Category Archives: Nonfiction

Review: The Bridge Ladies by Betsy Lerner

The Bridge Ladies cover

About The Bridge Ladies

A fifty-year-old Bridge game provides an unexpected way to cross the generational divide between a daughter and her mother. Betsy Lerner takes us on a powerfully personal literary journey, where we learn a little about Bridge and a lot about life.

By turns darkly funny and deeply moving, The Bridge Ladies is the unforgettable story of a hard-won—but never-too-late—bond between mother and daughter.

My Review

I’m a sucker for a mother-daughter story – the bond tightened, repaired or reignited, whatever the case, my interest always piqued. In this instance Betsy and her mother delve into long sought after questions requiring answers, vague memories revisited, clarified, and a quasi heart to heart. It’s a slow process especially since these are two incredibly headstrong women without the best communication skills. Progress made but I found myself frustrated with Betsy. She came across as unbending, judgmental and borderline disrespectful. Yes, the age span separating the two women is great, beliefs, social norms but I couldn’t shake the feeling Betsy was resistant to understand her mothers position, there were smatterings of moments when significant headway was made and then she slipped into the old unyielding Betsy. I kept wanting to shake Betsy and tell her to embrace her mother while she can, enjoy the present and let the past go, accept your mother before it’s too late. I’d like to believe Betsy picked up my subliminal thoughts and is drowning in a more than pleasant relationship today with her mother.

I found the stories of the other bridge ladies fascinating, reading of friendship, girlhood to adulthood, ups and downs was diverting. Times have and haven’t changed.

Great memoir of a mother-daughter dynamic combined with over fifty years of friendship and familiarity between women along with their individual struggles and successes. Reading this I was reminded of the fantastic relationship I shared with my mother, luckily it was streamlined without strife. Oh how I miss my mother, a beautiful woman I emulate daily, I was truly blessed, she is missed every second. Don’t miss out Betsy!

Betsy Lerner APAbout Betsy Lerner

Betsy Lerner is the author of The Forest for the Trees and Food and Loathing. She is a recipient of the Thomas Wolfe Poetry Prize, an Academy of American Poets Poetry Prize, and the Tony Godwin Prize for Editors, and was selected as one of PEN’s Emerging Writers. Lerner is a partner with the literary agency Dunow, Carlson & Lerner and resides in New Haven, Connecticut.

Find out more about Betsy at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Publisher: Harper Wave (May 3, 2016)

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Filed under 2016, May, Nonfiction, Review

Review: Clarina Nichols by Diane Eickhoff

Clarina Nichols

About Clarina Nichols

In 1827, when Clarina was a teenager, she remembers, “I had a longing desire to do good.” But America wasn’t ready for an ambitious, intelligent young woman. Clarina was supposed to get married and start a family. But her husband turned out to be abusive and a deadbeat. The law was of little help. Her situation seemed hopeless.

This is the amazing true story of how Clarina Nichols turned tragedy into triumph—and went on to help fuel the movement that created a brighter future for women everywhere.

My Review

Diane Eickhoff gives an extensive glimpse into Clarina Nichols the woman as well as her trifecta quest for temperance, abolition and women’s rights. Comprehensive, this book will appeal to all ages. Providing Nichols’ backstory including personal and championing tribulations, the reader is privy to a woman passionate in her quest. Eickhoff crafts a broad and interesting overview of history in the quest for women’s rights while citing key females involved as well as the plethora of unsung heroines.

Nichols gift of writing and oration garnered her notice and paved the way for her voice to be heard. Her intelligence enabled her to comprehend and command legal language, thus aiding women in compromising positions greatly. Nichols was the first to promote and educate the need for economic rights for women, the necessity for wives to separate their property and income from their respected spouse’s control. Her sacrifices and tenacity kept this woman striving for more for others. Her efforts along with countless other women made leaps and bounds for women of today.

Listed are the familiar to few, unfamiliar, if not unknown to many, names of pioneering women fighting for rights, sadly, their names should be familiar –

“Other pioneers remain largely unknown. Frances Wright. Angelina and Sarah Grimké. Lucretia Mott. Jane Swisshelm. Lucy Stone. Ernestine Rose. Sojourner Truth. Antoinette Brown Blackwell.”

“Paulina Wright Davis. Abby Kelley Foster. Frances Dana Gage. Matilda Joslyn Gage. Clarina Nichols. These women were as important to the future of this country and to liberty as the Founding Fathers of the 18th century or the Civil War generals of the 19th.”

Diane Eickhoff’s research and homage to both history and females should be acknowledged, outstandingly well done. Looking forward to more from Eickhoff.

About Diane EickhoffDiane Eickhoff AP

Diane Eickhoff grew up on a farm in Minnesota, taught school in Appalachia and New York, and helped edit a newspaper for an anti-poverty program in Alabama. She has written widely for publications aimed at high school and younger readers. Her biography, Revolutionary Heart, from which this book is adapted, was named a Kansas Notable Book and the winner of ForeWord magazine’s Book of the Year competition in biography, among other honors. She lives with her husband, author Aaron Barnhart, in Kansas City.

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Publisher: Quindaro Press (March 1, 2016)

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Filed under 2016, April, Nonfiction, Review

Review: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

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About Wild

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone.

My Review

It was a chore finishing this book, thank goodness I reached the end. Unimpressed in so many ways, what a complete idiot for even considering taking on the PCT without preparation-INSANE! If Cheryl whined one more time I swear I was going to crawl through the pages and slap her silly. What a self-absorbed, impulsive, immature woman. This woman has zero self-control not to mention she irritated me to no end. I feel as if I wasted my time reading this pointless book. The clincher – after her stroll through nature lovely Cheryl hasn’t really grown, she just wants her Snapple and a man between her legs. Fingers crossed she’s learned a lot more and grown up considerably since her great trek. Feminist my behind, stupid more fitting. Her writing was so so, off and on much like her, still a time waster.

About Cheryl Strayedimage

Cheryl Strayed is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir WILD, the New York Times bestsellers TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS and BRAVE ENOUGH, and the novel TORCH. Her books have been translated into forty languages around the world. WILD was chosen by Oprah Winfrey as her first selection for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. The Oscar-nominated movie adaptation of WILD stars Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl and Laura Dern as Cheryl’s mother, Bobbi. The film was directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, with a screenplay by Nick Hornby. Strayed’s essays have been published in The Best American Essays, the New York Times, the Washington Post Magazine, Vogue, Salon, The Sun, Tin House, and elsewhere. Strayed is the co-host, along with Steve Almond, of the WBUR podcast Dear Sugar Radio, which originated with her popular Dear Sugar advice column on The Rumpus. Strayed holds an MFA in fiction writing from Syracuse University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Published March 20th 2012 by Knopf (first published 2012)

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Filed under 2016, January, Nonfiction, Review

Review, Guest Post & Giveaway: Saved by the Bang by Marina Julia Neary

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About Saved by the Bang

Welcome to 1980s Belarus, where Polish denim is the currency, “kike” is a pedestrian endearment, and second trimester abortion can be procured for a box of chocolates. Antonia Olenski, PhD, a catty half-Jewish pianist and leading cock tease of the Gomel Music Academy, wavers between her flamboyant composer husband Joseph and a chivalrous tenor Nicholas. The Chernobyl disaster breaks up the love triangle, forcing Antonia into evacuation in the cumbersome company of her ugly eight-year old daughter Maryana. After a summer of cruising through Crimean sanatoriums and flirting with Afghan veterans, Antonia starts pining for the intrigues and scandals of the Academy. When the queen of cats finally returns home, she finds that another woman is wearing her crown. In the afterglow of nuclear fallout, artistic, ethnic and sexual rivalries emerge. How far will Antonia go to reclaim her throne?

My Review

Marina sure knows how to spin a yarn and this book is no exception. Perfect amount of comedy and tragedy as you are privy to the Olenski’s, a Soviet upper class family’s ride among the chaos and turbulence of 1990’s Russia.

Belarus is the focus as it celebrates its autonomy. Plenty of political sarcasm mixed with dark humor guide the reader gently through the brutality and harshness of the times.

Reading of Antonia and Maryana’s frantic flight from radiation fallout from the Chernobyl disaster, their lives dramatically altered from even more challenges as they eventually find their home in Connecticut is a journey not to be missed.

Antonia and Maryana are true survivors, making the best of challenges and obstacles, victorious in the end.

Wonderfully written, fans seeking satire on an autobiographical level will appreciate Marina’s story.

Guest Post

“Feminism is a game fat American housewives play to feel important.” In a nutshell, that was a very concise description my 1st grade teacher gave me in 1986 when I asked her to clarify the meaning of that word. Before you throw any rotten tomatoes at me, let’s take a step back to process that loaded statement in a historical context. There were so many myths and theories floating around on both sides of the Atlantic. Let’s take a moment to deconstruct them.

Weight issues and body image
In a society where food was scarce and public transportation unreliable, an average woman burned hundreds of calories on her way to work. Fat-shaming was rampant. Overweight individuals were perceived as gluttonous, lethargic and lacking self-control in a culture that praised mobility, industriousness and aggression. According to the late Soviet era ethos, some of the worst things you could be were fat and voluntarily unemployed aka “housewife”.

Gender roles (my favorite topic)
“Housewife” was a dirty word, synonymous with “slave” and “cripple”. Unlike their American sisters, Soviet women did not need to fight for their rights. Equality had been pretty much granted to them as result of the 1917 October Revolution. The new government took initiative to bust the old gender roles and minimize the gender gap in the workforce. From day one, girls were taught they could do everything that boys could. When asked which career path she wanted to pursue, a good Soviet girl was expected to reply, “engineering” or “space exploration” or “combat medicine”. If a girl replied “I just want to be a mom”, eyebrows would be raised. Her parents would probably get a call from the school principal.

In Saved by the Bang, my autobiographical satire, you have a fairly traditional matriarchal family, with three generations of achievement-oriented women: a civil engineer (Lily), a music professor (Antonia) and a lab technician and student body leader (Maryana). A woman’s worth is measured in her diplomas, medals, ribbons and certificates of appreciation.

Housing arrangements
Lack of housing in urban areas was – and continues to be – a major issue. You still have multi-generational families stuffed into one-bedroom apartment. It’s not unusual to have two children and a grandmother in one bedroom, and the parents in the living-room on the couch. In some families, certain members sleep on the balcony, in the hallway or in the kitchen. So home was not a place where you would want to spend too much of your time without tripping over other members. It’s a place to change your clothes, grab something quick to eat and spend the night. So if you don’t have the physical infrastructure for a home, it makes sense that you don’t have this religion around domesticity either.

Attitude towards Americans
By 1986 when the novel takes place nobody really feared that Americans were going to drop a nuclear bomb on Moscow. The Cold War was pretty much over. Still, there was a fair amount of antagonism towards American economic and social values, or at least what Soviets perceived them to be. I find it fascinating how Americans talk about the proverbial Anglo-Saxon work ethic, yet for a long time they were portrayed as fat and idle in Soviet media. Being married to one of those “capitalist fat cats” was probably the most demeaning position a woman could fathom.

Sexual agency
Soviet culture actually encouraged prudishness for men and women. The housing crisis and lack of privacy played into that doctrine nicely. Boys were taught that girls are “comrades first and foremost”, working towards the shared goal of making the Soviet Union an industrial and military leader. A model citizen was not to be overly interested in pleasures of the flesh. Until the 1990s premarital sex was frowned upon as an “extreme sport”. Adultery conviction could mean job loss. Having a colorful sex life was something “fat American housewives” did.

About Marina Julia Neary12274343_10154343296021978_2189503503859888400_n

A self-centered, only child of classical musicians, Marina Julia Neary spent her early years in Eastern Europe and came to the US at the age of thirteen. Her literary career revolves around depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the Irish Famine, to the Easter Rising in Dublin, to the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl some thirty miles away from her home town. Notorious for her abrasive personality and politically incorrect views that make her a persona non grata in most polite circles, Neary explores human suffering through the prism of dark humor, believing that tragedy and comedy go hand in hand.

Her debut thriller Wynfield’s Kingdom was featured on the cover of the First Edition Magazine in the UK and earned the praise of the Neo-Victorian Studies Journal. After writing a series of novels dealing with the Anglo-Irish conflict, she takes a break from the slums of London and the gunpowder-filled streets of Dublin to delve into the picturesque radioactive swamps of her native Belarus. Saved by the Bang: a Nuclear Comedy is a deliciously offensive autobiographical satire featuring sex scandals of Eastern Europe’s artistic elite in the face of political upheavals.

Don’t miss her acclaimed debut novel Wynfield’s Kingdom (2009, Fireship Press).

Connect with Marina: Website | Facebook

Links to Irish books: Brendan Malone: The Last Fenian | Martyrs & Traitors: a Tale of 1916  Never Be at Peace: a Novel of Irish Rebels

Giveaway

Enter to win a Amazon gift copy of Saved by the Bang. Open to US residents only. Ends 1/12/16.
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Saved by the Bang by Marina Julia Neary, published by Penmore Press LLC (December 8, 2015)

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Filed under 2016, Guest Post, January, Nonfiction, Review

First Book Of The Year 2016

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First Book Of The Year 2016

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About Saved by the Bang

Welcome to 1980s Belarus, where Polish denim is the currency, “kike” is a pedestrian endearment, and second trimester abortion can be procured for a box of chocolates. Antonia Olenski, PhD, a catty half-Jewish pianist and leading cock tease of the Gomel Music Academy, wavers between her flamboyant composer husband Joseph and a chivalrous tenor Nicholas. The Chernobyl disaster breaks up the love triangle, forcing Antonia into evacuation in the cumbersome company of her ugly eight-year old daughter Maryana. After a summer of cruising through Crimean sanatoriums and flirting with Afghan veterans, Antonia starts pining for the intrigues and scandals of the Academy. When the queen of cats finally returns home, she finds that another woman is wearing her crown. In the afterglow of nuclear fallout, artistic, ethnic and sexual rivalries emerge. How far will Antonia go to reclaim her throne?

Why Saved by the Bang

I appreciate Marina’s smart solid writing and content.  I’m curious to read this particular book sinply because it’s not my usual go to – satire, dystopian, historical, plus it’s loosely biographical, needless to say my interest is piqued. No better way to start 2016 by expanding my reading background with an extremely talented authoress.

About Marina Julia Neary12274343_10154343296021978_2189503503859888400_n

A self-centered, only child of classical musicians, Marina Julia Neary spent her early years in Eastern Europe and came to the US at the age of thirteen. Her literary career revolves around depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the Irish Famine, to the Easter Rising in Dublin, to the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl some thirty miles away from her home town. Notorious for her abrasive personality and politically incorrect views that make her a persona non grata in most polite circles, Neary explores human suffering through the prism of dark humor, believing that tragedy and comedy go hand in hand.

Her debut thriller Wynfield’s Kingdom was featured on the cover of the First Edition Magazine in the UK and earned the praise of the Neo-Victorian Studies Journal. After writing a series of novels dealing with the Anglo-Irish conflict, she takes a break from the slums of London and the gunpowder-filled streets of Dublin to delve into the picturesque radioactive swamps of her native Belarus. Saved by the Bang: a Nuclear Comedy is a deliciously offensive autobiographical satire featuring sex scandals of Eastern Europe’s artistic elite in the face of political upheavals.

Don’t miss her acclaimed debut novel Wynfield’s Kingdom (2009, Fireship Press).

Connect with Marina: Website | Facebook

Links to Irish books: Brendan Malone: The Last Fenian | Martyrs & Traitors: a Tale of 1916  Never Be at Peace: a Novel of Irish Rebels

 

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Filed under 2016, January, Nonfiction

Review: Stolen Years: Stories of the Wrongly Imprisoned by Reuven Fenton

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About Stolen Years: Stories of the Wrongly Imprisoned

There is a horrible murder in your neighborhood. You stand outside with your neighbors and watch, or maybe you peek out of your curtains. Hours pass, then days, maybe even years. Until one day there is a knock at your door, and the police take you in for questioning. Do you remember what happened? Do you have an alibi? Can you take countless hours of interrogation without breaking? Can this happen to you?

It can happen, and it happens more than you think.

From The Fixer to The Shawshank Redemption to Orange Is the New Black, books, films, and TV shows have, for decades, fed the public’s endless hunger for nitty-gritty details about prison life. Stolen Years will not deny listeners those details, but it will also offer something more satisfying: the stories of ten former inmates who fended off the blackest kind of despair so they could keep fighting for freedom; the years they spent waiting for an appeal; and their struggles to get back to living after losing so many years behind bars.

Intense, startling, and utterly compelling, Stolen Years will take readers into the stories of the ones who didn’t do it.

My Review

The stories presented here are full of heartbreak and betrayal and violence. But more than anything, they are about hope and redemption, about ten amazing people who fended off the blackest kind of despair to keep fighting for freedom.

Stolen Years knocked the wind out of me. Each story pulls at your heartstrings, you’re shredded emotionally. The ten innocent individuals serve as examples of how our judicial system is in dire need of a serious makeover. The scariest part – I could have been one of the 10 people in this book or worse my son, my father any of my loved ones could comprise the 2.3-5% wrongly convicted, absolutely unimaginable.

Despite the incredible loss these innocent people suffered, all they endured, demonstrating resiliencey, striving to survive, appreciate the right now and possess hope for tomorrow. Financial compensation cannot recapture all that’s lost or all that was or will never be but yet their positive outlook is humbling. Erasing a terrible wrong seems almost impossible, embracing their freedom, the clearing of their name, the possibility of a bright future through an unforgiving society is all they have to cling to. Let’s hope the system changes for the better so others are not wrongly convicted, torn away from their family, lives turned upside down.

I read this book months ago and yet I can’t shake it from my thoughts. A bittersweet story of a severe problem unspoken of requiring immediate correction.

Though it’s impossible to know for sure how many innocent people are in prison, studies have estimated that between 2.3 and 5 percent of inmates in the United States are innocent. That could put the number of the wrongfully convicted as high as one hundred thousand. Most of these people will serve their sentences to the end. This may happen because they’ve given up fighting or, more likely, because their fight is unwinnable for any number of reasons—the evidence was lost or destroyed, the fraudulent accuser refuses to recant, or they can’t find a lawyer to take their case. It needs to stop.

About Reuven FentonReuven_photo-226x300

Reuven Fenton has been covering murder and scandal for the New York Post since 2007. He has earned national recognition for his exclusive reporting on national stories, such as the resignations of political powerhouses Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner; Hurricane Sandy and the devastation it brought on New York and New Jersey; the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School; and the Boston Marathon bombing. Mr. Fenton was inspired to write Stolen Years after covering an unforgettable court hearing in 2013 in which a Brooklyn judge freed David Ranta, a man who’d been wrongfully convicted twenty-two years earlier of murdering a rabbi. The sensational story sparked an investigation into misconduct by both the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office and the lead detective in the case. Mr. Fenton is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and lives in New York City with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at reuvenfen.

Excited to be included in the tour for Stolen Years by Reuven Fenton. Be sure to click on the TLC banner to check out the entire tour schedule. Thank you TLC!

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Filed under 2015, Nonfiction, November, Review

Review: I’m Not Your “Baby” by Joy Jennings

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About I’m Not Your “Baby”

In this suspenseful and riveting memoir about a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Australian beach girl, Joy faces the battle of her life against the not-so-friendly bronzed Aussie bloke.

Through her raw, dark stories of frightening sexual assaults, shocking rapes, non-stop abuse, violation and street harassment, Joy Jennings shares of how she tried to make her way in her coastal home town, while being hounded, followed and tormented at every turn.

Her powerfully moving story throws you into a world of tradies, hoons and bogans, who behave in the world’s most vile, vulgar and sexist of ways. With her candid and compelling recollections of being choked to within an inch of her life, having her car window smashed into her face, being stalked and having men rip the very clothes from her body, this memoir will not only keep you captivated, but also astonish you with every page.

Readers will be taken on an unrelenting ride as they share Joy’s emotional journey. I’m Not Your “Baby” will have you fighting for our author who, with a determined heart, never gives up hope of finding love, peace and ultimate happiness.

This is not a story about demonizing the Australian male, but one that humanizes the victims.

My Review

Joy courageously tells her story of a life suffering of sexual, physical, verbal assault. Virtually every male Joy encounters from the tender age of eight through her forties, exhibited a degree of assault including rape. Her story is heartbreaking, uncomfortable and difficult to read but necessary as she completely bears her soul with the hope to assist other women in a similar predicament.

You read of Joy’s admitted lack of self-esteem which paralyzes her causing her to continually fall victim to these twisted men. Finding herself in awkward situations, her inability to defend herself against predators, her avoidance of confrontation, Joy became easy prey time after time, each scenario escalating, each scenario compromising Joy’s safety both physically and mentally. Her vulnerability, innocence, lack of knowledge raped repeatedly.

I couldn’t believe the behavior of men described, it is beyond disgusting. What infuriates me more than anything – these men see absolutely nothing wrong with their behavior, even more revolting.

Joy makes it perfectly clear her mission is to share her story to help others, to let them know they are not alone, there is help if you use your voice. ALL men should read this book, a perfect example of how unacceptable the described behavior is towards women. Objectification is never acceptable.

Joy demonstrates great bravery in sharing her story, I respect her purpose greatly.

About Joy Jennings2920181

Joy Jennings was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. At seventeen, Joy and her family moved to Queensland where she spent over thirty years living on the Gold Coast.

Following in the footsteps of her father, published author and newspaper columnist, Joy realized her own talents as a writer with the debut of her artfully crafted memoir.

Joy currently resides in Ontario, Canada and is a strong supporter of the Stop Street Harassment Organization and an advocate for the White Ribbon Campaign in Australia. It is Joy’s hope that through her work, she can educate young women on how to make the right decisions if experiencing sexual harassment or assault and wishes to remain focused on establishing herself in her new life and helping others.

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Filed under 2015, Nonfiction, November, Review

Review: Tiger Heart by Katrell Christie

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•Publisher: HCI (October 6, 2015)
•Paperback: 232 pages

Katrell Christie never intended to visit India. In fact, her ideal vacation was a tropical beach where she could relax with a margarita in her hand. But when this former art student turned roller-derby rebel met three teenage girls at a crowded Buddhist orphanage in Darjeeling, she knew she had to help. What started as a trip made on a whim would prove to be a life-altering experience that would change the fate of these lost girls.

GREAT read from an inspiring gal who took action to make a difference instead of talking about making a difference.

Christie reveals the menial beginnings of her project as well as the task of keeping it going. Each chapter tells of her journey, from the baby steps to the leaps to bring it to fruition and to keep it growing. She covers it all from selecting the young female candidates, fundraising, from learning to navigate India – travel, culture, customs etc., to the highs and lows, her successes and mistakes, along with joys and disappointments, this admirable woman shares all. Christie shares her personal life as well, you have a clear sense of this woman’s stellar character and her unflappable purpose.

I admire Christie’s dedication, commitment and drive. A woman of integrity she is determined to keep her efforts going no matter what, a woman of her word. Wonderful to read of the bonds she has developed with her girls as they deeply appreciate Christie and all she does, a total win-win for all.

The beautiful part of this book is Katrell Christie herself, she does not reveal her story in a boastful, hubris, self-serving manner at all. She is genuine and humble, a simple woman merely attempting to make a difference in less fortunate young women’s lives. She’s not seeking attention, only attention to her cause. Fabulous to read of someone giving completely from their heart without seeking anything in return but a quality life, endless opportunities for the girls she so desperately helps.

A feel good story without a doubt motivating and inspiring.

 

About Katrell Christie1396365622233-300x270

Katrell Christie is the founder and owner of The Learning Tea, a project which provides schooling and a safe haven for impoverished young women in India. Through her efforts with The Learning Tea, Ms. Christie has changed the lives of many women living in Darjeeling, India. Visit TheLearningTea.com for more information.

Shannon McCaffrey is an award-winning reporter focusing on investigative stories for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.She is an avid reader, a mother, and a runner.

Thrilled to be included in the tour for Tiger Heart by Katrell Christie. Be sure to click on the TLC banner to check out the entire tour schedule. Thank you TLC!

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Filed under 2015, Nonfiction, October, Review

Guest Post: Karen Abbott author of Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy

Raven Haired Girl is thrilled to welcome Karen Abbott, author of Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy

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Karen-Abbott-300x298Karen Abbott is the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City, American Rose, and, most recently, Liar Temptress Soldier, Spy, which was named one of the best books of 2014 by Library Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, Amazon, and Flavorwire, and which was optioned by Sony for a miniseries. A native of Philadelphia, she now lives in New York City, where she’s at work on her next book.

Find out more about Karen at her website.

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 Guest Post

 

When I decided to write about the Civil War, I immediately wondered what the women were doing during those four bloody years—especially the “bad” women, the defiant women, the women who would go to any length to serve their cause. Forget darning socks or sewing uniforms; I wanted to find four heroines who lied, seduced wheeled, plundered, plotted, spied, drank, avenged, stole, and murdered their way through the war. Here’s a primer on the women of LIAR, TEMPTRESS, SOLDIER, SPY (and maybe a hint or two—no spoilers!) about some of my favorite scenes in the book.

Confederate spy Belle Boyd was a 17-year-old girl living in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia when the war broke out. Belle was all id, and had no filter whatsoever. As a young girl, she once protested her exclusion at her parents’ dinner party by riding her horse into the dining room. In July 1861, Union forces marched into Belle’s hometown of Martinsburg and terrorized the residents, looting stores and stealing liquor and ransacking homes. When they reached Belle’s doorstep and threatened to raise a Union flag over her home, she shot one of them dead—and her career as a Southern spy was born.

She was a notorious seductress who targeted Union and Confederate men alike. One of her reported paramours—and forgive my sophomoric humor—was a Union gentleman by the name of Major Dick Long (this is why I love nonfiction; you can’t make this stuff up). She grew obsessed with Confederate general Stonewall Jackson, telling reporters she wanted to “occupy his tent and share his dangers” (which, if I were Stonewall, would’ve frightened me more than any potential attacks by the Union army). Belle was pure comic relief, a character unlike any I’d ever met, in fiction or in history—a sort of 19th century amalgamation of Sarah Palin and Miley Cyrus. I was always eager to see what she’d do or say next.

Union spy Emma Edmonds was 19 years old and living as a man named Frank Thompson when she enlisted as a private with the 2nd Michigan. She was one of an estimated 400 women who disguised themselves as men and fought for the Union or Confederate armies, and it was fascinating to research how these women got away with it. The primary reason, in my opinion: no one had any idea what a woman would look like wearing pants; the very concept was so unfathomable that they just couldn’t see it. Emma, who served as a courier, nurse, and spy, witnessed some of the bloodiest battles of the war and risked her life on several occasions. Meanwhile, she constantly feared that her sex might be discovered, which had potentially serious ramifications: arrest, charges of prostitution, and certain expulsion from the army—which for Emma, who desperately wanted to fight, would’ve been the worst fate of all.

She was an incredibly complex mix of strength and vulnerability; even under the harrowing conditions of war, she allowed herself to fall in love with a fellow Union solider named Jerome Robbins. I found Jerome’s diary at the University of Michigan, and it contained some very interesting entries about his “friend Frank Thompson”; Jerome had his suspicions about Emma from the very beginning: “I revere as a blessing the society of a friend so pleasant as Frank,” Jerome wrote, “though foolish as it may seem, a mystery appears to be connected with him which it is impossible for me to fathom.” The evolution of their rich, complicated relationship became one of my favorite storylines in the book.

Confederate spy Rose Greenhow was a grand dame of Washington DC society, and her entire life had fallen apart in the years leading up to the war. She had lost five children within four years, she lost her husband in a freak accident, and she lost her access to the White House; she had been close friends with numerous high-ranking Democratic politicians, even serving as an advisor to former president James Buchanan. She was desperate to regain her status as a Washington poker broker, so when a Confederate captain asked her to form an espionage ring in the Union capital, she immediately agreed. She began cultivating sources—and by “cultivating” I mean sleeping with—including many prominent Union politicians.

Rose had a quick and facile mind, and was always the smartest person in the room. When Union officials interrogated her, she was able to put them on the defensive in a few deft sentences. They didn’t know quite how to handle Rose: punish her and she’d become a Confederate martyr; treat her with leniency and she’d do considerable damage to the Union army. One flummoxed Lincoln official, speaking for the entire Union, asked, “What are we doing to do with these fashionable female spies?” They grappled with this question throughout the war, and Rose took full advantage of their timidity.

And the last, Union spy Elizabeth Van Lew, was the antithesis of Rose Greenhow. She was an abolitionist and Union sympathizer living in the Confederate capital of Richmond, and as discreet and cautious as Rose was brazen. And whereas Rose was a celebrated beauty, Elizabeth, according to a neighbor, “was never as pretty as her portrait showed.” She was a brilliant and astonishingly brave woman, someone whose contribution to the Union cause rivaled that of Ulysses S. Grant. Her greatest coup was placing a former family slave, Mary Jane Bowser, as a servant—and spy—in the Confederate White House. Of course no one knew that Mary Jane was highly educated and gifted with an eidetic memory, capable of memorizing images in a single glance, and recalling entire conversations word for word.

As the war progressed, Elizabeth’s spy ring—including Mary Jane and a host of other African-American operatives—delivered three dispatches a week to the Union army. Confederate detectives trailed Elizabeth wherever she went, and she often received terrifying death threats; one, written in red pencil, requested “some of your blood to write with” and was signed with a crude rendering of a skull and crossbones. As her spy ring grew, she had to be wary of whom to trust; every professed ally could be a Confederate operative eager to turn her in.

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About Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy

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Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow—who were spies.

After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives.

Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies’ descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war. With a cast of real-life characters including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoleon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy draws you into the war as these daring women lived it.

Thrilled to be included in the tour for Karen Abbott’s Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy. Be sure to click on the TLC banner to check out the entire tour schedule. Thank you TLC!

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Filed under 2015, Guest Post, Nonfiction, September

Review & Giveaway: Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis

Girl in the Woods (428x648)

•Hardcover: 384 pages
•Publisher: William Morrow (September 8, 2015)

In 2008, Aspen Matis left behind her quaint Massachusetts town for a school two thousand miles away. Eager to escape her childhood as the sheltered baby girl of her family, Aspen wanted to reinvent herself at college. She hoped that far from home she’d meet friends who hadn’t known her high school meekness; she would explore thrilling newfound freedom, blossom, and become a confident adult. But on her second night on campus, all those hopes were obliterated when Aspen was raped by a fellow student. Depressed and shocked that her school didn’t believe and protect her, she sought solace in a remote wilderness; she found the Pacific Crest Trail and hiked the entire length, over 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada.

I gotta say Aspen is one inspiring and courageous woman. Her mettle was unfortunately tested and she accepted the test with extreme grace and poise. I was impressed with this young lady, and I was thrilled her story ended as a happily ever after. A true survivor, a woman overcoming trauma with even more strength than she knew she possessed. No doubt whatever obstacles head towards Aspen she will triumph.

Aspen was very self-aware for your average 19-year-old. She wants more than being coddled by her intrusive mother. Thank goodness she realized there was more out there, that she was more and was determined to find who she was and her own way.

I was shocked by her parents/family pathetic reaction to her rape, I was blown away by their behavior. Her self-worth already teetering was pushed even farther to the brink. The absence of compassion and support was heartbreaking, explaining why Aspen’s hike was even more paramount. Topping it off was the school’s reaction as well, we begin to understand Aspen’s need to conquer the rugged terrain as the victor.

Yes, she made a few questionable choices out in the wild but she’s 19 years old and it’s all part of owning who you are. Luckily she learned from her errors and she remained relatively safe. I still can’t believe this young woman ventured off solo into such desolate space with a majority of her unknown hiking peers being male. She wanted to rid herself of her rape demons and boy what a gutsy way to reclaim your space. Girl power and bravery beyond belief!

My body ached reading Aspen’s story, this is one tough woman mentally, physically and emotionally. I had no doubt Aspen would more than succeed in her mighty trek, she served as an inspiration and I admire her tremendously. I only wish her mammoth hike was initiated under uplifting circumstances. I’m sure Aspen reflects on these early years and sighs in wonderment and disbelief, when the worst has happened everything else is a walk in the park.

Aspen Matis author photo

About Aspen Matis

Aspen Matis is a writer living in Greenwich Village, where she’s finishing her degree at The New School and working on a novel.

Connect with Aspen on Facebook and follow her on Instagram.

Giveaway

Enter for a chance to win a copy of Girl in the Woods, please complete the giveaway form below. Open to US residents only. Ends 9/24/15
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Thrilled to be included in the tour for Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis. Be sure to click on the TLC banner to check out the entire tour schedule. Thank you TLC!

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Filed under 2015, Nonfiction, Review, September