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Cynthia K. Robertson RSS Feed (beverly, new jersey USA)
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Jefferson's America: The President, the Purchase, and the Explorers Who Transformed a Nation
Jefferson's America: The President, the Purchase, and the Explorers Who Transformed a Nation
by Julie M. Fenster
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $23.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bringing lesser known history to life..., April 15, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I thoroughly enjoyed Julie M. Fenster’s FDR’s Shadow: Louis Howe, the Force That Shaped Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. So I selected her new offering through Amazon Vine, Jefferson’s America: The President, The Purchase, and The Explorers Who Transformed a Nation. Jefferson’s America is a fascinating look at western exploration proposed and sponsored by our third president, Thomas Jefferson.

Even before Thomas Jefferson was president, he was very interested in learning about the western territories that belonged to France, Spain and Britain. Part of it had to do with scientific discoveries in these lands including plants and animals. Part had to do with navigation and finding easy paths to the Pacific Ocean. And then there was the part that had to do with staking out a claim for the United States by moving citizens to these territories. Most people have heard of Lewis and Clark and their famous Corps of Discovery. But Jefferson promoted exploration even before them, and the stories of these individuals is just as interesting and colorful. Some of these men include George Hunter, William Dunbar, Thomas Freeman and Andrew Ellicott. Some of their interactions contained almost as much high-drama as those of the countries that were fighting over the land these men were trying to explore and survey. The story of the Louisiana Purchase is especially fascinating. I didn’t realize that when the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France, nobody was really sure where the borders were for the territory.

Julie Fenster’s books are always very readable and she has a knack for taking lesser known aspects of history and shining a light on them. Jefferson’s America follows in this tradition and will especially appeal to fans of Jefferson, American history or American exploration and expansion.


General Sherman's Christmas
General Sherman's Christmas
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars More about Sherman's March, less about Christmas in Savannah..., March 23, 2016
I spent the month of December reading Christmas-themed novels, but made one exception for non-fiction with General Sherman’s Christmas: Savannah, 1864 by Stanley Weintraub. General Sherman’s Christmas was interesting and informative, although I found it to be more about his famous (or infamous) March to the Sea than his Christmas in Savannah.

General William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea was a fairly revolutionary idea. After the battle of Atlanta, Sherman took 60,000 troops and led them through Georgia without supply lines or direct communication. During this 300-mile march spanning 24 days, the Union Army targeted military installations, the railroads, industry and civilians who were aiding the enemy. They also destroyed crops and confiscated and/or slaughtered livestock. Once Sherman arrived in Savannah, the city had been pretty much evacuated. Those remaining turned Savannah over to Union control, thus sparing this beautiful city from wartime destruction. In fact, Sherman writes “To His Excellency President Lincoln, Washington, D.C. I beg to present you as a Christmas-gift the city of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.” Although Sherman and his troops did spend Christmas in and around Savannah, there isn’t that much to tell about his Christmas as the army was just resting and regrouping for their push through the Carolinas in the new year. So in this respect, perhaps this book is misnamed.

I did learn a few interesting facts about Sherman and his march. Although Sherman timed the march for the harvest season when there would be plenty of food and forage, I never considered that once Sherman’s troops hit the low country of Georgia, there would be very little from the land to eat except for rice. I was also disappointed in Sherman’s treatment of blacks. He was indifferent to the thousands of freed slaves who followed his army. After the army crossed a pontoon bridge across Ebenezer Creek, army engineers dismantled the bridge and pulled it up before the trailing blacks could cross. Large numbers of them died, trying to cross the creek as they couldn’t swim. Sherman also did a disservice to his black soldiers. The whites of Savannah were bothered by the presence of “colored troops.” “When a black regiment, the 110th Colored Troops, arrived in Savannah, Sherman had the men disarmed and employed as laborers, teamsters, and servants, subverting the War Department’s intentions to use blacks as ordinary soldiers.” He was more concerned with pleasing the residents of Savannah than doing right by his black troops.

Savannah was just another domino falling at the end of the Confederacy. “Atlanta made Savannah possible—a Christmas gift not merely for Lincoln, but the Union.” After Savannah, it was just a matter of time before Appomattox and the end of the Civil War.


The Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt, A Lifetime of Exploration, and the Triumph of American Natural History
The Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt, A Lifetime of Exploration, and the Triumph of American Natural History
by Darrin Lunde
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.30
71 used & new from $12.58

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Three and a half stars..., March 22, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I usually enjoy all things Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt is a fascinating man. But I had a very difficult time reading The Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of American Natural History by Darrin Lunde. “Roosevelt described himself as a ‘hunter-naturalist,’ meaning he applied the skills of a hunter toward being a better naturalist.” I found the two categories hard to reconcile in this Vine book selection.

Theodore Roosevelt’s (TR) career as a naturalist began when he was 8 years old. He saw a dead harbor seal in the window of a New York City grocery store and became fascinated. “He had read about how naturalists kept animal specimens to study them, and now he had a chance to practice naturalism himself.” Although the store would only give young TR the skull, it became the start of “The Roosevelt Museum of Natural History.” Soon, he was collecting “mice, shrews, and birds,” where he learned their Latin names, their history, and he began using taxidermy to preserve his finds. Some of his exploits are comical. He paid friends and family to collect mice for him. When housekeepers revolted, he had to move his ever-expanding collection out of his bedroom. And when someone discarded some mice he kept in his dresser, TR called it a “loss to science.”

But TR was a hunter and the older he became, the bigger the game he hunted. And this is where The Naturalist lost me. I found the sections about natural history fascinating. But I thought the hunting sections were tedious and disturbing. It took me a good three weeks to read The Naturalist because I started losing interest. TR called those opposed to hunting “mushy sentimentalists,” and I imagine I fall into this category.

Lunde did a good amount of research on the naturalist movement and the experts in the field at this time. TR studied some, and became friends and colleagues with others. The author would know these names being a natural historian by career. Also, Lunde shows how TR becomes a conservationist of both land and animals, although that didn’t keep him from hunting.

I really wanted to like The Naturalist. My recommendation is that this book will appeal to those keen on hunting. Otherwise, a person who likes reading about TR won’t find much new about his personal life.


Deep Dish: A Novel
Deep Dish: A Novel
by Mary Kay Andrews
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.59
166 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Three and a half stars..., March 22, 2016
This review is from: Deep Dish: A Novel (Paperback)
The novels of Mary Kay Andrews are always good for a romping, fun time and while Deep Dish is entertaining, it is totally predictable. It doesn’t take long to figure out exactly how this book is going to end, and thus my three and a half star rating.

Regina Foxton is a local television celebrity who is the star of a regional cooking show, Fresh Start with Regina on Atlanta’s PBS Station. “Gina” is beautiful and talented but always tries to be Miss Perfect. She discovers that her show is being cancelled because the sponsor, Tastee-Town Foods, is dropping her for reasons beyond her control. Another regional cooking star, Tate Moody, suddenly is sharing her work space for his own show, Vittles, aired on the Southern Outdoors Network. Moody hunts and fishes with his dog, Moonpie, and then cooks up what he catches. Gina considers him a “Catfish-frying, gun-toting pseudo-foodie.” Barry Adelman, the vice president of programming at The Cooking Channel travels to Atlanta to see both shows. He wants to bring one of them to New York to become a regular on TCC. But then he has an even better idea: he brings both shows to a very rural, secluded private island off the coast of Georgia. There will be three days of contests between Moody and Foxton in a program he calls Food Fight. In one, they have to cook a meal using local ingredients that they have gathered from the island. In another, they have to cook a meal using ingredients that are given to them that can be found in any home. The two are often at odds with each other, but it is obvious that there is an attraction there. And while both want to win the contest, for Foxton, it means survival.

Deep Dish was enjoyable, although it wasn’t as good as many of the previous Mary Kay Andrews books that I have read. It wasn’t as funny, the characters weren’t as developed and as mentioned before, the plot was predictable. But after reading a fairly heavy book, it was good to dig into something a little lighter and entertaining.


Miller's Valley: A Novel
Miller's Valley: A Novel
by Anna Quindlen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.00
86 used & new from $11.25

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written..., March 12, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I have never read anything by Anna Quindlen, but I know that she has a devoted audience. When Amazon Vine offered her new novel, Miller’s Valley, I decided to give her a try. I have become enchanted with Quindlen, her characters and especially, her writing. She reminds me of one of my favorite authors, Ann Tyler. I found Miller’s Valley to be especially haunting.

Miller’s Valley begins when Mary Margaret “Mimi” Miller is just a girl, living on her family farm in a valley in rural Pennsylvania. The federal government has already acquired much of the area to dam a river, and it now wishes to increase the size of the reservoir. Every property owner in Miller’s Valley is threatened, including Mimi’s parents, whose farm has been in their family for generations. The Millers are barely making ends meet between farming and Mimi’s mother’s salary from nursing. But Mimi is a bright girl and a teacher mentors her for better things. But those better things can’t be found in the valley, and life keeps throwing roadblocks in Mimi’s way. Mimi must also deal with a host of family issues. While her parents are struggling, her oldest brother is very successful, married, and has left the valley. Her middle brother is a charmer, loved by all, but very flawed. As much as Tom is everyone’s favorite, even Mimi begins to see his defects. “Charm is like tinsel without the tree. What’s tinsel without the tree? Shredded tinfoil.” Her mother’s sister, Ruth, lives in a small house on the farm. She never leaves the house, and her mother refuses to speak to Ruth, although everyone enables her. Miller’s Valley shows the scope of Mimi’s life as she grows from childhood to adult, and the story eventually ends when she is 65. Through it all, Mimi learns lessons about family and acceptance, love and sex, true vs. superficial friendships, and expectations and disappointments. It’s a novel that will stay with you when you’re finished reading.

What I especially loved about Miller’s Valley was Quindlen’s writing. Told in the first person, Mimi’s observations on her life are just so touching. When she first begins dating a man, she is incredulous. “I know some people wondered why I was with him, and part of it was because he made it seem like he was training for the Olympics and I was the gold medal. No one had ever acted like I was the gold medal before, or not so I’d noticed.” When it looks like the farm is going under, Mimi spends a lot of time crying in the barn as she does her chores. “Cows are companionable animals to cry around. Dogs notice and they run over and try to lick your face and cheer you up. But when there’s no hope of cheering up, give me a couple of cows any day.”

One of the nice things about finding a “new” established author is that they have a body of work to feast upon, and I intend to do just that with Anna Quindlen.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 31, 2016 6:37 PM PDT


Purple Yarn
Purple Yarn
Price: $3.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Part mystery, part court-room drama, and pure entertainment..., February 28, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Purple Yarn (Kindle Edition)
There aren’t too many authors who can write a book about a serial killer and make it delightfully funny, but Bert Goolsby does just that in his latest novel, Purple Yarn. That’s not to say that Purple Yarn doesn’t have a serious side, as it certainly does. It's part mystery, part court-room drama, and pure entertainment.

Lawyer Tyler Spurlock was a Union soldier during the Civil War. After the war, he decides to move south from his native Pennsylvania. Along the way, he hooks up with a vertically-challenged former slave, Butterbean Scarbro. Once settled in Two Wells, Spurlock and Scarbro come across the body of Blue Spivey, who has been shot between the eyes with his hands tied behind his back with purple yarn. Blue’s mother Junee is the main suspect, and is soon arrested by Loice Eubanks, the local sheriff and Spurlock’s best friend. When another victim is killed in the same manner while Junee is in jail, it is apparent that the murderer is still free. The killings happen in the middle of a contentious campaign to elect a new sheriff, and Eubanks accuses his friend of helping his opponent. But Spurlock is all about justice, and while Junee isn’t his favorite person, the lawyer doesn’t believe that she is the murderer. Spurlock needs to help find the real killer to help clear her name. By the time he’s done, you’ll need almost all the fingers on one hand to count the victims. The identity of the real killer came as a complete surprise.

There are so many instances in Purple Yarn where Goolsby has his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. The local saloon and whorehouse is called the “Silver Poke.” The town paper is the “Two Wells Daily Siftings.” Goolsby’s characters are not quite as educated as they like to sound. The local minister, the Reverend Travis X. Gabbard tries to convince Junee Spivey that she needs a proper funeral for Blue. He asks Spurlock “’did she say anything about wanting to get him funeralized? You know, it ain’t right to bury somebody without funeralizing him.’” And then there are the sayings including “’You must be as crazy as a gopher in a tied-up crocker sack full of dirt.’” But for all the humor in Purple Yarn, Goolsby does include serious issues besides the murders including alcoholism, drug addiction, baby-snatching, bigamy, and racial discrimination. Also, in the courtroom scenes, you can tell that former judge Goolsby has seen his fair share of foolish men trying to pass themselves off as men of the law. I guess that in real life, that is actually more sad than funny—especially for those they represent.

Bert Goolsby has become one of my favorite authors and I eagerly await the publishing of each new novel that he writes.


Contrary Motion: A Novel
Contrary Motion: A Novel
by Andy Mozina
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.33
77 used & new from $0.51

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written and haunting..., February 28, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Contrary Motion by Andy Mozina is a beautifully written and haunting debut novel. Selected through Amazon Vine, I especially loved the musical theme. But for as much as I enjoyed this book, I think that some readers might find it just a bit too depressing.

Matt Grzbc is a 38-year old professional harpist. From the opening page, you feel sympathy for Grzbc, who considers himself “an average white male with no vowels in my last name, and I fell in love with the harp, of all things. I chose a musician’s life, which has proved difficult because at every moment—and for reasons I’m still trying to understand—I go about my business with a deep-seated sense that I am about to fail.” Grzbc is carrying a lot of baggage. He has a heart condition. His father just passed away suddenly. He’s still in love with his ex-wife. His 6-year old daughter is having adjustment problems. His relationship with his current girlfriend is a struggle, and his sex life is a mess. And he’s barely keeping his head above water, both professionally and financially. There is the possibility of a full-time position with the St. Louis Symphony and he receives word that he has an upcoming audition. But all the drama in his life is interfering with his practice time. And when it seems that things can’t get any worse, he is recruited to play the harp for hospice patients in a local facility. Yet, it seems that playing for these patients makes him focus on someone other than himself and his problems. It’s also possible that this gig is actually making him a better musician. Everything in Contrary Motion builds up to his big audition in St. Louis.

Andy Mozina is a talented writer and he convincingly shows us the pitfalls of an unconfident man trying to make his way in the world. “I stand still in the lobby with my harp and my gear and I listen. The building is so quiet I hear my own surprisingly quick, shallow breathing. My stomach twists. It was easy to keep my head down and just live when I was like a cyclist unaware of drafting behind my father. Now that I’ve looked up to find him gone, the frightening awareness of my own mortality blows silently but bitterly in my face, a headwind I’m not ready to brave without the shield of some major accomplishment of close companion.” But as I mentioned previously, Contrary Motion is not an upbeat, chirpy book. Some readers might have a struggle with the turmoil, the conflict, and the underlying sadness of Matt Grzbc. Still, you have to give credit to Mozina for the honesty with which he writes about his protagonist. It’s a novel that will haunt you long after you have finished reading.


The Never-Open Desert Diner: A Novel
The Never-Open Desert Diner: A Novel
by James Anderson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.31
77 used & new from $8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written and haunting..., February 22, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
James Anderson has written a number of things, but The Never-Open Desert Diner is his first novel. I selected this book through Amazon Vine because I liked the title. Well, the novel itself was also quite good—moving, haunting and thought-provoking.

Ben Jones operates Ben's Desert Moon Delivery Service, a lone trucker making deliveries along the desert on route 117 in Utah. He is deep in debt and just days away from going under when he comes across a mysterious woman. She is living in an abandoned sample home in a never-built housing development. Claire claims to be running from her husband, and soon, a number of people are using Jones to find Claire. There is something forbidden and haunting about Claire, but Ben soon finds himself obsessed with her. Somehow, Claire brings back to life a tragedy that happened decades ago at a diner owned by Walt Butterfield. The locals call it the Never-Open Desert Diner. That tragedy still echoes throughout the Utah desert where it continues to haunt those involved. Unfortunately, there are no truly happy endings in the desert.

I loved Anderson's writing, which was eloquent and funny and tragic and self-deprecating. Told in the first person, my heart went out to the tortured Jones. As for the people on his route, “Such folks were a special breed. I knew every one of them, though the sum total of every word ever exchanged between us might not equal what could be squeezed onto the back of a drug-store postcard. Entire life histories were swapped in three or four words with a narrow squint or a wave thrown in for punctuation.” Jones also has his own philosophy of life. “The old saying about what doesn't kill you makes you stronger is a nice sentiment, but it isn't true, not on 117. Out in the desert what doesn't kill you just pisses you off and will probably kill you the next time.”

The Never-Open Desert Diner is a wonderful debut novel by James Anderson. I hope that it's just the first of many for this talented writer.


Lowcountry Bordello (A Liz Talbot Mystery) (Volume 4)
Lowcountry Bordello (A Liz Talbot Mystery) (Volume 4)
by Susan M. Boyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.95
37 used & new from $8.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Boarding house, or something else???, February 22, 2016
Lowcountry Bordello by Susan M. Boyer is the fourth novel in her Liz Talbot series. Although it was a fun read, this story is a bit of a stretch.

Liz Talbot is a private investigator, living outside of Charleston, SC on the fictional island of Stella Maris. Christmas is just around the corner, as well as Talbot's Christmas-wedding to partner, Nate Andrews. One of Talbot's bridesmaids, Olivia Pearson, calls Talbot in hysterics. While visiting her aunt in one of Charleston's stately Church Street mansions, Olivia thinks she sees the body of her husband—murdered, in her aunt's house. But when Talbot hurries to Charleston, she finds no body, no evidence of a crime, and Olivia's husband safe and alive. But when the body of prominent Charlestonian and future politician Thurston Middleton turns up the next morning in White Point Gardens, the coincidence is just too much. As Liz and Nate start investigating, they discover a secret that might be worth killing to killing for: Olivia's Aunt Dean is actually running a bordello out of her home. Five very rich and influential Charleston men are paying big money to house a “niece.” It is possible that one of these five men is the killer. Or perhaps it is Olivia's cousin, Seth Quinlan, who is caretaker of the house and blackmailing some of the patrons. It's a complicated and sometimes dangerous case. In between working, Liz and her family (mostly her family) are trying to put final touches on the wedding.

Lowcountry Bordello was enjoyable, but I also felt it was more unbelievable than Boyer's previous three novels. Talbot's long dead childhood friend, Colleen, is now a “Guardian Spirit.” In this novel, Colleen enlists the help of her other Guardian Spirit-friends to help with the case. Still, with the Christmas-theme, it was one of the better Christmas novels that I read during December and I look forward to more Susan M. Boyer novels in the future. They're especially fun to read while vacationing near Charleston.


Tricky Twenty-Two: A Stephanie Plum Novel
Tricky Twenty-Two: A Stephanie Plum Novel
by Janet Evanovich
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.62
218 used & new from $5.87

4.0 out of 5 stars Better than some of her later books...., February 22, 2016
I have been a long time fan of Janet Evanovich, and started her Stephanie Plum seris from the very beginning. While Evanovich's books hae been getting a bit stale as the numbers increase, I did find a number of good chuckles in her latest, Tricky Twenty-Two. Obviously, this is the 22nd novel in this series, but she also has a few Stephanie Plum short stories.

Stephanie Plum is a bounty hunter living in Trenton, NJ. She mostly stumbles-bumbles through life, and especially, her work. Her side-kick is a former hooker, Lula. She is mostly exclusively dating Trenton cop Joe Morelli, but she still lusts after fellow bounty hunter and now security expert, Ranger. At the beginning of Tricky-Twenty-Two, Plum thinks that Morelli is going to pop the question. Instead, he breaks up with Plum...well at least, sort of. Meanwhile, Ranger recruits Plum to do some security work. When guys start getting killed, all arrows point to nearby (fictional) Kiltman College. Plum usually solves her cases through dumb luck, funny antics, nail biting, blown-up cars, stun guns, donuts, and chicken from Cluck-in-a-Bucket. It's what makes Stephanie Plum.

I also really enjoy Evanovich's descriptions. I live near Trenton, NJ. Chambersburg is part of Trenton, also called the Burg. “Originally the Burg was a mob enclave, but most of the mob has now moved on to classier neighborhoods. The factory workers, bus drivers, plumbers, cops, and government worker bees remain. I grew up in the Burg and my parents still live there. Houses are modest. Bars are plentiful,. Crime is low. Gossip is rampant. The funeral home is the Burg equivalent to a country club. It's free entertainment for everyone but the immediate family of the deceased.”

Although some of Evanovich's later books have been a bit lame, I won't give up on her. However, instead of buying her novels as soon as they're published, I wait and borrow them from the library, instead.


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