Patrick Henry: Firebrand of the Revolution // by Nardi Reeder Campion

//published 1961//

This is an older biography of Patrick Henry (1961), with target audience of middle school/junior high.  Overall, this was a really excellent read, with plenty of details about Henry’s life and career, but not too overwhelming.  It’s written to engage younger readers, so there is some dialogue and little anecdotes along the way, but most of these stories added to the character development of Henry, helping us to see what shaped him throughout his younger years and even as an adult.

It’s been a while since I studied this era of American history, so my memories of Henry were a bit vague, other than attributing his famous cry of “Give me liberty, or give me death!”  Reading this book made me want to learn more about this fascinating man – poorly educated, more comfortable in the wilderness than anywhere else, a failure at so many careers, a self-made lawyer, a man who lived his religious beliefs, a non-drinker, father of seventeen children, the first governor of Virginia, and a passionate advocate of personal freedom and the equality of all men.

Campion did a really wonderful job of putting Henry in his time period as well.  For instance, the topic of slavery is touched on a few times – something that Henry struggled with, but was more or less resigned to, a product not just of his time, but of time immortal, as there have always been slaves throughout the history of mankind.  (Which obviously does not justify it, but I think sometimes people get really hung up on the concept that the founding fathers could fight so passionately for their freedom while ignoring the fact that so many people were enslaved.  A terrible thing, yes, but not as hypocritical as we may believe at this time.  There has been slavery throughout every time of recorded history, and are still slaves even today; I think it is rather unfair to expect those founding fathers to not only set up the world’s first democracy from scratch, but to also expect them to reject a concept ingrained in humanity for thousands of years, as though their failure on that point means that everything else they did was worthless.  But I digress.)

While Henry was initially friends with Thomas Jefferson, their relationship soured over the years, and Campion also weaves that story throughout the book, helping the reader to see how this breakdown could have occurred.  And while Henry was a passionate speech-maker, he was no writer, which means that much of our perspective of Henry as a person is through people who, at the time, were writers… like Thomas Jefferson.  While Campion never comes across as defending Henry, she does remind the reader that historians are people, too, who have personal opinions and beliefs, so when someone like Jefferson says that Henry was “avaricious and rotten-hearted,” he may not have been completely objective.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am interested to read more about Henry’s life.  Campion’s description of the build-up to Henry’s greatest speech genuinely gave me chills.  I wished that I could have learned a little more about his  home life (with seventeen children, it seems like there would be scope for something interesting there!), and I also think that a more in-depth biography would have more information about Henry’s negative views on the Constitution (which Henry believed was basically worthless without a Bill of Rights to accompany it).

All in all, Firebrand of the Revolution was a great place to start – enough to give me a good overview of Henry’s life and leave me interested to learn more.  5/5 and recommended.

Jamaica Inn // by Daphne du Maurier

//published 1935//

Overall, I wanted to like Jamaica Inn, but just found it too, too depressing.

Mary’s mother has died and Mary is going to live with her only remaining relative, her mother’s sister Patience.  Aunt Patience is married to an innkeeper named Joss.  But when Mary (who is a young woman of 23, not a child, by the way) arrives at Jamaica Inn, she finds it to be a frightening and lonely place that discourages visitors.  Joss is a strong, terrible man, and Aunt Patience is a shadow of her former self.  As the story progresses, Mary discovers various evil and terrible things going on around the inn, but feels unable to speak out against them because of how the destruction of Joss would devastate Patience.

Many of the descriptions are rather melodramatic, but excellent nonetheless.  Du Maurier has a knack of describing people in a way that makes them quite easy to picture – perhaps aided by the fact that nearly everyone in this book is practically a caricature.

In both Rebecca and My Cousin Rachelwe are given a first person perspective from a possibly unreliable narrator.  Much of tension from both of those books is not knowing how much of what we hear is actual truth, and how much of it is simply in the mind of the narrator.  But in Jamaica Inn, the story is much more straightforward, a more traditional Gothic novel, with smugglers and dark, sweeping moors, and an innocent young woman caught up in circumstances beyond her control.  It wasn’t exactly boring, but it almost was.  While in Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel I was constantly guessing as the guilt and innocence to the very end, I really had Jamaica Inn figured out about a third of the way through; the book felt almost formulaic.

Throughout, I couldn’t tell if du Maurier was trying to make a point about the situation of women in society or what, but she constantly, and I do mean constantly, harps on how hopeless and almost pointless the existence of women is, because they are so dependent on men.  Of Aunt Patience she says –

“You mustn’t mind your uncle Joss,” [Aunt Patience] said, her manner changing suddenly, fawning almost, like a whimpering dog that has been trained by constant cruelty to implicit obedience, and who, in spite of kicks and curses, will fight like a tiger for its master.

And really, that sums up the way both sexes are portrayed throughout.  The women – downtrodden, hopelessly bound by love and loyalty; the men – vacillating between cruelty and indifference.

Even Mary herself, who claims that she will always be independent and strong, and will never fall in love or put herself into a place where a man has control over her, falls in love “against her will” –

And there, in spite of herself, came [his] face again, with growth of beard like a tramp, and his dirty shirt, and his  bold offensive stare.  He lacked tenderness; he was rude; and he had more than a streak of cruelty in him; he was a thief and a liar.  He stood for everything she feared and hated and despised; but she knew she could love him.  Nature cared nothing for prejudice.  Men and women were like the animals on the farm at Helford, she supposed; there was a common law of attraction for all living things, some similarity of skin or touch, and they would go to one another.  This was no choice of the mind.

Later in the same chapter she is thinking about how back at home she would see people in love, but after they married –

…when the lad came home at evening tired from his work in the fields, and calling sharply that his supper was burnt, not fit for a dog, while the girl snapped back at him from the  bedroom overhead, her figure sagging and her curls gone, pacing backward and forward with a bundle in her arms that mewed like a cat and would not sleep.  There was no talk then of the moonlight on the water.  No, Mary had no illusions about romance.  Falling in love was a pretty name for it, that was all.

Just…  ugh.  So hopeless, not just about love, but about life – that all we are is unthinking animals who know nothing better than to find someone to whom we have a spark of attraction that we may breed – no hope of any kind of long-lasting affection or companionship – just drudgery and darkness.

And that’s what this book was, consistently, throughout every page.  Drudgery and darkness.  Complete hopelessness.  In the end, Mary goes off with with this man who stands “for everything she feared and hated and despised” – and there is no sign whatsoever that he is not all of the things she lists off in that paragraph.  And so Mary, despite knowing that her life will probably be miserable, purposefully chooses to go with him!  I had already lost all my respect for Mary about halfway through the book; for all her claims to be strong and saucy, she really isn’t terribly smart and is already completely resigned to a life just as miserable as Aunt Patience’s (even though Mary spends a great deal of time despising her Aunt Patience for her loyalty to Joss).

In the end, du Maurier leaves us with nothing.  Christianity is “built upon a fairy tale.  Christ himself is a figurehead, a puppet thing created by man himself.”  Humans are nothing more than animals who can never expect to be anything better.  Women will forever be subservient to men because they will always choose to be loyal to a man, even if he is cruel – which he will be, because all men are so instinctively, desiring nothing more than to crush all who are weaker than they are.

The picturesque descriptions of the moors and the attempt at a mystery were not enough to overcome the darkness and hopelessness of this story for me.  2/5 and not recommended.

However, I will say that both Rose Reads Novels and That’s What She Read are more generous than I am, so you may want to check out their reviews for some balance.  ;-)

#13 for #20BooksofSummer!

(#12 will be reviewed at the end of the month in July’s minireviews.)

Woman With a Gun // by Phillip Margolin

//published 2014//

Last fall I had the pleasure of reading through Margolin’s Amanda Jaffe series.  The series as a whole was an easy 4/5 for me, and I really enjoyed them.  Unfortunately, Margolin has written several other novels, so enjoying those books meant that multiple titles got added to the TBR, and Woman With a Gun is the first of them I’ve read.

I really liked the pacing of this story.  We start in 2015 with Stacey, who is trying to write a novel but is feeling rather uninspired.  To pay the bills, she’s working as a legal assistant and finds it soul-suckingly boring.  (Aside: I empathize!)  On lunch one day she stops to see an art exhibit, but is drawn to a series of photographs.  When she sees the photograph that’s on the cover of this book, she is completely enamored – she can see an entire story waiting to be told.

The next section tells us the story of the photograph – the Cahill case from 2005.  A strange and mysterious murder that was never satisfactorily resolved…

I have mixed feelings about books that jump backward and forward in time, but Margolin handles it very well in this one.  I really liked that instead of using flashbacks or alternating chapters, large chunks of book are in one time before switching to another – there are only actually five parts to the  book: 2015, 2005, 2000, 2005, 2015 – which also works very well, as we slowly work our way back in time to understand what is going on, and then forward in time to find resolution.

The story was quite gripping, and I was lucky enough to start this on a lazy Sunday, and read it pretty much all in one go.  I was completely engrossed in the tale and anxious to find out who the killer really was.  It’s really a rather small circle of possibilities, which made the guessing even more engaging.

It did seem like Stacey’s love story part was rather hasty – an almost instalove vibe – and the ending, while satisfying, was still a bit bittersweet.

All in all, Woman With a Gun was an easy 4/5, and confirmed for me that I definitely need to continue working through Margolin’s books.

#11 for #20BooksofSummer!!!

(#10 will appear in this month’s minireviews at the end of July!)

Girl Out of Water // by Laura Silverman

//published 2017//

So I recently subscribed to The Book Drop through Bethany Beach Books.  While not the fanciest book subscription box out there, it’s very reasonably priced.  Every month comes with a book that is usually either autographed or included with an autographed plate, and usually some other kind of bookish goody like a bookmark or notecard.  There are four different types of books, and to start with I’ve been getting the YA, although I’ve switched to the Children’s for next month just for fun – there is a slight price variation between the types, but since the subscription is paid monthly, it’s easy to switch between them.

All that to say, Girl Out of Water was my first book.  It definitely wasn’t a book I would have picked up on my own, but it ended up being a much more enjoyable read than I anticipated.  While I’m not keeping this one for my permanent collection, it still was a solid story with a main character I actually liked (most of the time).

Anise, who narrates the story (in present tense, unfortunately), has lived her entire life in Santa Cruz, California, right on the beach.  She loves to surf, and has a solid core of friends.  Anise is 17, and this is the last summer a few of her friends are going to be around, as the group is starting to break apart and head off to college and other post-high-school things.  But Anise’s big plans for the summer are destroyed when her aunt, a widow and mother of three, is in a serious car accident.  Anise and her dad have to go to Nebraska to help take care of the kids and Aunt Jackie.  While there, Anise of course learns a lot about herself, mainly because of a boy, and at the end of the book is a wiser and more mature Anise than she was at the beginning of the summer.

A lot of this book was quite predictable, but I still found myself engaged in what was going on with Anise and her life.  Anise’s mother is a flighty, crazy woman who has been in and out of Anise’s life since she was born.  The mom is completely unreliable – Anise and her dad don’t even have a way to get a hold of her to her know about Jackie’s car accident.  Anise lives in fear that she’ll end up like her mom, and a lot of her actions revolve around this fear.

My two biggest problems with this book:  the first is that Anise is just way, way too melodramatic about the fact that she isn’t home for the summer.  Like I was totally on board with her being  homesick and upset, but she also acts like her friends are legit going to forget who she is, and that these “missing months” will mean they no longer have any common ground.  Hello?  You’re gone for like eight weeks, not the rest of your life…??  It just seemed like she blew the situation incredibly out of proportion, and all of her other problems stemmed from that.  However, I do have to say that I really liked the way that Anise didn’t spend a lot of time complaining about her situation – I really appreciated how she put a high priority on her family and helping with them, and overall seemed pretty mature about the importance of this responsibility.

The second big issue I had with this story is that Anise has already decided to go to a local college because she doesn’t want to move away from home.  I thought that was totally fine – what I didn’t like was how everyone acted like that was a stupid choice, and that she was strange and unnatural for not wanting to leave home.  She lives with her dad who dotes on her and she has everything she could possibly want??  Like why would people think it’s weird that she wants to stay home?  I think everyone is ready to leave at different times, and have no doubt that in a year or two Anise will begin to see how life changes and that moving away isn’t the end of the world, but I don’t think it’s right to pressure teens into going away to college just because “everyone” does it.  It felt like there was a really strong message that you HAVE to leave home to go to college or there is something wrong with you, and I didn’t like that.

And I guess there’s also a third thing – a lot of swearing.  I’m just not into it.  I don’t like this effort to normalize f*, and it appears a lot in this book as a total “this is just how teens talk these days” kind of way.  I’m old-fashioned, I guess – I don’t like it.  Constant swearing is pretty much a great way for me to drop at least half a star when I think back on my feelings about a book.

The love interest, Lincoln, was a little too something.  I mean – he’s black, adopted, and only has one arm??  This seems like a lot of minority issues to put on one character.  He was totally likable, but Silverman kept emphasizing these three things about him, which made him come across more as a representative of something instead of just as a person.  Plus, it felt weird because they both act like there is no way this relationship is going to work out long-term so…  just make-out buddies, I guess??  It seemed strange to emphasize the transient nature of their relationship while also acting like it was a really serious one.

Finally, I wanted Anise’s mother to actually show up.  So many of Anise’s issues seemed like they could have been resolved or at least partially resolved by a good hashing-out now that Anise is actually making some decisions about her mom/learning new things about her/learning new things about herself.  The ending of the book felt kind of vague and off-kilter, and I think that was part of the reason – several things like that felt kind of unresolved.

All in all, Girl Out of Water wasn’t a horrible read.  It made me roll my eyes a few times, but Anise herself was a really likable character, and that made me stick with the story even when it got a little ridiculous.  I’m passing this book on to the next reader and not particularly recommending it, but it was still an easy 3/5 and one of those YA books that would probably be better enjoyed by its target audience.

#9 for #20BooksofSummer!

High-Yield Vegetable Gardening // by Colin McCrate & Brad Halin

//published 2015//

I’ve mentioned in the past my love for Storey Publishers (I even have a page dedicated to their books that I’ve reviewed).  They publish tons of unique and interesting books on all kinds of homesteading/DIY topics.  Their books are colorful and well-organized and full of practical, accessible advice.

High-Yield Vegetable Gardening, subtitled “Grow More of What You Want in the Space You Have” was one of my birthday scores from last year.  I really enjoy gardening, and I LOVE reading about gardening.  I own literally dozens of different books on a variety of gardening subtopics.  I was attracted to this book because it’s a bit “next level” – it’s really designed for people who already  have grasped the basics of vegetable gardening and are ready to start growing beyond what you are planning to eat fresh.

While I’m not ready to start selling veggies at a roadside stand or a farmers’ market (yet), I am working on growing more produce to preserve for our personal consumption throughout the year.  And even if I wasn’t wanting to expand our garden, High-Yield has a lot of practical tips for simply making your vegetable garden a healthier place to raise plants more easily.

The book roughly follows the stages of a garden through the season – starting with “Planning and Planting What You Need” and ending with “Timely Harvesting and Storage.”  In between, the authors cover the basics of things like soil amendment, crop rotation, irrigation systems, setting up a home nursery, using crop tunnels and greenhouses, organic fertilizing, and transplanting methods.  A lot of time is spent on seeding and growing seedlings, as this is the most financially efficient way to grow a large number of plants.

There are loads of charts that make it easy to reference back to information that has been covered in more depth throughout the chapter.  There’s also a great list of references in the back that not only lists tons of books, but also supplies recommended by the authors, useful apps, online access to record keeping charts, and places that will do soil analysis.

All in all, High-Yield is a great addition to my ever-growing collection of gardening books (and Storey publications), and one I definitely recommend if you already have some gardening basics under your belt and are interested in taking it up a notch.

The Tottering TBR // Episode XVI

This has been a really pleasant week.  A lot of projects are getting done around the house (PAINTING FENCE), but I’m still in a happy reading groove as well.  The Fourth of July was a super happy day – we did a few productive things in the morning while it was cool and then spent the hot and muggy day being completely lazy in the air conditioning, and it was great.  I spent the day doing some organizing of my own books, both on the shelves and on the TBR, which resulted in some drastically different numbers this week from last week.

Added to the General TBR:

With a great show of restraint, I only added four books this week.  I realized that I’ve never read Kipling’s Kim, and it really feels like that’s one I should check off.  I also added Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson because I remembered that I enjoyed her earlier book, Edenbrooke, quite some while back.

Prisoner of Night & Fogwhich Bibliobeth reviewed, sounds super intriguing, with a great historical setting and all kinds of potential adventures.  Meanwhile, Fictionophile’s review of The Widow’s House definitely sounded exciting as well.

Off the General TBR:

One off this week – Threads of Suspicion by Dee Henderson.  This was a solid read that meant that my Dee Henderson binge ended on a good note.

Total for the General TBR:  786 – up three.

****************************

Added to the Personal TBR:

This tab got a bit confusing – a lot of books came on and off so the numbers are all kinds of whack.  However, I did completely indulge myself by purchasing a trio of books from Slightly Foxed – I can’t resist them! – by Adrian Bell.  I’m quite excited to read them, both because the stories sound charming, and because just holding these books is perfect.

Off the Personal TBR:

See notes above!  However, I did review both Reclaiming Christianity by A.W. Tozer and The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart – which were both on my list!

Total for the Personal TBR:  594 (down 35!!!!!)

**************************

Added to the Series TBR:

While going through all my old reviews, I realized that I actually would kind of like to read Colleen Houck’s crazy tiger-prince books again.  Maybe.  Someday.

And, again inspired by Slightly Foxed – while I have a vague memory of dad reading Swallows and Amazons out loud to us when I was quite small, I’ve never really read them, and they again feel like childhood classics.  So they are now on the list!

Off the Series TBR:

Nothing… and I’m not even in the middle of a series right now!  No progress in sight!

Total for the Series TBR:  222 (up two)

*************************

Added to the Mystery Series TBR:

Nothing!!!

Off the Mystery Series TBR:

I finished the Joseph O’Laughlin series, so it is now checked off the list!  I’m sorry to see Joe go – but I’m excited to get something off!!

Total for the Mystery Series TBR:  102 (DOWN one!)

***********************

Added to the Nonfiction TBR:

Tragedy struck in the form of a post  by The Literary Sisters wherein they looked at several books that revolve around maps.  Basically, I want to read them all, and then find more books about maps.  I LOVE MAPS.  I actually own piles of maps, and have a giant one of the US hanging on our wall.  I pull out my map of the UK when I’m reading books set there; I plot trips on Google Maps that I have no intention of taking; I pull out my Ohio Atlas just to flip through it and look at parks and roads and towns that I’ve never noticed before.  Point being, their post caused me to add four titles to this list!

I’ve also been reading a children’s biography of Patrick Henry, and really enjoying it.  It inspired me to try and find a more “serious” biography of his life – I added Lion of Liberty: The Life and Times of Patrick Henry by Harlow Giles Unger, but am open to other suggestions if any of you know of a better option??

Off the Nonfiction TBR:

Nothing, of course!  Currently I am reading several nonfiction volumes, they just all happen to be ones that I own, so they aren’t actually on this section of the list…

Total for the Nonfiction TBR:  81 (up five)

**********************

Grand Total for the Week:  11 up and 37 down (thanks to crazy math on the Personal TBR :-D) so I am going to seize that victory and revel in it, even though it will never happen again!!

The Secret Keepers // by Trenton Lee Stewart

//published 2016// The illustrations are FANTASTIC //

After binge-reading Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society books this spring, I realized that it had been a while since I had checked to see if Stewart had written anything new.  Growing up, it seemed like all  my favorite authors were already dead (and thus not writing new books), plus the lack of internet made it a lot more difficult to find out what any still-living authors were up to.  I’m still occasionally blown away by how easy it is now to find an author’s entire bibliography.

ANYWAY the point is, Stewart has indeed written another book since the Benedict series – The Secret Keepers is a standalone novel that follows the adventures of Reuben, a 12-year-old boy who lives with his mom in the city of New Umbra.  Reuben’s mom works hard to provide for them, but things have been difficult since Reuben’s dad died eleven years ago, and Reuben and his mom are now living in one of the poorer sections of town, the Lower Downs.

Reuben spends his days wandering around (which his mother doesn’t know), teaching himself to be unobtrusive, looking for quiet adventures.  On the day our story begins, he makes a discovery: he finds a very strange watch.

While I don’t think that The Secret Keepers was quite as magical as The Mysterious Benedict Society, it was still a very enjoyable read.  Reuben, and later Penny and Jack, are great characters – innovative, intelligent, and independent.  I loved the way that Reuben and his mom were such close friends – Steward did a really fantastic job with their relationship, which came across as totally believable and very touching.

I felt like there were a few times when the story stumbled a little – a few scenes were rather longer than they needed to be.  It also seemed like the immediate friendship between Reuben and the watchmaker was a little odd, just because the watchmaker immediately trusts Reuben and everything he says, and then she becomes the person Reuben keeps turning to for help.

Nonetheless, I was completely engaged in this book and was eager to find out what was going to happen with Reuben and the other Secret Keepers.  I really loved the way that this book ended – completely satisfying.  All in all, a 4/5 – recommended, especially if, like me, you enjoy reading books from the children’s section from time to time.

#8 for #20BooksofSummer