Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Book Review: "I Always Loved You" by Robin Oliveira

I Always Loved You Robin Oliveira
Published: 2/4/14
ISBN: 9780670785797
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Netgalley
Rating: 3 / 5
♦♦♦

Summary:
The young Mary Cassatt never thought moving to Paris after the Civil War to be an artist was going to be easy, but when, after a decade of work, her submission to the Paris Salon is rejected, Mary’s fierce determination wavers. Her father is begging her to return to Philadelphia to find a husband before it is too late, her sister Lydia is falling mysteriously ill, and worse, Mary is beginning to doubt herself. Then one evening a friend introduces her to Edgar Degas and her life changes forever. Years later she will learn that he had begged for the introduction, but in that moment their meeting seems a miracle. So begins the defining period of her life and the most tempestuous of relationships.

My Thoughts:
I finished reading this book about a week and a half ago.  Normally, I write up my reviews within 24 hours of finishing a book, but I needed much more time with this one to decide what I actually thought about it.

Mary Cassatt is my favorite impressionist and I had heard about her relationship with Degas when I took an Art History class in college (although my professor insisted that their relationship was was platonic) so I found the subject matter attractive.  I was quickly drawn into the book, due to both Oliveria's readable voice and the fact that she so vividly brings to life late 19th-century Paris.

Oliveira does a nice job of bringing to life both Cassatt and Degas.  Cassatt is striving to excel past the boundaries defined by her gender and nationality.  I don't completely buy that Oliveira's depiction of their relationship is accurate, but it is interesting to the reader.

But, ultimately I didn't find this book to be satisfying.  I tried to figure out what the problem was and I think it is that Oliveira spends a lot of time on secondary story lines.   While I appreciated that she brought in other impressionists in more than just a mention way, I did feel that she spent too much time developing their stories and it took away from the central story.

I am glad I read this book--it reminded me how much I love Mary Cassatt's work--but I'm not sure I would recommend it to others, unless they were especially interested in Mary Cassatt or Edgar Degas.

I received an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.



I Always Loved You
by Robin Oliveira
Powells.com

Monday, September 29, 2014

GIVEAWAY: "I Shall Be Near To You" by Erin Lindsay McCabe

So, if you tuned in last Friday, you saw my review of what may end up being my favorite read of the year.  If you didn't, just click on the last part of the last sentence and you can read all about it.  I'll wait....

Okay, are you back?  For those of you who didn't click over, I'm talking about this book:


Rosetta doesn't want her new husband Jeremiah to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they'll be able to afford their own farm someday. Though she's always worked by her father’s side as the son he never had, now that Rosetta is a wife she's told her place is inside with the other women. But Rosetta decides her true place is with Jeremiah, no matter what that means, and to be with him she cuts off her hair, hems an old pair of his pants, and signs up as a Union soldier.

With the army desperate for recruits, Rosetta has no trouble volunteering, although she faces an incredulous husband. She drills with the men, proves she can be as good a soldier as anyone, and deals with the tension as her husband comes to grips with having a fighting wife. Rosetta's strong will clashes with Jeremiah's while their marriage is tested by broken conventions, constant danger, and war, and she fears discovery of her secret even as they fight for their future, and for their lives. Inspired by more than 250 documented accounts of the women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is the intimate story, in Rosetta’s powerful and gorgeous voice, of the drama of marriage, one woman’s amazing exploits, and the tender love story that can unfold when two partners face life’s challenges side by side.

Well, guess what!  I have a copy to give away to a lucky reader (US only, sorry!).  All you have to do is use the Rafflecopter below.  Your first entry is so easy!  All you have to do is click on something.  If you'd like a better chance of winning, there are ways to get more entries.

Really, folks, this is a great book!  The give away ends at midnight (Pacific time) on Sunday, October 5th...so hurry up!



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, September 26, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - September 27

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Ah, Mt. Rushmore....it's kind of weird when you think about it....Dead white men carved into mountains deep in what was once Native American lands.  If that bothers you too much, go see the Crazy Horse monument--it isn't nearly as cool, but whatever.

That being said, I truly believe that all Americans should see Mt. Rushmore at least once in their lifetime.  This was time #2 for me (we stopped for a "look and get back in the car!" visit when I was younger).  Since my first visit, they built a new plaza and such, so it was kind of like coming back for the first time for me.

This picture was taken about 2 miles away with the zoom lens on my camera.


George

Another picture of George

Taken from the Presidential Trail at the base of the mountain


Taken as the sun was beginning to set


Book Review: "I Shall Be Near To You" by Erin Lindsay McCabe

I Shall Be Near To You Erin Lindsay McCabe
Published: January 28, 2014
ISBN: 9780804137720
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: 5 / 5
♦♦♦♦♦

Summary:
Rosetta doesn't want her new husband Jeremiah to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they'll be able to afford their own farm someday. Though she's always worked by her father’s side as the son he never had, now that Rosetta is a wife she's told her place is inside with the other women. But Rosetta decides her true place is with Jeremiah, no matter what that means, and to be with him she cuts off her hair, hems an old pair of his pants, and signs up as a Union soldier.

With the army desperate for recruits, Rosetta has no trouble volunteering, although she faces an incredulous husband. She drills with the men, proves she can be as good a soldier as anyone, and deals with the tension as her husband comes to grips with having a fighting wife. Rosetta's strong will clashes with Jeremiah's while their marriage is tested by broken conventions, constant danger, and war, and she fears discovery of her secret even as they fight for their future, and for their lives. Inspired by more than 250 documented accounts of the women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is the intimate story, in Rosetta’s powerful and gorgeous voice, of the drama of marriage, one woman’s amazing exploits, and the tender love story that can unfold when two partners face life’s challenges side by side.

My Thoughts:
My friends, it is books like I Shall Be Near To You that made me a reader.

It is no secret that I love historical fiction and it had been a while since I read anything set during the Civil War, so it was with a shrug of my shoulders and a, "what the heck" that I took this one on.  I'm almost ashamed to admit that was my initial reaction because this book completely blew me out of the water.

The idea of a woman fighting as a man seems almost exotic to readers, but as is said in the summary, there were over 250 documented accounts of this happening during the Civil War (so much for those who say women aren't fit for combat).  I have read other such stories, but they've always had this sort of "hero complex."  You know--amazing woman fights stereotypes to fight for her country and become a hero...blah blah blah.  I'm not discounting that, but all the stories with this subject that I had read were pretty much the same thing.

This book, however, is different.  Rosetta does not don the life of Ross Stone for any lofty nationalistic reason,  Instead, she joins to be with her husband--who joined up to earn the money for the two of them to start a new life in the west.  Both Rosetta and Jeremiah are characters I could really sink my teeth into.  As the book begins, Rosetta lives in a world where she doesn't feel she belongs.  With Jeremiah, she finds the "home" she has always wanted, but he's soon gone and she's thrust into a situation worse than before she married him.  While I can't imagine ever facing the horrors of war, I never once questioned Rosetta's choice to do so.  Jeremiah, on the other hand, has to fight between want he feels is best for his wife and letting her choose her own path.  I really can't think of another character in this situation written as well as Jeremiah.

Throughout the book, McCabe shows the horror of war--not graphically, but in the emotional reactions of Rosetta and her fellow soldiers.  While there is some battle descriptions (McCabe could not have written this book without them), there is also a deep sense of humanity.  Among the soldiers, we see--in addition to the husband and wife of Jeremiah and Rosetta--fathers and sons, brothers, friends.  My favorite secondary character was Will, a young soldier with his own burden, but also a deep faith and great compassion.

This is also the story of a marriage.  To say that Rosetta and Jeremiah are facing some stressful situations is an understatement.  While there is a beautiful sense of romance, this is not a "romantic" book.  Instead, it is an illustration of true love and devotion--something that the saccharine "romance" label cannot capture.

I'll admit that I sobbed at several points in this book and I'm tearing up just writing this review.  I know there are still a few more months left before I can really make this declaration, but I have a feeling that this will end up being my best read of the year.

Just. Read. This. Book.  Okay?

About the Author:
Erin studied literature and history at University of California, Santa Cruz, earned a teaching credential at California State University, Chico, and taught high school English for seven years. Since completing her MFA in Creative Writing at St. Mary’s College of California in 2010, Erin has taught Composition at St. Mary’s College and Butte College. A California native, Erin lives in the Sierra Foothills with her husband, son, and a small menagerie that includes one dog, four cats, two horses, numerous chickens, and three goats.  (Website) (Facebook) (Twitter) (Pinterest)

I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Want a second opinion?  Check out some of the other stops on this tour (links go to the blog, not the specific review):

Tuesday, September 2nd: Reading and Eating
Wednesday, September 3rd: Passages to the Past
Thursday, September 4th: Under a Gray Sky
Monday, September 8th: Lavish Bookshelf
Monday, September 8th: Daily Mayo
Tuesday, September 9th: Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, September 12th: Kritter’s Ramblings
Monday, September 15th: Books on the Table
Monday, September 15th:  Life is Story
Tuesday, September 16th: Jorie Loves a Story
Wednesday, September 17th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Thursday, September 18th: 100 Pages a Day…. Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Friday, September 19th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, September 22nd: Time 2 Read
Tuesday, September 23rd: History From a Woman’s Perspective
Wedesday, September 24th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Thursday, September 25th: Broken Teepee
Monday, September 29th: Must. Read. Faster




I Shall Be Near to You
by Erin Lindsay Mccabe
Powells.com

Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Review: "The Dinner" by Herman Koch

The Dinner Herman Koch
Published: February 12, 2013
ISBN: 9780770437855
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy (September Book Club Selection)
Rating: 3 / 5
♦♦♦

Summary:
A summer's evening in Amsterdam and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant. Between mouthfuls of food and over the delicate scraping of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of politeness - the banality of work, the triviality of holidays. But the empty words hide a terrible conflict and, with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened... Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. Together, the boys have committed a horrifying act, caught on camera, and their grainy images have been beamed into living rooms across the nation; despite a police manhunt, the boys remain unidentified - by everyone except their parents. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children and, as civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple shows just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

My Thoughts:
This is one of those books that I file under "appreciated, but did not enjoy."  I mean, I really, really, really did not enjoy this book.  At the same time, I won't say that it is a "bad" book and I think that it is a work that did what it set out to do.

And what was that exactly?  The message that I got from this book is that people--in this case the teenage boys--aren't just "that way."  Parents and family have an immense influence on children and they do bear some responsibility when the children make horrific choices.  While that is a bit a blanket statement, it is clearly the case in this story.

The story is a tough one all around.  The action the boys took is horrific and the dinner is, well, as painful as one would expect.  There was not a single likable character in this book (there was one I started off liking but truly despised by the end)--but I can't hold that against this particular book.

It is safe to say that this is not a book that is meant to be enjoyed.  It is, however, a thought-provoking book that should spark discussion.  I can't say that I would never recommend this book to someone else--I do think that it would be a good choice for some book clubs (I may change my mind about that after our book club meets), but it is definitely not something I would recommend to someone just looking for a good book to read.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.



The Dinner
by Herman Koch
Powells.com

Friday, September 19, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - September 20

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Custer State Park (South Dakota) is quite the place to see.  It is sort of a mini-Yellowstone, minus the geysers but plus the wild donkeys.

So, wild donkeys.  Growing up, my father would always tell me to watch out for wild donkeys while we were on our road trips (we took one, sometimes two, long road trips a year).  My mother swore he was making the wild donkeys up....but, hey!, he was right!  There ARE wild donkeys, after all!

The first part of Custer State Park goes through some amazing rock formations--and plenty of switchbacks, which makes it a tricky route to navigate.  Then it straightens out a bit and goes through some flatter areas teeming with wildlife.  The road gets incredibly twisted again as it goes back up into the Black Hills and towards Mt. Rushmore (come back next week for those pictures!)










A bone fide wild donkey!

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of wild buffalo in the park!


Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop: My TBR Shortlists

I haven't done a Mama Kat post in a while, and I thought--given the topic--that I might start it up again on this blog.  I know this was supposed to be published on Thursday, but I already had a post scheduled...so you all get it on Friday!

Anyway, this week's chosen prompt is:

3.) List the the top 6 books on your list to read next.

See?  It is a great topic to wade back in with!  Of course, not only am I not posting this on the right day, but I'm also tinkering with it a bit.  You see, I keep 2 TBR lists--one for hard copies an one for my kindle.  And, yes, I keep an actual list...in EXCEL!... for these books!

So, here is what is coming up next.  Let's start with my next 3 hard copy books:

Milk Glass Moon by Adriana Trigiani

I loved Big Stone Gap and Big Cherry Holler so I really have no choice but to pick up the 3rd book in the series!  Adriana Trigiani has become one of my favorite writers and I'm quickly working my way through her cannon.  Plus, the Big Stone Gap movie, directed by Trigiani herself, comes out this year!  Whee!

Juliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen

This is a re-telling of Romeo and Juliet from the viewpoint of, you guessed it, Juliet's Nurse.  I recently won a copy through the Goodreads First Reads program and I'm doing my best to get through these as soon as I can'


Home to Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani

I told you I was booking (pardon the pun) through these books as fast as I could.  This the 4th and final book in the Big Stone Gap series and I think it will be bittersweet to finish it off.  Oh well, I still have a few more Adriana Trigiani books to go before I start writing letters begging her to bring out a new book!
















I always have (at least) one hard copy book and one kindle book going, so here are my next 3 kindle books:

Into the Free by Julie Cantrell

This book is for my church book group.  I most likely won't review it here.  As I've said before, I read Christian fiction with a different "eye" than I do secular fiction and I think, when I read Christian Fiction critically as I do other books, I don't enjoy it as much.  So, unless I'm solicited for a review, I won't be doing reviews of Christian Fiction on this blog.

That being said, this does look like a good book!

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

This is for my other book club--and it will be a re-read for me (you can read my review here).  For once, I was not the person who suggested it--but I was glad it is on the docket as it is one of my very favorite novels!

A Season Without Rain by Joe Schwartz

When I first signed up with Netgalley, I went a little crazy and I'm madly trying to play catch-up now.  This was one of the first books I requested and (yikes!) I'm just now getting around to it.

I have since put myself on a strict Netgalley diet!













So, there you go!  If I stay on schedule, I should be through these books in about 3-4 weeks. However, that schedule has become very challenging for me since my kids started school.  So, we'll see!


Mama’s Losin’ It

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Book Review: "The Story of Land and Sea" by Katy Simpson Smith

The Story of Land and Sea Katy Simpson Smith
Published: August 26, 2014
ISBN: 9780062335944
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: 4 / 5
♦♦♦♦

Summary:
Set in a small coastal town in North Carolina during the waning years of the American Revolution, this incandescent debut novel follows three generations of family—fathers and daughters, mother and son, master and slave, characters who yearn for redemption amidst a heady brew of war, kidnapping, slavery, and love. 

Drawn to the ocean, ten-year-old Tabitha wanders the marshes of her small coastal village and listens to her father’s stories about his pirate voyages and the mother she never knew. Since the loss of his wife Helen, John has remained land-bound for their daughter, but when Tab contracts yellow fever, he turns to the sea once more. Desperate to save his daughter, he takes her aboard a sloop bound for Bermuda, hoping the salt air will heal her.


Years before, Helen herself was raised by a widowed father. Asa, the devout owner of a small plantation, gives his daughter a young slave named Moll for her tenth birthday. Left largely on their own, Helen and Moll develop a close but uneasy companionship. Helen gradually takes over the running of the plantation as the girls grow up, but when she meets John, the pirate turned Continental soldier, she flouts convention and her father’s wishes by falling in love. Moll, meanwhile, is forced into marriage with a stranger. Her only solace is her son, Davy, whom she will protect with a passion that defies the bounds of slavery.

My Thoughts:
There are books that are suspenseful or romantic or funny....The Story of Land and Sea is beautiful.

I was immediately drawn in by Smith's writing.  Her voice is surprisingly lyrical for a debut author and, if nothing else, I'm glad that this book introduced me to her work.  She was able to vividly recreate the world of late 18th-century North Carolina so well that it made me homesick for the years I spent living in that part of the country.

The characters quickly became dear to my heart.  We have John, the ex-Pirate (yes!) turned soldier, his vivacious wife Helen, his spunky daughter Tab, and his widowed father-in-law, Asa.  Along with this family, we have Moll, the slave given to Helen when they were both children, and her oldest son, Davy.  Each and every character came to life as I read and I fell a bit in love with each and every one of them.

This book is more a study than it is a story.  Smith takes her time to really delve into each and every relationship in this book--and not a single one of them is simple.  However, in exchange, this is not a strongly-plotted novel.  Personally, I'm fine with that--I would choose a character-driven book over a plot-driven book any day of the week.

However, because of that, I feel I can't give this book the 5 stars that it was for me.  I suspect that some readers may be frustrated with the less-developed plot, especially if they are more interested in the story than the characters.  On the other hand, those who put more stock in well developed characters and setting would likely fall in love with this book as I did.

Katy Simpson Smith discusses her novel, The Story of Land and Sea (this video does contain a spoiler).







About the Author:
Katy Simpson Smith was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. She attended Mount Holyoke College and received a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She has been working as an Adjunct Professor at Tulane University and is the author of We Have Raised All of You: Motherhood in the South, 1750-1835. She lives in New Orleans.

I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.


Want to read more? Check out some of the other stops on this blog tour!  (Links go to the blog, not the specific review):
Monday, August 25th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Tuesday, August 26th: BookNAround
Wednesday, August 28th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, August 28th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, September 2nd: Jorie Loves a Story
Wednesday, September 3rd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, September 4th: Book Hooked Blog
Monday, September 8th: The Book Binder’s Daughter
Thursday, September 11th Kritters Ramblings
Friday, September 12th: Consuming Culture
Saturday, September 13th: 100 Pages a Day … Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Wednesday, September 15th: 5 Minutes for Books
Tuesday, September 16th: BoundbyWords
Wednesday, September 17th: Spiced Latte Reads
Monday, September 22nd: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Friday, September 26th: Silver’s Reviews

Friday, September 12, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - September 13

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

My last post was about our visit to Little Bighorn Battlefield.  After we left there, we headed towards the Black Hills of South Dakota.  However, we decided to take a little side trip to Devil's Tower in North Eastern Wyoming.

I had never been here before, which is amazing since this is just the sort of attraction my father likes.  He is very much a "look and get back in the car" traveler.  I kid you not when I say that is how we experienced the Grand Canyon.  We drove there, here took us to a look out, we looked out, and he told us to get back in the car and we left.  Needless to say, I'll be making a return trip to the Grand Canyon sometime soon.

Back to Devil's Tower.  It is actually the first National Monument in the National Parks service.  It is one of those amazing things you have to see in person to really appreciate.  You can see it without actually going into the park, but we did go in (along with about 5 tour buses! Ugh!).  It is a haven for rock climbers and we ran into a couple of them coming down from a day on the rock.  It seemed 10 hours round trip is sort of the average for climbers, but the record is someone climbing it in 18 minutes!  Yikes!







On life, On Books, On Blogging

In our house, we are finishing our 3rd week of the school year--my daughter started full-day kindergarten in August and my son started preschool 2 days a week this past week.  This is the first time since I quit working that I had a hard and fast schedule and, to tell you the truth, I love it!  

I love knowing that there is a framework to our day and I think the kids find comfort in it as well,  This is not to say that we lived a loosey-goosey lifestyle before August 26th, but our days were definitely more open.  This past summer was especially un-scheduled as my husband (who is positively not a routine person!) was on sabbatical and we were out of town for an extended period of time.

But, with every positive change there are a few "opportunity costs."  For me, it has been decreased reading time.  I'm still reading, of course, but not nearly as much as I had been and far less than I would like.  The hours in my day are limited and I've learned that I need to prioritize things, namely sleep, over reading if I want to be able to function.  So, on that note, I just want to give you a heads up that the rate of reviews on this blog will slow a bit--at least until figure out how to add some hours into my day!  I will still be reviewing books, of course, and my "regular" posts, such Saturday Snapshot and Monthly Wrap-Ups will continue as usual.

I do, however, want this blog to be something more.  I started out as a lifestyle blogger and I think I want to dip my toe back into that.  I've attempted secondary blogs in the past but maintaining multiple blogs isn't ideal for me.  Since book reviews will be slightly fewer and far between here, I thought I might expand the scope of this blog to include, well, other things.

Let me reiterate: there will still be book reviews!  Saturday Snapshot is staying!  There will just be more--some of which won't be book related.  If you'd rather not read "all that other stuff," but wish to stay in the loop with book reviews, you can always follow my Pinterest Board for this blog, where I pin all my book reviews. 

So, you can all look forward to peek into other parts of my life...as run-of-the-mill as they may be!