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.


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.

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.


Book Review: Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir…of Sorts by Ian Morgan Cron

7 07 2013

Title: Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir…of Sorts

Author: Ian Morgan Cron10336978

Genre: Memoir, Christian Non Fiction

Publisher: Thomas Nelson Publishers

Available: Now

My Rating: 4 stars

Cron shares the story of his life – from his troubled childhood to Episcopal priest.

I got the chance to read and review, Chasing Francis, (which I loved) so when this book came up on my list, I jumped on it. Memoirs are great reads. No one writes a memoir about what a storybook childhood or life that they have had. There is always some point of breakthrough or overcoming, or maybe even a place of breaking. This book has all of those things.

The book seems to be a loose collection of stories, pivotal moments – both good and bad – in the author’s life, and the people that helped him overcome. He starts with his childhood, showing us the broken boy that emerged with a father who was an alcoholic. Even though as a youth Cron felt very close to God, he seemed to be spun away by the many hardship of his life. Yet there was always someone to buoy him along and get him to the next wall to climb over.

The story is written in a wonderfully, amusing way. Cron uses humor to keep the reader from feeling sorry for him, and to help them believe in the hope of what is yet to come. He ultimately battles with many demons, and ones which many of us will find that we have faced. He conquers many things, and I cheered for him the entire time.

Recommend for: Christian memoir lovers.

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

Book Review: The Photographer’s Boy by Stephen Bates

7 07 2013

Title: The Photographer’s Boy

Author:  Stephen Bates17986012

Genre: Historical Fiction/Contemporary

Publisher: Premier

Available: July 22, 2013

My Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary: Gene and Izzie Hofsettler are an upscale NY couple who buy a rural home in Massachusetts after the 9/11, to get away from the madness from the city. While renovating the home to transform it to a Bed and Breakfast, they come across a trunk of old photographers plates from what appears to be the Civil War. The author then brings the reader back in time to the Civil War era and also the 1930s to discover who the photographer was in his youth and in his old age.  There are real stories of these characters buried in the action of the various time frames – stories of mistakes and heartaches, and yet of honor.

Review: This is a very different book for a lot of reasons.  It’s hard to decide who the main character is, as in the various pieces of the story, the main emphasis is not on the same character.  The pieces of the story fit together in an odd way.  The reader is pulled into a commentary on how our culture has shifted in the 150 years since the Civil War. In fact, in many ways, the Civil War has been marginalized and left to a group of reinactors, who (according to the story), may or may not represent it in a positive way. We see that the youth of today’s culture do not understand it at all.

The part that I most enjoyed was the story of how Albert came to be “The Photographer’s Boy”- and the details shared about Matthew Brady and his group of photographer’s assistants.  It discussed his famous gallery and portrait studio and the thinking behind the creation of these post battle shots. These men were the paparazzi of their day – following the army and waiting for the battle to end so they could record it. They were another kind of pioneer in the era as well.  There was no established code of conduct for this type of thing and they made it up as they went along.  The author uses actual Civil War photos from the era and weaves their creation into the story.

I enjoyed the book, but ultimately it is a sorrowful tale – talking of cultures past and the present that refuses to see it.  Although the contemporary storyline carries the plot, it is the detail of the past that will draw the reader into the action.   It’s a very timely book, coming around as we celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

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

Book Review: It’s a history mystery on John Wilkes Booth

13 05 2013

Title:  John Wilkes Booth: Beyond the Grave (Preorder at Amazon)16291644

Author: W. C. Jameson

Genre:  Biography, History, Criminals and Outlaws

Publisher: Taylor Trade Publishing

Available:  July 16, 2013

My review: 4.5 of 5 stars

The history books tell us the story of the escape of John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated President Lincoln – how he left the DC area, sought medical help in Maryland, crossed the Potomac River and was discovered and shot at a Virginia Farm by a Union soldier.  But is that what really happened?  The author walks us through the “official” government report version, and then points out the discrepancies from eye witnesses and physical evidence.  He also addresses the many Booth sightings that followed and points out the ones that may have more credibility than others.

People who follow my reviews already know that I’ve been studying the Civil War with my children this year, so I was quite fortunate to receive a copy of this book to read at this time.  I had read about the “official” version of the events following the shooting at Ford’s theater.  I even saw a documentary on the History Channel.  But I had also heard that Booth escaped and lived for many years afterwards.  I was curious to see what the author would come up with.
As it turns out, he lays out a scenario that may seem statistically unlikely (my husband’s thoughts), but in light of the background details provided – it makes more sense than the government version once the details are flushed out.  In consideration of things happening in our country today – events where our government is telling us half truths, it’s important to see how history can be written for us rather than the truth being told.  It seems in the years following Lincoln’s death, it was widely believed that Booth escaped, yet today it has crossed over into “urban legend” rather than historical fact or even unsolved mystery, despite contradictions in the documented details.

I like that the author also added a variety of the “Booth Sitings” instead of just the ones that he believes are true.

I probably would give it a 4.5 rather than a 5 star.  Despite the extensive bibliography, a few footnotes and quotes would have added more weight to the story.  It’s one thing to reference what a report says vs. quoting what a report actually reads.  It’s not the type of work that needs bulk annotation, but a few direct references wouldn’t have hurt.

Recommend to: History lovers.  People who have heard of this mystery, but have read about the details.

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