward moments, especially between Caroline and her best friend and also with her sister.  Caroline’s coming to terms with her divorce and dealing with her loneliness are heart-wrenching at times.

Adam is nearly unredeemable.  Not only does he cheat on his wife and destroy his wedding vows, he cannot take any responsibility for his actions.  He’s completely unable to explain himself or gives banal and inane responses.  If he’s truly this shallow and unrepentant, what did Caroline see in him in the first place?  I wanted to strangle him every time he opened his mouth.  I could find no redeeming  qualities in Adam and was very happy in Caroline’s decision to kick him to the curb where he belongs.

A decent woman’s fiction book with a little romance thrown in.  There are a few racy passages, but nothing too extreme.  I did enjoy Caroline’s foray back into the dating world and all the fun that comes with it!

 

 

 

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Filed under Romance, Women's Fiction