Friday, November 10, 2017

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

Title: Girl in Snow
Author: Danya Kukafka
Read by: Kirby Heyborne, Jacques Roy, and Candace Thaxton
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 9 hour and 13 minutes
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

High school “it” girl Lucinda is found with a broken neck next to the elementary school carousel in a small town in Colorado.  Who would have murdered Lucinda and why?  This story is told through the perspectives of three very different people.  But like all small towns, their story arcs are connected in more ways than they could have imagined.

Cameron Whitley is very socially awkward.  A quiet soul who loves art, he also loves to play “statue nights” and walk around the neighborhood hiding as a “statue” and watching families through their windows, in particular, he loves to watch the beautiful Lucinda. Was he Lucinda’s stalker or a misunderstood youth?  Cameron’s father was a cop who went bad and left town years ago, but the town has not forgotten.

Russ Fletcher is a cop and former partner of Cameron’s father.  He is investigating the death of Lucinda and finds himself entrenched in the story with his brother-in-law Ivan, the school night time janitor a suspect, as well as his former partner’s son, whom he promised to protect.  Will he be able to find the true killer as well as the truth about himself?

Jade Dixon-Burns was once Lucinda’s friend, but now considers herself her enemy.  Lucinda not only stole her baby sitting job, but also the boy she loved.  With backyards that abut, Jade has noticed happenings around Lucinda that play into the greater narrative.  Is Jade a killer or another misunderstood youth?

I liked the three interconnected narratives and different perspectives.  I really liked Jade’s sass and how she told things from the point of view of what she should have said and what really happened.  I loved that the audiobook had three different narrators to tell the three point of views. 

The story moved pretty slow for me and was more of a young adult novel than a true thriller.  I didn’t feel connected to Lucinda at all and didn’t care about her death as much as I should have.  There was some major plot turns later in the book that didn’t feel true with the narrative that lead up to that point.  SPOILER ALERT (Russ and Cameron’s dad and their pinky love.  What????) SPOILER END  I had listened to the audiobook of Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia earlier this year and it was a much superior book . . . I think part of my problem was I kept comparing that book to this with the similar subject, high school girl murdered in a small town.  I figured out the murderer in Girl in the Snow pretty early on in the game, although I did doubt myself a couple of times.

Overall, Girl in Snow is an interesting story of murder in a small town, with a very well written story of a teenage problems and angst.  I want Jade Dixon-Burns to have her own spin off.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Sugarplum Way by Debbie Mason (TLC Book Tour)

Looking for a bit of romance as you head into the Christmas season?  Sugarplum Way may be the book for you.

Julia Landon lives in the small town of Harmony Harbor.  Besides running a bookstore, she is also secretly a romance novelist.  It just so happens that the hero of her novels seems to be a lot like the real life Aidan Gallagher.  He is a dark and brooding cop that has newly arrived back in Harmony Harbor.  Divorced and trying to figure out how to be a good dad, Aidan is also still secretly depressed about the death of his mother and young sister in a car accident years before.  Back in his home town, Aidan is also suspicious of Julia.  Why does she like Christmas so much and why is she always around his family trying to find them their happily ever after?  Julia does not want Aidan to find out her secret, but she can’t deny the attraction she has for him.

I enjoyed the story. I found Aidan to be mysterious and I did want to find out the truth behind Julia’s secret.  I had not read the previous three books in the series.  This mostly did not affect me, but maybe the secret was out in the other books?    For me it was an interesting build up to the revelation and fall out that then occurred.  I felt the book had just the right mix of humor, Christmas, and light romance.

I really liked the characters. I liked that there was an entire town involved and I loved Julia’s spunk and Christmas cheer.  Aidan was appropriately dark and brooding, with a sensitive side underneath.  I would have loved to learn more about Julia’s romance novel – I really wanted to read an excerpt!

This quote made me laugh out loud when I was reading this novel:

“A lie by any other name is still a lie.”  “How about an alternative fact??

Overall, Sugarplum Way is an enjoyable Christmas novel that will be sure to delight you with its charm this Christmas season! 

Book Source:  Review Copy for being a part of the TLC Book Tour. Thank-you!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Caroline by Sarah Miller

“Ma.”  A loving presence in her daughters’ lives, but also a pillar of strength, Ma typified the pioneer experience in the Little House books.  In Caroline, Ma or Caroline Quiner Ingalls, finally gets the story told from her point of view.

Caroline is basically a retelling of Little House on the Prairie from Ma’s point of view.  It encompasses all of the same events, with a few adjustments to adhere more to the historical record.

The story starts in February 1870 when Caroline, Charles, and their daughters, Laura and Mary set off “west” (really more south) to the frontier of Kansas.  Charles is intrigued by the idea of the bountiful prairie land, but Caroline is pregnant and unsettled to think about being so far away from family.  The novel goes through the hardships of the journey and the building of a new place in Kansas.  Caroline has to make do with what she can while she also longs for the safety and familiarity left behind in Wisconsin.  Luckily the Ingalls family makes new friends in Kansas.

It was interesting seeing Little House through adult eyes.  Most the major events play out the same, although Ma has more fears and reservations in her thoughts than Laura would have pointed out in her children’s point of view.  I like how items were updated such as Jack the dog getting purchased along with the horses (I just learned this fact this summer in South Dakota!), Ma having baby Carrie in Kansas instead of Carrie traveling with, and most importantly updating why the Ingalls family had to leave “their” land.  In Little House on the Prairie the government forces them off, in Caroline, it was because they had settled actually on Native American land that was not open for settlement.  In Caroline they leave as the person who bought their home in Wisconsin defaulted on the mortgage, which is what really happened.  Mr. Edwards has never been proven to be real (probably a combination of real people), but I was glad he was kept in Caroline.  He is one of my favorite characters, in particular when he saves Christmas.

Truthfully, I enjoyed the novel, but it took me a really long time to read it and get into it.  It moved really slowly to me.  I think it’s because it really just sticks to the story from Little House on the Prairie, which I had recently read with my daughter, but it’s missing the magic of the original children’s tale.  Caroline always seemed stressed out – but I guess who wouldn’t be living on the prairie?  I was hoping for more of an original tale – for example more of a story of Caroline’s youth or meeting of Pa.  There were glimpses in this novel.  There were also scenes of romance between Pa and Ma, which both disturbed me and also gave in to my curiosity.  I’ve always wondered about relations in a one room cabin.  Ha!!!  Caroline is still racist towards Native Americans in this book and there is really a good description of why.  I would have liked more of that as the racism always makes me cringe.

I’m a little sad as I highlighted my favorite quotes in the e-book, but my kindle is not showing them.  I apologize for not having them in this review.  The only quote showing up is this:

“’It’s too much,’ she told him, as she always did.  His face told her it wasn’t nearly enough, as it always did.”  - I loved the love between Caroline and Charles.  Charles is more the dreamer always looking on the bright side, while Caroline is the more practical spouse.

I really enjoyed the author’s note at the end discussing the real history and why she made the changes to the story that she did.

Overall, Caroline was an interesting take on the Little House on the Prairie story from Ma’s point of view.  I would recommend it to someone who hasn’t read Little House on the Prairie recently so that you have more of a surprise while reading it.

Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow – Thanks!!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Midnight Confessions by Stephen Colbert

Title: Midnight Confessions
Author: Stephen Colbert
Read by: Stephen Colbert
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 35 minutes
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

I am a long time Stephen Colbert fan and I am also Catholic – is this the perfect book for me? 

If you have never heard the midnight confessions bit on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, he “confesses” to things that are not actually sins, but that he may regret.  They are quick and funny bits of humor.  Organ music plays in the background, which sets the mood perfectly.  Colbert has been plugging the book on this show in a humorous way and I was happy to be able to review it.

I’ll admit that on the show, I find the Midnight Confessions bit to be uneven.  There are some funny lines, but others fall flat.  Luckily in this audiobook, only the best lines are selected and it is a hilarious composite.  The lines are actually just bits from the show so if you are looking for something new, you will be disappointed.

Stephen Colbert narrates the book which includes a new forward that goes with the book and then selected confessions from the actual show.  I love Colbert’s voice and could listen to it all day.  It made the book for me.  The audiobook is very short – only 35 minutes!

Some of my favorite “confessions:”

“I have violent thoughts when people use the terms sci-fi and fantasy interchangeably.’Oh, I love science fiction. I just read Lord of the Rings.’ I will end you.”

“I have impure thoughts about the Land O'Lakes Butter Lady. But mostly about the butter.”

“I wouldn't hurt a fly. But when it comes to mosquitoes, I am one sick some of a bitch.”

“One of the wise men in my Nativity scene broke, and instead of buying a new one, I replaced him with Lego Batman.”

Overall, this is a quick and fun audiobook that will make you laugh on your daily commute.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Innocent Dead: A Witch Cozy Mystery by Jill Nojack (The Maid, Mother, and Crone Paranormal Mystery Series – Book 1)

Title: The Innocent Dead:  A Witch Cozy Mystery
Author: Jill Nojack
Read by: Brian Callanan
Publisher: Indieheart Press
Length: Approximately 12 hours and 8 minutes
Source: Review Copy from Author Jill Nojack – Thank-you!

Natalie loved William in their youth with all of her heart until he disappeared one day, accused of being a serial murderer.  His ghost has haunted her for fifty years since, but she can never prove his innocence, nor rid him of his ghostly ugly sweater.  In the small town of Giles, Massachusetts, there are many witches and warlocks still around trying to live normal lives.  When the murders start to happen again, can Natalie prove that William was innocent after all while also stopping the murderer?

I enjoyed this paranormal mystery and it was a perfect read leading up to Halloween.  I loved the setting of the spooky small town located close to Salem, Massachusetts.  I also loved the vividly written characters.  While I loved the main love story of Natalie and William, there are also newlyweds Cassie and Tom (who was once a cat), and partners Gillian and Robert to provide an interesting love story as well.  Natalie, Cassie, and Gillian are the Maid, Mother, and Crone of the series.  They work together to solve the mystery along with a great cast of interesting side characters in town.  The mystery was great – it kept me guessing all of the way until the end!

I really enjoyed narrator Brian Callanan.  He had fantastic and unique voices for each of the characters.  It kept me intrigued with the story and looking forward to my daily commute.  I love when a narrator adds to the story in such a way and really gets into it.

The only part I didn’t enjoy about this book is that it is the first in a series, but I felt a bit lost when I first got into it as there seemed to be a fair share of back story that I didn’t know anything about.  I found out at the end that there was a series about Tom and Cassie before this series . .  . I think I need to listen to that series now!

Overall, The Innocent Dead was very enjoyable cozy mystery audiobook with great characters and setting.  It’s the perfect audiobook for this time of year. I want to know how Natalie and William’s love story ends.  I need to listen to the next book in the series!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

Are fairies real?  Two cousins in 1917 England took pictures of fairies that astounded the world.  In a world that has just seen the greatest war known to mankind, the story of these fairies gave the world hope and something positive to dream about.  The girls took the pictures for themselves, but when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle learns of them, he publishes the story and the pictures and makes the Cottingley Fairies and the girls, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, famous.  Were the fairies real?

In the present day, Olivia Kavanagh has suffered a devastating loss at the death of her Grandfather at the same time she has found out a shocking medical prognosis about herself.  Unable to face her fiancé, Olivia works at reviving her grandfather’s bookshop she has inherited in Ireland while also taking care of her grandmother who has dementia.  She stumbles across a family heirloom which is Frances Griffith’s personal story and is entranced.  Can Olivia face her own demons and start a new life for herself?

I loved how these two stories were entwined perfectly.  Each story was an escape for me during this busy time of year and I love reading about them.  Gaynor had them perfectly set in two picturesque villages in both the past and the present.  I felt like I wanted to visit them both as well as meet all of the unique and vividly portrayed characters.

I also LOVED the extras at the end of the novel which includes the fairy pictures.  I found myself constantly flipping to look at them through the story.  Gaynor wrote a great background on the Fairies and I loved the essay by Frances’s daughter as well.  I had heard of the Cottingley Fairies at some point in the past, but I didn’t know that much about them.  I really enjoyed reading this story and leaning so much more about them.

Favorite Quotes:

“Fairies will not be rushed.  I know this now; I know I must be patient.”

“But like the soft breath of wind that brushes against my skin, the things we feel cannot always be seen.”

“With my arms wrapped around Rosebud, I dreamed of heather-topped hills and sleepy valleys and a pretty woodland stream where dragonflies danced across the water as I sat down among the ferns and the meadowsweet, waiting for the summer to find me.”

“Books were Olivia’s salvation once upon a time.”

“St. Bridget’s nursing home smelled of old chrysanthemums and loss.”

“Sometimes its betters to talk about the difficult things.  Ignoring them doesn’t make them go away, sure it doesn’t?”

“Oh, sweetheart.  Some wishes are just too big, even for fairies.”

Overall, The Cottingley Secret is an entrancing story of two fascinating heroines from two different time periods with intersecting stories.  It was a great escape read and I highly recommend it!

Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow.  Thank-you!

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Little Prince Written and Illustrated by Antoine de Saint Exupery

It seems like I see The Little Prince on the majority of lists of the best books that everyone should have read. I sadly never read this as a child.  I was looking through my bookcase of kids’ books this summer and saw that we this book as part of a great deal through the Scholastic Book Order for something like ten books for ten dollars.  I gave my son Daniel a few books to choose from for us to read together and after reading the first page, he picked The Little Prince.  We actually read this book last month, but I’ve been a bit behind on my blog with student advising and mid-terms so I’m just getting to the review now. 

What entranced nine year old Daniel about this book, was the story told by the narrator in the first few pages about how to draw a boa constrictor after reading True Stories from Nature.  The story was accompanied by drawings and Daniel and I both thought it was hilarious how he chose to draw the snake and how the adults didn’t understand.  I think this was a metaphor for the rest of the novel and about life – sometimes we miss the obvious beauty in the world around us.

The Little Prince lives on a planet all by himself with three volcanoes, two active and one extinct.  He also has one beautiful flower.  He loved the flower and she loved him, but one day he decides to leave on interplanetary travels where he discovers many things before traveling to earth.

Daniel thought the Little Prince was very interesting and he really liked the pictures that went with the story.  I thought the book had beautiful language and some excellent quotes, but I’ll admit that Daniel seemed to love it more and understand it more than I did.  I kept feeling like there was a deeper meaning to the story that I just wasn’t understanding just like with the start of the story with the adults not understanding the child and the boa constrictor. Was this the engineer in me trying to read too much into it or the engineer in me looking for the hard facts and missing the philosophy?

My favorite quotes:

“But certainly, for us who understand life, figures are a matter of indifference.”

“It is much more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others.”

“But there is no shop anywhere where you can find friendship, and so men have no friends anymore.”

“It is only with the heart one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

“But the eyes are blind.  One must look with the heart. ..”

Overall, The Little Prince was a beautiful and very unique book that my son and I enjoyed reading together and discussing . . . although I feel like I was missing something profound.

What are your thoughts?  Did you love the Little Prince?  What was your favorite thing about the story?  What am I missing?  Why do you think this book is a classic?

Book Source: Purchased from a Scholastic Book Order

It’s Halloween, I’m Turning Green by Dan Gutman

I really love Holiday books.  We have bins of books for different holidays that we bring up through the year to spice up the kids’ selection of books.  Sadly we have a lot of middle reader Halloween books that the boys picked out . . . but they won’t read them as they look “too scary.”  I think I may end up reading them on my own one of these days!!

Daniel (my 9-year old) was VERY happy to see It’s Halloween, I’m Turning Green by Dan Gutman in our collection.  Daniel is a huge Dan Gutman fan.  He loves Gutman’s humor, especially in The Genius Files series.  He read the first one as part of our local library’s youth book club and we listened to the second book in The Genius Files this summer on our family trips and were very entertained.

It’s Halloween, I’m Turning Green involves the shenanigans of AJ and his friends as they go trick-o-treating.  Tragedy strikes when there candy is stolen by a Halloween monster.  Who is the Halloween monster and how can they stop him?  This book is part of the My Weird School series and is a special book in the series – but it can be read as a stand-alone novel.

Daniel enjoyed the humor of the story, the pictures by Jim Paillot, and that it was an easy read for him.  He also loved the Halloween facts at the end of the book as well as the activities.  He really liked looking at the two pictures to find the differences between them.

Overall, It’s Halloween, I’m Turning Green is a fun Halloween book for grade school readers who are looking for something humorous and not overtly scary.

Book Source:  This was purchased in the past from a Scholastic Book Order 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

Title: The History of Bees
Author: Maja Lunde
Read by: Joy Osmanski, Steve West, Gibson Frazier
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 12 hours and 8 minutes
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

What would happen to a world without bees?  The History of Bees explores this dystopian future where the world has collapsed after all of the bees and other pollinators died. There is no longer enough food to supply the world.  Economies and countries collapsed as mass starvation sets in.  Is there hope for the future?  Three parallel tales set in the past, the near present and the future reflect on the problem.

In England in 1852, William is obsessed with the study of bees and of building the perfect hive.  He suffered a personal bout of depression, but after a remark from his son inspired his passion he worked with his brilliant daughter Charlotte on his bee studies.  Are his daughters really as worthless as he believes?  Can he find a way to prove to himself and his mentor that he is worthy?

In the United States in 2007 George works a family farm and has a contentious relationship with his son.  His son is off at college and instead of studying agricultural to come back and work on the farm, he has chosen English as his major.  After the bees on his farm suffer colony collapse, George tries to figure out how to move forward with his farm and also how to have a relationship with his son.

In China in 2098, Tao works as a hand pollinator in a monotonous job. While the rest of the world has suffered greatly, China has hung on with the resilience of its people.  After Tao’s son suffers a mysterious collapse. She explores dystopian China to try to find him.  Will she find her son and what happened to him?

The audiobook of the History of Bees was excellent.  I loved that there were three distinctly different narrators, one for each storyline.  I also loved how their voices also matched the personalities for the individuals from a haughty British gentleman, to an American farmer, to a resilient woman in the future.  It was an engaging story that kept me riveted on my daily commute.  It also did a great job of tying the three story lines up at the end and coming up with a great and believable conclusion.

We talk about bees and colony collapse in the environmental science class I teach.  I thought this was a thought provoking literary fiction novel on it. What will happen to the world if we continue to ignore this problem?  I thought it was interesting as well at the placement of the action from England when it was a super power to the US when it was a super power to a future China which may be one of the only countries left.  I was also saddened the US collapsed as the regular citizens wouldn’t do the field work to pollinate the crops . . . although I could see the happening.  I still believe there are enough hard workers though that faced with starvation we could get it done, or so I hope.

I also loved the relationships between the parents and their children.  What will a parent do when expectations are not met?  Is their love conditional?  How long will it take William to realize his son his worthless, but he has at least one excellent daughter?

Overall, The History of Bees was a through provoking and intriguing novel.  I highly recommend it.

Friday, October 6, 2017

To Wager Her Heart by Tamera Alexander (TLC Book Tours)

Alexandra Jamison lives in Nashville Tennessee with her parents. An independent woman, her parents try to force her to marry an unappealing older man.  One year earlier, her fiancé, David, was killed in a horrific train crash.  David had inspired her in the love of education and education for all people.  Alexandra makes a decision to teach at Fisk University, which is a school started to teach newly freed African American students.  Her parents are not amused and she is kicked out of the house.  Alexandra faces a brave new world on her own merits.

Sylas Rutledge is a self-made man who has come to Nashville from Colorado to not only try to make a business deal to build a new railroad to Belle Meade Plantation for General William Harding, but to also solve the mystery of the train crash one year previous.  His stepfather was the engineer on the line.  Along the way he meets Alexandra and is smitten.  She agrees to teach him etiquette that is needed to do business in the South.  Will romance bloom between these two?  Will Alexandra be able to make a living as a teacher at Fisk?  What really caused the train accident?

To Wager her Heart was a wonderful Christian romance.  There is great chemistry between Alexandra and Sylas.  I really loved the unique setting.  I don’t believe I’ve ever read a historical fiction novel set during Reconstruction in Tennessee.  I also have not read too many historical fiction or Christian novels that really delve into diversity and what it means like in To Wager Her Heart.  It was a very intriguing story on many levels.  I also greatly enjoyed the mystery of the train accident.  This novel is the third volume in a series, but I read it as a standalone novel and greatly enjoyed it.
I also really enjoyed learning about the Jubilee singers as Alexandra travels around with them on tour.  They were a group of amazing African American singers that toured America to raise funds for Fisk University. The most heart rending for me was one young man who kept searching for his mother that he had separated from when he was a boy and still a slave.

I also love that Tamera Alexander has a lot of background information on her website -  She also has great book club bonus features including that she will skype with your book club - which would be very fun!

Favorite quotes:

“Every choice comes at a cost, and yours is no exception.”

“How different a man he was from what she’d first imagined at her first impression.”

“Life wasn’t all neat and tidy.  Along with joy and happiness, there were bitter disappointments and heart-rending loose ends.”

Overall, To Wager Her Heart was a beautiful novel.  I loved the setting, the characters, the unique story, and the romance.  I loved how author Tamera Alexander brought Christianity into the story and also how she talked about diversity.  I will definitely be checking out more of her books – I see she has a new Christmas book – A Carnton Christmas.  I also really wanted to visit the Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville now.  I think I have a new favorite author to add to my list!

Book Source:  I received a copy of this book to review as part of the TLC Book Tours.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Pegasus Bridge by Stephen E. Ambrose

Title: Pegasus Bridge
Author: Stephen E. Ambrose
Read by: Arthur Morey
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 5 hours and 58 minutes
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

Pegasus Bridge is a riveting non-fiction narrative detailing the storming and taking of Pegasus Bridge, the first engagement of D-Day, June 6, 1944.  Major John Howard and his men spent much time preparing for this day, but nothing can prepare them for the brutality of war.

Pegasus Bridge describes the months of preparation the British airborne troops went through and then gives minute by minute detail of D-Day.  The book then tells when happens to the D company in the months after D day and then the anniversaries of D-day.  Pegasus Bridge also tells the story of the Germans who were stationed at the Bridge and the French who lived in the nearby town.

I have enjoyed Stephen Ambrose’s histories in the past, especially Band of Brothers and Undaunted Courage.  I appreciated that Ambrose wrote this novel after personally meeting Major John Howard and hearing the events.  He thought it was a gripping account that would make a good book.  Originally published in the 1980s, this book has been updated since.  I especially enjoyed that Major John Howard continued to talk to those involved in the battle on both sides through the years and was able to pass on updates to the author himself.

I was intrigued by the use of the gliders transporting the troops.  My Great-Grandpa Stone was in the Army training Glider pilots in the United States during WWII.  He also worked on glider design for missions into the Asian battles. I also loved when Lord Lovat and his commandos came to the bridge blasting on their bagpipes.  If you are an Outlander fan like me, I got a secret kick out of this.

Two scenes really stood out to me in the book.  The first was during the battle, when a well-liked officer with a pregnant wife receives a mortal wound on the bridge.  When he’s found, the soldier has a surreal moment of is this really worth it?  The months of preparation only to die right before the birth of your child?  The other poignant scene was when they encounter the French shaving and humiliating women who had been with the German soldiers during occupation.  They think, everyone did why they had to do to survive, why were these women being punished for using what they had to survive?  And also, there were no young men around except the Germans for years.  Those are very good points and very humane.

As a Daphne du Maurier fan, I loved that she was brought up.  Her husband, Lieutenant General Sir Frederick “Boy” Browning was the father of the British airborne troops and she chose the red berets that they wore.  I had never heard this before and thought it was pretty neat.

I have never seen the classic movie, The Longest Day, but after hearing that the events of Pegasus Bridge are depicted in it, I know I have to check it out!  Especially cool is that a soldier who was part of the company storming the bridge that day later was played Major John Howard in the movie.

As an audiobook, I’ll admit that I had a hard time first getting into this book.  It took me awhile to get used to narrator Arthur Morey, who sounded rather dry to me.  It’s also because the start of the novel details the preparation for the assault, which was not the most exciting of details either, but was necessary to understand the later action. As the battle commenced, I found myself spell bound and unable to stop listening.

Overall, Pegasus Bridge was a great audiobook detailing the assault that helped to start and lead to victory on D-Day as well as a good look at the horrors of war.  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Northanger Abbey and the History of England by Jane Austen, Read by Alison Larkin

Title: Northanger Abbey and the History of England
Author: Jane Austen
Read by:  Alison Larkin
Publisher: British Classic Audio
Length: Approximately 9 hours and 25 minutes
Source: Purchased from

I’ll admit, when I first read Northanger Abbey as a teenager, I wasn’t sure what to think of it.  It didn’t fit the mold of Austen’s other novels. As I’ve reread it over the years, I’ve grown to love it more and more.  It is a great satiric novel about the rise in popularity of the Gothic novel.  I can just imagine Austen and her family reading many a Gothic novel and Austen deciding it was time to make fun of the genre, which she does perfectly in Northanger Abbey.

Although it is a satire, Austen writes wonderful characters that are true to life in Northanger Abbey.  Catherine loves Gothic novels a little too much, but is able to learn her lesson through the book that Gothic novels are entertaining fiction, but woefully untrue to life.  I especially love her underlying lesson about friendship – is there more of a perfect frenemy in literature than Isabella Thorpe?  Henry Tilney is a great male character and so different than Austen’s other heroes.  He is very witty and not afraid to talk about novels or muslin.  He doesn’t put on fake airs to impress people – he is who he is.

I loved the conversation between Catherine Morland and John Thorpe.  John dismisses “novels” much to Catherine’s dismay.  In the course of their conversation it becomes very apparent that John actually does read and enjoy novels and doesn’t quite know what he’s talking about.  It was hilarious and so perfectly Jane Austen.  You can still have this conversation with people today who are dismissive of “romance,” “sci-fi,” or a variety of other genres and items that really don’t know what they are talking about.

Bath is a great location for this novel and you can feel Catherine’s excitement when she visits with the Allens and gets to be a part of the social whirl.

I have listened to Alison Larkin narrate other Austen novels and I am a huge fan.  She has a light British accent and gives the characters all of their own voices.  She is a perfect narrator for Austen novels and makes them sound just like I could imagine them sounding if they were being read aloud and acted out by the Austen family by the fire.  This edition also contains Austen’s delightful satire, A History of England, one of her juvenile writings.  This was the first time I’ve listened to it on audio and I greatly enjoyed it.

Overall, Austen is a classic author with six of the finest novels ever written. Northanger Abbey is a delightful satire of the Gothic novel that also manages to tell a great character story about the true meaning of love and friendship.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Outlander Season 2

My husband Ben and I slowly have made our way through Season 2 luckily finishing it this summer so we are ready to go for Season 3 . . . although we haven’t started watching it yet!  This is life with kids and limited time for adult programing without the kids.
I’ve thought about it since finishing the season and there were points that I liked and didn’t like about Season 2.

First of all, it’s Outlander and I’ve been a fan for over twenty years.  It’s wonderful to see my favorite books on the screen.  I loved, loved, loved the costumes and sets this year.  They were stunning, especially in the French court.  The cast is wonderful in Outlander, in particular stars Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, but all of the actors are superb.  Some episodes were particularly well done, such as “Faith” and its dealing with the loss of a child.

There were also things I didn’t like about Season 2. I didn’t like the set-up of the season.  Dragonfly in Amber is one of my favorite books of the series.  Part of why I loved it is I liked how it was a mystery – is Jamie alive?  I loved the flash back to the past in the book.  The series didn’t get to the sixties until the very last episode.  Part of the loss of suspense could be that you know at this point that both the book series and TV series go on, would they really kill off Jamie?  At the time I read Dragonfly in Amber it actually was a possibility as the third book had not been published yet.  Although rereading the book later on, I still felt that same suspense even though I knew what would happen. I also felt that if I were solely a show watcher, I would have been let down by the entire lead up to the Battle of Culloden only to have the battle NOT HAPPEN.  I know it doesn’t happen in the book, but to have previews and the entire season talk about the battle and not have it happen is a giant let down.  I almost feel that part of book 3 and the battle should have been showcased.

I thought Jamie and Claire’s separation was a bit rushed too – compared to the book – but I still loved it and want them back together.  I also didn’t like how the show changed the scenes with Dougal and the Old Fox.  They were powerful scenes in the book that got lost on the show.

Overall, I enjoyed Season 2, but I felt it was missing the storytelling and passion of Season 1.  I hear the passion will be back for Season 3 and I am greatly looking forward to it.

How did you feel about Season 2?  What are you most looking forward to in Season 3?

The Official Outlander Coloring Book by Diana Gabaldon

My husband got me the Official Outlander coloring book for a present and it’s become a staple I take with me when we are camping or on a long trip.  This coloring book tells the highlights of the Outlander story, but not the complete story as it’s not a 1,000 page coloring book!  It has wonderful and detailed pictures of the story and is very relaxing to color.  It will take you some time to color these pictures because of the magnificent detail.

The pictures are by a variety of artists and include locations, herbs, clothing, jewelry as well as scenes, such as the wedding of Jamie and Claire.  The pictures are on very thick paper with a picture on one side and text on the other so you don’t have to worry about bleed through if you use markers.  I personally use color pencils.  There is a glue binding for the book and the pages are not tear out.

Overall, The Official Outlander Coloring book has wondering pictures of the story and is a most have for any Outlander fan.

Are you a fan of adult coloring books?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power by Al Gore

Title: An Inconvenient Sequel:  Truth to Power
Author: Al Gore
Read by: Al Gore, Sterling Brown, Danny Burstein, Marin Ireland, Shailene Woodley
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 4 hours and 58 minutes
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

As an environmental engineer and an instructor of an environmental engineering technology program, I should have been the obvious audience for An Inconvenient Truth.  I must admit, I had never seen that movie until just last month.  As an environmental engineer, I have been sickened by the politicization of environmental science.  Facts are facts, but we are now in an age where people can find whatever “facts” they want online and can chose to ignore data.  I’ll admit I was dubious of something that a career politician had put together on the environment.

I was pleasantly surprised by both An Inconvenient Truth the movie and An Inconvenient Sequel that audiobook.  The data presented is accurate data that matches peer reviewed articles on the topics of climate change and is indeed what I teach in my classes when we discuss the topic in class.

The audiobook did a great job of keeping it interesting by switching narrators often for different segments.  I was very happy about this as Al Gore unfortunately has a very boring speaking voice.  The different narrators kept the audiobook engaging to listen too.  I also enjoyed the “deep dive” segments on how climate change has affected different people around the world in different ways as well as biographies on important people who are making changes to help climate change by doing things such as promoting renewable energy.

The goal of An Inconvenient Sequel is to spread the science behind climate change and I fully appreciate that.  I get very aggravated when average Joe tells me that climate change is all made up as they saw a segment on Fox News that said this.  I can tell them about studies and research that was going on even when I was in college at Michigan Tech and what it told them, but they chose not to believe data or someone who works in the field.  The first half of the book gives the background science for what is climate change and why is it a problem.  The second half of the book gives examples of how as a citizen you can do something about it.  This includes registering to vote, voting, finding out who represents you in Congress, contacting your representatives, writing opinion articles, and speaking at public meetings.  These are all good tips and are items I talk to my students about.  I’ve read before that a representative only needs to hear from a few constituents to start looking into a problem.  We discussed these items in great detail when I was in Government class over twenty years ago in high school.  Unfortunately, government classes are being cut across the country and many people are not sure how to have their voices heard.

There is also a PDF that accompanies the audiobook that gives helpful tips and links.  This will be a useful resource in the future for me.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power was a very interesting audiobook that engaged readers with great science and absorbing narrators.  It was a great place for those that care about the climate to find more information as well as tips for how to make a change.  It was also a great book to let me know again why not to “judge a book by its cover.”  I went in afraid of the politics, but came out impressed by the science.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper

I have been a Louisa May Alcott fan since I was a girl.  I loved reading Little Women and most of Alcott’s other novels.  I also loved all of the different movie versions of Little Women.  I wanted to be part of the Alcott family believing they were the March family . . . until I started reading biographies of Alcott and discovered that while there were similarities, there were also many differences in which the Alcott family struggled through very difficult circumstances.  I was very intrigued by this new novel about the youngest Alcott sister, May, the basis for Amy in Little Women.

Being the basis of Amy for Little Women effects May in many ways.  Her sister Louisa and she have a difficult relationship, especially as Louisa’s writting pays for the family to live while May’s artistic renderings in Little Women receive scathing reviews.  May wants to leave the shadow of being Amy behind and find out who she is as an artist.  First traveling to Europe with Louisa and then by herself, May pushes herself to accomplish her goals and to find out what makes her happy personally.

I loved May’s travels and learning about the process of becoming an artist.  I thought it was very interesting when she met fellow women artists who were trying to make it in a male dominated field such as Mary Cassatt and the work they did to create their art and move forward. 

I enjoyed the pictures at the end of the book that showed the illustrations that May had created for Little Women.  I liked them and am unsure why they were panned.  I looked up her paintings online after I finished the book and they are quite beautiful.  There is definite growth between her early illustrations and her later paintings after she received further European instruction and traveled the world.

Most of all I loved May’s growth as a woman. Although she was an adult all through this novel, I thought it was a wonderful coming of age novel as May works to be independent, to be a true artist, and to find her happiness.  It was very interesting for her to do this during the Victorian times, which frowned upon independent women.

I’ll admit I was a bit sad by Louisa’s talk in the novel of not being happy about her success being from Little Women and her children’s novels.  I know they weren’t her first choice of material, but they are so much better than her other fiction such as “The Inheritance.”  I have always loved Little Women and An Old Fashioned Girl.  She comes off as a bit cranky in this novel.

Favorite Quotes:

“I’ve seen you digging back into your dog-eared diaries and rewriting old accounts of our lives into rosier, more harmonious versions of the truth.” – May writing about Louisa

“You two are so similar, both so hungry for something more, but at the same time, you couldn’t be more different.” Oldest sister Anna on Louisa and May

“And the sooner you abandon the idea that life is fair, you will be more productive.  This world doesn’t owe us a thing.” – Louisa to May

I enjoyed the extras in the back of this book, especially “A Conversation with Elise Hooper” on the research and background she used to create this novel.  It was very interesting.  I love that she grew up not far from Orchard House.  It’s one of my life goals to visit there one day.

Overall, The Other Alcott is a wonderful tale of an important woman in her own right, artist May Alcott and her struggle for independence and an identity separate from Amy March. 

Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow.  Thank-you!