Friday, October 21, 2016

Our Man in Charleston by Christopher Dickey, 2015

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Between the Confederacy and recognition by Great Britain stood one unlikely Englishman who hated the slave trade. His actions helped determine the fate of a nation.
As the United States threatened to break into civil war, the Southern states found themselves in an impossible position: Their economic survival would require reopening the slave trade, banned in America since 1807, but the future of the Confederacy could not be secured without official recognition from Great Britain, which would never countenance such a move. How, then, could the first be achieved without dooming the possibility of the second? Believing their cotton monopoly would provide sufficient leverage, the Southerners publically declared the slave trade dead, even as rapacious traders quickly landed more and more ships on the American coast.
The unlikely man at the roiling center of this intrigue was Robert Bunch, the ambitious young British consul in Charleston, S.C. As he soured on the self-righteousness of his slave-loving neighbors, Bunch used his unique perch to thwart their plans, sending reams of damning dispatches to the Foreign Office in London and eventually becoming the Crown's best secret source on the Confederacy—even as he convinced those neighbors that he was one of them.
In this masterfully told story, Christopher Dickey introduces Consul Bunch as a key figure in the pitched battle between those who wished to reopen the floodgates of bondage and misery, and those who wished to dam the tide forever. Featuring a remarkable cast of diplomats, journalists, senators, and spies,
Our Man in Charleston captures the intricate, intense relationship between great powers as one stood on the brink of war.
(400 pages)

I actually read this over the summer, but I was just so busy working on applications and starting my classes that I couldn't find time to review it. Then I got a bunch more books to review, with actual deadlines staring me in the face, that kept distracting me from doing Our Man in Charleston. I'm finally getting more organized now–I put all the books I have for review into a calendar, and I force myself to methodically go through and read/review them in that order–and it's made me actually efficient at something for once, so now I'm reviewing Our Man in Charleston.

And honestly, I loved it. Every single word. This is the sort of historical nonfiction I adore, full of character studies and firsthand quotes and vivid descriptions that make it feel like a fictional novel. Books like Our Man in Charleston (and The Family Romanov, and A Night to Remember) are so amazing, because they really make the events they describe feel real. When I put down Our Man in Charleston, I not only finally understood the American Civil War (the motives, the conflict, the nature of the fighting), but I also saw how it fit into a grander global context. Before reading this, I had no idea that the rest of the world was even watching the Civil War, let alone how close Britain came to coming into it on the side of the South.

It's a horrible book at times, though. Bunch lived in Charleston, the heart of Southern rebellion, and some of the stories he tells about the way Southerners treated their slaves are absolutely sickening. Also, one of the biggest conflicts that sprung up between the North and the South, and one of the most hotly debated ones inside the South, was the question of whether or not America should reopen the slave trade with Africa. I kid you not, there was a shortage of slave labor and the most common Southern reaction was "okay, let's just go capture fresh Africans and ship them here. That will solve all of our problems!" I just . . . can't even think of anything to say about that. It takes a special kind of evil to think like that.

I don't know what else to say, besides read this! If you're at all confused by the forces behind the Civil War, read it. If you're a Civil War geek looking for an intimate, international angle, read it. If you're still trying to argue that the war had nothing to do with slavery and was really just about the right to secede, then please read it–and I dare you to come out the other side still talking about the "War of Northern Aggression."

I don't usually quote specific lines from the books I review, but I'll do it just this once because there's a quote I want to end with that perfectly encapsulate's South Carolina's attitude at the onset of the Civil War:
"Other nations, especially those enlightened and more old-fashioned in their notions, rebel, fight, and die for Liberty," wrote Bunch, while South Carolina "is prepared to do the same for slavery."
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Sherlock Mars by Jackie Kingon, 2016

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A riotous concoction: fine dining, virtual reality, and murder.
Molly Marbles runs a successful bistro on terraformed Mars. But a virtual restaurant opens near her place, offering the experience of delicacies from across the Solar System with none of the calories. What will this do to her business?
Then its owner is murdered in her kitchen. Molly, an amateur detective, springs into action to help the police solve the mystery, while also planning her pop-star daughter's wedding, keeping her kitchen staff from feuding, and protecting her cyborg friend from the humans-only mob. Meanwhile, the infamous Cereal Serial Killer has escaped prison on Pluto and has everyone worried. Things are getting hectic, but Molly is a resilient and resourceful woman. And her knack for mysteries sees her nick-named 'Sherlock Mars'.
A rollicking science fiction, mystery, comedy.

(266 pages)

Sherlock Mars is a really hard book to describe because it's so many things at once. Sure, it's a "science fiction, mystery, comedy" as the synopsis describes it. But there's much more to it than that. It's a futuristic envisionment of what will happen to the universe when human technology catches up with our addiction to colonization; it's also a philosophical take on the extent to which technology will replace lost body parts, and about the hateful prejudice/political turmoil that always springs up when the majority party feels threatened by the growth of a powerful minority–in this case, the development of androids who not only have electronic bodies but have also been given some huge functionality enhancements from their "natural" states. It's a really interesting scenario, watching the horrible hate that springs up between androids and the anti-enhancements groups. I can see both sides of the debate: androids are still human beings, and they shouldn't be discriminated against, but all the upgrades they get aren't exactly fair. It's one thing to save someone's life by giving them a new body, but it's another to give them software that provides them with unfair physical and mental advantages over non-enhanced humans, you know? That's just my take on things, though–and, taking a step back from things, I do feel slightly ridiculous getting into a political argument about androids of all things. It's a fascinating topic, though, and I honestly would have loved if the whole book had revolved around it.

Actually, the biggest trouble I had with Sherlock Mars was that there were just too many interesting storylines floating around. There are way too many characters, most of whom walk onto the page just a handful of times but who the reader is expected to recognize after the first time they show up. There were several times throughout the book when Molly would start talking to someone, and I would have to sit back and wrack my brains for a minute to figure out who they were. This also made it harder for me to recognize the important people (like suspects for the murder), because I'm too busy trying to keep straight all the myriad of people who work at Molly's bistro. Honestly, I suspect that Kingon was more fascinated by the futuristic world and culture that she had created than with the storyline herself; a few times, it definitely felt like she was just using the plot as an excuse for having Molly explore different parts of this world. Not that I'm complaining, though, because it was really fascinating to read about it (and Nirgal Palace, the resort where Molly's daughter is getting married, is absolutely amazing!).

Before I end, I should probably throw in a few negatives. First, I didn't like Molly's family–like, at all. Her daughters were prejudiced prima donas who only showed up to demand help for Becky's wedding or to groan and make rude faces whenever Molly mentioned her friend Trenton–just, as far as I can tell, because they didn't like associating with androids. Plus, Becky's future in-laws run with an extremely anti-android crowd (we're talking anti-android-rights protests). The other main negative is more of a content warning than anything: this is an adult book, not MG or YA, and it shows. Most of the content is fine, but once in a while the characters (who are all married) bring up questions/comments (never detailed) about having sex. Also, though it's never addressed in too much detail, one character is trans. These things barely hurt my enjoyment of the book, but I wanted to bring them up in case they'd affect your decision to read it.

This is getting incredibly long, so I'm going to stop. If you're interested in Sherlock Mars, then give it a try. I'm not going to scream "read it!" from the rooftops–I liked it, but the characters/pacing were a little strange, and as a rule of thumb I don't recommend adult books with racy comments/content–but I did enjoy Sherlock Mars. It made for a nice, silly (but still thought-provoking) break from my normal MG historical fiction and fantasy fare.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My mom's also old school friends with the company's founder (which is how he knew me to send it in the first place), but I tried not to let that influence my review too much.

Monday, October 10, 2016

In Case You Missed It by Sara Darer Littman, 2016

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Sammy Wallach has epic plans for the end of junior year over: Sneak out to the city to see her favorite band. Get crush-worthy Jamie Moss to ask her to prom. Rock all exams (APs and driver's).
With a few white lies, some killer flirting, and tons of practice, Sammy's got things covered. That is, until the bank her dad works for is attacked by hacktivists who manage to steal everything in the Wallach family's private cloud, including Sammy's entire digital life. Literally the whole world has access to her emails, texts, photos, and, worst of all, journal.
Life. Is. Over.
Now Sammy's best friends are furious about things she wrote, Jamie thinks she's desperate, and she can barely show her face at school. Plus, her parents know all the rules she broke. But Sammy's not the only one with secrets -- her family has a few of its own that could change everything. And while the truth might set you free, no one said it was going to be painless. Or in Sammy's case, private.

(320 pages)

The first thing that struck me about Sammy Wallach was that she's really similar to me in a lot of ways. She's a junior; I'm a senior. She's taking four AP exams; I just took four AP exams, and am going to do it again next year. She's training for her driver's test; I'm training for mine (and bonus: my mother used to be every bit as anxious a passenger as hers is). As the story continued, more similarities emerged–we've both never dated, we both live a huge portion of our lives online, we both–well, actually, that would be veering into spoiler territory.

The second big realization I had about Sammy, though, was that while we share a lot of lifestyle habits and pressures, we are two extremely different people. I would never, ever sneak out to a concert - especially not by lying to my parents about going to an AP study sleepover. I would also never calculate my exact odds of being asked out by my crush. With those two actions out of the way, I think the impact of having my information leaked online would be a lot less emotionally devastating than it was for Sammy. I don't know, though, I suppose there are probably embarrassing things about me in my files. You never truly understand how terrible something would be until you're dealing with it yourself.

The fact remains, though, that I had a hard time really feeling as sympathetic about Sammy's situation as I was probably expected to. The truth is that I've been in her shoes–or at least, shoes very similar to hers. I can understand the pressures Sammy was dealing with before the leak, because they're the same pressures that I deal with every day. Heck, I'm a senior–my life is pressure, more pressure than she faces (before the leak, of course). But when I'm upset, I don't lie to my parents or sneak out to forbidden concerts (or even write nasty things in an online diary). Instead, I lie in bed and watch tv. I read a novel. I put my thoughts in order, and review a book that's been poking at my conscience for a while. It's hard for me to get past Sammy's actions, because I just can't stand the way she used the "I'm a good, overworked and stressed out kid" line. That excuse just doesn't hold water with me.

I think there's some character growth by the end of the book, though. Sammy still isn't my favorite character ever, but life throws her some major curveballs that both teach her to put life in perspective and make her more sympathetic to read about. Also, the romance subplot is really, really sweet! I hope I get to date a guy like that someday.

Anyway, I'm not going to recommend In Case You Missed it as the best book ever. It's pretty good as entertainment, though, and raises some interesting issues about innate racism and sexism in the job market (even if it does choose about two examples of each and return to them ad nauseum). I enjoyed it pretty well, though  not as much as I'd hoped I would. If you've read it, what did you think? Would you recommend it to others?

And also, on a completely unrelated note, since when do we say that someone is "a racist" instead of that they're "racist?" Is that some sort of new phrasing I've just been really ignorant about? Because Sammy and her friends are always saying things like "I'm not a racist," "you could be a racist," "she's a racist," etc. It caught me pretty off-guard.

Disclaimer: I received an unsolicited copy of this novel for review from the publisher.

Friday, October 7, 2016

NKJV Study Bible from Thomas Nelson, 2016

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The NKJV Study Bible, the most comprehensive study Bible available, now available in a handy personal size with words of Christ in red! The acclaimed NKJV Study Bible is the most complete study system for all who desire accurate study in God’s Word. The Second Edition includes more features to make it the best all-purpose study Bible. Using the trusted New King James Version, The NKJV Study Bible has “the mind of a scholar and the heart of a pastor.” Nelson's skilled team of scholars has produced the system to reach for when study in God’s Word is the goal.
Features include: • NEW attractive new full-color page design • NEW stunning Bible-land photos and graphics • NEW in-text maps and charts • Full cross-references with textual notes • Word studies and indexes • Bible Times and Culture Notes • Book introductions, outlines, and timelines • Reader-friendly notes and articles ideal for extended study • Deluxe NKJV Concordance including proper names
Part of the Signature Series line of Thomas Nelson Bibles
NKJV Study Bibles sold to date: More than 1.3 million
The New King James Version®—More than 60 million copies sold

(2400 pages)

From time to time, I see a Bible available for review on BookLook Bloggers. Normally this isn't a big issue for me, because I only get two credits for requesting at a time so I don't feel the slightest desire to spend one on a Bible (especially since I already have about six here at home!). A few months ago, though, the options were particularly slim–all the good books had already been snapped up for the month–and I had a credit to burn. I figured, why not? I'll request a Bible! I'd already learned that I didn't like ugly hardback Bibles, so I went with this nice-looking paperback one. And by paperback, I thought it meant that the picture was just the box it came in and then the Bible itself would be leatherbound.

I guess I need to read the fine print more closely. Because when they say paperback, they mean paperback. And that ugly picture you see up there? Yeah, that's literally what's printed on the outside of the Bible. Yuck. Also, this thing is shaped like a brick. It's got about the same proportions as one, too–very short, squat, and heavy. Not attractive at all.

Honestly, I can't really get over this Bible's outward ugliness. I've barely been able to make myself use it at all. Flipping through it, though, the font seems like a reasonable size (though it might be a tad small if you have vision problems). The text itself fills about two-thirds of the page, and the bottom third is made up of notes on the text. I also see a variety of maps, tables, cultural notes, etc. scattered throughout the entire Bible, and detailed introductions at the beginning of each book. The maps and pictures featured in the introductions are all done in full color, which is–ironically enough, looking at the cover–pretty aesthetically pleasing.

I don't know, I like my books to be attractive on the outside. I like to pick them up, stroke them in appreciation for a minute, and then open them up. There's no attractiveness to this one, so I know I won't be motivated to use it any time soon. I'd much rather study from my pretty pink leather-bound Bible! The biggest perk of this particular study Bible, though, is that it's only thirty dollars. I suppose, if I actually had to pay for a new Bible, that would be a pretty huge note in its favor.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this Bible from the publisher through the BookLook Program.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Dive! by Deborah Hopkinson, 2016

Welcome to the eleventh stop on the Dive! blog tour! My task today is to review Dive!, so let's jump straight into it.


Dive! World War II Stories of Sailors & Submarines in the Pacific tells the incredible story of America's little known "war within a war" -- US submarine warfare during World War II.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US entered World War II in December 1941 with only 44 Naval submarines -- many of them dating from the 1920s. With the Pacific battleship fleet decimated after Pearl Harbor, it was up to the feisty and heroic sailors aboard the US submarines to stop the Japanese invasion across the Pacific.
Using first-person accounts, archival materials, official Naval documents, and photographs, award-winning author Deborah Hopkinson brings the voices and exploits of these brave men to life.
(384 pages)

This is a really hard book to review.

I can't analyze the characters, or question the plot, or take note of the writing style. I can't do any of that because this isn't a fictional novel. Everything in Dive! is true, which makes it a thousand times harder for me to critique.

Did I enjoy reading it? Sort of. It is a book about submariners in WWII, you know. So many people died in the war–and the casualty rates for men serving aboard submarines was way higher than for those in any other service. It's really depressing to read about all these men on board the ships, living their strange claustrophobic lives deep under water and fighting to protect the country they loved. About half of the book is actual firsthand quotes from submariners; the tragedy is that the book features accounts from so few men. There were several times when I went "ooh, why don't we have a firsthand account from XYZ's point of view?" But then a chapter or two later Hopkinson would say "on its next patrol, his submarine was sunk and everyone aboard died." That really put a downer on, well, everything.

Dive! was a very good book, though. Amazing, really, from a historical perspective. As I said before, the text is about half made up of direct quotes from men who actually served in the submarines and lived through the events that made history. The other half of the text, then, is Hopkinson's own descriptions of people and events that couldn't be described firsthand. Interspersed throughout the regular narrative are also inserts ranging in length from a single paragraph to two-page entries, discussing everything from the way attack strategies changed after Pearl Harbor to opportunities for African American submariners during the war to a detailed description of the logistics involved in having an ice cream maker installed aboard the USS Trigger. There's also a plethora of black-and-white pictures, which are absolutely breathtaking to look at. The images are both fascinating and horrible, full of grinning captains, relaxing submariners, sinking ships, and slim metal ships. Fascinating, because we get such an intimate look at what life was like for the submariners; horrible, because we find out over the course of the book that oh-so-many of those grinning young men died in the very metal ships in which they were photographed.

The narrative focuses on military tactics, but it also dives (pun intended!) into all the various other ways submarines were used during the war. My favorite side topics were refugees (there's a fascinating chapter about Lucy Wilson, a nurse evacuated from Corregidor) and pets (so many adorable dogs were adopted by the crews of the different ships!).  Scattered throughout the book are tips for researching deeper into specific topics, links to sites and museums connected to submarines, etc. The end of each "part"–a part being one year of the war–there's a handy timeline that lists out all the main events that happened in the year that has just been covered. In the end section there's also a plethora of resources that includes a list of all the submarines lost throughout the war, a "Facts and Figures" sheet, a roster of all the people (and animals) discussed throughout the book, a diagram of a submarine, a list of the most successful submarines, a glossary, extra resource links . . . yikes, my fingers are getting tired just listing these all out! Let's see, almost done: a (very robust) bibliography, about eighteen pages of source notes (like I said, there were a lot of firsthand quotes in this book!), and an index.

Whew. As you can probably tell, this book is designed to be the perfect starting point for studying all things submarine. And as you can probably also tell, it succeeds with flying colors. Dive! is an amazing resource, full of everything I could have ever wanted to know about submarines during WWII and then some. For those who want more, it's also packed full of advice and resources for doing so. In my book, that earns it an extra gold star. This is a serious research book, but it's still completely approachable as a middle grade read–and, in the midst of some pretty horrible stuff, it still managed to be downright hilarious from time to time. All in all, it's an amazing read and I'm glad I had the opportunity to read it. If you're interested at all in WWII submarines, then you absolutely need to check it out!

About the Author:
Deborah Hopkinson is as award-winning of picture books, fiction, and nonfiction for young readers. In 2013 she received a Robert F. Sibert Honor and YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award honor for Titanic: Voices from the Disaster.
She has won the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text twice, for A Band of Angels and Apples to Oregon. Sky Boys, How They Built the Empire State Building, was a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor awardee. She lives near Portland, Oregon.
The Great Trouble, A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel won the OCTE Oregon Spirit Award and was named a Best Book of 2013 by School Library Journal and an Oregon Book Award finalist.
Visit her on the web at and follow her on Twitter at @deborahopkinson.


Thanks again to Deborah Hopkinson for appearing! For other stops on the Dive Blog Tourplease check

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel so I could participate in the blog tour.