Reviewed: “The Lost Tudor Princess: The Life of Lady Margaret Douglas” by Alison Weir

59.jpgI love Tudor history.

I love reading about the women who lived in the Tudor era.

I have read other books by Alison Weir about the Tudor era, so I was excited to be able to read The Lost Tudor Princess… and then I remembered the trouble with reading Alison Weir’s books about the Tudor era… they are long and they have a tendency to read sort of like Weir found old lists stuffed in faded books in dusty libraries and turned them into paragraphs. Which is probably a part of what happens when writing about someone this far removed from modern day history and not as well known as, say, Anne Boleyn.

However, pages upon pages of what kind of fabric Henry VIII sent to his niece for Christmas after Christmas and how much he paid for them is, while interesting, not the most exciting thing to read about. Especially not when Lady Margaret Douglas was a very interesting figure who did not necessarily live a life wholly consumed by clothes and jewels. She was involved in countless intrigues, some of which would seem to make Anne Boleyn pale in comparison. Weir does write about those… she just has a tendency to drift back into “and the curtains were purple” or other such things that, while describing life in Tudor England, seem vaguely out of place in what she wants to be the biography of a daughter, niece, cousin, sister, and mother-in-law to the kings and queens who ruled England and Scotland.

I tried to read this book for six weeks. I am giving up now because… maybe it’s me or maybe it’s the moment, but I just can’t do it. I’ll probably go back to it eventually, because it is a good, incredibly well-researched book. When I get over my fear of lists of fabrics…

I received a copy of The Lost Tudor Princess: The Life of Lady Margaret Douglas through NetGalley and Random House – Ballantine in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.

Reviewed: “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend” by Katarina Bivald

48.jpgI love books about books. Not non-fiction critiques and essays on the importance of classics in a modern world. Those are fine. But what I love are books about ordinary people living ever so slightly extraordinary lives because they, like me, love books.

Katarina Bivald’s THE READERS OF BROKEN WHEEL RECOMMEND is just such a book.

It’s a little bit fantastical, in the sense that I dream, dream of being able to do as Sara does in the book and up and travel to a tiny town in a foreign country for two months just because… well, books. It’s also a little bit real, in the sense that Sara from Sweden is just a girl looking for the place where she belongs, even if she doesn’t quite realize she doesn’t belong.

I feel like Sara’s kindred spirit, to quote Anne Shirley in L.M. Montgomery’s ANNE OF GREEN GABLES – something I think Sara would like, because I’m happiest with my nose in a book and the easiest friends to make are the ones on the pages of my books. But like Sara, I’ve met amazing people because I love books. I’ve met them online, like Sara and Amy do in Bivald’s novel. They aren’t people I ever would have known were it not for the modern convenience of instant global communication and the ancient convenience of words printed on paper to tell a story.

What Sara does, travelling from Sweden to Broken Wheel, Iowa, is brave and courageous. The stuff the heroines in the books she loves would be proud of. She goes alone and is even more alone when she gets there. But it doesn’t stop her from effectively taking Broken Wheel under her wing and fixing what she, and Amy, agreed needed to be fixed. She doesn’t really see herself as something that needs fixed but Broken Wheel sees otherwise.

And “fixing” isn’t even the right word. I don’t know what the right word is. Sara would probably know. What I’m trying to say is that Sara and the residents of Broken Wheel see the hidden best in each other and, once they realize it’s hidden, they work hard to bring it out so that each of them can flourish.

It is a feel-good story, it is maybe chick lit, it is an easy read. But all that’s selling it short. It’s a story about people, fictional of course, who bond over fictional people, actual fictional people – if that makes sense, and are better for it.

That’s my kind of book!

(I received a copy of THE READERS OF BROKEN WHEEL RECOMMEND through NetGalley and SOURCEBOOKS in exchange for an honest and original review.)

Reviewed: “Rain: A Natural and Cultural History” by Cynthia Barnett


I think I wanted to ead Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett because of the news coverage of the California droughts. Rain was, is a contemporary and current topic. Then I got the book and it slipped a little low on my to-read list because it seemed so much more… relaxing to read fiction because fiction is much more of a “maybe” than non-fiction.

But I review books and I feel guilty about my to-read list so I cracked open this book.

And it was honestly hard to put it down.

I honestly never expected a book about rain to be so relatable. In hindsight, a slightly closer examination of the extended title would have clued me in. Barnett’s book isn’t just the science of meteorology. Her book is meterology, science, warfare, history, literature, music, perfumes, the development of culture, and so very much more. And I love half of those thing and like the other half.

I haven’t highlighted and written in margins this much since I was in college. Which reminds me that college students should have to read this book, regardless of their majors. I underlined things I wanted to Google, places I’d visit based on Barnett’s descriptions. I told friends and family the facts I learned from the book; Seattle isn’t close to the rainiest city in America, Emily Dickinson probably had Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), windshield wipers were invented and patented by women before Henry Ford stole the idea, the earliest raincoats (mackintosh) involved human urine – just to name a few things.

My favorite moment with the book, though, is probably when fate found me sitting on a blanket in my yard while I read Barnett’s history of how clouds were named; cumulus, nimbus, etc., and I tried to name the clouds in the sky above me.

More than college students should read this book. Everyone should.

(I received an advanced reader’s edtion of Rain: A Natural and Cultural History through Read It Forward in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.)

Reviewed: “The Deep End” by Julie Mulhern

The Deep EndJulie Mulhern’s “The Deep End” is billed as one of “The Country Club Murders” and there are more to come in this series. I don’t think I’m interested in reading further murder stories set in country clubs.

It’s not that Mulhern’s creation in “The Deep End” – Kansas City in 1974 isn’t intriguing and well laid out, because it is. It’s more that her characters are sort of one-note and flat, and that makes them unlikable – especially the ones I can tell I’m meant to like.

Ellison Russell is both the main character and the main example of this. She’s an artist from a filthy rich family who lives a privileged life and is very perturbed, and that really is the best word for it, when things get in the way of her life running smoothly. She reacts in much the same way to finding a dead body in the country club pool (and on her doorstep and in her driveway) as she does to the mere revelation that her husband is having an affair. It’s all a personal offense to her and yet she is absolutely dedicated to protecting the people who make her life hell. It’s clear that she’s perfectly happy with the life she complains about endlessly.

Somewhat naturally, the most likable person in “The Deep End” is the odd man/woman out of the cookie cutter world. This person turns out to be the “bad guy/bad girl” but this person is the one you understand the most. I get why s/he did they things that occurred in the book. I wouldn’t do them myself, because it’s absolutely horrible, but the motivation is fairly easily understood.

It’s probably not a good thing when the best character in the book is the “bad” one. It might be different if it were more a case of the character you love to hate, but even this character will be forgotten in a day or two.

“The Deep End” is available for purchase now.

(I received a copy of “The Deep End” through NetGalley in exchange for an honest & original review. This review will be cross-posted on my blog, on Goodreads, and at NetGalley.)

Reviewed: “Of Bone and Thunder” by Chris Evans

Of Bone and ThunderChris Evans’ “Of Bone and Thunder” bills itself as a cross between “Apocalypse Now” and “Lord of the Rings.” Having been a little disturbed by the first and never having finished the second, this probably wasn’t the best book for me to attempt.

I only read about a tenth of the book before I gave up.

Copying Vietnam type things into a world of passenger dragons and crossbows just doesn’t work for me. I tried, I did. But the different types of people and their different allegiances and their rambling soliloquies was just too much.

Maybe if there’d been less crammed into such a small space I would have last longer. I don’t know. Maybe it just wasn’t for me.

I’m sure it’s the book for many people.

It’s available for purchase now.

(I received a copy of “Of Bone and Thunder” through NetGalley in exchange for an honest & Original review. My review will be cross-posted there, at Goodreads, and on my blog.)

Reviewed: “Meadowlands: A World War I Family Saga” by Elizabeth Jeffrey

MeadowlandElizabeth Jeffrey’s novel set at Meadowlands – the family estate of the Barshams in rural England – during the span of the First World War is a splendidly intricate portrayal of a family and their servants.

The book is likely classified first as historical fiction but there are so many sub-genres to the story that it’s almost hard to know where to begin. History, war, romance, family, friendship, drama, love, women, men… Jeffrey has managed to cover it all with “Meadowlands.”

The war is the over-arching theme to the story. It colors every action that Sir George, Lady Adelaide, Miss Gina, Miss Millie, James, Ned, Polly, Tom, and so many more take in the story. It’s not an overly long, epic sort of book so some of them are minor, supporting characters but it does not make them any less nuanced and individual from one another where it may have been easier to make the common things they share define them.

The primary focus on “Meadowlands” falls on Gina Barsham and Polly Catchpole. The story is told in relation to how it effects and alters them. Gina is the privileged daughter on the family estate – one who tolerates her mother’s antiquated ideas on upper class and lower class while founding a soup club to feed the poorest war wives, widows, and children in the nearby town. Polly is the daughter of the Meadowlands estate manager who goes to work as a maid, and later ladies maid to Lady Adelaide, in the house. She does her work the best she can – including being integral to the soup club the town, and most of England, so badly needs – and lets it distract her from the nearly lifelong love she’s felt for James Barsham, the second son of the estate – someone she believes she can never have.

With the focus on Gina and Polly, two entirely likable and relatable characters in large and enjoyable canvas, the novel could be considered one of friendship first and foremost. The two don’t want the same things from life and they don’t need the same things but neither ever lets the other down, even if it means incurring the anger and frustration of Lady Adelaide for mixing classes of people into her rarefied world.

“Meadowlands” is, in the end, a story of heartbreak and hope, of love and loss, of perseverance and pride. It is fantastic.

“Meadowlands: A World War I Family Saga” will be available for purchase April 1, 2015.

(I received a copy of “Meadowlands” from Severn House Publishers through NetGalley in exchange for an honest & original review. This review will be cross-posted on NetGalley, my Goodreads account, and my blog.)

Reviewed: “Finding Sky” by Susan O’Brien

Finding Sky“Finding Sky” was an easy book to read. It was interesting. It was fun to read. It wasn’t at all what I expected.

It is the story of Nicki Valentine, a full-time mom and part-time PI, and her first case. Nicki’s best friend Kenna is adopting a baby and the birth mother goes missing. It’s enough to get interested right away. It’s fairly easy to tell from the cover that the story won’t be an edge of your seat suspense thriller with murder and mayhem, and that is what really does come across as unexpected.

Instead, the chick lit cover leads to a story filled with missing pregnant teens, gang wars, shootings in which no one is shot, small kids who like their grandmother’s junk food better than their busy mom’s vegetarian fare, sexy PI instructors, and a cast of supporting characters who each have an individual personality that really adds something to the story.

Read it if you need something light, easy, and with a good bit of mystery.

Plus, it’s the first in a series.

“Finding Sky” is available for purchase now.

(I received a copy of “Finding Sky” through NetGalley in exchange for an honest & original review. My review will be cross-posted on my blog, on NetGalley, and on Goodreads.)

Reviewed: “Against the Country” by Ben Metcalf

Against the CountryI started this book twice.

I gave up on this book twice.

The third time will not be the charm because there will not be a third time.

Ben Metcalf’s “Against the Country” is just not for me.

It’s rambling, wordy, often overblown descriptions of every detail of the narrator’s life and the world around him is not well-balanced with the total lack of dialogue – at least through the first third of the story, at which point I gave up for good. The story, as it were, is heavy on violence (child on child, parent on child, parent on parent, etc.), drug and alcohol abuse (you just don’t fit in the story if you’re not down with it), sexuality (this is actually the least mentioned thing, which surprised me – although the narrator is still a child where I quit), and racism (seriously everyone is a racist).

All of this may well be true about the part of country and the time the author is writing about. The bits just don’t come together well enough for to get into the story.

“Against the Country” is available for purchase now.

(I received a copy of “Against the Country” through NetGalley in exchange for an honest & original review. This review will be cross-posted at NetGalley, Goodreads, and on my blog.)

Reviewed: “Death in the Pines” by Thom Hartmann

Death in the PinesBack in the good old days (about 2004-2010), I cared about politics because I thought voting and paying attention to issues and things like could make a difference. I’m not so optimistic (naive?) now. The point is that I know from those days who Thom Hartmann is, and I liked reading his political stuff, so when I saw a novel by him available for request on NetGalley… I requested it.

The thing about “Death in the Pines” is that it’s really a political column, editorial type deal wrapped up in fiction. Sometimes this can work brilliantly. This is not one of those times.

I’m a liberal. I want to protect the environment and stop climate change. Absolutely.

But maybe this book isn’t the place to tell the world about those things. That there is a mysterious native woman who seems to sort of haunt the main character, a hardened ex-private investigator of course, with long soliloquies on how Squirrel wants man to look at himself and how he lives in the world and consider if he could do better really does border on creepy. It’s made more awkward by the murder that supposed to be a catalyst for… something.

At one point I did think to myself “was Thom Hartmann high when he wrote this?”

I didn’t finish the book.

I couldn’t.

“Death in the Pines” is available for purchase now.

(I received a copy of “Death in the Pines” through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review – a review which is posted at NetGalley, on Goodreads, and on my blog.)

Reviewed: “The Beginner’s Guide to the Birds & the Bees” by Sophie Hart

The Beginner's Guide to the Birds & the BeesSophie Hart’s “The Beginner’s Guide to the Birds & the Bees” is chick lit personified. And if you’ve ever said you want to read just one more chick lit novel and then quit, read this one. Now.

This is the story of Annie Hall, a sex therapist skilled at guiding couples through troubles and to happy places where they can flourish. None of her clients have any complaints about her, at least not in the end after the rough days at the start. Where Annie knows what to say and knows how to tell others what they could be doing better, she is the last person she listens to. The sex therapist has no sex life, really no personal life at all.

She learns from the group of people the story focus on that she can have shortcomings and still end up on top. With prompting from an engaged couple who’ve taken a vow of celibacy until the wedding, a thirty-something couple struggling to start a family, an older couple with grown children, and a few others, she lets herself start to be more open to the possibilities her nosy but well-meaning sister and mother have insisted she embrace.

And she realizes it doesn’t hurt as much as she thought it would.

The story is light, it is funny, it is sweet, and it is meaningful. Not many stories pull off all those things in one perfectly written novel that anyone and everyone can relate to.

“The Beginner’s Guide to the Birds & the Bees” is available for purchase now…and I suggest you buy it!

(I received a copy of “The Beginner’s Guide to the Birds & the Bees” through NetGalley in exchange for an honest & original review. My review is cross-posted on NetGalley, Goodreads, and my blog.)