Book Review: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

19 08 2014


Title:  Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War

Author: Karen Abbott

Publisher:  Harper

Genre:  History

Available:  September 2, 2014

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an advanced readers copy of this book.  I especially enjoy the opportunity to read and review new Civil War offerings!

Karen Abbott follows four significant women (two from the North and two from the South) and their contributions to the conflict through the course of the war.  The Southern bells – Rose Greenhow and Belle Boyd – are very recognized in Civil War history, both having served as spies and lived rather open and flamboyant lives.  Elizabeth Van Lew, a Northern sympathizer living in Richmond, is also very well celebrated – I even saw a photo of her on a billboard for 150th CW celebrations during a recent visit to the former Confederate capitol.  She aided the Union cause in a number of ways, passing messages, helping prisoners escaped, planting spies.  And finally Emma Edmondson, who reinvented herself as a soldier in the 2nd Michigan, Frank Thompson.  Thompson spent two years in the Union army, soldiering, nursing, and even making recon behind enemy lines.

Abbott chronicles the war loosely, linking the women together through the action.  The book itself is more about their activities, with enough background material on the conflict to give value and context to the things going on around them.  It is written with a more novelesque style, the author taking liberties with how the characters may have felt or explaining the details of a scene in a way that could not have been documented.  It does make for a faster read and a more entertaining story, but less scholarly in ways.

The book apparently has a full slate of notations, references and photos, but the advanced readers copy did not have access to complete showing of them.

I think this would make a great read for someone interested in starting a study of women’s roles during the Civil War, but not necessarily military actions.

Note:  I was provided a copy by the publisher.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson

21 07 2014

Thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for providing me with an advanced readers copy of this book.

Title:  Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jacksoncover47744-medium

Author:  S. C. Gwynne

Genre:  Biography/History/Civil War

Publisher: Scribner

Release Date: September 30, 2014

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I’ve been deep into Civil War reads for several years, but never have read a biography of the legendary Stonewall Jackson, and was absolutely thrilled that the publishers have given me the opportunity to read and review this book.  Many of the books I’ve read have discussed in part the genius, quirkiness, and characters of Jackson.  Rebel Yell is a complete expose of the Confederate general.

Gwynne starts the book in the Valley, where Jackson grew the seed of legend planted on the killing fields of Manassass.  But as he dives into Jackson’s background, he moves back and forth between the various stages of his life, building on the people and events that influenced him, and showing the how these influences may have shaped him.  He works us back into the Civil War and finally we return to the Valley to walk with Stonewall through his fame and legend.

It’s clear that Stonewall Jackson is a historical figure of epic proportions.  But what was the thing that vaulted him into the hearts of the Confederacy and the textbooks of modern day war fare?  We follow the trail that takes Jackson from his almost mock status as a VMI professor to the most feared general in the Army of Northern Virginia.  The author weaves in first person accounts on this journey, so that we come to the understanding of the absolute devotion his men had to him, and how deeply he impacted them as he turned them from a ragged group of volunteers to the famous and lauded foot soldiers of Stonewall Jackson.

Gwynne covers everything, from the epic marches in the Valley to the final fateful recon in the wilderness at Chancellorsville.  He doesn’t just sing the heralds and genius of Jackson, either.  He points out many instances where fate intervenes in successes and failures of the blue-eyed general.  Jackson is far from perfect in his command, making a number of mistakes, but often in conjunction with more horrific mistakes on the Union side.  The historical records don’t always give us the entire story, but the communication challenges that the armies faced, clearly affected events and outcomes.  One thing is certain though, Jackson always pushed through.

I quite enjoyed the writing style of the author.  The book read more like a novel that a dry, historical account.  He retells many legendary Jackson tales, but also shares smaller, personal and intimate stories of the general.  At times, Jackson has seemed like a wooden figure in historical accounts, impersonal and unwavering.  Under his professional exterior, we can truly see his vibrancy and passion.

It’s truly a worthwhile read, sure to become a classic on the Stonewall Jackson reading list.

Note:  I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher, all opinions expressed are my own.


Book Review: Ghost Soldiers of Gettyburg

20 07 2014

Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for allowing me a sneak peek into this new book on Gettysburg Ghosts.cover47873-medium

Title:  Ghost Soldiers of Gettysburg

Author:  Patrick Burke and Jack Roth

Genre:  Non-Fiction, Paranormal

Publisher:  Lleweyllyn

Available:  October 2014

My rating:  4 of 5 stars

Ghost Soldiers of Gettysburg is not just another book of Ghost Stories.  The authors have spent countless hours on the field and researching the battle.  In relating their findings, they also provide the history of the battle, background on techniques and equipment, as well as interpretation of findings.  It’s quite a different look at the Gettysburg Ghosts.

It is a varied selection of ghost materials and should interest the beginner and the advanced ghost story reader.  The authors use eye witness accounts of sitings, as well as their own experiences and technological evidence.  They dig into the accounts of the battle, trying to match battle action to personal encounters.  It, in some cases, is quite fascinating what they discover.

I like the strait forward approach of this book as well.  They are not trying to create a mood or scare you.  It’s more a presentation of the information, a very different approach from other books that I have read on the topic.

If you’re a lover of Gettysburg Ghost, you’ll appreciate this book.  If you love ghost hunting, you will also enjoy the techniques mentioned and the history it highlights.

I was provided a copy of the book by the publisher.  All opinions expressed are my own.

New Sherman Book Drops on July 1!

10 06 2014

Title:Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman

Author:  Robert L. O’Connell
Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman
My Rating – 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: Random House
Genre:  Biography, History, Civil War

Thanks to NetGalley and Edelweiss and the publisher for allowing me the opportunity to read and review this Advanced Readers Copy of “Fierce Patriot”.

William T. Sherman, one of the great Union commanders of the Civil War, may also be one of the most complex in his thinking and his relationships. The author seeks to explore Sherman’s psyche and character through three of his life roles – as Military Strategist, Leader of his Men or his role as Uncle Billy, and his family relationships. While there is overlap during his lifetime, O’Connell looks at it as Sherman’s own “three ring circus” and addresses each accordingly.

Militarily he looks at Sherman’s admission to West Point, the skills he used and his life experiences in the army. Sherman had unique talents which were ideally suited for the military environment. Though his early career seemed to lack any true block buster successes, each of his opportunities gave him growth and vision that would help him later to achieve great things. We follow Sherman through these seemingly lack luster events – his missing the Mexican revolution because of his stationing in California, his adventures in banking that later dried up, the attempt of his father in law to push him into managing an Ohio salt works and his running of a Louisiana Military School. (Sherman never questioned why the state of Louisiana would want a military school.) Then we hear the standard Civil War stories of Sherman, but with a more in depth look at how the early experiences may have influenced him both positively and negatively. By the time Sherman has marched to the sea, and through the Carolinas, he has restored his reputation to the status of legendary. His subsequent post war army activity – including his part in the transcontinental railroad and the demise of the buffalo on the Great Plains are things often missed in the average history book. Certainly, Sherman continued to affect this country and in essence became a larger than life celebrity during this time.

His relationship with his men is perhaps the most poignant part of the Sherman story. Sherman may have been full of himself, but to his men he was everything. The Army of the Tennessee was a complex animal, a combination of one part Uncle Billy – the persona he became to his men. He rode with them, fought with them and inspired them, while then in turn did the same for him – reaching down inside themselves and pushing to their max. Sherman never lost their love, appearing at many veteran reunions and always bringing joy and laughter to the men. The author goes to the first person level with several soldier stories that represent these relationships, which gave a more realistic telling to that relationship.

Finally, the author tries to relate the complex web of relationships in Sherman’s family – which consisted of not only blood family, but a foster family. His wife Ellen, was in fact his foster sister, which only added more tangles to the web. While Sherman fought his father in law and the family through most of his early life and was later to somewhat overcome it. He struggled his whole marriage with Ellen’s Catholic faith and the influences it brought to their household. There were trials, and suffering. The Shermans did not have a storybook marriage.

The author used a contemporary writing style, using modern language and descriptions to give us a Sherman we can relate to. He also included many footnotes, annotations and a full compliment of sources to keep us in tune with the views of the time. The author notes that “there is plenty of Sherman” to go around. And indeed there is. O’Connell only touched the very tip of the iceberg in this biography.

Fans of Sherman should enjoy the book. While it doesn’t seem that there is any new revelations, it might just present a different way to look at the deeds of an incredible historical figure who has been all but reduced to “the guy who did that march to the sea thing” in the eyes of the average American. It’s peeling off the layers of history.

Recommend also to students of the Civil War and military history.

I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own.

Civil War Book Review: Clouds of Glory, Michael Korda’s Biography of Robert E. Lee

10 05 2014

Thanks to Harper Collins for providing me an advanced reader copy of this book for reviews through the Edelweiss Program.  I am thrilled to get a chance to read this one.

Title:  Clouds of Glory

Author:  Michael Korda

Genre:  Historical Biography, Civil War

Available: NOW

My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Michael Korda (who has also written a biography of U.S. Grant) tries his pen at untangling the life of Robert E. Lee, a man considered both hero and traitor by fellow countrymen.  Korda uses the framework of Lee’s legacies to define his life, showing readers how the deeds of Henry “Lighthorse” Lee (and the misdeeds) along with the connections to George Washington, built a foundation of honor that would later rule Lee’s life.  From the early days of growing up in Virginia, through his West Point years, his service in the U.S. Army and finally as leader of the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee carried himself with humility and honor unsurpassed by others of his generation.  Yet his story is also filled with details of courage, fortitude, engineering genius and military prowess.  Korda attempts to tell the entire story in this ambitious one volume book.  (Keeping in mind that Douglas Southall Freeman’s 4 volume Pulitzer Prize winner is the standard for Lee.)

Korda has his work cut out for him, for any student of the Civil War will know that even the story of the 4 years of Lee’s life in the Army of Northern Virginia could encompass an entire volume.  While Korda breathes life into the Lee we have hardly heard of – the youthful Lee, son of Ann Carter and Henry Lee, there is just not enough room in any one volume work to truly do justice in any depth to this part of his life.  Korda covers all the Battles, shares the heartache of some of the side events.  But at the end of the day, the abbreviated version may say enough about Lee in these circumstances, but sometimes does not represent the events to the full depth of understanding.  This might not be a problem for new students of the Civil War, but to those with more than rudimentary knowledge, it may be frustrating.

Korda’s style of writing is a bit different than many of the historical bios that I enjoy.  While his work is full of quotations and details, he does not footnote the work in the usual manner.  Most footnotes in the book are “add on” information – little tidbits that will enhance a reader’s understanding of the topic of discussion (can be helpful for someone who is not well versed).  Yet, the sources for the other information are provided only in a bibliography, except in the instance where Korda quotes the person by name who made comment of Lee in the text.

The book reads differently as well. Korda writes in a more conversational tone, as though he is sitting down and sharing the story personally with readers.  He often jumps ahead of himself in telling the fate of the various individuals in Lee’s life, only to cover it in detail later on in the timeline of the events.   This contributes to “storytelling” feel that is created by the language.  It does make for a very readable account.

The book is not without error.  I found several instances of sloppy fact checking (Jeb Stuart died on May 12, 1864 not May 11.  Douglas Southall Freeman’s bio of Lee is four volumes, not three.)  His perspectives on the war are decidedly not typical – he supports Longstreet at Gettysburg, and defends him vigorously throughout the book.

My overall feeling – I enjoyed the book.  I learned a ton of information on Lee that was previously unknown to me.  The style of writing made it readable.  I would recommend for new students of the Civil War and those who may not have read about Lee previously.

Note:  I was provided a copy of the book by the publisher.  All opinions expressed are my own.


Book Review: Magnificent Virbration by Rick Springfield

4 05 2014

Thank you Simon and Shuster for providing me an advanced reader’s copy of this new novel by Rick Springfield.

Title:  Magnificent Vibration

Author: Rick Springfield

Genre: Fiction

My Rating: 2 stars

I have to admit that I can not finish this book. Springfield’s character is caught up in male hormones, plain and simple. His friend “Woody” is always with him and often talked about, along with other topics that I do not care to read about in a novel.  So, at 20%, I have simply given up.

The book has two veins going. First, Bobby finds God’s number and calls him. God is rude, crude and obnoxious.  Then God does a little mystifying on Bobby- things to make him believe.  Bobby, in the meantime, is sharing the story of how religion and sex got entangled for him during a Mormon call to his house.  I didn’t get the whole gist of where this was going, but apparently it created a lot of tension for the teenage Bobby.

Secondly, there is a line about a guy in a boat in Scotland who saw the Lochness Monster for real.  How these two lines intersect, might be an interesting story.  However, as I said, I’m not going there.

The book is a first person narrative, with Bobby having a more blunt voice than the Scotland sea captain. Initial setting for Bobby is in a bar.  Yeah, he calls God from a bar.

As a fan of Rick Springfield’s music, I didn’t quite expect this kind of book.  I would say that it doesn’t necessarily appeal to his music fan base, but might be something more geared towards men.  I can’t really recommend it to anyone.

Note  I was given a copy of the book by the publisher.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Duck Dynasty‘s Latest Literary Offering – Good Call by Jase Robertson

24 04 2014

Thanks to Simon and Shuster for giving me a chance to read this great book.  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review:

Good Call: Reflections on Family, Faith and Fowl

by Jase Robertson

Genre: Memoir/Christian

Available: May 6, 2014

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just about all of the major stars of the Robertson Family on A&E’s Duck Dynasty Series have written a book to talk about their life and their journey. We’ve seen books from Willie, Phil and Uncle Si.  Now Jase is getting in on the publishing market, sharing his incredible story of “success” – although not the success we think, even the success that might appear to us on TV.

Jase shares his story of faith and eternal goals.  From the first page, where he quotes scripture (and quotes it often throughout the book), Robertson is opening his heart to share the trials and triumphs of his own live through the lens of faith.  He recounts some hard years growing up, before his father found the Lord, and how his love for Jesus transformed him and made him who he is today.  Along every portion of his life, Jase has put his faith first – not only applying it to his own life, but living out his faith and ministering to others.

While I was aware that the Robertson family faith was a priority for their lives, this book completely caught me off guard and surprised me.  I had not read the other books, but have always enjoyed Jase’s unique way of looking at things on the show.  So I have been completely blown away by chapter after chapter of his incredible story, his goals, and his continual pursuit in the upward calling.  Now don’t misunderstand, the book is not a faith primer.  Jase is sharing stories, lots of stories of family and friends, all your DD favorites, but he’s also showing us that side of him that A&E never will – the thing he’s most put his faith in – Jesus Christ.

Recommend for: Christians – both fans and non fans.


Book Review: Lesson Plans by Suzanne Greenberg

24 04 2014

Thank you Prospect Park Books for providing me with an advanced readers copy of this book.  Image

Title:  Lesson Plans

Author:  Suzanne Greenberg

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Available:  NOW

My Rating: 3 Stars

Summary:  Three California homeschool families have their lives intersect as they deal with the problems and challenges of everyday life.

Review: First of all, as a homeschool mom, I must say that I have NEVER encountered homeschoolers that match up to the characters in this book. I’m curious to know what the author based her character formation on.  She does set it in California, which has a reputation for “anything goes.” Yet, I still struggle to see how the homeschool component is really any basis for the actual plot, other than providing the “connection” for the families, and giving the author the liberty to portray one of the parents as a tree-hugging, all natural nut job of sorts. 

The story follows three families, each in different place in their life and homeschool journey.  David is the homeschool dad – the environmentalist – more of what you might call an unschooler.  He uses whatever the day might bring to provide lessons to his little ducklings.  He’s also an organizer and an encourager of homeschoolers in his area of Southern California.  Beth’s husband has just left and she seeks David’s help as she starts her daughter, Jenny off at home.  We also hear Jenny’s voice during the book as she struggles with her father’s departure, visitation arrangements and her own over-the-top food allergies.  Winter and Patterson have decided to homeschool their obnoxious twin sons.  They hook up with Beth to do classes together and try to find money-making ventures.

The book is really about the adults of this group and how they each are dealing with their own identity crises at this juncture of their lives.  Homeschool provides the coincidence of their interactions. The story itself has many twists and turns as each family tries to reach a balance in their world.  The author provides some very unusual scenarios to get the reader to the conclusion. 

The plot is compelling in some ways, although I failed to really identify with any of the characters strongly enough to care as to whether or not they got the ending they should have.  I think some of the nuances of this book would be ideal for a book discussion.  The author does include a guide in the back.

I probably wouldn’t recommend this book to my Christian homeschool group or associates.  It’s plot lines deal with more modern issues, and none of the main characters have any type or real religious connection to what they are doing.


Note:  I was provided a copy of the book by the publisher.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub

13 03 2014

Book TitleYear of No Sugar

Author:  Eve O. Schaubcover40299-medium

Genre: Health and Nutrition Memoir

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Release Date: April 8, 2014

My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

After watching a Youtube video, Eve digs into research about the harmful affects of sugar on our bodies and decides she and her family must embark on a year long adventure of limiting sugar in their diets.  Oh, and she is going to blog about it along the way.  This book was born in that year of blogging.  Eve recounts the 12 months in 2011, where her family tried to avoid infusing the fructose that pervaded their diets and lifestyles.  She, her husband and two girls looked at their meals, their snacks, their drinks and especially their desserts to eliminate the added sugar.  Along the way they learned many things about nutrition, food, and how the American culture has elevated foot and eating to an experience rather than a necessity.

Schaub offers up their story with facts, figures and a bit of humor.  She chronicles their frustrations, mistakes, victories and leanings.   She gives readers enough information to pursue the knowledge base that she used to make their decisions, and through their adventures provides tips and tricks, also pointing out traps along the way.  (Agave – so natural, but pure poison.)  Her daughters embrace the experiment to some degree.  Shared excerpts from her oldest’s journal show the social frustrations of the experiment.

While the health consequences of this lifestyle seem to be the focal point, I almost felt the whole thing was a commentary of how America has elevated food to godlike status, with sugar as the leading lady in this drama.  It is our comfort, our babysitter, our reward, our social tool- yet it kills us, poisons us and we don’t even pay attention.  We can’t do anything without eating, and if we are eating, it better be tasty and satisfying.  The author herself ties events in her childhood to the delicious food, social activities and rewards.  No doubt eating is essential.  A good meal can be satisfying.  But we eat to survive, not survive to eat.

I enjoyed Schaub’s humor and writing style, but the book seemed to drag towards the end – with her minute details on food prep, killing chickens, and cooking techniques driving me to skim the last few chapters.  Overall I liked the book, the story, the experiment, but had a hard time identifying with Schaub personally.

Recommend for:  Everyone.  This book is an easy and lighthearted approach to the sugar problem.  But especially recommend for those who have a burning desire to embrace this lifestyle or improve their health through better nutrition.

Extra:  Author’s Tips for Eating Sugar Free

Note:  I was provided a copy by the publisher.  All opinions expressed are my own.


The Story is Told by Those Who Lived It: Love and Loss by Mary Octavia Smith Tabb

3 03 2014

Love and Loss: A Virginia Girl's Civil War DiaryLove and Loss: A Virginia Girl’s Civil War Diary by Mary Octavia Tabb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mary Octavia Smith kept a diary starting in January of 1863 through November of 1868. While her initial entries are more representative of what a Southern woman’s daily life might be like, in 1864 she gets into the remorse and loss of a young soldier lost during the Battle of Big Bethel. Her pain in quite vivid in these extremely well written and descriptive passage. Later on her diary become a combination of both.

At the end of the diary, there is some research material included. These sections explain the relationships of the people mentioned in the diary to its author – as it is not always apparent from her texts. A number of family trees are provided for the Smiths and other families mentioned.

I will say that for the average reader this book would probably hold little interest. Tavy’s diary is mostly a log of life in the mid-18th century. Students of history will find it more interesting, and be able to link up historical events to some of the entries in the diary. It also represents the consequence of the war – the loss felt by so many women across both the North and South. Tavy struggles to the point of feeling unable to extend her heart to another. Her sorrow doesn’t subside and is compiled by the other losses of friends and a way of life.

Recommend for students of the Civil War.

View all my reviews