Thursday, March 8, 2018

REVIEW: Jefferson's America by Julie M. Fenster


The surprising story of how Thomas Jefferson commanded an unrivaled age of American exploration—and in presiding over that era of discovery, forged a great nation.

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, as Britain, France, Spain, and the United States all jockeyed for control of the vast expanses west of the Mississippi River, the stakes for American expansion were incalculably high. Even after the American purchase of the Louisiana Territory, Spain still coveted that land and was prepared to employ any means to retain it. With war expected at any moment, Jefferson played a game of strategy, putting on the ground the only Americans he could: a cadre of explorers who finally annexed it through courageous investigation.

Responsible for orchestrating the American push into the continent was President Thomas Jefferson. He most famously recruited Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who led the Corps of Discovery to the Pacific, but at the same time there were other teams who did the same work, in places where it was even more crucial. William Dunbar, George Hunter, Thomas Freeman, Peter Custis, and the dauntless Zebulon Pike—all were dispatched on urgent missions to map the frontier and keep up a steady correspondence with Washington about their findings.

But they weren’t always well-matched—with each other and certainly not with a Spanish army of a thousand soldiers or more. These tensions threatened to undermine Jefferson’s goals for the nascent country, leaving the United States in danger of losing its foothold in the West. Deeply researched and inspiringly told, Jefferson’s America rediscovers the robust and often harrowing action from these seminal expeditions and illuminates the president’s vision for a continental America.

Hardcover, 368 pages
Published May 10th 2016 by Crown (first published March 25th 2014) 
About the Author

Julie M. Fenster is the author of many works of American history, including The Case of Abraham Lincoln, Race of the Century, the award-winning Ether Day, and, with Douglas Brinkley, Parish Priest, which was a New York Times bestseller. She also cowrote the PBS documentary First Freedom, about the Founders and religious liberty. She lives in Upstate New York.

My Thoughts
John James Audobon, the orinthologist and painter, left his family at home in Ohio in October of 1820 and traveled in a slight state of desperation to New Orleans, a well-worn city newly vibrant and very rich.
A couple of years ago I read a fictional account of the life of Jefferson's oldest daughter Patsy, and it really piqued my interest about her father. So when the opportunity came to read this accounting of Jefferson and the exploration of The Louisiana Purchase I jumped at it.

Jefferson was rather forward thinking and was determined to "go west" and expand the US from sea to "shining sea". In pursuit of this dream, he made The Louisiana Purchase from the French in 1803.

This book is made up of the tales of the infamous team of Lewis and Clark, as well as lesser known explorers like Pike, Freeman and Custis and Dunbar and Hunter, whom Jefferson sent to explore The Louisiana Purchase. Lewis and Clark's main objective was to follow the Missouri River west and find whether it would offer a route to the Pacific. They were also expected to watch for opportunities of trade, resource availability, and document wildlife and native peoples encountered along the way, all of which was logged in detail in their diaries.

The book includes a handy map of the US in 1803-1804, pictures of the explorers, photos of things they encountered during their adventures, and excerpts from the explorer's diaries as well as editorial articles.

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble

My final word: Providing a good overview of both the expeditions and the politics of the time, I rather liked this book, although it could get a little too detailed at times for my tastes. Recommended for lovers of history.

My Rating:

The Cerebral Girl is a nearing-fifty blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

I received a copy of this book to review through Blogging for Books, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

Friday, March 2, 2018

TLC BOOK TOURS and REVIEW: Promise by Minrose Gwin


In the aftermath of a devastating tornado that rips through the town of Tupelo, Mississippi, at the height of the Great Depression, two women worlds apart—one black, one white; one a great-grandmother, the other a teenager—fight for their families’ survival in this lyrical and powerful novel

“Gwin’s gift shines in the complexity of her characters and their fraught relationships with each other, their capacity for courage and hope, coupled with their passion for justice.” -- Jonis Agee, bestselling author of The River Wife

A few minutes after 9 p.m. on Palm Sunday, April 5, 1936, a massive funnel cloud flashing a giant fireball and roaring like a runaway train careened into the thriving cotton-mill town of Tupelo, Mississippi, killing more than 200 people, not counting an unknown number of black citizens, one-third of Tupelo’s population, who were not included in the official casualty figures.

When the tornado hits, Dovey, a local laundress, is flung by the terrifying winds into a nearby lake. Bruised and nearly drowned, she makes her way across Tupelo to find her small family—her hardworking husband, Virgil, her clever sixteen-year-old granddaughter, Dreama, and Promise, Dreama’s beautiful light-skinned three-month-old son.

Slowly navigating the broken streets of Tupelo, Dovey stops at the house of the despised McNabb family. Inside, she discovers that the tornado has spared no one, including Jo, the McNabbs’ dutiful teenage daughter, who has suffered a terrible head wound. When Jo later discovers a baby in the wreckage, she is certain that she’s found her baby brother, Tommy, and vows to protect him.

During the harrowing hours and days of the chaos that follows, Jo and Dovey will struggle to navigate a landscape of disaster and to battle both the demons and the history that link and haunt them. Drawing on historical events, Minrose Gwin beautifully imagines natural and human destruction in the deep South of the 1930s through the experiences of two remarkable women whose lives are indelibly connected by forces beyond their control. A story of loss, hope, despair, grit, courage, and race, Promise reminds us of the transformative power and promise that come from confronting our most troubled relations with one another.

Hardcover, 400 pages
Published February 27th 2018 by William Morrow
ISBN 0062471716 (ISBN13: 9780062471710)

About the Author

Minrose Gwin is the author of The Queen of Palmyra. She has written three scholarly books, coedited The Literature of the American South, and teaches contemporary fiction at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.

Check out the author's website.

My Thoughts
Too still out there.
An F5 tornado hit Tupelo, Mississippi during the night hours of April 5, 1936. It left death, devastation and confusion in its wake. This is a fictional account of that event.

Dovey is a black laundress who lives on The Hill, which is the "colored" side of town. For many years she has done the laundry of many of the white townfolk. One of the families she works for is that of town judge Mort McNabb. Mort's son "Son" McNabb raped Dovey's young granddaughter Dreama and left her pregnant. 

I found Dovey to be quite likable if abrasive. She's hardworking, focused, loyal and protective of her family. After the storm, she hobbles along injured in search of her missing husband, granddaughter and great-grandson Promise.

The storm also leaves Jo McNabb, teenage daughter of Mort McNabb, injured and responsible for the care of her injured mother. She also finds what she believes to be her baby brother in a tree out in front of the house and he becomes her main focus. Dovey comes across Jo and her mother while searching for her own family. And so begins the odd entanglement of Jo and Dovey.

Jo has become tough and determined since the storm, and totally focused on caring for her little baby brother Tommy. She in part seems to be sort of trying to "win" her mother's love by taking such good care of her mother's youngest son, in a family where the only daughter feels somewhat overlooked.

Dovey's granddaughter Dreama is a beautiful and spirited young girl and passionately loves her son Promise, despite his harrowing beginnings. It wasn't always this way, but she's come around and now adores her son something fierce!

I enjoyed the author's writing style, which is very approachable and restrained, and descriptive without being too heavy or trivial. I liked the characters, and the central storyline. I liked the way that the story would show you one side to a person, and then show another side to them, making you reassess your view of them (or making a character reassess their view of them). And having recently gone through a major hurricane myself, and now having just lost my father a few weeks ago, I have a little understanding of what the characters in the story are going through-- the exhaustion and uncertainty and loss.

However I was also left feeling a little "blah", and I'm not sure why. I liked the characters. Maybe it had to do with the story being rather mundane much of the time. It's people laying around injured and exhausted, walking in search of family or help, hungry, confused, but for the most part felt sort of like watching a camera follow around a mother for a week: mother feeding kids, bathing kids, lulling them to sleep, doing laundry, picking up toys. Day after day the same mundane things interspersed with moments of devout humanity.
I would like to thank TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. Check out the website for the full tour schedule:

Tuesday, February 27th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, February 28th: The Sketchy Reader
Thursday, March 1st: Readaholic Zone
Friday, March 2nd: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Monday, March 5th: Lit.Wit.Wine.Dine.
Tuesday, March 6th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, March 7th: Peppermint PhD
Thursday, March 8th: Instagram: @_literary_dreamer_
Monday, March 12th: Literary Lindsey
Tuesday, March 13th: Into the Hall of Books
Wednesday, March 14th: Broken Teepee

My final word: What makes this story especially uncommon is the viewpoint of a black family after a natural disaster like this. Especially from this era in the 1930s when the black community went "uncounted". This is "their" story, when history didn't deem them important enough to even count among the dead. The characters are fleshed out, and they are characters with whom you can identify. It's a moving story, but at times can get a little wearisome. And the ending came up fairly abruptly. But overall I liked this story and would recommend it. For lovers of historical fiction.

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble

My Rating:

The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

I received a copy of this book to review through TLC Book Tours and the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The book that I received was an uncorrected proof, and quotes could differ from the final release.  

Friday, February 23, 2018

TLC BOOK TOURS and REVIEW: The Promise Between Us by Barbara Claypole White


Metal artist Katie Mack is living a lie. Nine years ago she ran away from her family in Raleigh, North Carolina, consumed by the irrational fear that she would harm Maisie, her newborn daughter. Over time she’s come to grips with the mental illness that nearly destroyed her, and now funnels her pain into her art. Despite longing for Maisie, Katie honors an agreement with the husband she left behind—to change her name and never return.

But when she and Maisie accidentally reunite, Katie can’t ignore the familiarity of her child’s compulsive behavior. Worse, Maisie worries obsessively about bad things happening to her pregnant stepmom. Katie has the power to help, but can she reconnect with the family she abandoned?

To protect Maisie, Katie must face the fears that drove her from home, accept the possibility of love, and risk exposing her heart-wrenching secret.

Paperback, 384 pages
Published January 16th 2018 by Lake Union Publishing
ISBN 1542048982 (ISBN13: 9781542048989)

About the Author

Bestselling author Barbara Claypole White creates hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness. Originally from England, she writes and gardens in the forests of North Carolina where she lives with her beloved OCD family. Her novels include The Unfinished Garden, The In-Between Hour, The Perfect Sonand Echoes of FamilyThe Promise Between Us, a story of redemption, sacrifice, and OCD, has a publication date of January 16th, 2018. She is also an OCD Advocate for the A2A Alliance, a nonprofit group that promotes advocacy over adversity. 

Check out the author's website
Follow the author on Facebook

My Thoughts
Crouched in the corner of my baby girl's bedroom, we both shake, the three-legged mutt and the mother with a colony of fire ants multiplying in her brain. 
Katie is an artist who has been hiding the fact that she suffers from OCD. She's also been hiding her past from those who are a part of her "new life". Nine years ago she ran out on her husband and baby girl, and later promised her husband that she would stay out of their lives and play dead. She's begun a new life for herself as a metal artist, and she has a good man in her life. She keeps pushing him away, but he seems to keep coming back.

Daughter Maisie is a bit quirky and very smart. Her mother died when she was just a baby and she was raised by her single father who is a professor. Now she has a new stepmom and is about to start middle school, and she's beginning to feel the pressure.

Through happenstance Maisie and Katie meet, and Katie recognizes the signs of OCD in her own daughter. 

This is my first exposure to this author. I enjoyed this book for the most part. The author has a relaxed writing style, and really does a great job of making the characters come to life. But a few things did bug me.

First was the fact that Maisie always felt younger than the ten years of age she is supposed to be in the story. She felt like she was more like six or seven years of age. And her biological mother Katie would speak to her like she was a little girl, using childish phrases and words. That really kind of annoyed me.

Secondly was the descriptions of the OCD experience. Maybe it's accurate and I'm way off (after all, it seems the author got her insight through speaking with people who suffer with OCD, including her own family member). So maybe those who suffer from OCD will read this and think it is spot-on, but for me it felt over-dramatic in the same way that Maisie felt overly young. Both things just felt "off".

I would like to thank TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. Check out the website for the full tour schedule:

Tuesday, January 16th: Doing Dewey
Thursday, January 18th: Books and Bindings
Friday, January 19th: Readaholic Zone
Monday, January 22nd: Kritters Ramblings
Thursday, January 25th: Leah DeCesare
Friday, January 26th: What Is That Book About
Monday, January 29th: Just One More Chapter
Tuesday, January 30th: Book by Book
Thursday, February 1st: Wining Wife
Wednesday, February 7th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, February 8th: Novel Gossip
Monday, February 12th: SJ2B House Of Books
Tuesday, February 13th: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Thursday, February 22nd: The Geeky Bibliophile
Wednesday, February 28th: Comfy Reading
TBD: Instagram: @writersdream
TBD: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World

My final word: Despite my reservations about the internal descriptions and dialogue with OCD, and the childishness of Maisie, I really did enjoy this story. I wasn't a fan of Maisie's father Callum, and Katie's sister Delaney felt a little one-dimensional. But Katie was a highly fallible character that you could root for, Maisie was an endearing off-beat little kid, Lilah was the stepmom who surprised everyone with her strength and loyalty and determination, and Maisie's "Uncle Jake" was also a very flawed human being who I wound up liking. I would especially recommend this one for those who enjoy stories involving mental health, and those who like stories centered around family dramas. I will be happy to read this author again.

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble

My Rating:

Cover: B+
Writing Style: A-
Characters:  A-
Storyline/Plot: B+
Interest/Uniqueness: A-

The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

I received a copy of this book to review through TLC Book Tours and the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The book that I received was an uncorrected proof, and quotes could differ from the final release.  

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Introducing...The Promise Between Us by Barbara Claypole White

Introducing books through the first chapter or so...

Raleigh, North Carolina

Crouched in the corner of my baby girl's bedroom, we both shake, the three-legged mutt and the mother with a colony of fire ants multiplying in her brain. Hardly a fire-ant protection squad, but we would die to keep Maisie safe.

Ringo nudges my arm and wriggles close. His circle of trust is small, namely me, but then I rescued him after he collapsed in our driveway, deprived of food and love. Neither of us has eaten. I can't, and Ringo won't leave my side. Not tonight.

-- The Promise Between Us by Barbara Claypoole White

Friday, January 19, 2018

ON MY RADAR (1/19/18 edition): Books that have hit my radar...

Here are some books that have recently hit my radar and set off my alarm bells...

The Lucky Ones by Tiffany Reisz

They called themselves “the lucky ones.” They were seven children either orphaned or abandoned by their parents and chosen by legendary philanthropist and brain surgeon Dr. Vincent Capello to live in The Dragon, his almost magical beach house on the Oregon Coast. Allison was the youngest of the lucky ones living an idyllic life with her newfound family…until the night she almost died, and was then whisked away from the house and her adopted family forever.

Now, thirteen years later, Allison receives a letter from Roland, Dr. Capello’s oldest son, warning her that their father is ill and in his final days. Allison determines she must go home again and confront the ghosts of her past. She's determined to find out what really happened that fateful night--was it an accident or, as she's always suspected, did one of her beloved family members try to kill her?

But digging into the past can reveal horrific truths, and when Allison pieces together the story of her life, she'll learns the terrible secret at the heart of the family she once loved but never really knew.

A vivid and suspenseful tale of family, grief, love—and the dark secrets that bind everything together—Tiffany Reisz’s latest is enthralling to the final page.

Expected publication: February 13th 2018 by Mira Books
ISBN 0778331164 (ISBN13: 9780778331162)