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In the Shadow of the Lamp
In the Shadow of the Lamp
Price: $7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars I could have done without the paranormal aspect, January 23, 2014
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I enjoyed this story about a young woman who seemed to attract trouble the way black pants attract white cat hair. Molly lies her way into the corps of nurses going with Florence Nightingale to the Crimean front. She's too young, and she's too attractive, but she turns out to be a good nurse--except she has problems following rules, especially the rule about not fraternizing with the men. The young Scottish doctor is too interesting to ignore. But then Molly's old flame (of sorts) shows up--he joined the army in hopes of seeing Molly again.

The classic plot of a love triangle plays out in an interesting way, although there is a paranormal element that I thought was out of place in a work of historical fiction. I've noticed other young adult books that are solid historical fiction until they take a sudden veer into paranormal with the introduction of some other-worldly character or element. Is that what publishers think it will take to attract young readers? I hope not.


Magpie And The Dandelion [+digital booklet]
Magpie And The Dandelion [+digital booklet]
Price: $7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I probably shouldn't listen to this while I'm driving..., January 23, 2014
The Avett Brothers are a recent addition to my music collection, thanks to my son. Maybe it's just the enthusiasm of new love, but they are all I want to listen to now - seriously. I had a three-hour round trip last weekend, and I set the mp3 player to play only Avett music. I'm not sure that was such a good idea, because there were several times I became aware I had gone many, many miles without noticing much of anything about the highway. I was listening so intently I was on auto-pilot with driving.

But there's so much to listen to! The lyrics are fresh and sincere; the brothers avoid the cliches--in both language and subject matter--that fill so much of what's on the radio. In some lyrics, there is ambiguity that makes me listen closely to see if I can pick up a clue about what the song is talking about (like the section in "Vanity" that starts, "Call off the guard...." What's up with that?). Other lyrics are so personal it's almost painful, like listening to a best friend unburdening his soul (I think "Part from Me" is the saddest thing I ever heard). And being the former English major, I get a kick out of the metaphors in songs like "Skin and Bones" and "Souls Like the Wheels" (especially that one!).

It's not just the words I listen to, though. There is so much depth, so many layers to the music. Little guitar runs. Tinkly little banjo themes and full-on, aggressive banjo. The contrast between Scott's strident, gravelly voice and Seth's honey-smooth voice. Getting to hear Bob! I don't know if this is my imagination, but today I thought I noticed that the last guitar solo in "The Clearness Is Gone" starts off pure and clear and then after a moment (ha) becomes fuzzy and distorted. If I'm not crazy and imagining that, I just have tremendous respect for the mindfulness that went in to making this album.

I've always been a big fan of acoustic singer/songwriters (think Jim Croce and James Taylor), but I'm really loving the Avett Brothers right now. To my son - thanks, kid...I owe you one.


Ten Cents a Dance
Ten Cents a Dance
by Christine Fletcher
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $7.20
35 used & new from $1.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Not Your Typical Happy Ending, September 20, 2013
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This review is from: Ten Cents a Dance (Hardcover)
I have to admit, I kept trying to figure out which of the male characters Ruby was going to end up with, because, you know, this was a romance, right? But maybe that's the point of the story. For much of the book, Ruby is looking for approval and love, but the men she's looking to are flawed. The most satisfying relationships she has are those in which she breaks with the expectations of tradition (and crosses racial lines). Don't get me wrong; I still love a good romantic story with a "perfect" hero. But I like the way Ruby's story ended, too--maybe even better, in some ways.


A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama
A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama
by Laura Amy Schlitz
Edition: Paperback
Price: $7.19
124 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars I was hooked from the first line...., September 20, 2013
Seriously, the first line of this book has to be one of the best I've ever read. The rest of the book lives up to the promise, too. Maud is such a memorable character. She's saucy and stands up for herself, and yet, she's also very vulnerable. (SPOILERS!) Reading this book as an adult, I found my heart aching for Maud several times. She yearns to be loved, as any child would. Hyacinth plays on that yearning, to the point of being abusive. Happily, Maud is a strong enough character that she pulls herself away from the game Hyacinth is playing, though it certainly isn't easy for her. What I really appreciate about this book is that it is completely entertaining, but there is also some pretty meaty food for thought about interpersonal relationships skillfully blended in to the story.


Chance Encounter
Chance Encounter
Price: $2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Small-Town Mystery, March 5, 2013
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This review is from: Chance Encounter (Kindle Edition)
I need to divide this review into two parts, one about the story and one about the "product." As far as the story goes, I thought the book was entertaining. I haven't read a lot of mysteries, so I don't know the conventions of the genre. But I liked following the way the case came together (or came apart, more truthfully). I thought the protagonist, MarLee, and the sheriff were strong characters, and I'd actually like to see them reappear together in another story. There was sort of a budding relationship of some kind - not necessarily romantic, but possibly so - that made for an interesting dynamic and that I think would play out well across a series of stories. The mystery itself resolved in a way I hadn't entirely expected, which I think is a good thing. Again, I'm not a mystery reader, but it seems to me a writer wants the reader to be able to "solve" the case along with the characters but to then throw in a (believable) twist at the end so there is still some surprise left.

There were a few things I thought could have been different, mostly dealing with elements that were not central to the story. In the first couple of chapters, a lot of characters are introduced, and I found myself a little disoriented as to which characters were important and which were just part of the setting/background for the story. Although it was clear after a few chapters which characters we would be spending the story with, it took me a little while to get settled in after that initial impression. One reason I think I got that impression was that there was backstory and detail about most characters, even those who weren't going to be important in the main plot. In my opinion, leaving out some of those details about the secondary characters would have helped me as a reader focus more clearly on the main characters and plot.

Having said that, I think Schaffer did well with re-creating the atmosphere of small-town life and the way people within small towns know everyone and everyone's business. And I thought it was funny that the big break in the case came from one of the characters who was (to me) the epitome of a small-town gossip.

Finally, about the product. I read the Kindle edition on my Nexus tablet, and there were a number of formatting errors where, for example, a line would be broken and the beginning of the next line inserted mid-sentence. I eventually learned how to piece the bits back together so I could follow the story, but I can see how format problems could become a deterrent to finishing the book. I don't know anything about how books are formatted for Kindle, but I would encourage the author to check into whether it's possible to do a re-format to eliminate some of those issues.


Under a War-Torn Sky
Under a War-Torn Sky
by Laura Elliott
Edition: Paperback
Price: $6.63
205 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Great Emotional Impact, February 14, 2013
This review is from: Under a War-Torn Sky (Paperback)
This book has been on my shelf for at least three years, with the "I'll read it someday" promise. I finally kept that promise, and I'm kicking myself that I didn't read this book earlier. It has so many elements that I like in a book - a sympathetic protagonist, a tense and believable plot, memorable secondary characters, and historically believable information. I learned something by reading this book, and that's always a plus for me.

Maybe it's a function of some other things I've been reading lately, but I really appreciated the variety of female characters in this book. Of course, given the time period, their social roles were fairly limited, but each of the women in the story finds a way to be heroic within her given role. We have women who used sex appeal to shield Henry as he made his escape, and a woman who gave him a sense of home at the same time she was walking on the edge of danger by hiding contraband weapons. And then there is Claudette, who fretted against the confines of her role and would have been a maquis fighter if her sex didn't prevent it. It's a gratifying collection of women that is a little surprising to find in a "war" novel.


Seeking Eden
Seeking Eden
by Ann Turnbull
Edition: Paperback
25 used & new from $0.11

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a Man of Integrity!, August 9, 2012
This review is from: Seeking Eden (Paperback)
"Seeking Eden" is the final installment in Ann Turnbull's Quaker trilogy, and it is the story of the oldest son (Josiah) of the two characters from the earlier books, "No Shame, No Fear," and "Forged in the Fire." Both of those books centered around the relationship between Susanna and Will, so I expected something similar from this last book. There is a romantic relationship between Josiah and Kate (the daughter of his apprenticeship master), but the romance is not the heart of this story. Instead, this story is about Josiah's journey of conscience, and it is wholly satisfying.

Josiah begins the story as a rebellious son who rejects everything about his father. Because of all the persecution he's seen his parents endure, Josiah is uncertain whether he wants to continue in the Quaker faith. He's excited about going to William Penn's new colony in America, however, because it represents everything that appeals to a young man - adventure and freedom.

The New World definitely delivers on its promise, but there are also things that Josiah hadn't expected and finds disturbing. Specifically, he is troubled by his master's participation in slave trading despite being a devout Quaker. Josiah's philosophical objections become personal, however, when he gets to know a pair of young slaves who are being brought to Philadelphia for sale. Eventually, Josiah is caught in an ethical dilemma. Should he do what is "right" and obey his master? Or should he do what his faith tells him is "right"?

(There might be a spoiler here - I'll try to avoid it...)

I was annoyed with Josiah at the beginning of the book, but by the end, he had grown so much as a person that I admired and even loved him. I especially liked the section that showed his process for making the decision of what to do about the dilemma and his response to the fallout from that decision. What a man of integrity!

This book is excellent historical fiction. I knew, intellectually, there was slavery in the northern colonies before the Revolution, but Turnbull uses specific details (sometimes rather uncomfortably specific) to show us, rather than tell us, how degrading and dehumanizing the institution was. I would highly recommend it to teachers as an addition to their history materials.

The problem is, this book is not easily available in the United States (the U.S. publisher who put out the other two books in the trilogy refused to publish this one - but that's a rant for a different time). I had to order my copy from Amazon UK, and shipping costs were more than the cost of the book. But trust me - it was worth EVERY penny! If you don't want to order it yourself, ask a library to order it. This book deserves to be read, widely!


Page from a Tennessee Journal
Page from a Tennessee Journal
Price: $3.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I felt ripped off by the ending, November 18, 2011
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This novel tells a story about an ugly reality of the South's history - the exploitation of black women by white men (and the impact that exploitation had on the spouses of those women and men). I salute the author for telling the story and for trying to give the characters some depth instead of just falling back on easy stereotypes.

However, I wish the telling of the story had been stronger. I just couldn't sympathize with any of the characters. Even when they were locked in the traumatic events of their situation, I didn't feel for them. It was more like I was an observer standing off to the side and watching with an impartial eye, which is a shame. The story could have had so much more power if it had somehow engaged me with at least one of the characters.

**SPOILER**

The ending, in particular, was disappointing to me. To be honest, I have no idea what Annalaura is going to choose. Will she forgive John and get off the train before Chicago? Will she continue on to Chicago with hopes that Alex will come find her? Or is she going to dump them both and be a "strong" single mother? I felt the ending was so ambiguous that the story didn't have closure. I felt a little cheated, given the investment of time I had put into reading the novel.


The Red Necklace
The Red Necklace
by Sally Gardner
Edition: Paperback
Price: $6.57
102 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It breaks the rules, but somehow it still works, April 6, 2011
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This review is from: The Red Necklace (Paperback)
Besides beinwg an avid fan of historical fiction for young adults, I am also a writer and a teacher who occasionally gets to work with students on their writing (mostly I teach speech). As I was reading The Red Necklace, I kept noticing that Gardner was violating some of the principles of "good" writing. For example, there are lengthy passages when she is "telling" rather than "showing" to fill us in on backstory for characters or events. She tends to "head-hop," meaning she will shift point of view from one character to another, including sometimes having the story told from the point of view of a character who's not a major player in the story. Some of the characters are stereotypes rather than fully-developed characters.

But for all that....I still found myself enjoying the story. While the marquis is one of those stereotyped characters, I thought he was still an effective way to portray the cluelessness of the nobility that the Revolution was against. Gardner did well with capturing a sense of what the times must have been like; I could literally almost feel the frustration of the crowds. I also liked the characters of Yann and Sido. They were sympathetic and appealing. Although I'm not a big fan of paranormal stories, those elements in this story were deliciously creepy.

I guess this book is proof that as long as the important things like character, setting, and plot are well-crafted, readers will forgive some other indiscretions in the writing!


A Long Way to Go
A Long Way to Go
by Nancy Dane
Edition: Perfect Paperback
Price: $14.48
34 used & new from $12.31

4.0 out of 5 stars Battles External and Internal, December 4, 2010
This latest installment in Nancy Dane's series about the Civil War in Arkansas brought home to me in a way the others didn't that even though war consumed and controlled lives during that period, people still had personal struggles not related to the war. In this book, Cindy has to deal with bushwhackers and hardship on the home front while Elijah is fighting with Brooks' cavalry for the ever-shifting control of the Arkansas River Valley. But they are also fighting their own battles with jealousy, suspicion, and feelings of abandonment - feelings that don't have anything to do with the war, but with their own relationship.

I have never been able to get into the Lorings' story the way I did with Nelda's in the second book (I must be a Union sympathizer, ha ha). I found it a little unrealistic that Cindy would spend 90% of the book longing for Elijah and then would be actually considering divorce because of one statement. But I suppose it's not completely out of the realm of possibility that someone might react that way. I just felt impatient with both of those characters by the end of the book.

I did, however, really like the character of Billy, and I hope he will get a chance to have another storyline in one of Dane's later books - one that turns out a little happier for him! :)


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