Posted in Reviewed

Reviewed: “The Tubman Command” by Elizabeth Cobbs

My favorite books are the ones that teach me something.

Elizabeth Cobbs’ The Tubman Command taught me more about Harriet Tubman than two years of American History in high school, a B.A. in history at college, and countless documentaries, books, and movies ever did. It taught me about a part of the Civil War that seems painfully forgotten in our collective recollection of that defining war. And it taught me that the best stories we can read are the ones that are closest to being or having been real.

Everyone knows (and if you don’t, you really should) that Harriet Tubman led about seventy people to freedom in Canada as a ‘conductor’ on the Underground Railroad. That’s what gets the attention, as well it should. Sometimes we see that she was a scout and a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War, but that’s often glossed over. Without judging whether one is more important than the other, because they are equally important, it seems most important to know the whole story. That Harriet Tubman went back into the Deep South to act as a spy for the north, with a heavy bounty on her head for her work on the Underground Railroad, should be known as well.

It should be known because it brings with it a deeper understanding of the war, a reminder that cotton was not the only commodity produced by enslaved people in the South. Plantations along the South Carolina coast produced rice that fed the South and was grown by thousands of enslaved people. The Carolinas were all the more important early in the Civil War, when the North was not winning and when the strongest bases of support for the Confederacy were there. The Union Army couldn’t focus there because the Confederate Army was pushing north, and that lack of focus meant the outcome of the war hung in the balance.

That Harriet Tubman chose to go there is a testament that makes what she did before the war all the more powerful.

Books that make me look things up, make me add other books to the list of books I want to read… they are the books I like best.

The Tubman Command is that book. Through the fictionalized story Cobbs wrote, I learned that Southern slaveholders who did not support the Confederacy were allowed to bring slaves into Northern free states. I learned that Northern slave states were not required by the Emancipation Proclamation to free their slaves, and that proclamation itself was not issued until after the Union Army suffered a few defeats. I learned about General Hunter who, on the brink of being removed from command, ordered a raid up the Combahee River to burn the rice fields and destroy Confederate supplies but also to free the slaves who worked the plantations there. For General Hunter, it was partly a means to enlist freed slaves in the Union Army. He commanded Colonel James Montgomery to lead the raid and Montgomery, who had been part of Bleeding Kansas and a supporter of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, knew that the men would not enlist while their families were enslaved.

So, with Harriet Tubman, he led the raid.

My history classes never taught me this, even on days spent dedicated to Harriet Tubman.

I feel kind of cheated.

But not by Elizabeth Cobbs’ book. This book is one of the best I’ve read this year and one of the best historical fiction novels about a real person that I’ve ever read. If you like history and fiction, if you like a story that teaches you something about true heroism and valor in the face of danger, and if you like novels that tell a story of humanity on it’s basest, purest levels…

Well, then, please read this book.

I received a copy of The Tubman Command from BookishFirst in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.

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Posted in Reviewed

Reviewed: “The Night Before” by Wendy Walker

The Night Before is the story of two sisters who are not as close as they could be, thanks to a wild ride of a childhood. It starts off sounding like it’s going to a be a thriller based on the perils of online dating, and it essentially is. It morphs fairly seamlessly into a thriller based on a very troubled woman and the violent ends that befall the men she dates. And then, then it takes a turn that isn’t expected and seems to come out of nowhere.

Laura Heart Lochner is the very troubled woman. Rosie Ferro is her sister. Rosie is married to Joe. Their best friend, since childhood, is Gabe. They are on odd quartet and that’s part of what makes The Night Before readable… you just want to figure out why it works between the group of them. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t, not really… too many secrets, too many lies.

A good deal of The Night Before is based off a death that happened when the foursome were teenagers. Nobody is quite sure exactly what happened that night, even though they were all there, and nobody has ever quite learned to trust themselves or the others. Rosie medicates herself with Benadryl and wine, Joe drinks after Rosie goes to bed, Laura had an affair with her psychiatrist, and Gabe made a career of investigating other people’s lives.

Laura, recovering from an unexpected breakup (or was it?), is staying with Rosie and Joe when she decides to try online dating, figuring a site dedicated toward older men with established careers would be a safer bet than a Swipe Right-Swipe Left app. Of course, people lie online. Laura lies online. This causes a host of problems for everyone involved, including Rosie, Joe, and Gabe when Laura doesn’t return from her date with the man they don’t know.

Because this is a thriller and a mystery, writing a review is hard, especially when it’s a fairly good mystery and thriller, because spoilers could so easily be tripped into. And I don’t want to do that because The Night Before is definitely worth your time to read. If you do read it, let me know in the comments what you think of the twist. The twist bothers me a bit, but the book is sticking with me and maybe that says more than a wonky twist does.

I received an advance copy of The Night Before through NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own and my review will be posted on multiple sites.

Posted in Reviewed

Reviewed: “Repentance” by Andrew Lam

I received an advanced copy of Repentance from Tiny Fox Press in exchange for an honest and fair review. All thoughts are my own.

I don’t cry easily. Words have the power to move me, and they always do, but tears are a sign that something important, meaningful, and powerful has been committed to paper. At least for me.

I cried, more than once, as I read Andrew Lam’s Repentance.

Repentance is a story of war, of family, of understanding, of acceptance, of grief, of love…

The war is World War II. Ray Tokunaga was born a nisei (first generation Japanese born in American) in Hawaii and was drafted into the Army after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was placed in the famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team that served with distinction throughout Europe.

The family is essentially centered around Daniel Tokunaga, oldest son of Ray and Keiko Tokunaga. In 1998, when the story begins, he is a world-famous cardio-thoracic surgeon in Philadelphia and he has been estranged from his father for decades. He is absolutely convinced that Ray was too demanding and not enough understanding. And he had no idea that Ray is a highly decorated soldier.

Grief comes before understanding and acceptance, making it all the more powerful when Daniel understands, for the first time, that life cannot be as black and white as he always imagined it would be. He is taught that things aren’t always what they seem and that to assume he knows better than someone else who they are is to hurt them, to hurt himself by missing out on the chance to know them and to be known by them.

For some specific things that Lam handles with grace and respect, consider:

  • the juxtaposition of Daniel’s career as someone who saves lives, who is surrounded by blood and the looming specter of death every day, with Ray’s time fighting in the worst parts of the European Theater of Operations is perfect and almost poetic (and the first line of the novel is written in a way that all first lines should be written)
  • that Daniel more or less considers his father guilty of (verbal) child abuse until his father is a frail old man in a hospital bed and Daniel begins to consider that maybe Ray didn’t know how to love, how to show it, and that he showed love the only way he knew how – by pushing his son to be a better man than he saw himself as – is even more poetic

It’s best to leave the understanding and acceptance at that too, just so you know that I didn’t forget them, because to say more would be to spoil things and Repentance is a book that needs to be read – whether historical war fiction is your genre of choice or not, whether you are a history buff or not, whether you knew Japanese-American soldiers made up the most decorated unit in U.S. military history or not.

Please read this book. And incredible thanks to Andrew Lam for writing it and to Tiny Fox Press for giving me the chance to read it.

I’ve read a lot of historical fiction set in war, especially the two world wars. If I see it, I’ll read it. But I’m picky about my favorites. Repentance is a top three favorite now. Without a doubt.

Have you read any good historical war fiction that I should look for? Let me know in the comments!

Posted in Month-to-Month

Month-to-Month: February to March

And so ends another month. And begins another month. It’s all about balance, really.

So, to partake of this balance, I’m here to discuss (possibly just with myself… because I’m writing this without knowing you are here… but it’s easiest if I think of it just as myself) how February went and how I hope March will go.

I finished five books in February, which is not to shabby at all. Six would’ve been better, but five will do fine. Four of those books were ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ reads too. Possibly I hand out five stars too freely, but I don’t care. Fluffy chick lit types and books about sparkly vampires can be just as worthy of five stars as some hard-hitting contemporary. For me, as a reviewer and a reader, it’s about how it makes me feel.

As a tiny digression, I’m not sure I’ve laid out clearly how I give out stars so let’s do that now:

  • ⭐ – I didn’t finish the book, I won’t attempt to read it again, and it’s really not worth your time
  • ⭐⭐ – I finished it, don’t ask me how, and I’ll probably forget it by this time next month so don’t read it on my word
  • ⭐⭐⭐ – it was fine, it was a book, I did not hate my time reading it, I probably won’t read it again
  • ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – this was a great book that I just might re-read, I’m happy I read it, and I’ll probably say that you might like it too
  • ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – a definite re-read, right back on the TBR, and people will probably get tired of me badgering them to read this book

And that’s my star-rating system. What’s yours? Let me know in the comments!

On the writing front, I didn’t get much writing done. But I got a lot of planning done, which seems noteworthy because I do not plan. Ever. Maybe this will lead to more writing being done in March. 🙏 (I’m not actually praying with that emoji, I just couldn’t find a ‘fingers crossed’ one.)

And so, goals for March…

I’d like to read six books, but five will do. I only have three March ARCs and I need to read them sometime during the month. But I also want to read Eclipse (from the Twilight series) because I’m trying to read one book from a series a month. Other than that, it’ll be mood reading, I think, and I’m absolutely fine with that.

What are your reading goals and TBR lists for March?

I need to write more, obviously, but that’s all related to mood too. I’ll keep you posted, because keeping you posted keeps me honest and motivated.

And, to wrap up this post probably no one is reading, I’m going to close with the ending narration from an episode of The Twilight Zone that I watched on Netflix (the series being my binge for most of the month). The episode was called “Death’s-Head Revisited” and, in this time of Holocaust denial and mistrust of people not like ‘us’, it seems all the more important. (all credit to Rod Serling)

There is an answer to the doctor’s question. All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes – all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone, but wherever men walk God’s Earth.

Posted in Reviewed

Reviewed: “Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop” by Rebecca Raisin

I was reading a non-fiction book about the Middle East and, fascinating though it was, it read like the news. And the news, as I’m sure you know, is always treading a thin, terrifying line between depressing and nightmarish. So the morning I woke up grouchy for other reasons and didn’t want to get out of bed to face the day, I reached for my Kindle Fire and decided to read the next ARC I had due to be published.

And so I found myself thoroughly addicted to Rosie and her ‘travelling tea shop.’

I laughed a lot, I teared up a bit, I smiled so much, I furrowed my brow… it was a fantastic book and succeeded fully in lifting my mood.

Rosie, you see, is a Michelin starred chef at a fancy London restaurant. Her husband, Callum, is not quite as successful a chef at a different restaurant. He is also a cheating bastard who leaves her, for the pretty young thing at his restaurant, on her birthday. Rosie had not known that Callum and Khloe were having an affair, though she was the only one. So, after Callum tells her she’s boring and predictable, she decides to be decidedly not that. With the help of alcohol, anyway, and she wakes up the owner of a pink van meant for a life on the road.

Taking this as a sign, Rosie throws herself into exploring the possibilities of ‘van life’ online and begins to realize she might just be brave enough to break away from the kitchens and take to the road. At least for a little while.

So she decides, with the encouragement of a kind man named Oliver on a Van Lifers forum, to create a travelling tea shop and follow festivals, fairs, and events around the United Kingdom.

This is where I got jealous of Rosie, seeing her take this bold step so far out of her comfort zone and seeing the friends she makes along the way. I also found myself happy for her, and that’s not so common in some books… actually being happy for a character.

Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop is as much a story of friendship as it is one of stepping outside your comfort zone. This is because, if you ask me, opening yourself up to be true friends with someone new can be incredibly daunting to people like Rosie, who is like me. There is romance in story, budding romance and some sexy moments, but romance doesn’t drive the story. Max becomes Rosie’s friend, the most adorable, sweet, and funny ways, before he becomes more to her. And I like that, because hopping from cheating Callum to marvelous Max would have taken something away from Rosie.

There are a few parts of the story that make it a bit predictable but that in no way means it isn’t a sweet, adorable, laugh out loud story that I absolutely needed in my life!

I received a copy of Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop through NetGalley and HQ Digital in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.

Posted in book troubles

book troubles: books that come with controversy

I finished an amazing book last week – Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser – but I haven’t written a review here on my blog yet. I want to talk about why, and it’s my blog, so I will.

It actually has very little to do with Prairie Fires. I haven’t seen any controversy around that particular book, the way it was written, the way the subject matter was handled, or the author. The book, in case you don’t know, is a non-fiction biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder and history of the time she and her family lived. It is an enlightening book, in terms of a very specific part of American history not often paid attention too and in terms of how the Little House on the Prairie book series came into existence. I think it’s a book that should be read by anyone even a little bit interested in the history of America, because American history is not always pretty.

And here lies the thing that let me to write this thing about about books shrouded in controversy.

Laura Ingalls Wilder has become… controversial.

I don’t really understand it, to be honest. I don’t understand why it’s becoming taboo to read her books, to find something worthwhile and even enjoyable in her books.

She lived from 1867 to 1957 and similar things could be said for many novels, and her books are essentially novelizations of her life, written by authors who lived and wrote then. Especially in terms of racism. To like a book, even simply to read a book in which racist things are said does not mean that a reader is racist or endorses racism. Books like Wilder’s, like Mark Twain’s, have to be seen in the context of the time they were written. People said and did things then that we find wholly unacceptable now, as we should.

Twain’s books, only one example among many, have been banned in schools or been sanitized of offensive language. The ALSC has renamed the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award after complaints about how she wrote about Indians.

But is that censorship? Isn’t it trying too hard to say that we are perfect now, just like we always have been?

We aren’t perfect. Even the things Wilder and Twain and the others wrote were not quite perfect in their times. But it was real. And if we ignore that, if we pretend it doesn’t and didn’t exist by wiping things from curriculum and renaming awards, aren’t we missing the point of literature?

That literature is a tool, a way to teach us what we can be, what we are, and what we were.

We can be people who don’t use the n-word, who don’t count Native Americans as lesser people. But we sometimes still are people who use the n-word, who count people who don’t like us as not as good as us. And we were people who used the n-word, who counted ourselves as better than everyone else.

How do we teach children, the audience for Wilder’s books and, to some extent, Twain’s, what was wrong if we pretend it never happened?

There is value in the books that everyone wants to change and ignore, and it’s important to sit with children and teach them to understand, to question, and to learn. Even, maybe especially, in books that don’t quite have the rosy glow they once did.

*book troubles could become a thing here on my blog, as a means of discussing the, yes, troubles of being a Reader. We all know there are problems and troubles along the way so, why not talk about them? Will my opinions be entirely ‘in the moment’ and ‘trendy’? No. I don’t read what everybody else is reading in the moment, never have. I just can’t. But will my book troubles be about books and things that had troubles at some point? You bet!

Posted in Month-to-Month

Month-to-Month: January to February 2019

As it is now 31 days into 2019, it’s time to step back for a second and take stock of things…

January was my first month truly attempting to use a bullet journal 📒 with any regularity (and no, I’m not good enough at it yet to post any pictures… this blog is called “Adventures With Words” so word will have to suffice for now). I feel like this made me a bit more… motivated? Motivated might be a good word, because while I didn’t write a stunning amount, I did read six books – thus achieving my often unreachable goal of reading six books in a month. So maybe the chart I had for a Reading Tracker worked, and maybe I need to figure one out for writing. If you know of an templates for good Writing Trackers, please let me know below?

On a note unrelated to words, strictly speaking, January was a banner month because my router died and I lost WiFi and it was a moment of pure panic in my world. But I got a pep talk and set up a new router, thus ensuring I could continue to do things like blather here about routers.

On notes related to words:

I did read six whole books! There were two five star reads, two four star reads, and two three stars reads… so not a bad time of it at all.

(Empire Falls by Richard Russo and The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker were the ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ reads.)

Things were written but they were not earth shattering, including my continued sporadic attention to this blog.

I finished watching Midsomer Murders and I really hope Netflix gets Series 20 soon! And then, because that was a lot of British countryside crime, I starting watching The Twilight Zone because I couldn’t think of a reason to do anything else.

And so it is now February, the month of 💌 and 💐 and 💕…

My goals for this month are anything but written in stone, because that’s the surest way I’ll never do them.

I have two February ARCs I need to read, I know the titles but I don’t know if they’re about love. It doesn’t matter, the best part of Valentine’s Day is the 50% off candy on February 15!

Reading another six books would be ideal, but five will do just fine.

I’d like to post here or on my instagram (@nilyov if you’d like to follow) at least seven times in February, including this post but book reviews do not.

And I want to make some firm-ish progress on the things I’m writing and trying to create. Maybe even look for someone who might be interested in things I’ve written before.

What about you, then? How was your January? Goals for February?