Pages & Paws

Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie


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Sail Into Adventure With ‘My First Five Years at Sea’

My First Five Years at Sea

And Other Tall Tales

By John M. Tabor

Fiction/Historical Fiction/Action & Adventure

Via: Author Request

Summary: A country boy from Kansas makes an unexpected U-turn into high adventure on the water.

Shanghaied onto a rum runner in the 1930s, MIT-bound James Tyler sails into history and adventure faster than you can say, “Captain Anne Bonny.” He manages to land on his feet, “moving from one unexpected maritime intrigue to another.”

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5 Fine Reads for Fall (or anytime)

HAPPY FALL YA’LL!

Mom’s at it again. She’s skipping around the house chirping about sweater weather. Pumpkins. Leaves changing clothes. And FALL! I have no idea what that means. But you know Mom!

Squirrel!

Wait. Where was I? Oh yeah. Fall and reading. Like we noted before, Mom says fall is perfect for curling up with a good book and a cuppa hot whatever. She made a list of recent reads that fill the bill. Checked it twice. (I helped. The first list didn’t smell right.)

Anyway, here are some of our top picks for the season. In no particular order:

1.Gone to the Woods: Surving a Lost Childhood (Farrar Straus Girous Books/Macmillan, 2021)

By Gary Paulsen

Non-fiction/Memoir

Via: Library

“One of the most remarkable memoirs I’ve ever read” – Mom

Gary Paulsen has long been a favorite author. We love his simple, almost terse style of storytelling about nature and outdoor adventures. So when this book came along, we snapped it up quick.

Can’t Skim or Skip

Some books you can skim. Skip through pages or chapters like a game of hop scotch. Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood isn’t one of them. This is the kind of book you have to slow down for. You’ll want to savor each chapter. Suck the marrow out of every paragraph and sentence.

Gripping & Compelling

Indeed, the story of how Paulsen survived his turbulent childhood is gripping. Compelling. Contents include The Farm, The River, The Ship, Thirteen, and Soldier. All are vintage Paulsen: Real and raw.

Backstory

With absentee/alcoholic parents, Paulsen pretty much raised himself. There were only two places he felt safe: the woods and later, the library.

He describes living in a basement at age 13 to escape his drunken parents. It’s “blue winter.” Paulsen stumbles into a library to get warm. With the help of a kind-hearted librarian, Paulsen discovers the wonderful world of books and reading. It changes his life.

This is Paulsen at his most powerful and riveting. An exceptional achievement.

Hardcover Soldier's Heart: Being the Story of the Enlistment and Due Service of the Boy Charley Goddard in the First Minnesota Volunteers Book2. Soldier’s Heart

By Gary Paulsen

Historical Fiction

Via: Library

“There’s always fear and there’s always a meadow.” – Soldier’s Heart

Charley Goddard didn’t really know what  a “shooting war” meant when he lied about his age, 15, to enlist with the First Minnesota Volunteers.  He didn’t really understand why he was fighting. He just didn’t want to miss out on “a great adventure.”

In this fast-paced, based-on-fact historical fiction, it doesn’t take long for Charley to discover the true face of war – and all its horrors – from the first Battle of Bull Run to Gettysburg.

Giving Voice

Soldier’s Heart gives voice to all the anonymous young men who fought and died in the Civil War. It is brutal. Chilling. Heartbreaking. And not to be missed. At just 102 pages, you can read it cover-to-cover in an afternoon. We did.

Another absorbing Paulsen read.

3. Neverhome

By Laird Hunt

Historical Fiction

Via: Library

A farmer’s wife disguises herself as a young man and marches into the U.S. Civil War to fight for the Union.

Compelling & Mysterious

In this compelling, mysterious read, “Gallant Ash” becomes a hero, a traitor, a madwoman, and a legend.

Told in the first person in short, staccato sentences, Neverhome makes the Civil War stand up and walk as “Ash” provides eye witness accounts of the bloody battlefield of war. Also intense longing. Suffocating loneliness. Sweat-drenched fear. Fierce devotion. Confusion and bewilderment as thick as a pea soup fog.

The narrative has an authentic first-person quality to it, with phrases common to the language of the period. It reads like you’re looking over the writer’s shoulder as she pens letters home or drafts entries into her diary.

Why?

Swirling throughout the story is the inevitable undercurrent of “Why?” Why did this woman leave her home and husband and join the war in the first place? Readers are kept guessing in this intriguing, unusual account of some of the bloodiest years in U.S. history.

4. Night Swiftly Falling

By Tricia D. Wagner

Fiction/Novella/Juvenile Fiction

Via: Reedsy/Discovery

Tragedy is narrowly averted when eight year-old Swift and his best friend and fellow pirate, Ash, suddenly discover the power of the restless sea.

The Story

After being warned not to play by the water alone, Ash tumbles into the deep. Frantic, Swift calls for help. But no one comes. So he dives in after Ash – and emerges with a fractured friendship.

Bewildered and confused by Ash’s sudden rejection post-rescue, Swift struggles with a friendship fabric torn asunder. As his older brother, Caius, helps Swift slowly realize he can’t control others, Swift discovers the anguish and frustration that accompanies the desire to help someone who needs help but can’t or won’t accept it.

How?

As Swift mourns a friendship gone south, he slowly learns that sometimes letting go is all that’s left. And that change “is the nature of life.” But “how not to lose oneself?” Swift wonders. “How not to lose those you love in the face of unstoppable pain?”

Tightly Woven

This is one of the most clever, contemplative books I’ve read in awhile. In addition to a tightly woven plot, the author demonstrates a masterful command of the language in every paragraph that’ll keep you turning pages until the end.

Propelled by delicious prose, Night Swiftly Falling is also poignant and heartfelt. It’s relatively short – just seven chapters. But this beautifully written novella packs a punch. It’s honest and hopeful at the same time. A triumph.

5. Listen to Me: How My Down Syndrome Brother Saved My Life

By Lynne Podrat

Via: Reedsy/Discovery

This book opens in August 2020 as the author watches the original Star Trek TV series with her Down Syndrome brother. “Brucie” has been diagnosed with kidney disease and pancreatic cancer at age fifty-three.

The rest of the book is a retrospective on Bruce’s life and the impact he had on not just the author but on many others as well.

Mission Change

Intent on becoming a veterinarian, the author’s life mission changes from saving animals to saving Bruce and children like him. While focusing on Bruce’s life and his unique challenges, the narrative also touches on family interactions and events such as bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, graduations, and later, trips to the hospital for Bruce as his health deteriorates. Through it all, Bruce remains a “source of heartache and inspiration.”

To ‘Open and Enrich’

The author writes that her plans for Bruce were “to open and enrich his world.” In the end, however, she realizes how being with Bruce “accomplished so much more.” She realizes how this “sweet small man” and “Brucie’s” capacity to love and to “just go on because there was no other choice” profoundly influenced her life. And how Bruce opened and enriched her world.

I’d bring tissue ‘fize you. 

 

 

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How One Woman Discovers Something Bigger Than Herself in ‘The Accidental Suffragist’

The Accidental Suffragist: A Novel

By Galia Gichon

Wyatt-McKenzie Publishing, Inc., 2021

Historical Fiction/Women’s Fiction

Via: Author/publisher review request

Summary: A family tragedy propels a working class wife and mother into the Women’s Suffrage Movement where she finds a part of herself she didn’t know existed.

“Ladies, do you believe in the importance of women voting?”

This is the salient question put forth in The Accidental Tourist. We may take the right to vote for granted now. But that wasn’t the case in the early 1900s, when a few stalwart women worked tirelessly to secure voting rights for themselves, their daughters, and future generations of American women. The Accidental Suffragist is part of that story.

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‘The Red Thread’ Weaves Heartfelt Love Story, Surprises

Historical fiction with a twist.

The Red Thread (Level 4 Press, 2021)

By Rebekah Pace

Historical Fiction/romance/YA

“A red thread connects soulmates, linking them forever so they can always find one another…

The cord may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.”

Kimber here. You know Mom and I read a lot of historical fiction. Think truckloads. We’ve read so much historical fiction lately, we were getting kinda burnt out on it. Especially WWII-ish historical fiction. So when we were asked to read and review The Red Thread, we weren’t exactly turning cartwheels. In fact, we were kind of reluctant to take it on.

This book surprised us. Big time. Here’s why:

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Say ‘Aloha’ to Adventure With ‘The Refuge’

The Refuge (2021)

By John A. Heldt

Series: Time Box (Book 4)

Historical fiction/Time travel/ Romance/Adventure

Hold on to your leis and your Lanes for this fast-moving adventure through time and space!

The fourth book in the Time Box saga, The Refuge is set in 1941 Hawaii. A modern family of seven has transported itself back in time to escape the deadly clutches of a former technocrat and employer Robert Deveraux. He’s also nuts. The Lanes are being chased through time by an assassin hired by Devearaux.

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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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‘Acts of Dreams’: Where ‘Impossible’ Doesn’t Get The Last Word

Acts of Dreams (March 2021)

Book 3 of The Inquisition Trilogy

By Martin Elsant

Historical Fiction

How far would you go for freedom? Would you contest a centuries-old law? Throw in with a notorious privateer? Sail across an ocean? Challenge the Queen of England?

These questions and more are at the heart of a fast-moving historical fiction novel by Martin Elsant. There is so much in this story to keep both history lovers and bibliophiles turning pages until the very end.

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3 Surprising Packages of Hope

Kimber here. I bet you think Her Crankiness is… 100% cranky, right? So do I. (Don’t tell Mom, okay? Let’s just keep this our little secret.)

But every once in a while Mom surprises me. Not that I’m surprise-able. But …

Wait. Where was I?

Oh yeah. Mom and I read a trio of books recently that were … surprising. They were quite different from each other, too. Think dogs and cats. (Well, okay. Maybe not cats. But you get the picture.)

Anyway, the first book is a delightful new Christian romance from Kim Vogel Sawyer. The second is a non-fiction “travel tome with a twist” from Joseph F. Smith, M.D. There’s also an historical fiction novel by Kristin Hannah.

All get an Official Thumbs Up from Her Crankiness. Here’s why (short version):

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7 Skunkers & Clunkers

Ever get a whiff of skunk? You don’t need to get close. One whiff is Plenty. (Don’t ask how I know that.)

Mom and I, we read. A lot. Like, 300+ books a year on average. We know what we like. What we don’t. What works. What stinketh.

We try to approach every book with an open mind. Give it a chance. That being said, it doesn’t take us long to smell out a stinker. (We don’t look for this stuff. It finds us.)

When we can, we pass on our 100% unscientific, totally subjective “olfactory discoveries” to you. No extra charge. Consider it a Public Service Announcement.

So here’s our newest list of literary skunkers and clunkers. Four topped our most recent DNF (Did Not Finish) list. Here’s why:

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‘Book of Lost Friends’ Hits High Notes

The Book of Lost Friends (Ballantine Books, 2020)

By Lisa Wingate

Historical Fiction

“If there is magic in this world, it is contained in books.” – The Book of Lost Friends

You know one of us looooooves historical fiction. And I love anything Mom loves! Because, hey! It’s me. Kimber the Magnificent!

Anywho, our intrepid humans at The Book Place know Mom loves historical fiction too. They’ve piled her with tons of historical fiction set in World War II. But Mom got a teensy-weensy bit tired of HF set during WWII.

So someone suggested The Book of Lost Friends. Set in 1875-ish and 1987. I’ll let Mom tell you more. You know how Mom is. Take it away, Mom:

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