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Book Review: “Paper Woman”

Well, this week was a lovely one spent visiting family, reading by the pool in the Florida sunshine while my parents chased my kids around, and feeling generally well rested and refreshed on some much needed vitamin-D (it’s been a long, gray, dreary winter). Speaking of reading by the pool…

In keeping with March’s “Month of Women” theme for March, this week I read Suzanne Adair’s historical fiction novel, Paper Woman.

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Paper Woman follows Sophie – a 33 year old widow living in Georgia during the American Revolution – as she faces redcoats, rebels, Native Americans, and dangerous Spaniards on an exciting journey from Georgia to St. Augustine, where she hopes to find the man who murdered her father. Sophie comes face-to-face with fear, love, and her true self, all while keeping herself, and her companions, alive.

What a great novel! Not only is it exceptionally well-written and a real page turner (I had a hard time putting it down), but Sophie is, quite possibly, my new favorite female heroine in a newer book. Contemporary authors have this desire to make their female characters either wilting flowers, or infallible, rough, tough women, and I always have a hard time relating to one or the other. Sophie is a wonderfully balanced combination of both. She is strong, determined, stubborn, and smart, but also sensitive and full of faults – characteristics I feel that any real woman can relate to. The supporting cast of mostly male characters are richly described and just as realistic, contributing to Paper Woman being one of those historical fiction novels that you can picture being based on real people and real events. They seem to come out of a journal entry, rather than a work of fiction.

Adair surely does her research. The historical backdrop is so acutely tuned and deeply developed – you feel like you have been there – seen the sights, smelled the smells, experienced the action first hand. The characterization of Sophie and her comrades, coupled with Adair’s well-defined setting makes this novel a joy to read. I may be a little partial to this novel – it has a great female lead, is about one of the most fascinating (in my opinion) periods in American history, and is historical fiction (my favorite genre) – but I think this one is a must read for sure. There’s enough romance for the romance readers, loads of history for the historian, and a female character that will make you either fall in love or feel empowered. The book is exciting to no end, and a wonderful way to learn facts about American history you didn’t know before (for example: I had no idea the Spanish were involved in the American Revolution – shame on me)! The best part, however, is that this book is the first in a series. You can count on seeing another of Adair’s Mysteries of the American Revolution Trilogy.

If I’ve piqued your interest, you can find this book in a really well formatted eBook version at the following sites (just click the links). You might also find a hard copy on one of these sites if you prefer a book in your hands (I usually do).

Amazon  |  Smashwords  |  Barnes and Noble  |  iTunes  |  Kobo

If you’re interested in learning more about the author, visit her website: http://www.suzanneadair.net – her blog is updated frequently, and her posts are always interesting, informative posts about the American Revolution (generally), and give an insight into her research process!

So what about you? Have you read any of Adair’s books? What are your thoughts? Do you appreciate a well-written female lead? Do you like American Revolution novels? Mysteries?

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Book Review: “Justine”

I’m a little late with this review, having spent the weekend on a little mini-vacation in Maryland. This week, we finished up our February “Month of Romance” themed reading with Lawrence Durrell’s novel Justine.

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I’m not exactly sure what to say about this novel. It was… breathtaking. Durrell’s grasp on storytelling – on his characters and on the reader – make Justine a truly beautiful story, and a pleasure to read.

Justine follows a young writer living in Alexandria, Egypt in the 1930s. Though he is poor, he catches the attention, and love, of infamous socialite, Justine. His experiences with her, her husband, and his other (former? current?) lover Melissa tell such a mesmerizing story. More than the plot line, however, it is the way the story is told that makes it so captivating.

I have never read any author quite like Durrell. His words are beyond poetic – lyric and fluid, making me feel like I was floating through this novel, rather than reading it. Durrell’s writing brings to mind the feeling of sweltering in the hazy heat of summer, really setting the scene of Alexandria. You can hear the people on the street, and feel the heat wafting in the windows, and seem to sink into the sheets of the narrator’s bed. My memory of the book is almost like that of a vacation – lazy, fuzzy around the corners, like a lucid dream where you need to remind yourself that you are reading, not reminiscing.

This is a novel that I wish I had taken more time with. Because of my goal to read a book a week, I felt like I was rushing through the story, not giving myself enough time to truly absorb all the sights, smells, sounds, and sentiments of Durrell’s Alexandria. Had I more time, I would have read only a few pages in each sitting, then given myself time to process it, to steep in the incense that is Justine. Rushing through made me unable to give this book the justice I wanted to, and left me feeling like I owed the novel more than a quick read. When the time is afforded to me, I will work my way through the rest of The Alexandria Quartet. It is hard to describe what this book is about – it’s more about experiencing the emotions and sensations that go along with with Durrell’s words.

If you’re confused by this review, and think it leaves you lacking for a description, that is probably because this book needs to be felt, rather than told. I would urge anyone with need of a vacation to simply sink into Justine, and float along on Durrell’s story. Simply put: I loved this novel, and can’t wait to escape reality with Durrell again.

Well, how about you? Did you read along? Have you read any of Durrell’s novels before? What were your thoughts (or “feelings” might be a better word)?

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Book Review: “Hero” (The Secret #4)

Just a day or two late on posting this review… the kids and I took a little vacation this weekend, to visit my husband (who’s a Marine away at training) in Maryland. There was a few inches of snow on the ground, and we got the opportunity to stay with some wonderful friends we haven’t seen in four years, so it was a really exciting weekend. My computer, which I brought with me, never made it’s way out of my car – we were just so busy!

So, again… a day or two late in posting this review, but here it is!

This week, in keeping with our “New” theme for January, we tackled a new book, and a New Age book, Hero by Rhonda Byrne.

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This book is the fourth in The Secret series. The first book, The Secret, was a huge success, inspiring audiences to use positive thinking and affirmations to change their lives. It even inspired a documentary (which can be found on Netflix, for anyone interested).

In Hero, Byrne uses interviews and stories from successful people around the world who have used positive thinking and affirmations to become the hero in their own epic. Byrne outlines the idea that we are each a hero in our own story, and we need to live the “heroic” life to be successful. She suggests that we each have the ability to be that hero, we just need to know how – and then proposes to tell us how.

Basically, the process of becoming our own hero includes visualizing yourself as successful in something, and not doubting that positive outcome. While I am naturally skeptical about this, I have actually seen it in play. A friend of mine was inspired by The Secret, and began making vision boards. She puts up pictures of things she wants to achieve, and the idea is that, by looking at these images multiple times a day, you are sending positive energy out into the Universe (and into your own subconscious) to help these things come true. I watched her husband’s career advance, a rocky relationship with her stepson’s mother get smoothed over, and (after a long bout of trying), she finally got pregnant. While all of these things might just seem coincidental, it has been interesting to see her have positive change after positive change after positive change in her life, right after she started visualization.

This book came along in a really important time in my life. In the next six months, I will be graduating from college, looking for a job, and – oh yea – moving directly across the United States to California. With all of these things happening at the same time, my natural skeptic has taken over, and I’ve been having a rather negative attitude about the whole thing. I’ll be far away from my family. I’ll never get a job. We’ll never sell or rent our house. The drive across country is going to be miserable. No one will want to hire a “recent grad” despite my experience. But opening Hero has enabled me to realize that I cannot control the situation, but I can control how I think about it.

So I’ve started picturing myself as a working professional at some undisclosed sunny San Diego location. I’ve started picturing someone moving into our house. I’ve started picturing how beautiful and exciting our road trip is going to be. And while I haven’t seen a change in my situation (we’re still a few months away from any of this actually happening), I have seen pieces falling into place. By changing my attitude, and using visualization and positive affirmation, I now have a totally positive attitude about the next 6 months – and I know that will encourage things to work out for me.

Before reading Hero, I always felt that the “successful” people of the world either had luck, or money. The people in this story had neither – all they had was a “can do” attitude, and the ability to see a better future for themselves. It seems that our biggest road block on the way to being our own hero is our self doubt – maybe not in our abilities or knowledge, but in what we feel that we deserve. And it doesn’t have to be about material things. It doesn’t have to be about the bigger house, or the paycheck, or the job… it can be about deserving love, deserving appreciation, deserving opportunities. Once we all understand what we deserve, we will open ourselves up to that opportunity.

Okay, while I was clearly inspired by Hero, I do have a few negative criticisms. First, it was too closely related to The Secret (and presumably all the other The Secret books). It seemed to be using the exact same ideas, with different words behind it. While I’m all for “driving home” a message, are four books about the same thing really necessary? Secondly, the book seems to have been written to be an easy translation to a documentary. There’s a format that would make that easy transition – introduction to an idea, quotes from people who have been successful using that idea, and then encouragement to try that idea. This format is exactly how The Secret documentary is laid out. I haven’t read the other The Secret books, but I think it is safe to assume they are using the same format. It’s a little distracting, and, in my opinion, takes away from the point trying to be made in each chapter. I keep flipping back to the beginning of the book to remember who all these people were (the successful people from different parts of the world, and different industries).

That being said, Hero is a good book. It is a good book for anyone undergoing a major change in their life – I would recommend getting it for someone going away to college, looking for a new job, or anyone you see struggling with making a major decision. Sometimes, we all need a little reminder at how we have all the tools necessary to make ourselves successful, right inside of us! We just have to find them, and use them!

So – have you read Hero? Have you read any of The Secret books? Do you use, or have you ever used, visualization to help you? Any positive outcomes to share?? Or does it all sound like hocus pocus?

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Book Review: “I am Regina”

This week, we finished up our 2013 reading, and introduced our 2014 reading (Happy New Year!), with a youth historical fiction, I am Regina by Sally M. Keehn.

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This book was the first “youth” novel of the reading challenge, and what a great choice, if I do say so myself! I am Regina tells the tragic, touching, and shocking story of a young girl – Regina – who lives in the mountains of the late 18th Century Pennsylvania. Her family is ambushed and scalped by Native Americans, and Regina is kidnapped and taken to their village. She is forced to live among them, experiencing her pre-teen years by coping with a new culture, strange new customs, and struggling to remember who she is and where she comes from despite being assimilated into the Native American world.

This story is beautiful. There’s plenty of real, raw emotions, coupled with an excellently told story. Keehn is a great writer – I enjoyed her storytelling as an adult, and I know it would easily impact a child. This book is a GREAT piece of youth literature, and parents seeking to encourage young readers should have this book on the shelf! The story is interesting, the vocabulary is expansive (for its 4.5 reading level), and young readers will be able to relate to the title character, who is 10 at the beginning of the book.

I will certainly keep this book on the shelves, and pass it on to my girls when they reach an age where they are looking for something good to read. In the world of video games and the Internet, children need encouragement to read, and I am Regina is a great book to help fuel the love for literature. I really enjoyed this book!

Did you read I am Regina? Can you think back on your childhood and remember any books that you will encourage your own children to read?

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Week 8 Reading: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

As we move into Week 8 (sorry… day behind here, folks! It was a busy weekend!), we’re picking up John Berendt’s non-fiction book (yay! first of the challenge) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

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The story revolves around a crime that happened in Savannah society, and should prove to be both thrilling and intriguing. I’m excited to read this book. I found it in the mystery section of the used book store, and both the cover and the title made me think of the book as a good (and different) selection for our Halloween themed reading for October. The exciting part is that the book is non-fiction, and the crime in it actually happened!

I hope you are reading along with me, and if you are, I hope you’ll discuss this book with me at the end of the week!

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Week 5 Reading: Frankenstein

Well folks, this week starts week 5 of our book challenge, and brings around our fifth book! This should be an interesting one, because this week overlaps two months – September and October – and therefore overlaps two themes. I wanted to incorporate September’s theme – books that have been made into Movies/TV Shows – but also start off our Halloween month with a bang! What could be a better choice than Mary Shelley’s classic horror novel, Frankenstein?!

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I have, to my great embarrassment, never read this book!! I’m really looking forward to diving into the Romantic Era novel, and discovering one of the most renowned classic horror novels! I spent 8 weeks over the summer taking a Romantic and Modern British Literature course for my BA in English, and we read a lot of Percy Shelley’s (Mary’s husband) work, but never even touched on Mary’s work – arguably the most famous of the Shelley pieces.

This book has been made into multiple movie adaptations, featuring everyone from Bela Lugosi to Robert De Niro as Frankenstein’s monster. My favorite adaptation, however, was Mel Brook’s parody “Young Frankenstein.”

I hope you get inspired to pick up Frankenstein for a read along this week, and start getting into the Halloween spirit! Decorations go up around my house on the first for a full month of Halloween, and Frankenstein is a great way to start it all off!

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Week 4 Book: Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Well friends, we’ve made it through three great books, and we’re moving into our fourth today! In keeping with September’s theme of books made into Movies or TV Shows, we’re going to read our first book that inspired a TV Show – Jeff Lindsay’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter.

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Lindsay’s books, of course, inspired the hit Showtime show “Dexter.” This book comes along at the right time – the TV show airs its last episode – ever – tonight (September 22nd). As a long-time “Dexter” fan (my husband and I have been watching since the first season), I am really sad that the show is ending, but so glad that I have the opportunity to continue my relationship with the anti hero. Darkly Dreaming Dexter is the first in the Dexter series, and introduces us to our favorite serial killer.

Whether you’re a fan of the show or not, I hope you pick up the book and read along with me! I’m looking forward to our first crime fiction novel, and hope you’ll enjoy it, too!

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