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100 Pages A Day...Stephanie's Book Reviews

I absolutely love historical fiction and read a lot of it; I love to learn history this way.  I also enjoy reading science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller and non-fiction science.

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The Essential Carl Mahogany

The Essential Carl Mahogany - Zach Boddicker

Nashville Country star and award-winner Carl Mahogany is entering middle age, and his label is beginning to believe he's entering the end of his music career as well.  They are letting him know this by releasing an Essentials album and sending him on a tour.  Carl agrees to the tour on his own terms and will be driving his beat-up van, Percy along the way.  However, things quickly turn more interesting as Carl hooks up with Rhonda, the local mechanic right before the tour and then receives an interesting message from an ex-girlfriend who wants to join him on tour.  Things go from interesting to upside-down as Carl is forced to take a hard look at his life while trying to complete his tour.

 
From the very beginning, Carl felt like someone I would like to get to know.  Down to earth, approachable and realistic in every aspect of his life, Carl seems the antithesis of an award-winning musician.  I loved that he kept a side gig as an exterminator and held on to his old tour van, Carl shows a sentimentality, vulnerability and unique sense of humor that easily carried me through the pages.  It seemed that no matter what Carl did, that life quickly got in the way; he meets a nice woman and his boss is her crazy ex-boyfriend, releasing a CD and he receives a prank CD back, and a multi-layered request from an ex turns into more than he could imagine. The supporting cast of characters made Carl's life all the more interesting.  I loved Rhonda, the independent, takes no crap car mechanic and Sheila who was always hiding a separate agenda.  Most of all, I truly cared about Carl's story and how he ended up.  Overall, a unique story of a musician figuring out life like the rest of us.
 
This story was received for free in return for an honest review. 

Lilli De Jong

Lilli de Jong - Janet Benton

Lilli De Jong is a young woman who grew up in the Quaker faith in Germantown, Pennsylvania.  She enjoys her post as a schoolteacher and is engaged in her 1883 community.  However, when her mother passes, Lilli's life takes a turn.  Lilli's father turns cold and Lilli seeks solace in the arms of Johan, her father's apprentice.  One night of passion leaves Lilli pregnant after Johan has moved to Pittsburgh for work in the steel mills. With no news from Johan, Lilli finds herself at a charity of unwed mothers.  However, when the time comes to give up her daughter, she can't, throwing Lilli down a path of hardship all for the sake of her daughter.

Intimate details of Lilli's hardships are shown through her private journal entries, pulling me into the unknown world of wet nurses and limited women's rights at the time.  Reading Lilli's journey was an intensely emotional experience for me, as I imagine it would be for anyone who has had a child. I was most impressed by the writing of the reality of having a baby and the overwhelmingness of it all.  I could not imagine having to go through what Lilli did.  I was happy that the writing included the true feelings of new motherhood- the ups, the downs, the fatigue, not knowing if you can carry on, all while falling hopelessly in love with the person you have created.  Lilli's voice is unique in that she is an intelligent, outspoken and passionate woman who has fallen into an unfortunate circumstance for her time period.  However, even with these attributes, she is barely able to pull through as an unmarried mother in 19th century America.  I am aware that being an unmarried mother definitely had its challenges in early American history, although I was surprised at some of the challenges Lilli faced and how they paralleled mothers in today's society.   Overall, a passionate and engaging book about the bond between mother and child and the will to conserve that bond in 19th Century America. 

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

Third Chronicles of Illumination

Third Chronicles of Illumination: The Library of Illumination-Book Eight - C. A. Pack

The Third Chronicles of Illumination picks up right after book two.  Johanna and Jackson have almost caught the shapeshifter who wishes to take over the world along with Nero 51, another Library Curator who simply wishes to control all of the Libraries of Illumination.  Johanna and Jackson's Library is right in the middle of the whole debacle and the two are under immense stress trying to save several worlds and their relationship is put to the test.

This was another great adventure in the Library of Illumination!  I have always loved the idea of a library where the books come to life, and that aspect is still delivered.  I love that Johanna and Jackson get to talk to Stephen Hawking about time travel.  Now that the two curators are embroiled in a plot with the Libraries on other worlds, we get to explore the beings and ways of life on those planets even deeper.  I really like to women of Romantica and the children of Juvenailia.  Even with all of the different worlds, each one is well thought out and complete; it is obvious that a lot of imagination and planning went into the creation of each.  The situation between Jackson and Johanna left me on edge as much as the potential destruction of the worlds, but I will have to wait to see how that plays out. Overall, an exciting and magical adventure!

News of the World

News of the World: A Novel - Paulette Jiles
Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd has survived some of the bloodiest battles in America's short history.  Now, in 1870 the widowed Captain spends his time travelling and reading news from around the world to paying audiences.  In Wichita Falls, he is called into service once again; but this time he isn't carrying news.  Four years earlier, the Kiowa Indians slaughtered a family and took a six-year-old girl captive.  She has been raised in the Kiowa culture, forgotten most of the English language and now has been re-captured to be returned to her aunt and uncle in Castroville, Texas.  Captain Kidd takes on the wild, young Johanna for the 400 mile journey.  Knowing nothing of the civilized world, Johanna is confused and upset, and keeping her safe and secure proves to be a challenge during the dangerous journey.  However, as they progress the Captain and Johanna form a strong bond.
 
I loved the premise of this book, an older and wiser Captain Kidd taking in a young captive. Johanna's story, which is based on many true accounts of captive children who are returned to their original lives, captivated me.  Johanna's journey in her mind was far more dangerous than their journey on the road.  Johanna went through many emotional and psychological changes.  We get a few insights into what is going on in her head, but not many.  I feel like Johanna's inner dialogue would have been the most interesting; however the writing was done in third person, so we only get a few snippets.  One quote that did stick out to me was: "It was not worth being alive when one was alone among aliens."  The Captain's gentle, compassionate and patient nature with Johanna was wonderful to read about, without him, I'm sure she would not have survived.  News of the World also gave me a great sense of what life was like in post-civil war Texas as the unlikely duo traveled from North to South throughout the state.  This was a wonderful overview of the dangers, the people and the landscape of Texas at the time.  
 
This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

Two Truths and a Lie: It's Alive!

Two Truths and a Lie: It's Alive! - Ammi-Joan Paquette, Laurie Ann Thompson, Lisa K. Weber

Two Truths and A Lie: It's Alive! presents nine chapters of three stories each about plants, animals and humans where each story seems a little crazy but only one is a lie! Each story is backed up with sources and pictures and might even be sprinkled with some truths making some stories very difficult to see through. 

This was a very fun book to read with middle school aged children. After learning about certain topics, we would read the three stories in a corresponding chapter and have a great discussion in trying to decipher which story was the lie. Our favorite group of stories was the very first one which contained stories of a human-shaped root, an entire forest made up of only one tree and plant communication. The only thing that I would have prefered is if the answers were directly after each section instead of all together at the end of the book, since this made it easy to see the false story for the next section. These stories were a fun way to engage kids and have them do some critical thinking, can't wait for the next one!

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

Silence the Bird, Silence the Keeper

Silence the Bird, Silence the Keeper - Christopher David Rosales
In a future, dystopian world, the city of Los Angeles is a dangerous place where the authoritarian  military and the guerrillas are in constant battle.  In this Los Angeles, a young man, Rudy the Third, also known as Tre, finds quick and easy money working for the guerrillas as an assassin.  Tre is the son to a professor who may sometimes teach things that the military would rather he not teach and the brother to an extraordinarily smart sister who finds herself in love with a military Captain.  When Tre receives a hit on his father, things begin to get confusing and Tre begins to question his place in life.
 
We are immediately thrown into a scary world that draws many parallels to today's world and issues.  This book took me a little while to get into, the narrative is a story being told from mother to son, who is not concerned about why the world is the way it is or how it got that way.  Therefore, I didn't know where exactly we were in time or why Los Angeles is the way it is.  The aspects that did absorb me into the book were the dramatic and graphic assaults as well as the emotions of the characters.  Each character goes on an emotional rollercoaster and the journey is in their experiences.  I did find myself gravitating to Tre's sister, Nora throughout the book and was very interested in the decisions that she would make.  Overall, a raw and passionate story of revolution. 
 
This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

Deadly Spirits

Deadly Spirits (A Mac McClellan Mystery) - E. Michael Helms

Mac McClellan is a war veteran and practicing Private Investigator. He has recently been dragged along to do some investigating with the Palmetto Paranormal Society with his girlfriend Kate. When two subsequent paranormal investigations end with the mysterious death of two investigators, Mac knows something is up; these are more than unfortunate accidents. After he is officially hired to investigate one of the deaths, Mac begins to notice several things that aren't sitting right in town: a previous insurance fraud case that is continuously being harassed, generous donations to a local college from people who do not have the money to give, a separate PI that is tailing him, a ghostly recording that has gone missing, several more near-deaths and a woman in the Paranormal Society who isn't who she says she is. Now, it's up to Mac to piece the clues together before more people die and to decide whether the forces at play are of the normal or paranormal variety.

This book immediately starts with action and really does not stop until the end. After reading the first few pages, I realized that this book was part of a series, however; I was filled in pretty quickly and I didn't feel like I really needed the rest of the books in order to understand everything. It might have been helpful to understand a little more about Mac's history, but that's about it. I was really impressed with the layers of mystery and was wondering to the end about how they all fit together. I also really enjoyed the incorporation of the paranormal; the investigative techniques were really interesting and Mac's skepticism provided a nice contrast. Mac's character was intriguing as well, at first he seemed very typical and one dimensional, but as the story progressed, I learned more of his true character and really enjoyed his interaction with people and especially his dog. Overall, this seems like a great mystery series and I would love to read more of Mac!

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

The Essex Serpent

The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry

Cora Seaborne is a recent widow to an abusive husband and is reveling in her new found freedom.  Dr. Luke Garrett saw Mr. Seaborne through his illness and is now enraptured with Mrs. Seaborne.  He is also on the verge of performing open heart surgery, if only he had a willing participant.  Taken with new found spirit, Cora travels to Essex with her son, Francis and friend Martha where there have been renewed rumors of a serpent haunting the town.  There, in the small parish of Aldwinter, Cora meets Will, the local vicar, his beautiful and frail wife Stella and their children.  Cora and Will, seemingly opposites, and with very different views of the serpent, strike up an unlikely friendship.  As Cora spends more time in Aldwinter, the mystery and hysteria surrounding the serpent grows challenging the bounds of friendship in all directions.

The Essex Serpent is haunting and magical while being very firmly set in the reality of Victorian England.  Rich and vivid writing makes the scenery and characters jump from the page.  I was transfixed with Cora from the moment that she watched her husband die with a mixture of resolve, hope and giddiness.  I loved that Cora was inspired by Mary Anning, a real paleontologist and so happily took up digging through the mud of a small farming village so unlike her London home.  The mystery of the Essex serpent itself provides a mystery as well as a platform for the small parish of Aldwinter.  I was intrigued by the real accounts of this 'Strange News Out of Essex,' but even more so by the fictional characters reactions to the serpent.  Everything from hysteria to disbelief is displayed in the parish.  However, it was not the serpent that was really the main focus of the book, but the unlikely friendships of the characters and how they progress.  As much as I loved Cora and Will's friendship, I was interested in Stella and Frankie as well as Martha and Joanne. The Essex Serpent also shone light on a variety of Victorian London issues: advances in medical technology, housing crises, poverty, women's rights and gaining knowledge of the environment.  Overall, a curious and addicting tale with as many facets as the serpent's scales that will be sure to take you on a delightful journey.


This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

Horizon

Horizon - Tabitha Lord

Caeli Crys is one of the few survivors of the Novali people. The Novali have special gifts; Caeli happens to be an empath as well as having the ability to heal people. Because of their gifts, many of the Novali were killed by the other people on her planet, the Amathi. Caeli escaped the Amathi and has been living on her own in the woods. That is-until she connects with the mind of Derek. Derek's spacecraft has been hit and is crashing near Caeli's camp. Caeli arrives at the crash site in time to help heal Derek, but not his partner, Tommy. After several days of helping Derek heal, Caeli and Derek connect on a deeper level. Caeli shares her history and her people's trouble with the Amathi. When Derek's command ship, the Horizon, sends a rescue team, she is granted asylum aboard the ship. However, the Horizon soon learns of another planet under attack and Derek's team is sent on a mission there. Derek knows that Caeli's gifts would be helpful on the mission, but fears putting her in danger again.

This is a fast-paced science-fiction romance that had me hooked from the moment Caeli connected with Derek's mind. I was very interested in Caeli's people and their powers. The story of Caeil's planet, Almagest, that she shared with Derek really drew me in. Through this backstory, I really got to know Caeli's character; I knew how deeply she cared for people and her true strength, with or without her gifts. I really think this could have almost been a story by itself. I am also really interested in how the planet fared after Caeli left, especially with the resistance that was rising. I do appreciate the parallels on Caeli's planet to what is happening in some parts of the world right now. Caeli sums it up best in the quote: "No, but I can't ignore the situation in front of me. My people did that. They chose not to see, not to act, and it cost us everything." Hopefully, this will be explored in the next book! While it was no surprise to me that Derek and Caeli formed a romantic relationship after being connected through their minds; however, for me this happened a little too quickly. Once on Horizon, the pace quickened. I was glad Caeli found her place so quickly as a physician and was valued among the crew. When Derek learns of the threat on the planet Tharsis, I knew Caeli would be involved. The situation was very similar to what happened on her home planet. This section of the book moved quickly and was filled with suspense. At the end of the book I am still left with some questions about Caeli's planet and how humans came to populate all of these other planets. Maybe book two, Infinity will answer these!

This book was provided for free in return for an honest review.

The Life and Deaths of Blanche Nero

The Life and Deaths of Blanche Nero - Ken Bingham

Blanche Nero's life has been punctuated by a series of important deaths.  At fifteen years old, Blanche's father was executed for the killing of their neighbor.  This death caused Blanche to have an interest into her father's past and sparked a curiosity for violence and death .  After excelling academically in high school and college, her mother's death provides enough money for Blanche to go to Med School.  Blanche is able to train with the best doctors in the field and becomes a successful trauma surgeon at Charity Hospital in New Orleans.  After Hurricane Katrina hits, Charity closes and Blanche takes a leave to Venice.  In Venice she rents a flat and befriends Ludo, or more precisely, Count Lorenzo Ludovici.  Ludo is dying of AIDS, but before he goes Ludo has a secret to reveal to Blanche that will unravel the mystery behind her father's death.  Ludo's death will also open up another door for Blanche to move on with her life.

 
From the moment Blanche's father murders their neighbor, I was pulled into the mystery of the Nero family.  The name Blanche Nero literally means 'White Black.'  From Blanche's birth, everything has been one or the other, black or white, no grey.  Throughout the book I did wonder if her father gave her the first name of White to try to lessen the black of his name.  Blanche's character lives her life very directly.  The writing brought me back and forth between Blanche's present as a 60 year old woman in Venice and her past growing up in Almesboro and throughout her schooling.  She is looking back at her life and examining her choices through a very mature lens.  Throughout the book death and violence are recurrent themes.  However,  through Blanch eyes, the deaths are drawn in a different light, without much meaning or emotion, but with advancement; that is until Ludo.  Ludo is exceedingly charming and a little frustrating with the slow reveal of his relation to Blanche's mystery.  Ludo's dignified ways create the perfect illusion to begin to introduce Blanche to the black spot in her father's history that I couldn't even begin to piece together until the very end.  In addition to the curious mystery, the Venitian culture and city is brought to life through Blanche and Ludo's travels as well as it's darker history.  Overall, an engaging story that weaves together death, secrets and their impact on our lives. 
 
This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

The Belle of Two Arbors

The Belle of Two Arbors - Paul Dimond, Martha Buhr Grimes

Belle has grown up in the wilds of Northern Michigan in Anne Arbor at the turn of the century. She loves going for long swims in the lake, hiking along the dunes and composing poetry. Young Belle became the caregiver to her younger brother Pip and her mother after Pip's birth took it's toll. Lovingly deemed Marmie by her brother, Belle continued her caretaker roll as her father ran the family stove business. After Belle's mother dies in a tragic accident, Belle becomes more involved in the family business, continues to care for her mother and begins the task of saying goodbye to her mother through poetry. At 21, Belle finally ventures off to college in Ann Arbor where she meets those who will become some of the most influential poets of the day. More importantly, she learns that her poetry stands up against the greats. While navigating college Belle still has a hand in her family business and assists Pip as he becomes an adult.


The Belle of Two Arbors is an epic tome that stretches US history through Belle's eyes from 1913 to 1953. Though Belle is fictional, her story shines light on many events in US history and is interwoven with the stories of poets, scholars and athletes who defined the time. Belle's character is immediately defined as strong, intelligent and sensitive. She is the original sandwich generation caretaker, expected to care for a parent and a child while still coming into her own. From the moment of her mother's death, I knew Belle would prove to be a force to be reckoned with. She proves this time and time again as she fights for women's rights, reproductive care, indigenous rights, equal rights and environmental conservation.

The writing in The Belle of Two Arbors is impressive; to carry me through several decades in almost 700 pages, Belle's story captivated and intrigued. In partnership with the poetry, the words painted a landscape and evoked strong feelings of love, loss and natural beauty. I truly did feel that the poetry was on par with the writers of the time.

Most importantly, for me, the history was brought alive. Through Belle and her real life people that have been entwined into her life I was able to get a glimpse into to life of Robert Frost and the creation of some of his poetry, a young Theodore Roethke and his troubled but inspirational journey, and Gertrude Ederle and her triumphs as the first female swimmer to cross the English Channel. Through time, I also witnessed Belle's triumphs through the Great Depression and World War II. Throughout everything, Belle's story reminds us that we are the greatest tool to shape the world around us.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

The Irish Milliner

The Irish Milliner - Cynthia G. Neale
Norah McCabe is an Irish-American immigrant living in the Five-Points area of New York City right before the Civil War.  Norah was widowed on the crossing and now does everything she can in order to support her daughter, Katie. Norah has taken to making hats for the women of Five Points, however she would love to expand her business into a department store.  For extra money Norah also writes articles for an Irish Newspaper.  As Lincoln takes office, political tensions arise and  turmoil bubbles over into the Five Points neighborhood where the Irish and African-American's are both struggling to survive.  In her travels, Norah is fortunate enough to have met and befriend Elizabeth Jennings, an African-American schoolteacher.  Through Elizabeth, Norah learns about the Underground Railroad and does what she can to help.  As the War surges on, Norah's fiance is compelled to join the ranks.  In order to follow him, Norah takes a risky newspaper assignment following a photographer to Gettysburg and is able to see for herself the horrors that the war for herself.


The Irish Milliner transported me back to New York City right before the Civil War.  Through Norah's eyes, I had a clear view of the trials facing Irish Immigrants at this point in time, the tenement living, the streets of Five Points, the working conditions,  as well as what it meant to be a woman fighting for her own independence as well as an abolitionist. For a book written about the Civil War, there were many timely and poignant issues and ideas that Norah faced.

These are the women who fascinate her!  No matter Irish women's skin is as pale as buttermilk, the Negro woman and the Irish woman have much in common.  Hate and poverty visit all shades of skin, she thinks.
 ​
​Norah's character is strong, resourceful and caring during a time in history when it would have been easier to simply try to survive and not make waves. Norah is a woman of many hats, both literally and figuratively.  I absolutely loved the idea that she used her time and resources to make hats women on the underground railroad so they would not stand out as runaways.  I do really wish that this storyline would have been expanded upon, especially since the title suggests that the book would be about a milliner.  I would have loved to know exactly how the hats ended up helping the women on their journey and their specific fates.  The book did have a very broad view, covering large swatches of time in several sentences and covering from Lincoln's speeches as a senator to the end of the Civil War.  This broad view did give me a very good sense of the history and feeling of the time, but missed out on telling several detailed, smaller stories within Norah's journey that would have made her story stand out even more. ​

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

The View From the Cheap Seats

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction - Neil Gaiman

The View From the Cheap Seats is a compilation of Neil Gaiman's best non-fiction.  Some of these are essays, some are introductions, some are speeches and all of them are thoughtful.  In this book, Neil Gaiman shares things he believes, things about the people he is fortunate enough to know, movies, comics, music and more.
 
You might be thinking that Neil Gaiman is best known for stories, fantasy or science fiction works and why would anyone want to read 500 pages of speeches and introductions, who reads introductions anyways?  Well, I always read introductions and hopefully you will too. 


In The View from the Cheap Seats I have learned what I have always known, but have never put into complete thoughts; stories are important, stories have power.  I have learned that words are magic that turn into ideas, ideas that can make you change the world.  

In his essays, speeches and introductions about other authors I learned of the deep respect held for fellow mentors and writers.  I also gleamed some insight into how authors work and develop ideas.  Most of all, I discovered some authors that I have never had the pleasure of reading and have now been added to my to-be-read pile. 

With any compilation, you could pick and choose which sections to read or individuals selections.  If you do choose to read this, read it however you choose, skip around, devour or meander through, but I do suggest reading it all and letting the power of the words soak in. 

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

Manservant

Manservant - Shari J. Ryan
Julia just wants one summer of fun before entering the real adult world. Oh, and she has sworn off hot guys- the type who are more into themselves than the relationship- after her break up with super hot guy, Andy. Julia and her best friend Jade have found what were supposed to be easy jobs nannying on the coast of Maine. However, when Julia arrives in Maine she is greeted by an even wilder than usual Jade, whose personal life is crumbling as well as Dylan, the 10 year old boy that she is nannying for. Dylan's needs are very specific and his mom forgot to mention that most nannies haven't made it past 10 days with him. And, did I mention the hot guys that seem to be everywhere? There is Sterling, a sweet but smooth-talking surfer who also teaches Dylan's lifeguard training and Liam, a seemingly rude and confusing housekeeper for Dylan's family that Julia has to live with for the summer. Julia forgets her one rule and then seems to make a mess of everything. At least she is a source of entertainment for her friends!

Manservant is a humorous and sexy new adult romance that I easily got lost in. Shari J. Ryan is a master at creating a slow build in sexual tension with back and forth witty banter and puns. I didn't know whether to love or hate Liam and I think he got me into as much of a frenzy as he did to Julia.

"Fine?" he whispers in my ear. As unexpected as my voice is, being so close to me, his words make my heart pound in a way it hasn't beat in a very long time, possibly ever. "I could think of a few different words to describe you, but 'fine' would be at the bottom of that list."

The characterization is also amazing, Julia seems like the perfect best friend as well as a very real young adult in the world. I loved that she found and named the Shermanator and the picture had me cracking up. I also loved Julia's strength when she found out that he boyfriend was cheating as well as when she found out that Dylan has Asperger's syndrome. Julia did not give up or give in, she learned as much as she could and tried to do everything right for Dylan. I applaud the inclusion of Dylan's character and the realities of his everyday life without it being the main point of the book.
The romance and sex aspects are just right for my tastes. There are several sultry scenes that had just the right amount of allure with a dash of fun; and with Julia's inner monologue it was just perfect. Overall, a steamy summer read with a mix of romance, drama and plenty of fun.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.