Review: Six Wives by David Starkey

six wivesI just finished reading “Six Wives” by David Starkey. I’ve been obsessed lately with historical fiction about the Tudors and specifically about Henry VIII and his six wives.

Six Wives is not historical fiction, but purports itself to be “a study” of the history of these people.

The challenge is that after each wife was dead, Henry VIII and his aides obliterated the actual history of the women, so it’s hard to reconstruct that history.

The book is an interesting read. But, if you’re looking for an in-depth look at the wives — their personalities, their thoughts, etc. — this is not the book for you.

If you’re interested in an in-depth look at The Great Matter and what lead Henry VII to split away from the Catholic Church, this book does a pretty amazing job at that.

Book Review: Divergent Series by Veronica Roth #emptyshelf

The Divergent books have been recommended to me for a long time, but I hadn’t taken the time to read them. They were definitely “on the list”, but nothing was bumping them up the list.

I added them to my wish list as a fluke, and received them as a present from Jake and Shay Checketts. That definitely moved them up the list.

One big thing that I realized while reading these books is that I have 100% become a digital book convert. I received these books as hard covers, which was awesome, but not so easy to read in “relax mode” as books on my phone or on my kindle.

The books are written for a young adult audience, but would be enjoyable by most adults. They are fast-paced a very quick read. (I read the 2nd book in the series over the course of three nights.)

The plot of the books is a post-war United States where the population has been divided into “factions” — where people live and work among those that share similar traits and goals. There is the faction that is selfless, and they are desired as leaders. There is the faction that is fearless, and they are put in charge of security. There is the faction that is curious, and they are the ones responsible for science and technology. There is the faction that wants a simpler way of life, and they are responsible for farming and agriculture.

There are some within the population who have strong personality traits of multiple factions. They are referred to as Divergent and feared by the leadership.

Beatrice, or Tris, the main protagonist in the first two books is one of the Divergent. She has to keep this aspect of her personality a secret while navigating through her teenage life.

I really enjoyed all three books.

Divergent does a great job in setting up the story, but still being a great stand-alone book if that’s the only one you read (although I wouldn’t recommend stopping there).

Insurgent is almost a perfect second book in a three book series. It’s fast-paced, and is a great bridge between book one and book three. One problem I often have with trilogies is that the second book spends so much time referring back to the first book that it screws up the plot of the second book. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen with Insurgent.

In an interesting twist, Allegiant is told both from Tris’ point-of-view, but also from Tobias’ point-of-view — one of the other main protagonists and Tris’ boyfriend. At the beginning of the book, this switch was a bit confusing, but given the plot of the third book totally necessary. I do think that Roth had a better understanding of Tris as a character than Tobias.

There is quite a bit of violence in the book, so I definitely think that the books should be kept for teens and not read by young children. Roth thankfully doesn’t feel the need to fill the books with teen sex, so there is some kissing and other relationship developments between Tris and Tobias but it never gets inappropriate.

Book Review: Timebound by Rysa Walker #emptyshelf

Rysa Walker is a new author and Amazon had her book listed on the free or almost free list, so I thought I would give it a shot. It had pretty good reviews, and the only downside if I didn’t like it is what I would need to delete it from my Kindle.

Thankfully, I liked the book a lot. The book is the first part in a series (the other books haven’t been released yet). It’s a good stand-alone book, but also sets up several plotlines for future books well.

The book’s main protagonist is Kate. She is a teenager living in the Washington DC Metro Area who attends a fancy prep school and splits her time with her divorced parents.

The book has a very strong sci-fi feel and is all about a group of genetically linked individuals who can operate time-travel equipment made in the future. A handful of those people have been travelling back to the past to change history in nefarious ways. Kate and her grandmother are working to prevent these changes from happening and protect the future.

My only main criticism of the book is that at times the “changing of the timelines” and how that affects certain people’s story arcs is a bit confusing. In one “timeline”, Kate has a relationship with another person that can time jump that is treated throughout the book as very important but then hastily explained towards the end of the book. The grandmother’s fate is also confusing.

Also, maybe it’s my Mormon sensitivities shining through, but the cultish church in the book feels eerily similar to Mormonism. I’m not sure if that is Walker’s intent, or if I’m reading too much into it.

If you haven’t read the book The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson about the Chicago World’s Fair and the serial killer that was killing women at the time of the fair, I recommend it before reading Timebound. There are some plot points in Timebound that made much more sense knowing the backstory about what was happening during that time.

The book would be a good read for an older teenager, especially one interested in history. There’s just enough romance and passionate feelings expressed in the book to make it lively, but not enough to make it a romance read.


My biggest challenge with the #emptyshelf challenge

In 2014, I’m committed to reading more books. Jon Acuff challenged folks to empty a shelf and put all the books they read in 2014 on to that shelf.

My biggest challenge with the #emptyshelf challenge?

People keep posting awesome books that I want to read.

Right now, these are the books that I’m either in the middle of reading or are high on my priority list to read:

  • Body of Work by Pamela Slim
  • 1913 (a book about the year before World War I)
  • Timebound by Rysa Walker (It’s a young adult book that is the first book in a series. The next book is due out in October).

I’m trying not to get new ideas from the #emptyshelf challenge Pinterest board.

Book Review: Elizabeth Street #emptyshelf

I love historical fiction, and lately I’ve been trying to find more historical fiction written about the late 19th century and early 20th century. I was in the middle of the Bronze Horseman series when I saw that Elizabeth Street by Laurie Fabiano was available as a free “lending library” download on my Kindle.

The book covers 20 years in the life of Giovanna — from 1890 to 1910. It starts with her life in Southern Italy and then follows her to the United States. It also tells the story of her childhood sweetheart.

The biggest problem with the book, and its narrative, is that many chunks of the book are told from the point of view of Giovanna’s great-granddaughter. But, the chunks are from two different times — some when the great-granddaughter is a pre-teen and some when the great-granddaughter is a young adult. It makes for a very confusing narrative.

Aside from the confusing narrative, I also found the story and characters to be really flat. Most of the story that takes place in the 1890-1910 timeframe is from Giovanna’s point of view but there’s no depth to any of the other characters. There’s a 2nd husband that is central to many of the plot points in the 2nd half of the book, but we learn nothing about him before he met Giovanna and his portrayal in most of the rest of the book is almost non-existant.

If you had to actually pay for the book, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Book Notes
Title: Elizabeth Street
Author: Laurie Fabiano
Book Type: Historical Fiction (early 20th century)

Book Review: Why We Run From God’s Love #emptyshelf

I saw this book posted on Day 1 of the #emptyshelf challenge, and decided to download it from Kindle and give it a try.

To be honest, I’m glad I didn’t give up on the preface. The preface is a bit full of platitudes, but once you get past the platitudes there are some good tidbits in this very quick read.

Some quotes from the book that I appreciated:

“In the midst of all of this, I read in the Bible that God loves me, and I struggle to believe it.”
This idea of God’s love, especially a parental type of love, is something that I’ve struggled with my entire life. I never experienced a good deal of parental love growing up, so it’s a bit of a foreign concept to me. I believe in a “loving” God, but a God that loves me personally is still a hard concept for me. In the e-book, Ed Cyzewski talks about a courtroom and the difference between a merciful God and a vengeful God. It didn’t completely answer my questions about God’s love, but it did give me more to think about.

“He craves the wastelands of our lives. He wants the barren places, the thorn fields, the toxic dumps, and the graves that house our darkest memories.”
This is one thing that I’ve always believed. When I was living in Maryland, shortly after leaving college, I was really struggling. I didn’t think anyone really cared if I was alive or dead. I felt the farthest away from God that I’ve ever felt. Bit by bit, I started working and rebuilding my relationship with God. I started spending more time in prayer and contemplation and hoping that God would bring me some peace.

“God wants to give you eternal life no matter where you’re starting out and no matter how many times you’ve fallen on your face.”

Book notes: 
Title: Why We Run From God’s Love
Author: Ed Cyzewski
Length: 19 Pages
Type: Christian Self-Help

Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King #emptyshelf

I’ve been a Stephen King fan since I was a teenager, but for awhile it felt like his stories were getting a bit repetitive. Once he finished the majority of the work on the Dark Tower series, he started putting out some awesome work that I’ve really enjoyed — 11/22/63; The Cell; Under The Dome; Duma Key; etc.

I can now add Doctor Sleep to that list.

If you’ve never read The Shining (not just watched the movie), you probably should before reading Doctor Sleep. You could probably still enjoy Doctor Sleep without reading The Shining, but there are certain bits that might get lost.

Doctor Sleep starts out a bit slow, but about 25% of the way through — after you’ve met most of the main characters — it really gets going.

Some of the bad guys are a bit one-dimensional, but the protagonists are pretty awesome.

And, of course, my favorite part of the book is Stephen King’s author note at the end. I am definitely a Constant Reader.

The book would definitely fit on the horror shelf and shouldn’t be read by someone prone to nightmares. I would also not let someone under 14 read it.

Book Review: The Bronze Horseman Trilogy #emptyshelf

Bronze Horseman TrilogyAfter finishing reading the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, I was looking for something new. A couple of different sites recommended The Bronze Horseman series by Paullina Simmons, so I decided to give it a try.

The Bronze Horseman series is the story of Tatiana and Alexander and starts out in Leningrad just as Russia is about to enter World War II. Tatiana works in a factory and Alexander is an officer in the Red Army.

The trilogy follows them as they work to survive the war, especially the siege of Leningrad, and then building a life post-war. Throughout the series, there also quite a bit of flashbacks to what Tatiana and Alexander’s life was before the war.

I really enjoyed the first book in the trilogy. I also enjoyed the second book. I didn’t enjoy the third book as much.

In the first two books, Tatiana has an independent spirit that helps her to survive the siege and all of the obstacles thrown in her way. She repeatedly fights against the odds to protect herself and her family and move forward with her life. In the third book, Tatiana’s submission to her husband is so stereotypical 1950’s housewife that it doesn’t match the same character we’ve come to know the first two books.

Another thing to note, while Paullina does blend in a good deal of historical fiction in her stories, these books definitely belong on the trashy romance shelf and not alongside your Jeffrey Shaara novels. Some of the descriptions are very risque and detailed.

The books I’ve read in 2013

*Updated: 12/25* 

I thought it would be fun to do a bit of a recap of the books I’ve read this year. I’ve actually been reading quite a bit on the kindle app for my android phone. And, especially with the loss of the ability to crochet, reading has definitely become something I do to get away from the computer (yes, I realize that reading off of my smartphone is not *technically* getting away from the computer).

Here are some of the books I’ve read so far this year …

Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon

  • Outlander
  • Dragonfly in Amber
  • Voyager
  • Drums of Autumn
  • The Fiery Cross
  • A Breath of Snow and Ashes
  • An Echo in the Bone

The Bronze Horseman Trilogy by Paullina Simmons

  • The Bronze Horseman
  • Tatiana and Alexander
  • The Summer Garden

Minimalists by Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus

Start by Jon Acuff

The Leap Year Project by Victor Saad

A Book Review: The Leap Year Project

One of the first people I met last week at MisfitConf was Victor Saad. One of the first things I noticed about Victor is that he’s one of those people that really listen to you when you’re talking with him. It was pretty neat to start hearing his story at the event the evening before the conference started.

Victor spent 2012 on the “Leap Year Project” — instead of studying in an MBA program at a university, he spent the year at multiple companies serving as an apprentice and learning by doing. As part of the project, he devoted part of the year to writing a book about his experiences.

I don’t normally comment on the aesthetics of a book — mostly because I tend to do most my reading these days on my Kindle app — but this book is really beautiful and would be an awesome addition to any bookcase or coffee table. Filled with photos of both Victor’s adventures and those who joined him by taking their own leap year adventures, the book is one that you can read cover-to-cover or just sit and read a page about one person’s experience.

My favorite quote from the book is:

“… I was starting to understand that when you share your hurdle with someone, it gives them an opportunity to contribute — to open their home, prepare a meal, write a note — and therefore be part of something bigger.”

Victor’s Leap Year Project started out with an idea, but it never would have happened if other people hadn’t stepped up — people offering him a place to sleep, companies taking a risk and allowing him to work on special projects, a friend donating airline flights to get to various locations, and many other small things people gave to Victor along the way.

This is also true of all the smaller leap year experiences described in the book.

I’m super grateful to have met Victor in Fargo and to learn more about the work that he’s done. Victor’s latest project is The Experience Institute, where he wants to expand experiential education to others. I’m looking forward to helping him on his next journey as much as I can.