2017 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge, Book Reviews

The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright


This book I have to say was exactly as advertised. It is described as a literary fiction book focused on family secrets. Not something I usually go for, but the premise of the book caught my attention – a couple who wrote letters to each other every week pass away and their children find the letters. That seemed quite interesting to me, so I picked it up.

The story follows the three children of Jack and Laurel. Matthew is the eldest and lives with his wife in New York where they are having trouble getting pregnant. Samantha is a single mother who took a job with the local police force to stay close to home and raise her daughter. Malcolm is a hothead who fled the country after getting in a fight with his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. All three descend on the bed-and-breakfast their parents ran after their death and unwittingly discover the letters their father, Jack, wrote to Laurel every Wednesday since their marriage night. Within the letters, family secrets are discovered, hearts are broken, and family ties strained. Old loves add more strain to the situation. The epilogue at the end is actually an envelope glued to the back cover with a letter inside.

I can’t say the story line was very surprising, but there was enough interest to keep me reading. The book was full of emotion and easy to relate to. It’s actually interesting that through the whole book, you are rooting for Malcolm. There were a couple twists and turns, but it was fairly straightforward. It was really nice to read letters from Jack to Laurel throughout to gain information as the children were. It broke the book up nicely and gave you different perspectives on the events in the book. The end result of all the secrets and family drama was surprising in a way you wouldn’t expect.

The characters were amazing well-developed, particularly Jack who was only known through his letters. You don’t really get a feel for Laurel because everything you learn about her is second-hand. Aside from Jack, Malcolm and Rain are the next mostly developed characters. Matthew is probably the least developed of the siblings, but you get an image of him easily. The other characters in the small town are brought to life through simple interactions with the members of the family and through the letters being read. The story flowed well and moved nicely. There were no awkward areas where the story was dragged along. Between the letters, people arriving for the viewing and funeral, and Malcolm’s issues with his history, there was always something to move toward.

If you like literary fiction or family fiction, this would be a great book for you. I thought it was good, but not something I would pick up again. I feel like it would be more for people in their thirties or older. I’m almost thirty and I think a little more life experience would make the book more connectable and memorable. It does teach some great life lessons and gives some good advice on love.

My rating:

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2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge, Book Reviews

Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories by Sandra Cisneros

It is not often that I give one cheese reviews, but I did not like this book. I have nothing against the author or anything like that, I simply did not like it. I think it was more that I was not able to understand it as it was meant to be. I couldn’t relate to the characters. I couldn’t get in to the mindset of the characters even though I was reading their thoughts. I couldn’t emphasize with the characters through similar experiences because I haven’t really experienced anything like the women in the book did. I also didn’t like the way it was written. I should preface that by saying I don’t get poetry because I felt the book was almost written prose and poetry – a lot of short sentences, sentence fragments, lists and descriptions abound throughout the book. Granted, this is how we often think, especially as women, but it is difficult to read. It is just not a style I like. Furthermore, the jump from story to story threw me off because there wasn’t really a common link in them. Some of the stories link together, but not all. They also don’t really flow in any particular manner.

All that being said, I would like to highlight what I thought was good about the book. There is a wide variety of themes – love, loss, magic, cheating, domestic abuse, beauty, the Mexican revolution, living on both sides of the border, religion, sex, and life. It is a female dominated book, so it will appeal primarily to female readers. Furthermore, it empowers women, doesn’t make them subjects to a fate out of their hands. It provides interesting windows into the lives of Mexican women and Mexican-American women. It is realistic and believable  (at least the stories that don’t involve magic). My favorite story was Little Miracles, Promises Kept.

I would recommend it to Mexican-American women particularly and any woman in general. It is an empowering book for women if you like it. Anyone studying the Mexican-American culture should read this as well. There are some interesting insights into that culture and the lives of the people in it. I can see the value of the book, I personally just didn’t like it.

My  rating:

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2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge, Book Reviews

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus

I was disappointed by this book. That’s not to say it was bad or had a bad story line and plot. No, my issues were with how the information and story were presented. The book is the story of a group of women that volunteer for a government program called the Brides for Indians. The goal is to meet a trade suggested by the Cheyenne chief Little Wolf that the Indians would get one thousand white brides for their warriors to help assimilate the Indians into white society in exchange for one thousand horses. The trade was agreed to in secret to avoid the public outrage and volunteers for the program were taken as regular volunteers and recruits from the lunatic asylums and prisons. May Dodd had been placed in a lunatic asylum for promiscuity by her family (i.e. she was living with a man as an unwed woman – the man was below her social class as well). When the offer came she took it and the story follows her and the other twelve or so women that were the first recruits.

It is an interesting book idea and the story unfolds in a good and interesting way. However, the story is supposed to be a series of journal entries and letters written by May Dodd. The whole time I was reading it, it did not feel like a woman writing it – it read like a man trying to write as a woman. The information presented was not what a woman would have focused on, it’s too logical and clear cut compared to how a woman would think, consider, decide, and write. You hear almost nothing about her pregnancy other than she is pregnant where a woman would have focused on this as well. Additionally, I was hoping to learn about how the Cheyenne lived, how they did things, etc. Unfortunately in the book, you get an overview. You know she learns to skin animals, butcher, cook with local vegetation, tan hides, and learn the language because she says she does. You don’t get any disgust, uneasiness, wonder, or any other emotion a woman would talk about in a diary, let alone any of the details. Also, you never feel like she has assimilated to the native culture even though the journal entries say she does. It is all just rather jarring.

I do give the author credit for a great story idea and a good plot. The story does have its interesting areas and when just looking at how the story unfolded, it is rather good. If you are looking for an interesting social read, this isn’t bad. There is an interesting band of women you come to love in the book. I did like the women that were described because they were so realistic. There are areas of graphic violence, so be prepared for that as well. However, if you have ever read anything about Indian life, it should not shock you.

My rating:

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2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge, Book Reviews

The Island Stallion (Black Stallion #4) by Walter Farley

I was an avid Walter Farley reader when I was in middle/school and high school. I have actually read the entire series and the beginning of his daughter’s series, The Phantom Stallion. I also remember this book in particular as it is my favorite of the series. It was exactly as I remembered it. It is a little too easy for me to read now, definitely meant for younger readers, but the vocabulary is great and the story moves well.

The plot follows Steve and his older mentor Pitch as they investigate an uninhabited island in the Caribbean. Pitch had moved to Antago to live with his brother Tom and work as his book keeper. Tom is the local horse wrangler for the wild horses that come off of Azul Island. The horses are nothing impressive, hardy little creatures full of spirit. Steve is mildly obsessed with horses. He goes to visit Pitch during summer vacation and agrees to spend two weeks on Azul Island with Pitch in exchange for any horse he wants on the island. While they are there, they see a magnificent stallion on the cliffs of the until then assumed uninhabited rock of the rest of the island. After an intensive search, Steve and Pitch discover a way into the interior of the island – a series of tunnels left by the conquistadores. The rest of the book is the discoveries they make and the growing connection between a boy and a stallion.

It is a fantastic book for young readers. The story revolves around loyalty, trust, compassion, and self-confidence. Also, the story moves well, with constant drama and action. I highly recommend this book to any reader in middle and high school, particularly ones who love horses. The series is also a great one. There is little to no swearing, all good clean reading that helps to inspire self-confidence and being true to ones’ self.

My rating:

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2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge, Book Reviews

Return to Longbourn (The Darcys of Pemberley #2) by Shannon Winslow

This was Mary’s story. I have never run across very many stories that focus on the middle sister, but I am finding more and more lately. I saw this one and it sounded quite interesting. It did not disappoint. I was actually surprised somewhat. There were modern concepts in the book, but you never lost the time period which was fantastic.

The story follows a few years after the events of Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Bennett has died as the book opens, leaving the estate to the next male heir. As Mr. Collins has passed away already, the estate falls to his younger brother in America. This Mr. Collins comes as soon as he receives the letter. As he is traveling, Kitty and Mary evade attempts by Mama to establish the future mistress of the house. Mary, having become a governess for the Netherfield family, is out of the question, so of course Kitty must marry Mr. Collins. Kitty flees to visit Jane and Elizabeth in the north before Mr. Collins arrives.

After Mr. Collins arrives, Mary is quite taken with him. The story unfolds between her growing feelings for Mr. Collins and the affections and ties she has to the children at Netherfield Hall. It is a riveting story, following all the trials and tribulations a young governess faces as well as two sisters being drawn to the same man. It is a fascinating story with a couple of twists and turns that I didn’t see coming at all. The characters were genuine, the story line captivating, and you get drawn into the emotional turmoil the normally steadfast Mary is going through.

I applaud the author on her wonderful portrayal of Mary and all the Pride and Prejudice characters. I will be looking forward to more of her work in the future. Like I mentioned, there are a few things that are quite modern social ideas, but she does them in such a way as it doesn’t appear or seem to upset the flow of the time period or is very jarring. I rather thought it a quite original take on the stories. Well done!

My rating:

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Book Reviews

The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

I came across this book in my BookBub feed on sale a few weeks ago. I like ghost stories, and the premise sounded interesting so I bought it. I read it in a few days, so it was nice and long. It was also really easy to follow, which is sometimes hard with ghost stories.

The book is set in the early 1920s in England, right after the end of World War I. The story follows Sarah Piper as she is hired by Alistair Gellis to help her on a ghost hunting expedition. The ghost hated men and he therefore needed a female assistant to help him find evidence to support the existence of the spirit. She had no idea how her world would change. Through multiple encounters with the spirit of Maddy and interviews with her surrogate family, you learn the story of Maddy. A story about a traumatized teenage girl who takes her own life and finds herself still stuck in the world. As the book develops, you are drawn into wanting to help Sarah. Along the way, you meet Matthew, Alistair’s usual assistant, and many members of the nearby town. The details of Maddy’s arrival at the Clare house and her subsequent shuddered life begin to unravel and it is a race against time to find an answer to Maddy’s questions and demands.

I was blown away by this book. Usually, books with ghosts are a pretty standard story line and romance component, but this one stood head and shoulders above the others. I will definitely read it again. I loved the intricacies of the characters and the unwinding of the details of the story. There was a love story component in it, but it was not the focus of the story, which was nice since the book was not filled with sex scenes. The whole book fascinated me and kept me engaged in the story. I can’t wait to read another the author’s works. I hope they are just as good as this one was!

My rating:

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2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge, Book Reviews

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

I ran across this book at work. Our ninth grade honors English teacher had his students reading it and it seemed interesting to me (not so much to the students LOL). I decided to download the audiobook and am glad I did.

This story follows a group of people through the return of King Richard the Lionheart to England. There are several main characters: Cedric, Wamba, Gurth, Wilfred of Ivanhoe, Rowena, Rebecca, Isaac the Jew of York, the Black Knight of the Fetterlock, Prince John, Brian de Bois-Guilbert, Locksley, and the clerk of Clopmanhurst. There are many other characters that are followed as well, but these are the main people. With the title of Ivanhoe I thought the book would primarily follow Wilfred of Ivanhoe, but it mostly follows the Black Knight. The story is pretty much divided evenly amongst the main characters, but he receives a little more attention, probably because he helps the story move between characters.

You begin with Cedric and Brian de Bois-Guilbert. At Cedric’s castle, you also meet Rowena, Isaac the Jew, Wamba, and Gurth (who are actually the first characters you meet, but it is only in passing). You follow these characters to a tournament at Ashby where Bois-Guilbert and several other nights are meeting challengers in a tournament. At the tournament, you are introduced to the rest of the characters. After the tournament, some of the characters are kidnapped. The rest of the story is how Ivanhoe, Locksley, and the Black Knight save the captives. Not all survive, like any of the old classics. The book ends with Richard returning to England and restoring order to the attempted coup being set up by his brother John.

I am very glad I listened to the book because I struggle with French names and this book is full of them. The audiobook lets you not get distracted by the odd spellings and long names. The language in the book is just short of old English in my opinion. They have long interesting words and the unique phrasing that was common to the period it is written for. I love the old language style, but even I had a tiny bit of trouble in parts following the unfamiliar words and style. Most of the time it was easy enough to follow if you paid attention. It is not an easy read, but it is a rewarding read. It gives you the basis for all of the Robin Hood stories and some of the more modern stories of the return of Richard. It was nice to have a more detailed background of what times were like.

The book also gives a great historical perspective as well that is often lost in the more romanticized versions of Robin Hood and King Richard. The book brazenly demonstrates the persecution of the Jews in England, which I myself had not been aware of. Furthermore, the prejudices between the Saxon English and the Norman French is discussed in depth, particularly since Cedric is Saxon and Brian de Bois-Guilbert is Norman. The dissension between the crown and the Knights Templar also begins to surface near the end of the book. It also points out that at the time of King Richard, the English empire actually stretched across the sea and had possession of parts of France, particularly Normandy. People often forget that the empire was not confined to just the British island at the time. I really enjoyed the historical aspects of the book.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is very in to classical reading. Also, anyone interested in Robin Hood or King Richard would enjoy the book. It would also interest anyone who enjoys medieval history with a slightly romanticized story line. I enjoyed the book, but I probably won’t be picking it up again for a few years. The story line is memorable and interesting, but it will take a while for me to want to focus on the story long enough to take pleasure in the language and phrasing.

My rating:

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2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge, Book Reviews

Mrs. Queen Take the Train by William Kuhn

This story begins with the Queen of England struggling with a bout of depression. It actually follows the stories of multiple people – the head butler, a stable hand at the Royal Mews, a local cheese store worker, a Lady in Waiting, the head ladies maid to the Queen, and one of the Queen’s assistants – and how their lives interact, connect, and effect each other. The Queen, in a brief moment when she has the ability to leave the palace without a chaperon, takes a chance and heads out. What follows is an interesting account of the different people she meets and how she reconnects with the public. It also follows her entourage at the palace and how they deal with her disappearance.

I had a couple problems with this book. One issue was the age group of the people who were the characters of the book. They were all older individuals, and myself being younger, I was a little distanced from the characters by the experience, knowledge, and empathy that comes with age. The other issue I had was organization. The first half of the book bounces between the present day story line and the back stories for the different characters. It was difficult to bounce back and forth to multiple time periods, places and people. The back stories did help, but I think they could have been integrated better.

Aside from these, I thought it was quite an interesting and inspired story. I liked the approach the author took, focusing on the deep emotions of the impressive monarch and her daily struggles that everyone can relate to in some way. It made her appear very human and very real, not just a figurehead. The desire to just be free for a few short minutes and be able to decide what you would like to do is a right we take for granted and it was highlighted beautifully in the book. It gives you a new appreciation for what the people of the monarchy deal with on a daily basis.

Furthermore, it gives you an amazing view of the importance of the monarchy in Britain. In the US, we have an importance placed on the President, but it is nothing like the love and respect the book portrays of the British people for the monarchy. You are also able to meet and learn about the people who work for the crown, what they do, what is expected of them, and what helps them live and appreciate the crazy schedule and lack of a social life.

I would recommend this book to anyone over forty or anyone interested in a cultural read. I was the latter. I liked the book, am glad I read it, but I will probably not pick it up again. However, it did spark interest in me to look more into the British monarchy and find similar books maybe set in different countries. It would be an excellent book club read as well.

My rating:

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Random Thoughts

So my dad wrote this book…

I wanted to let everyone know that my dad wrote a book 🙂 I am extremely proud of him. This is actually his fourth book, but the first one he published under his real name. His other books were westerns and published under the pseudonym James Lorey. The book is available on Amazon and I also added it to the Goodreads library. His westerns are all available on Amazon as paperback and Kindle. Here are the links: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25304783-earth-2-0?from_search=true & http://www.amazon.com/EARTH-2-0-Beginning-James-Heinlein/dp/0985214384/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1428280725&sr=1-2&keywords=james+heinlein


Earth 2.0: A New Beginning

Sometime in the future of the world, its inhabitants will have pushed the limits of their Creator over the edge. While effectively destroying the Ten Commandments and anything resembling their meaning, the children of the Lord allowed same sex marriage, a failing justice system, and the wishes of a single person running roughshod over the majority to become the norm. Soon, ordinary people were stripped of their rights. Banning prayer virtually anywhere and omitting the word ‘Christ’ from everything visible to the public did not add to the Lord’s mood. Honest hard working citizens who wanted to go to church, to own a gun, and to voice their opinion, had now been labeled as bigots. Legalizing all illegal drugs was the popular desire, obscuring more of the Lord’s desire for His flock. This push was started in the White House under the guidance of a radical woman president who divorced her husband and married another woman just to prove a point. She then led the country down a slippery slope. Once the Lord unleashed His wrath, twelve highly diverse people became the messengers of the Lord after the planet Earth was wiped clean. Together, they were led on a mission that is infinite in time and lessons, when the Lord struggled with the decision to ever allow the Earth and mankind to be given another chance to prove their worthiness to be Apostles of the Lord. How can their journey ever convince the Lord of mortal mankind’s worthiness?

Head over to Amazon to pick it up!

2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge, Book Reviews

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

First let me say, and you may have guessed if you read my reviews regularly, I listened to this book on audiotape. A bonus was it was one of my favorite voice actors, Devina Porter, that did the narration. Her skills and talent shone brightly in this book and I was very glad to have her as the narrator. It took me over a month to get through, and I have a long commute. However, I feel that it was well worth my time.

Secondly, I was blown away by this book. I had always heard that Tolstoy was dry, long-winded, and boring, however, I found the book very interesting, detailed, and in the same spirit (not topics or subjects of course) as Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. I have placed it on my 100 Books to Read Before You Die list with Jane Eyre. I find it somewhat more informative than the writings by the women because it gives a full snapshot of what life was like in turn-of-the-century Russia.

The book essentially follows two couples – Anna and Vronsky,  Levin and Kitty. There are numerous other important characters, but mostly it revolves around how everyone interacts with these four people. Anna is married to Alexei Karenin, but falls in love with Vronsky, causing numerous issues with her marriage. Levin is a country gentleman who has loved Kitty for years, but has never been brave enough to offer his hand. When he attempts to Vronsky stands in his way and he feels defeated. Both couples relationships grow and radiate, twist and turn, hum with love, and snag and break in different times, for different reasons, and in different ways. It is quite an emotional book for the period.

What I found extremely fascinating was the descriptions, explanations, and portrayal of turn of the century Russian society a short time after the Revolution. I had known nothing about Russia, its history or its people. I learned a lot just reading the book. Through the characters you learned about how the whole populace functioned, from the princes to the commoners, and their attitudes toward each other. Attitudes and ideas about education, women’s rights, politics, etc. were also discussed, these three topics being the most primary, along with agriculture and labor. The author gave an honest and effective portrayal of how society was both attempting and not attempting to change at the same time.

Furthermore, the book gave an exemplary account on the subtle influences of relationship. It is a great study on how insecurity, depression, stress, and social isolation effects people. Additionally, trust and pride are also shown in the different relationships. The commonplace attitude of mistresses and women’s places help to demonstrate the role of marriages and children. It was interesting to see how society and individuals were so influenced and could influence the happiness of others.

I would recommend this book to any serious reader. It is very long and you have to be determined to finish it, but it is well worth it. I would suggest audiobook as well, as I find it very enjoyable and helps to ease the dryness of some of the passages. All in all, it is a fantastic literary work.

My rating:

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