Pages & Paws

Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie


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Redcoat & Rebel: Worthwhile or Red Light?

Kimber, were in a reading rut” Mom says the other day. “We need something new.”

And that’s how we wound up with a bunch of new historical fiction from The Reading Place. We’ll get to two recently read titles in a min. But first, I have a question: Why is so much “historical fiction” set during major conflicts? Ever notice that? Like, there’s enough HF set during WWII to sink a battleship.

So we looked around for a different historical setting. Someone who shall remain nameless recommended a couple new books. The first is Redcoat. The second is The Rebel Killer.

Here’s our take on both:

Redcoat

By Bernard Cornwell

Setting: Philadelphia, 1777

Things aren’t lookin’ good for George Washington and his rag-tag Continental Army. In fact, Philadelphia, the cradle of liberty, has just fallen to the lobster backs.  Families and fortunes are split on both sides of the war. Between loyalists to the British crown and patriots fighting for their independence. Anything could happen. And it does.

Told from both British and American points of view, the story unfolds through the eyes of Sam Gilpin and young Jonathon Becket.

Sam is a British private who joined King George’s army along with his twin brother, Nate. They’re as different – and sometimes as alike – as day and night. And that could get one of them killed.

Jonathon is a patriot from Philadelphia who rides better than he walks. He’s also desperate to free himself and his sister, Marlene, from the clutches of his loyalist uncle. There are also lots of Hessians and Hussars. Sons of Liberty. Brandy. Fog and smoke. “Camp followers.”

As the city settles in for winter, Washington’s army teeters on the verge of collapse. He retreats to a frozen refuge called Valley Forge. As the freezing months wear on, one side dreams of victory and the other of liberty. Meanwhile, Sam dreams of a forbidden love. Who will win, and at what cost?

This is a well-written story with sturdy, three-dimensional characters. The author’s expertise with the subject matter and all things military and strategic is impressive and immense. A fast-paced, action-packed historical fiction novel, Redcoat is also full of surprises. Just about the time you think you know where the story’s headed, the author drops in a U-turn. You better hold tight for the next plot twist. It’ll keep you hopping from start to finish.

There’s a lot of intriguing Revolutionary War history here and a lot of action to keep readers engaged. But Mom found the graphic accounts of savagery and sadism (Hi, Sergeant Scammell) too much to swallow. The needless use of profanity got old pretty fast, too. Hand over the Pepto!

***

OUR RATING: 3.0

 

The Rebel Killer

Jack Lark, Book 7

By Paul Fraser Collard

Setting: Mostly Virginia, 1861-62

Forget the Pepto. Hand us some industrial strength Dramamine. Or Nauzene. Because. Barf.

The main character in this revenge soap opera is Briton Jack Lark. He fights his own internal battle as the U.S. Civil War rages around him. Consumed with hate, this bloodthirsty automaton is “a mercenary; a man with nothing in his heart but a cold, remorseless desire for revenge.” Think Edmond Dantes comes to Virginia. On steroids. Cuz Jack is a “hardened, lonely killer” who’s “better at hating than he was (is) at loving.

Be still my heart. Pardon us, Jacko, but you’re hardly the kinda of fella we want to spend any real time with. Certainly not four hundred+ pages. (At least Martha Joseph was a pleasant reprieve. Coulda used more of that.)

Oh, and Jack is also a consummate fake. He’ll impersonate anyone and do anything to extract revenge on the Confederate major who killed Rose. So Torquemada Jack sets out on an “epic journey” across the Confederacy disguised as a Confederate captain. This after he ran from a prior battlefield disguised as a Union officer. Before that he was a Redcoat. And so on.

The narrative, though crisp, is savage. Dripping with butchery and brutality. It’s enough to gag a camel. Probably worse is the cruelty Jack the Jerk inflicts on animals.

So done with you, bub.

The Rebel Killer is historical fiction that you’ll either really like or really won’t. The title has a double meaning. The author exhibits a masterful command of military history. The story is briskly paced and there’s plenty of action. If you can call killing people every twelve seconds “action.

The U.S. Civil War wasn’t a garden party. Got it. No need to beat us over the head with it. Or continuously drag us around bloody battlefields knee-deep in carnage.

Bottom line: This book isn’t a party, either. If we’d known going in that its mountains of violence and profanity push the outside envelope of “R,” we wouldn’t have bothered. Not our cup of Kool aid.

OUR RATING: 2.0

 


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WOOFWorthy! Why “Aslan: Running Joy” Isn’t Just Another “Dog Book” (and we oughtta know!)

Aslan: Running Joy (CrossLink Publishing, 2021)

By Kristin Kaldahl

Christian Fiction/YA

Mom and I can’t wait to tell you about Aslan: Running Joy. It’s super woofworthy. But first. Watch P!nk FLY!!

Basic Plot

Recovering from a kidney transplant, Krissy’s health is delicate. She’s always been about horses and dogs. The 14 year-old Oklahoman sold her mare cuz she’s afraid she’ll get hurt riding. But Krissy’s more afraid of dreaming and failing. Again.

Horseless, Krissy sets her sights on dog agility competition. The sport is intense and demanding, both mentally and physically. Are Krissy and her “totally-wrong-for-agility runt,” Aslan the Shetland Shepherd dog (Sheltie), up to the challenge? Will they rack up enough Qs to earn a shot at the Big Dance? Will Charlotte ever shut up? And what’s up with Krissy’s used-to-be bestie, Violet? Or her sulking big bro, Peter?

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What Do ‘Sanctuary’ & Secretariat Have in Common?

“Okay, Mom. Close the pages and step away from the book,” says I, Kimber the Magnificent. You know. The one with sense. Cuz it’s like, the middle of the night. And Mom’s buried in a book. Again.

Well. You know Her Momness.

“In a minute, Kimber,” says Mom. “Just let me finish this chapter, okay?” In a voice that never means an actual, real minute. Then she gives me The Look.

Insert eye roll here.

Cuz Mom said “in a minute” two hours ago. She also said “finish the chapter.” Thirty-one chapters ago. So why is it the wee hours and we’re both still reading Sanctuary? I’ll let Mom fill you in:

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AUTHOR INTERVIEW: On the Road With Terry Lister

Can you hold that steak for a min? Cuz I have something else that tastes good, too! It’s an interview with one of our favorite travel/memoir writers, Terry Lister. You may recall Terry’s book, Immersed in West Africa. If you don’t, here’s our review: Immersed in West Africa: Not Your Average Travel Book.

Today we’re talking with Terry about his book and his writing. Lots more! If you ever wanted to know more about the how and why of travel/memoir writing, you won’t want to miss this! (Besides. We like anyone who likes Mark Twain and Bill Bryson.) So. Take it away, Terry:

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4 Reasons Why We’re World Champion ‘Book Bailers’

Book Bailer-Outers Extraordinaire!

Did you know Mom and I are World Champions? Well. We are. We’re World Champion Book Bailer-Outers. In fact, Mom’s getting to be a world class book bailing sprinter! The number of minutes it takes Mom to determine whether or not she wants to invest any more time in a particular book is getting shorter and shorter. It used to be six to eight chapters. Or one hundred-ish pages, depending on the book. Now it’s about half that. (We don’t need to chow through an entire garbage dump to know that it’s rotten. We can tell by the smell. Usually a mile off.)

Ya see, Mom and I? We get scores of book review requests every day. We accept about half. And we just don’t have time to read junk. As defined by us. Our blog. Our rules. Hence the sprint thing.

4 Cases in Point

Four recent Book Bailing cases in point? Gabriela Marin’s Made of Pixels and Jasper Fforde’s The Constant Rabbit. Kathleen and Michael Gear’s People of the Canyons, and Ruth Ware’s One By One. Here’s the 4-1-1 :

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Fantasy Reveals Truth in ‘City of Snow & Stars’

The City of Snow & Stars (New Degree Press, 2020)

Cities of Wintenaeth Book One

By S.D. Howard

Fiction/Fantasy

“There is no such thing as coincidence.”

This book grabbed me in the first chapter and reeled me in. The author’s expert use of fantasy and imagination undergirds a serious message that’s both subtle and powerful. Sturdy writing, a solid plot combined with well-crafted characters and prodigious world-building skills round out the theme.

Main Characters:

Trinia: A young woman on the run, fleeing her abusive father – who’s also king. Her Gift is the ability to duplicate herself. But her father wants to exploit her Gift to create an army for his own nefarious purposes.

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Kick Back With 3 Fun Fiction Reads

Ever want to take a break from heady literature? Kick Back. Put  your feet up. Dive into a book that’s fun and frothy but No Great Brain Strain Fluff Stuff? Well. I’ve got a deal for you. Three, actually. They include werewolves, a family camping trip gone south, and a town where children are disappearing and no one knows why. Like this:

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Discover One Woman’s Road Back to Real in “The Girl I Used to Be’

The Girl I Used to Be (Bookouture, 2021)

By Heidi Hostetter

Women’s Fiction

All that glitters is not gold in this delightfully captivating of story of one woman’s inner search for and journey back to her true self. There are plenty of pitfalls along the way. Lots of obstacles to navigate. Like a full-time jerk who’s a part time hubby (to put it charitably). Lost friends. Fake “friends.” A humble past Jill ‘s been told to not just forget, but to erase and be ashamed of. Also enough tangled webs, betrayals and duplicity to make Shelob look like a piker.

But in the end, friendship, solidarity, personal fortitude and a refusal to be pressed into someone else’s artificial, pre-fab mold win out. Lots of intrigue and unraveling along the way.

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‘Sins of Our Mothers’ Blows a Gasket

Sins of Our Mothers (WiDo Publishing, 2020)

Nicole Souza

Dystopian Fiction

It’s a dystopian world, post solar flare and Global Catastrophe. Women run everything. “Defectives” (aka: men) are unnamed chattel property and rock-splitting Troglodytes. Any defective deemed “Exceptional” is in deep doo-doo. Think The Matrix meets Planet of the Apes with a stop in Amazon Women on the Moon.

This book starts off on the wrong foot, with two badly overwritten lead sentences that make Methuselah look like a youngster. I was hoping it’d get better. A hundred pages in, I was still hoping.

The characters are just ridiculous. Straight out of central You’re Kidding, Right? Like General Sarah Love. She makes Josef Mengele look like a piker. And “President of the United Sisterhood” (POTUS)? Seriously?

This is one of those books that you’ll either really like or you really won’t. I didn’t. The plot is so hackneyed, it made my hair ache. Example: How did women miraculously survive the calamitous solar flare A-okay, and men didn’t? Did the flare discriminate based on gender? Maybe that’s explained later on. I don’t have that kind of patience.

I tried and tried to get into this book. Gave it so many “second” chances, I lost count. Finally bailed after about 150 pages. I mean, hey. I could watch grass grow instead.

This thing is way out in left field, even for dystopia. As windy as a Kansas tornado. As subtle as a ton of bricks.

Whether the author intends to provoke, preach, inform, query, offend, alarm, entertain or just shock is unclear. And that’s part of the problem. A flea treatment is more entertaining than this brick. (We will not be rating this book. Puh-leeze!)

This review is part of a blog tour hosted by WOW! Women On Writing.


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10 Terrific Books for Mom on Her Special Day (or anytime)

Does your mom love to read? Is her (or your) idea of paradise a quiet reading nook, a pina colada, and hours of uninterrupted page-turning?

Great! Then mom will appreciate our Best Books for Mom list.

Kindly note that books don’t necessarily have to focus on a mom to make the cut. Bonus points if they do. But our list is about compelling, captivating reads that mom can enjoy in that quiet nook with her chilled drink and some alone time. So our list is based on – but not strictly limited to – the following criteria:

  • Must be an enjoyable, uplifting read (who wants a downer on Mother’s Day? Ack!)
  • Superlative writing
  • Credible dialogue and a solid, poignant story
  • Strong, three-dimensional female characters who learn, develop and grow
  • Bonus points if all of the above include a dose of spunk and sass

That being said, Kimber and I are rushing in where angels fear to tread with our purely subjective, 100% unscientific list of Best Books for Mom on her special day:

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