Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Ways of Mud and Bone by Carrie Ann Lahain: A Book Review

The Ways of Mud and Bone
Author: Carrie Ann Lahain
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: CreateSpace
Release Date: 2013
Pages: 248
Source: This book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: In the summer of 1918, as the Great War rages in Europe, nineteen-year-old Meryl Goodson’s small-town life is shattered when her cousin Nora’s fiancé is killed in France. The tragedy causes a rift in the community between those for the war and those against it. As local tensions rise, Meryl begins her service with an overseas relief unit. Caught up in her own brutal day-to-day struggle in war-weary France, she is unaware of how far matters have deteriorated at home. The truth leaves her broken and grieving. Is the world she once knew gone forever? Or can the friendships she’s made help Meryl find the strength to begin again? 

     A bit like LITTLE WOMEN meets ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, THE WAYS OF MUD AND BONE is a uniquely American book about the war to end all wars.


     My Review: In Mrs. Lahain’s debut novel set in WWI, The Ways of Mud and Bone tells the story of a young American nurse who is sent to France to help tend to wounded soldiers. While she is there, she finds that there is terror and death surrounding her. However, while she is enduring the hardships of the war in France, she is unaware of the problems at home. Throughout her trials, the young nurse, Meryl, strives to find strength, hope, and light during a time of darkness, grief, and destruction.

     The story begins with the death of Meryl’s cousin Nora’s fiance, Teddy, an American soldier who died in battle. Meryl’s father is a doctor, and he trains her and her sister, Claire to be nurses. Both Meryl and Claire are accepted into a relief unit program in New York. Shortly afterwards, their relief unit assigns them to France. Before Claire can go to France with her sister, she falls ill, leaving Meryl to go overseas on her own. Meryl, with two other girls, Priscilla and Emma, and two doctors cross the ocean with a reserved army. On the ship, influenza spreads and Meryl catches it. But when they arrive in France, they are surrounded by warfare.

     Meryl is very quiet but observant. She does not say much and is usually portrayed as being in the background eclipsed by other spirited characters. Sometimes, she can be impulsive and judgmental at first, but later her judgments change. She is also caring, for she cares about her friends and family.

     But while Meryl is in France, the story focuses on Nora, who is managing Meryl’s home. Meryl’s father is arrested because he is seen as a German sympathizer because he lets Germans stay in their house. She also looks after Claire’s well-being, who still has not fully recovered from her sickness. While Nora is trying to deal with these problems, she finds unexpected romance along the way.

     Overall, this story is about tragedy, loss, friendship, family, and romance. Most of all, it is about trying to cope and to find a place of contentment when struggling with grief. It is about how a person should carry on and put one foot in front of the other in a period of sadness. The story is beautifully written, and the setting is is well-depicted in historical detailed. All of the characters are likable and fascinating. Some of them bold and flamboyant, but they are all realistic and human. I recommend this for those not only interested in WWI, but for those who are coping with grief and are trying to get their life back together again.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Monday, February 24, 2014

Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts: A Book Review

Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation
Author: Cokie Roberts
Genre: Nonfiction. History, Biography
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: 2004
Pages: 384
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: Cokie Roberts’s number one New York Times bestseller, We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters, examined the nature of women’s roles throughout history and led USA Today praise her as a “custodian of time-honored values.” Her second bestseller, From This Day Forward, written with her husband, Steve Roberts, described American marriages throughout history, including the romance of John and Abigail Adam. Now Roberts returns with Founding Mothers, an intimate and illuminating look at the fervently patriotic and passionate women whose tireless pursuits on behalf of their families--and their country--proved just as crucial to the forging of a new nation as the rebellion that established it.

      While much has been written about the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, battled the British, and framed the Constitution, the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters they left behind have been little noticed by history. Roberts brings us women who fought the Revolution as valiantly as the men, often defending their very doorsteps. While the men went off to war or to Congress, the women managed their businesses, raised their children, provided them with political advice, and made it possible for the men to do what they did. The behind-the-scenes influence of these women--and their sometimes very public activities was intelligent and pervasive.

      Drawing upon personal correspondence, private journals, and even favoured recipes, Roberts reveals the often surprising stories of these fascinating women, bringing to life the everyday trials and extraordinary triumphs of individuals like Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, Deborah Read Franklin, Eliza Pinckney, Catherine Littlefield Green, Esther DeBerdt Reed and Martha Washington–proving that without our exemplary women, the new country might never have survived.

     Social history at its best, Founding Mothers unveils the drive, determination, creative insight, and passion of the other patriots, the women who raised our nation. Roberts proves beyond a doubt that like every generation of American women that has followed, the founding mothers used the unique gifts of their gender--courage, pluck, sadness, joy, energy, grace, sensitivity, and humor-- to do what women do best, put one foot in front of the other in remarkable circumstances and carry on.

     My Review: We have heard the tales of great men like General Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Hancock. We know about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the drafting of the Constitution, and the forming of the new country. Yet behind all these fabulous tales about these great men, what did the women do? The only stories told down to us about the women are the stories of Betsey Ross, Molly Pitcher, and Dolly Madison. The  rest of the women remain largely in the background during this era, and are considered unimportant that sometimes we forget that there were women. However, in Cokie Roberts's book Founding Mothers, Mrs. Roberts shows that much of the success in forming the new nation was due to the efforts of the women. 

     The Founding Fathers were not saints. They had faults, weaknesses, fears, and shortcomings just like anyone else, but they had a vision that moulded the founding of America. But the women had to be the rock, the foundation for them to have the freedom to meet and keep the Founding Fathers in line from bickering with each other. For instance, we know that Martha Washington entertained troops at Valley Forge, but after the war, sometimes hundreds of visitors a year came to Mount Vernon with business for George, and Mrs. Washington had to feed them all. As first lady, she was required to host receptions, yet she was also criticized for putting the receptions on even though it was a requirement as first lady.  

     Another tale is that of Abigail Adams. Abigail had a sharp tongue. Cokie Roberts portrays her as a woman who better understood politics more than her husband. She managed both the farm and John Adams’ law business, dealt with food shortages caused by war, and raised her children, all the while trying to fend off British soldiers. When she asked John’s advice about how she should prepare for the war against Britain, John Adams replied that if it is really dangerous, she and the children should just flee to the woods. Abigail also formed a friendship with Thomas Jefferson and she kept them from going at each other.

     Another little known story is Benjamin Franklin’s wife Deborah. Benjamin Franklin is known to have started the postal service in America. But what most people don’t know is that he left the business up to his wife. Benjamin Franklin moved to France and England where he enjoyed the comforts of the ladies. He would have stayed there, but he was forced to come back because his wife died to keep his business ventures in America from going under after Mrs. Franklin's death.. He was absent for sixteen of the seventeen years of his marriage with Deborah. Deborah had to run the post office to make sure it was successful and raise her children entirely by herself.

     Some more interesting highlights about these Founding Mothers was that Eliza Pinckney’s father left the business of running a massive plantation to Eliza at sixteen years young, expecting her to be successful. Aaron Burr turned out to be a rogue because his mother died when he was young, and it was Catherine Greene that helped Eli Whitney invent the cotton gin. Alexander Hamilton, who because of his lowly upbringing, only got respect because he married well. It was only because of his marriage to a wealthy, well-bred woman that he was able to get the position of Secretary of Treasury. One humorous story involving George Washington is that he did not wish his own mother to move in with him and Martha at Mount Vernon, yet welcomed his mother-in-law with open arms. 

      Overall, this is an excellent biography of the wives, sisters, and daughters of the Founding Fathers. This book covers the challenges the men and women of that time faced, the fighting between the Founding Fathers that the women had to help keep in check, and scandals that are so fascinating most times it reads like a soap opera. The writing is very engaging and sometimes written in a humorous style. I believe that this should be read by anyone interested in American history and women in extraordinary circumstances giving their all for the cause. This book helps give a full picture of the founding of the country and the men and women behind  them. This book is a great tribute to these women and their efforts.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars



Cook Recipes From The Women of The American Revolution

     My friend recommended to me Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts. It is a biography the wives, sisters and daughters of America's Founding Fathers. In her biography, she included some recipes that these women used. I found them fascinating, so I decided to share some of them with you. I hope you enjoy reading them as I did. Be sure to check out Cokie Roberts Founding Mothers. This is a book you wouldn't want to miss for it is the story of the Founding of America told from the perspective of the Founding Fathers' women.

Martha Washington’s Recipes:

Crab Soup:

Ingredients:

Fresh crabs  
Butter        
Flour                                                     
Hard-boiled eggs                                                               
Lemon rind, grated
Salt and Pepper
Milk
Cream
Sherry
Worcestershire sauce                             

Directions:

     Boil enough crabs in salted water to make ½ pound or (use 1 cup canned or frozen) crabmeat. Combine 1 tablespoon butter. 1 ½ tablespoons flour, 3 hard-boiled eggs that have been mashed, rind of one lemon grated, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring 4 cups milk to boil in a saucepan. Then pour it slowly into the egg mixtures. Add the  crabmeat to the milk-egg mixture and cook gently five minutes. Add the crabmeat to the milk-egg mixture and cook gently five minutes. Add ½ cup heavy cream; remove from the heat before it reaches a full boil. Add ½ cup sherry and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Serve piping hot. Six servings.

From Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks, The Presidents’ Cookbook Practical Recipes from George Washington to the Present (New York: Funk & Wagnalls 1968).

From Roberts, Cokie. Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation. (New York: William Morrow, 2004) p. 284. 

Cokie Roberts’ Favorite Martha Washington’s recipe:

Hearty Choak Pie:

Ingredients:

Artichokes                                 
Pastry                                       
Butter                                        
Marrow bones
Sugar
Verges (green juice)
Cinnamon
Ginger                           

Directions:

     Take 12 harty choak (artichoke) bottoms, good and large and boil them. Discard the leaves and core, and place the bottoms on a coffin of pastry, with 1 pound butter and marrow of 2 bones in big pieces, then close up the coffin and bake it in the oven. Meanwhile, boil together ½ pound sugar, ½ pint verges, and a touch of cinnamon and ginger. When the pie is half-baked, put the liquor into it, replace it in the oven until it is fully baked.

From Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks, The Presidents’ Cookbook Practical Recipes from George Washington to the Present (New York: Funk & Wagnalls 1968).

From Roberts, Cokie. Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation. (New York: William Morrow, 2004) p.284-286. 

Weird Recipes:

To Dress a Calves Head:

Directions:

     Boil the head till the Tongue will Peal, then cut half the Head into small pieces, about the size of an oyster, then stew it in Strong Gravy, with a large Ladle full of Claret, and a handful of sweet herbs, a little lemon peal, a pieces of Onion and Nutmeg. Let all These stew till they are tender: Take the other half of the head and boil it, scratch it across, stew over it grated Bread and sweet herbs with a little lemon Peal: Lard it with Bacon, and wash it over with the Yolks of Eggs, and strew over it a little grated Bread and Plate it in the middle of your dish. Then put a pint (sic) of strong Gravy into your stew pan with three Anchovies, a few Capers a good many Mushrooms a good sweet quantity of sweet Butter, and a quart of large Oysters; stew the Oysters in their own liquor with a Blade of Mace and a little white wine, keep the largest to fry , and shred a few smallest; then Beat the Yolks of Eggs (2) and Flour, dip them in and fry them in Hogs Lard, make little Cakes of the Brains and dip them in and fry them, then pour stew’d meat in the dish with the other half of the head, and lay the fried Oysters, Brains, and Tongue, with little bits of cripst bacon, and force meat Balls, on the Top and all about the meat garnish with horseradish and Barberries and serve it hot.

Brown Frigasee:

Directions:

    Take Rabbits or Chickens, season them with salt, Pepper, and a little Mace, then put half a pound of Butter in your pan, Brown it, and dredge it with flower; cut up your Chickens put them in and fry them Brown and have ready a quart of good strong gravy, Oysters, Mushrooms, three Anchovies a chalot or two, a bunch of sweet herbs, and a glass of Claret. Season it high, and when they are boil’d enough, put them in and let them stew altogether keeping them shaking all the time its on the fire, and when it is as thick as cream, take it up and have ready to lay it over it some Bitts of cripst Bacon, Fry Oysters in Hogs lard to make them look Brown, dip them in the Yolks of Eggs and Flour, and a little grated Nutmeg; and Forcemeat Balls: Garnish with Lemon and flowers and serve it.

From A Colonial Plantations Cookbook: The Receipt Book of Harriott Pinckney Horry, 1770, edited with an introduction by Richard J. Hooker (Columbia, S.C.: UNiversity of South Carolina Press, 1984), p. 46.

From Roberts, Cokie. Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation. (New York: William Morrow, 2004) p.286-287. 



Saturday, February 22, 2014

Anna Howard Shaw: The Work of Women Suffrage (Women In American History) by Trisha Franzen: A Book Review

Anna Howard Shaw: The Work of Women Suffrage (Women in American History)
Author: Trisha Franzen
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Release Date: March 15th 2014
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: With this first scholarly biography of Anna Howard Shaw (1847-1919), Trisha Franzen sheds new light on an important woman suffrage leader who has too often been overlooked and misunderstood.

     An immigrant from a poor family, Shaw grew up in an economic reality that encouraged the adoption of non-traditional gender roles. Challenging traditional gender boundaries throughout her life, she put herself through college, worked as an ordained minister and a doctor, and built a tightly-knit family with her secretary and longtime companion Lucy E. Anthony.


     Drawing on unprecedented research, Franzen shows how these circumstances and choices both impacted Shaw's role in the woman suffrage movement and set her apart from her native-born, middle- and upper-class colleagues. Franzen also rehabilitates Shaw's years as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, arguing that Shaw's much-belittled tenure actually marked a renaissance of both NAWSA and the suffrage movement as a whole. 


     Anna Howard Shaw: The Work of Woman Suffrage presents a clear and compelling portrait of a woman whose significance has too long been misinterpreted and misunderstood.

    
     My Review: Anna Howard Shaw is famous for being the leader of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Yet, she is merely glanced over by historians for her famous predecessors: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Carrie Chapman Catt. Indeed, when I was helping a high school student learn about the American women temperance and suffrage movement, I noticed that Anna Howard Shaw was not even mentioned in his American history textbook. However, Trisha Franzen has written the first scholarly biography of Anna Howard Shaw. In this biography, she depicts Anna’s accomplishments and challenges and shows a remarkable woman that contributed  great changes to the women’s suffrage movement.

     Anna Shaw is actually an English immigrant, who at four years-old moved with her family to the U.S. They first settled in Lawrence, Massachusetts where she formed a friendship with a prostitute, which was uncommon at that time because they were considered unsuitable for proper society. When she was twelve, her father moved his family out west to Michigan and became a farmer. Because her father had no experience or knowledge of farming, Anna’s father left the farming duties entirely up to his children. She must have thought, "Gee, thanks, Dad!" Because Anna was farming alongside her brothers, Anna believed that women and men were equal. She believed that women could do any job as capable as a man. She then became a schoolteacher, and later aspired to become a minister. Anna struggled to become a minister because it was almost entirely a male profession. However, she did succeed and she also got a medical degree. She soon worked for the women’s temperance and suffrage movements, where she eventually became the protege of Susan B. Anthony, and then later became president of the NAWSA.


     The author also mentions Shaw’s personal life, including her relationships with women, most in particular Lucy Anthony, Susan B. Anthony’s niece. Because of this, Shaw believed in alternative families. She also believed that the suffrage movement was for all women of different races. The author also focused on the challenges Shaw faced with her presidency. One of the challenges was the famous militant women marches and protests headed by Alice Paul, whom Shaw disagreed with.


     Overall, this was a great biography of Anna Howard Shaw. This author writes in an engaging tone that makes it general reader accessible. She not only discusses her personal and professional life, but also addresses some of the misconceptions that historians have criticized her for. This biography proves that Anna Howard Shaw needs to have historians’ attentions and her name in the textbooks. It is the never ending work of women like Anna Howard Shaw that have helped give us American women our rights as U.S. citizens. I believe that Trisha Franzen has paved the road for historians to see this remarkable woman in a different perspective.


Rating: 5 out of 5 stars



Thursday, February 20, 2014

Interview with Rachel Florence Roberts

     Today, I have the honor to host Rachel Florence Roberts. She is the debuted author of The Medea Complex. It is a psychological thriller about a woman, who is placed in an insane asylum because she was viewed unfit to stand trial for the crime which she was believed to be indicted. I have enjoyed and recently reviewed the novel, and I believe that she will continue writing great novels in the future. This interview gives us an insight about the author and her novel. Thank you, Ms. Roberts.



1. Did you always aspire to be a writer?

Yes. Ever since I was eleven years old, and sneaking my dad's Stephen King Books out of his (not so well) locked 'man cupboard'. I shocked my English teacher when I did a book report on 'Misery'  - but she gave me an A+ (boo-yah!).

 2. What are your favorite genres? Do you like historical fiction?

I love historical fiction, but my absolute favorites are psychological thrillers - such as Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane, and American Psycho!

3. Are there any authors that have especially influenced you?


No. I wanted my book to be unique in it's genre - I can't honestly say that I took inspiration from anyone in particular - if anything, it is an amalgamation of the thousands of books I've read throughout my lifetime.

4. What inspired you to write your story The Medea Complex?

After my son was born, I suffered with pretty bad postnatal depression. It was my subsequent research into the subject, and its history, that inspired The Medea Complex. I was also taken by the book written by Dr George Savage - 'Insanity and Allied Neuroses'- in fact, many of the medical note's about 'Anne' are real quotes from this casebook.

5. Which of the historical figures in your story do you find the most fascinating, and why?

Dr Savage - by far. He was a man well ahead of his time. I have tried to keep his character and nature as close to the 'real' man as possible - his memory deserves it. He was a great contributor to modern psychology.

6. What do you think about the Victorian psychological methods of the time?

I think that they were suitable for the time.  In fact, you were LUCKY if you were treated
in an insane asylum at the end of the 19th century - it was the best time to be in
one, as their attitude was 'moral therapy', and 'rest and recuperation'. It was
early to mid 20th century that saw the worst of it - lobotomies and such.

7. What message do you hope readers will gain from The Medea Complex?

That a mother will do anything to protect her child.
                                                                                                                                                             
8. I would love there to be a sequel to The Medea Complex. Are you still thinking about writing a sequel? 

Yes, I am working on a sequel. I'm so excited!

     Rachel Florence Roberts was born in Liverpool. She was inspired to write The Medea Complex after the birth of her first son. It is based on true events that occurred towards the end of the 19th century. This is her first novel. You can visit her website at http://www.themedeacomplex.com.














Check out my review of Rachel Florence Roberts novel:

The Medea Complex


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Medea Complex by Rachel Florence Roberts: A Book Review

The Medea Complex
Author: Rachel Florence Roberts
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Psychological Thriller
Publisher: CreateSpace
Release Date: 2013
Pages: 272
Source: This book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis:  ****BASED ON A TRUE STORY***

     1885. Anne Stanbury - Committed to a lunatic asylum, having been deemed insane and therefore unfit to stand trial for the crime of which she is indicted. But is all as it seems?

     Edgar Stanbury - the grieving husband and father who is torn between helping his confined wife recover her sanity, and seeking revenge on the woman who ruined his life.

     Dr George Savage - the well respected psychiatrist, and chief medical officer of Bethlem Royal Hospital. Ultimately, he holds Anne's future wholly in his hands. 

     The Medea Complex tells the story of a misunderstood woman suffering from insanity in an era when mental illnesses' were all too often misdiagnosed and mistreated. A deep and riveting psychological thriller set within an historical context, packed full of twists and turns, The Medea Complex explores the nature of the human psyche: what possesses us, drives us, and how love, passion, and hope for the future can drive us to insanity.  

     My Review: This is a dark psychological thriller of  Anne Stanbury, a woman who finds herself in an insane asylum thinking that she is kidnapped and is being held for ransom because of her wealthy father. She has no memory of the crime that she has been accused of committing, for murdering her baby son that has outraged the Victorian society. She also does not remember her husband, who is hurt that the woman he loves, has killed their only son. The Medea Complex is a story told from the perspective Anne Stanbury, her husband, Lord Edgar Stanbury, her psychiatrist, Dr. George Savage, and Anne’s maid, Beatrix, to examine the motive of Anne’s crime, to question what actually drives people to insanity. It also questions: what is the true meaning of sanity?

    Roberts has constructed an excellent cast of characters. All of them are realistic and complex, which is what makes them human. Each of the characters have their flaws. However, the person that the audience can trust the most is Dr. Savage. Dr. Savage represents the reader, because he is the investigator of the story. He analyzes and questions Anne’s mind and actions, and is always on a continuous hunt for the truth. Edgar Stanbury is relatable because we can understand the motive of why he is conflicted. He is torn between the love he has for his wife, but he also wants vengeance for the loss of  his beloved son. Beatrix is Anne’s only friend, but she too has dark secrets of her own. The most complex character is the main character, Anne. She is the most mysterious of them all. The reader is eager to see who she truly is.

     Overall, the story was fast-paced and suspenseful. It is full of twists and turns that will keep the reader on the edge their seat and eager to keep reading till the end. The settings is very descriptive and well built.The insane asylum is dark and eerily creepy, and the manor that the Stanburys live shows us that not is all as it seems. The main reason I give this review 4 instead of 5 stars, is that there were some scenes I felt that could be left out, for example there was a drawn out bathroom humor scene where the Inspectors talked endlessly on about their bladder control. I also felt that there were still a few loose ends, but I hope that the author can write a sequel to this book so she can tie them up. But aside from this, it was a well-written story. I recommend this novel to anyone interested in Victorian psychology, and fans of Stephen King, John Grisham, Primal Fear, and anyone interested in dark stories or psychological thrillers.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars



Thursday, February 13, 2014

Longbourn: A Novel by Jo Baker: A Book Review

Longbourn: A Novel
Author: Jo Baker
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Knopf 
Release Date: 2013
Pages: 352
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: Pride and Prejudice was only half the story.

      "If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them."

      In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended. 

     Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen’s classic—into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars—and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own.

     My Review: Longbourn is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice. It is told from the perspective of the hidden servants whom Austen briefly mentioned in her novel. The main character of the story is Sarah, and it is about her everyday life as a servant. Suddenly, Mr. Bennett hires a mysterious footman, and her quiet life is turned upside down. Sarah soon becomes caught up in a swirl of a love triangle, scandal, and drama, while upstairs Elizabeth Bennet is having a slow-building romance with Mr. Darcy.

     Sarah is a sweet and hardworking girl. She likes to read books, and likes to know about events going on in her world. She is also very adventurous, and wants to see the world around her. She is inquisitive and asks questions and likes to search for answers. She is very observant and tends to see traits in other people’s personalities that an average person does not usually notice. However, she can be impulsive and makes irrational actions without thinking through things clearly. She needs the help and guidance of others to help see the impulsiveness of her actions and to make rational decisions. She is also stubborn, and when she makes a decision, she clings to it.

     Even though there are links to Pride and Prejudice, there is very little interaction with the main characters of Pride and Prejudice, for they are mostly in the background. I did not like the portrayals of the Bennet family, for I found that I did like any of them. They did not seem like they cared much for their servants, for if something bad happened to them, they did not seem to notice.  When they did show them attention, they treated them as if they are pets, as if they are there for their pleasure.

     Overall, I found the book to be an over-hyped and trite sensation of a retelling of Pride and Prejudice. There is not a lot of action in the plot, for most of it involves scrubbing the floors, preparing meals, dressing the Bennet girls up, running errands, etc. I felt it to be a disappointing portrayal of the Bennet family, whom in this book, they are described as lazy, self-centered, and uncaring. The book is well-written, and it is clear that the author has done her homework on the Pride and Prejudice novel and the era the book is set in. If you still want to read it because it is a popular bestseller, then you should. You may enjoy it. However, there is nothing new about this book, and there are other books out there based on Pride and Prejudice that in my opinion are better than Longbourn. They just don’t get as much attention or the money coming in from Hollywood, who is already making a movie adaption.

Rating: 2 ½ out of 5 stars

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Defy (Book #1 of Defy Trilogy) by Sara B. Larson: A Book Review

Defy (Book #1 of Defy Trilogy)
Author: Sara B. Larson
Genre:YA, Fantasy
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: January 7, 2014
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review/
Synopsis: A lush and gorgeously written debut, packed with action, intrigue, and heart-racing romance.

      Alexa Hollen is a fighter. Forced to disguise herself as a boy and serve in the king's army, Alex uses her quick wit and fierce sword-fighting skills to earn a spot on the elite prince's guard. But when a powerful sorcerer sneaks into the palace in the dead of night, even Alex, who is virtually unbeatable, can't prevent him from abducting her, her fellow guard and friend Rylan, and Prince Damian, taking them through the treacherous wilds of the jungle and deep into enemy territory.

     The longer Alex is held captive with both Rylan and the prince, the more she realizes that she is not the only one who has been keeping dangerous secrets. And suddenly, after her own secret is revealed, Alex finds herself confronted with two men vying for her heart: the safe and steady Rylan, who has always cared for her, and the dark, intriguing Damian. With hidden foes lurking around every corner, is Alex strong enough to save herself and the kingdom she's sworn to protect?    

     My Review: Defy is set against the backdrop amidst a war between the two countries of Blevon and Antion. It tells the story of a young woman named Alexa, whose parents have been killed by an evil Blevonese sorcerer. Because there are few other alternatives for Alexa, except to enter the country of Antion’s breeding house for young women, which is like a harem where women are forced and expected to produce children for Antion’s army, her brother persuades her to cut off her hair and pretend to be a boy so they can both join the army of Antion. As a soldier, Alexa, disguised as Alex, becomes a personal bodyguard to the Crown Prince of Antion, Damian. However, a Blevonese sorcerer abducts Prince Damian and his two bodyguards Alex and Rylan to use Prince Damian as ransom in an effort to make the King of Antion stop the war.

     The character of Alexa is at first strong. She is a good fighter, but she can be impulsive sometimes. She is also inquisitive, which is good for a heroine because she is questioning everything around her and is very impatient and immediately wants answers to those questions. Because of this she is very relatable to the character. In the beginning, she is a strong character and is very independent. However, in the middle part of the book, she becomes a damsel in distress and lets Prince Damian do the rescuing for her, which I found a little disappointing. But towards the end, I was satisfied when she was back to her strong, independent self again.

     Overall, I found the book to be a pleasant read. The book is filled with a mystery and twists and turns. It has romance, court intrigue, mystery, danger, friendship, and magic. The pacing of the book in the first part was fast-paced, but it slowed down in the middle because it focused on the love triangle between Alexa, Rylan, and Damian, but picked up towards to end to a dramatic and exciting climax. The world of Defy, though not quite yet well-built, shows the corrupt world of Antion in the midst of the war. The characters do need some work with their characterizations besides being a love triangle. But despite the flaws, it was a book that was entertaining to read and to pick up the next installments of the Defy series. I will put this book into the category for any teen who enjoys the Twilight series.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Here is the official book trailer for Defy:

Friday, February 7, 2014

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin: A Book Review

Alice I Have Been
Author: Melanie Benjamin
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: 2009
Pages: 400
Source: Personal Collection 
Synopsis: Few works of literature are as universally beloved as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Now, in this spellbinding historical novel, we meet the young girl whose bright spirit sent her on an unforgettable trip down the rabbit hole–and the grown woman whose story is no less enthralling.

     “But oh my dear, I am tired of being Alice in Wonderland. Does it sound ungrateful?” 

     Alice Liddell Hargreaves’s life has been a richly woven tapestry: As a young woman, wife, mother, and widow, she’s experienced intense passion, great privilege, and greater tragedy. But as she nears her eighty-first birthday, she knows that, to the world around her, she is and will always be only “Alice.” Her life was permanently dog-eared at one fateful moment in her tenth year–the golden summer day she urged a grown-up friend to write down one of his fanciful stories.

     That story, a wild tale of rabbits, queens, and a precocious young child, becomes a sensation the world over. Its author, a shy, stuttering Oxford professor, does more than immortalize Alice–he changes her life forever. But even he cannot stop time, as much as he might like to. And as Alice’s childhood slips away, a peacetime of glittering balls and royal romances gives way to the urgent tide of war.  

     For Alice, the stakes could not be higher, for she is the mother of three grown sons, soldiers all. Yet even as she stands to lose everything she treasures, one part of her will always be the determined, undaunted Alice of the story, who discovered that life beyond the rabbit hole was an astonishing journey.

     A love story and a literary mystery, Alice I Have Been brilliantly blends fact and fiction to capture the passionate spirit of a woman who was truly worthy of her fictional alter ego, in a world as captivating as the Wonderland only she could inspire.

     My Review: I have never been a fan of Lewis Carroll's, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I have always found parts of the story sad and disturbing. Nor did I know anything about Lewis Carroll’s personal life or the fact that Lewis Carroll was a pseudonym for Charles Dodgson. However, I was surprised to learn that Alice was based off of a real person. So I was curious to read Melanie Benjamin’s, Alice I Have Been, whose story centers on Alice Liddell, and how Lewis Carroll’s children’s book classic affected her life. The story shows us that both Alice Liddell and Lewis Carroll are forever intertwined and cannot be separated.

     The story is narrated by Alice Liddell herself and she discusses three major events of her life that have affected her. The story begins when she is seven years old and is the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church in Oxford. Their next-door neighbor is Charles Dodgson, who is a stuttering mathematics professor. Mr. Dodgson has an intense friendship with Alice and her three sisters, and on one summer afternoon, he tells the sisters the story of Alice in Wonderland. Alice, enthralled with the story, asks Mr. Dodgson to write it down, which he agreed to do. The publication of the story of Alice in Wonderland changed Alice’s life forever.

     Alice is described as a spirited little girl that likes to get dirty and roll on the ground. However, as she grows up, she does not want to grow up. Rather, she wishes that she can remain a little girl forever. However, after the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and as a young woman, Alice struggles with her identity as the world around her still sees her as the little girl in the children’s book. Alice is a very relatable, likable, and strong heroine. She is constantly trying to find out who she is and to come to terms with herself. Sometimes, she can be selfish and takes others for granted, but like the Alice in Wonderland, a lost little girl, she eventually finds her way to happiness.

     Overall, it is about a woman trying to find her identity. I found Alice’s crush on Mr. Dodgson as a little girl to be weird and uncomfortable. However, I did like Alice’s tragic romance with Prince Leopold, and I found Alice losing two of her sons in WWI to be emotionally touching. The book is slow-paced, which is reminiscent of a lazy summer afternoon, the day when Alice tumbles down a rabbit hole. I recommend this story to anyone who is interested in Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the Victorian era, and World War I. I also recommend this book to anyone who is still trying to find his or her identity.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Interview with C.W. Gortner

Today, I have the privilege of interviewing C.W, Gortner. He is author who first introduced me to historical fiction, and is one of my favorite authors in this genre. He is an international best-selling authors and is recognized as one of the hottest authors in historical fiction. This interview gives an insight to some of his works, namely The Last Queen, Confessions of Catherine de Medici, and The Queen’s Vow. Thank you, Mr. Gortner.



    1. Your books have been about Catherine de Medici, Queen Isabella of Spain, and Juana of Castile.  What drew you to write about these women?

Since childhood, history and women in history, especially those who are maligned or mired in controversy, have fascinated me. Perhaps because I was raised in Spain, where history can be seen everywhere, in a family of strong women, I absorbed early on that even those closest to us can hide secrets. Historical figures are no different; though we think we know everything about them, the truth is they too had intimate lives and were not the iconic portraits that have survived, but rather fallible human beings who strived, much as we do, to find fulfillment. I also tend to balk at the stereotyping of women that we find in history. Women like those I write about are pigeonholed by easy clichés: Catherine de Medici is a power-hungry mother; Isabella of Spain a righteous fanatic; and Juana of Castile a hapless lunatic. Their real stories are so much more complex, however, rife with untold upheaval, triumph and tragedy. They are as much a product of their circumstances and their eras as they are extraordinary in their attempts to defy these. Fictionalizing them, for me, helps unravel their myths and restore their humanity, so we can see them as they may have been. Whether or not we agree with their actions, like or dislike them, they are still flesh and blood.


    2. Because you are a male author, how do you narrate the story from a woman’s perspective so effectively? Did it make you feel uncomfortable or did you feel liberated?

I never thought about it; it seemed natural to me, in that I am a writer, after all, and much like an actor or other creative person who creates character, I have to believe in my personage in order for them to become real to me and to my reader. It did not occur to me that I was doing anything unusual until my first novel, The Last Queen, was published, and suddenly I began hearing from readers that they were so surprised to discover I was male. To me, while gender roles are certainly limiting and imposed on us by society, emotions are not. Regardless of our gender, we all know what it feels like to love and hate, desire, grieve or exult. Gender expectations dictate how we express our emotions, so in order to write as I do, I must transcend my own. I must leave behind everything I am and believe, to become the person who tells you her story. It really is no different from what actor does. To bring an audience into the illusion, they must see the character you are portraying, not you. I find it more unusual that people like me attempt to write historical novels at all. I find it less difficult to shed my gender than my very liberal 21st century mind-set, as the eras I write about are full of things I find deeply disturbing.


    3. In The Last Queen, you portray Juana, the Mad Queen, less as crazy, but misunderstood. If a reader wanted to learn more about the true story of Juana, what sources do you recommend?

There are unfortunately very few. Most of the sources I consulted are either out of print or contemporary documents from her era, which in of themselves contradict the popular myth that she was insane. Certainly, toward the end of her life, she was not well; she may have suffered a predisposition for manic depression, a trait that ran in her maternal bloodline through her grandmother. But I am certain Juana did not start out insane. She was eccentric for her era, but she showed strong abilities and a keen mind; her famous speech in Tordesillas, years after her imprisonment, displays a confused yet able woman attempting to deal with her isolation. I find it rather tragic that she has become this lurid figure dragging a coffin around with her, rather than a woman betrayed by those she should have been able to trust the most, who conspired quite callously to steal her throne.


    4.  In The Last Queen, Juana is portrayed as a victim and a strong woman who fights for the throne of Castile.  Yet, in The Queen’s Vow, she is portrayed as being mad. She cannot bear to be apart from her husband, and does not stay with her mother to learn to learn how to be a great queen. There are two differing takes on her sanity in the different books.  In your personal opinion, what do you think was the real case?  Was she simply misunderstood or insane? Would she really make a good queen for Castile?

Actually, in The Queen’s Vow, we only see Juana as a child and young girl, though she already shows some penchant for eccentricity. The parts cited are all in The Last Queen, told through her voice. Juana and Isabella, however, were antithetical in many ways and life-long misunderstanding complicated their relationship. Isabella demanded unswerving sacrifice to duty, particularly as she grew older; Juana, on the other hand, yearned for what we might call a normal life, with a loving husband and children around her. She never wanted to be queen; and she experienced such resistance to her own power from those she loved, she would have had to possess a far more ruthless personality to overcome it. She had many of her mother’s traits, but she was not Isabella. It is what makes her unique.

Nevertheless, I think she may have been a good queen, if she had had the support she needed. We must remember, Juana was not raised to inherit the throne, much like her mother before her. While Isabella had to learn through the hard path of experience, because she had no other choice, Juana was sheltered, reared in a caring family and groomed to be queen-consort, like her sisters. She was therefore not equipped to rule after Isabella yet clearly her mother thought she could, for Isabella named Juana her successor. It is tantalizing to wonder how the history of Spain may have proceeded had Juana actually been allowed to rule, but unfortunately all we can offer now is conjecture.


    5. In Confessions of Catherine de Medici, I liked how you had intimacy between Catherine de Medici and Admiral Coligny. What inspired you about these two famous enemies?

It was how their relationship evolved while writing the novel; some things are organic, in that they occur naturally, without advance planning. This was one of those things. It became clear through my research that there was more to their relationship than has been recorded, that the ardent support Coligny received from Catherine de Medici denigrated into a murderous hatred over more than differences in politics or religion. Is my supposition true? Who can say? There is no basis in the facts as we know them, but as it began to simmer during the writing, I found it irresistible. Catherine was certainly a passionate woman who had known Coligny for years; in turn, he had a sick wife and was often far from home, absorbed in Catherine’s struggles. She had a chance when Coligny himself was implicated in a high-profile assassination—a deed he certainly countenanced, if not actively designed—to be rid of him, yet she set her own court against her to exonerate him. To me, she acted like someone with more at stake than political expediency, for were that the case, executing him would have saved her a lot of grief later.
    6. What can Queen Isabella of Spain, Catherine de Medici, and Juana of Castile tell us about women in the Renaissance era?

I think they shine a light on our own perceptions of what being a queen entailed. These women had to fight to secure their positions, against the fervent belief that, as the so-called weaker sex, they could never wield power like a man. Though we hear, and see, a lot about fabulous queens of the past in their gorgeous gowns and jewels, romping through court without a care in the world, the reality is that life in the Renaissance was harsh and often cruel, obliging these women to walk a razor’s edge between success and doom. It makes their accomplishments all the more extraordinary, if we explore them through the prism of the lives they led, instead of some romantic notion of who we want them to be. I like to think that they become more real to us by relieving them of their legends.


    7. What can we learn from these women, and why do they appeal to you?

 Again, it goes back to stereotypes. Growing up and reading history, I always wondered if what I was discovering was the entire truth. Of course, it is not. We can never know the entire truth, hundreds of years later. These women appeal to me precisely because I felt there were unexplored secrets in their lives, places where no one ventured. I could not accomplish what I sought through nonfiction, because what I sought was a story beyond the facts. I wanted to strip away the myth and find the human being underneath it, in all her strength and weakness. I find these women exceptional in both their tenacity and their vulnerability; I believe they can teach us that reality is more complicated than we imagine and we all carry hidden burdens; it is the price of being human.


    8. On a lighthearted note, the women on the cover of your books are portrayed from the neck down, with their heads cut out of the picture.  Is that some sort of statement, or is it something your publishing company came up with?


It is always the publisher’s decision. While authors have some input into cover design, we are not the deciding factor. Many considerations come into play that readers are unaware of, including how the publisher seeks to position the book within its genre; how major accounts like Barnes & Noble see the cover (yes, they can and have on occasion vetoed covers, obliging the publisher to design a new one); and how to appeal to a certain audience within the crowded marketplace. The trend towards “headless women in gowns” on historical novels is partly an attempt to attract a potential reader to the mystique of the era, without inducing caution that the story might be too heavy or “historical” for those who do not regularly read the genre. It is also based on market evidence that as people, we react to faces instinctually: we see faces we like and those we don’t. This makes it difficult to market books to a wide readership. So, publishers focus instead on atmosphere, the “look” of the figure itself, while removing our subjective reaction to a face. Not surprisingly, it has proven effective, which is why we see so many covers in this style. It is not just historical novels; browse any bookstore and see how many actual faces you find on fiction covers. You’ll discover that while human figures abound, rarely is a full face featured.


Thank you for spending this time with me. To find out more about my work or invite me to speak at your book club, please visit me at: http://www.cwgortner.com

C.W. Gortner has gained international praise for his historical novels, which have been translated into fourteen languages. He divides his time between Northern California and Antigua, Guatemala.



Check out my reviews of C.W. Gortner's novels:

The Queen's Vow


The Last Queen

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Winner of The Captive Maiden Giveaway!

The winner of The Captive Maiden Giveaway is Sandra F! Congratulations, Sandra! Thanks to all who entered the giveaway, and to those who are interested in Melanie Dickerson!