The three most important parts of a book are: a well constructed plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

FREEMAN by Leonard Pitts Jr.

Freeman by Leonard Pitts Jr.Publisher:  Agate Bolden
Date Released:  May 2012
Pages:  432

About the Book:  Freeman, the new novel by Leonard Pitts, Jr., takes place in the first few months following the Confederate surrender and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Upon learning of Lee's surrender, Sam--a runaway slave who once worked for the Union Army--decides to leave his safe haven in Philadelphia and set out on foot to return to the war-torn South. What compels him on this almost-suicidal course is the desire to find his wife, the mother of his only child, whom he and their son left behind 15 years earlier on the Mississippi farm to which they all "belonged."

At the same time, Sam's wife, Tilda, is being forced to walk at gunpoint with her owner and two of his other slaves from the charred remains of his Mississippi farm into Arkansas, in search of an undefined place that would still respect his entitlements as slaveowner and Confederate officer. 

The book's third main character, Prudence, is a fearless, headstrong white woman of means who leaves her Boston home for Buford, Mississippi, to start a school for the former bondsmen, and thus honor her father’s dying wish.

At bottom, Freeman is a love story--sweeping, generous, brutal, compassionate, patient--about the feelings people were determined to honor, despite the enormous constraints of the times. It is this aspect of the book that should ensure it a strong, vocal, core audience of African-American women, who will help propel its likely critical acclaim to a wider audience. At the same time, this book addresses several themes that are still hotly debated today, some 145 years after the official end of the Civil War. Like Cold Mountain, Freemanilluminates the times and places it describes from a fresh perspective, with stunning results. It has the potential to become a classic addition to the literature dealing with this period. Few other novels so powerfully capture the pathos and possibility of the era particularly as it reflects the ordeal of the black slaves grappling with the promise--and the terror--of their new status as free men and women.

Wanda's Review:  Although the civil war has ended, the wounds run deep in the South. The Negroes are free, but left to fend for themselves in a hostile and resentful land. They are rootless, homeless, wandering about, looking for their families, trying to get back that which can never be retrieved.

This gifted writer weaves three stories together about Sam, Tilda and Prudence who are living in the aftermath of the civil war, an unforgettable period of history.

Sam, a former Union soldier, works at the Library of Philadelphia. His voice is free from any trace of Negro dialect and his enunciation is perfect. He likes using big words on people who presume to treat him less than he is just because he is a Negro. It has been fifteen years since Sam has seen his wife, Tilda. He has no idea if she is still alive, but is determined to find her. He sets out on foot to Mississippi – until just recently, enemy territory. He encounters many problems along the way, but nothing deters him as he trudges on. Will love endure for Sam and Tilda?

Prudence Kent, a widow living in Boston, is a spirited, but feisty woman. She hates slavery and feels it her duty to help civilize the Negro race, to instruct them to the limits of their abilities.

Bonnie, a daughter of a Negro slave, was brought to Boston by Prudence’s father many years earlier and raised with Prudence – growing up as sisters.

And so — Prudence, a woman with a Yankee accent, is traveling with Bonnie, a Negro, into the South to set up a school for the Negroes. Prudence carries with her the strong spirits of her father and late husband. Prudence believes the Negroes should be treated as equals, but the people in Buford, Mississippi believe she is sowing confusion and discontent and consequences will follow. She meets up with powerful people who do not want her interference. They have lost their way of life and are still resisting the Negro as their equal. The Negroes should still be performing their natural function – to serve their white superiors.

You will really disappear into another place and time – a very sad time in our history. This is a story with a rich blend of history, romance, and drama, and I was totally captivated.   It's been awhile back that I read this book, but it's a storyline that stays with you.  An enthralling read! I highly recommend. 5 stars

About the Author - Leonard Pitts Jr.  
Leonard Pitts, Jr., is an award-winning columnist and the author of the novel Before I Forget; the collection Forward From this Moment: Selected Columns, 1994–2009, and Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood.

Sean Crisden is a multitalented actor and an AudioFile Earphones Award–winning narrator who has recorded audiobooks in almost every genre, from science fiction to romance. He has also voiced characters in numerous video games and appeared in many commercials and films, including The Last Airbender.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

THE SKIN OF WATER by G. S. Johnston

The Skin of Water by G.S.  JohnstonAmazon Digital Services
Pages:  255
Release Date:  January 23, 2012

About the Book:  Passions flare and alliances shift in this breathtaking story of survival set during the final days of World War II in Hungary.

Young Zeno dreams of moving to Budapest and becoming a great filmmaker in the Hungarian film studios. But one evening he follows Catherine Steiner, a guest at the exclusive lakeside resort where he works as a bellboy, into the forest. Unknowingly he dives into her life, changing his forever.

Her husband is a wealthy industrialist with the power to create – or crush – Zeno. Despite Catherine’s protests, Zeno moves to Budapest and takes a servant’s job in the Steiner house, shining her husband’s shoes while hearing the family’s secrets.

All Zeno and Catherine have are precious hours in a secret apartment, tucked above the uneasy streets of a city at war, their affair a flimsy wall against a future no one can see or predict. Until it arrives.

Wanda's Review:  I absolutely loved this book! This is a story rich in history, drama, and romance that ropes you in from the get-go and keeps you hanging on throughout. 

War was raging across Europe, but Hungary had remained immune. German troops had marched through the streets and roads of Hungary, but no bombs had fallen and Budapest had remained untouched. 

It was the summer of 1943, in Hungary, that 17 year old Zeno Czibula first saw Catherine Steiner. He did what he always did - he began filming this beautiful, stunning woman whom he had followed into the deep forest and then into the lake. He approaches her and talks to her briefly, but long enough to realize she was older than he expected, probably in her mid 30s. She was beautiful beyond any face he'd ever seen and spoke with a soft French accent. Zeno was captivated by Catherine early on and could not get her out of his thoughts. He knew immediately that he was out of her league. He was just a bellboy at the Hotel Hungary. It was his day off and he was absolutely forbidden in this part 0f the forest, reserved for guests only. Zeno and Catherine are linked together by two secrets. Zeno witnessed Catherine's reckless actions at the lake and Catherine witnessed Zeno's trespassing in the forest. 

Catherine was born in France, but has lived in Hungary for twenty five years, trapped in a loveless marriage. She rarely sees her husband, Sandor. Her life is one big facade - hidden by a web of lies and deceit. She very often stays at a secret apartment where she and Zeno begin an affair. 

Sandor Steiner, a Hungarian businessman, is not exactly the son the Steiner family was proud of. He is incredibly lazy and is known as being a womanizer, with a long list of women. One day Sandor calls Zeno to his suite. He was losing his personal valet and offers the job to Zeno. It would mean moving to Budapest, living in the same house as Catherine. While he worked for Sandor, with an unbelievable generous wage, he'd be able to explore the possibility of work in the film studios, a longtime dream of Zeno. 

And then it happened - the Germans, vicious fanatics, were invading Budapest and taking control. The madness of the world had come upon Hungary. And the story unfolds ---

Other characters - 
Peter Kresz is married to Erzsebet, Sandor's sister. He has worked in the Steiner family's business for years, elevating himself to high management. He worked with a zest that Sandor lacked and the staff maintained that he was the "better son" despite the lack of a blood line. 
Tibi is 25 years old, with a film star's looks, who lived in Budapest, but each summer came down to the lake to work. Tibi was a rather ruthless character. 
Gertrud was an interesting character who worked for Catherine and was in love with Zeno. It was difficult to know if she could be trusted. 

The Skin of Water is a book to be savored and a great read for historical fiction fans with a storyline full of interesting revelations. It has a well constructed plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion. Don't miss this one. I highly recommend with 4.5 stars. 
You can also follow my reviews onhttp://www.bookreviewsbywanda.blogspo... and Twitter @ghmstudio.

The Author - G. S. Johnston
Image of G. S. JohnstonWebsite -

G.S. Johnston is an author of two historical novels, The Skin of Water and Consumption, noted for their complex characters and well-researched settings.
In one form or another, Johnston has always written, at first composing music and lyrics. After completing a degree in pharmacy, a year in Italy re-ignited his passion for writing and he completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature. Feeling the need for a broader canvas, he started writing short stories and novels.
Originally from Hobart, Tasmania, Johnston currently lives in Sydney, Australia with two cats - home-loving Reba and the wayward Rose - and Miss Mia, a black and white cuddle dog.
He would be impressed with humanity if someone could succeed in putting an extra hour in every day.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

THE SOLDIER'S WIFE by Margaret Leroy

The Soldier's Wife by Margaret LeroyPublisher:  Hyperion
Date Released:  June 2011
Pages:  416

About the Book:  Vivienne de la Mare lives at Le Colombier, an old farmhouse in a secluded valley on Guernsey in the Channel Islands, with her two daughters and her acerbic mother-in-law who suffers from dementia. Vivienne's husband is away in the army, and the marriage is an unhappy one, regardless. And then the Germans arrive. Vivienne does what she can to “keep up the side.” She rations, grows vegetables, and looks out for her children and neighbors. But she did not expect to fall in love with Gunther, the handsome, brooding German officer who has moved in next door. Though she knows the perils of their love, she believes that she can keep their relationship—and her family—safe. But when she becomes aware of the full brutality of the Occupation, Vivienne must decide if she is willing to risk her personal happiness for the life of a stranger. A novel of grand passion and dark secrets, The Soldier's Wife hauntingly asks, What would you do for your family? What should you do for a stranger?

Wanda's Review:  The Soldier's Wife takes place in Guernsey during the German Occupation of WWII. Vivienne de la Mare embraces the simplicity of life in Guernsey, content to live in the quiet of the secluded valleys with her flowers, piano and poetry. Vivienne's husband, Eugene, is fighting in the English army and she is living with her mother in law, Evelyn, and her two daughters, Blanche and Millie. 

The character of Blanche, the eldest daughter, reads the Bible and prays. A part of her is frivolous and a part that is reflective and rather serious. Millie, a favorite of mine, is the youngest daughter and a very robust little girl that just makes you smile. I absolutely loved the relationship Vivienne had with Millie, which is a very important part of the story. Evelyn, the mother in law of Vivienne is not the easiest of people - not easy to like. 

Four German soliders are occupying a house next door to Vivienne's home. In time an affair develops between Vivienne and one of the soldiers, Gunther. Gunther goes out of his way to be kind to Vivienne. She had been living in a loveless marriage with Eugene almost from the beginning and finds it easy to fall in love with this German soldier. And the story continues on through the war.

The prose and beautiful imagery really solidifies the story. It made the chapters flow and captured the time period of this story really touching my emotions. There were parts that move too slowly, but I'm glad I kept reading. A beautifully written story that I highly recommend. 

About the Author:  
I grew up in the New Forest. As a child I wrote elaborate fantasy stories that I never showed to anyone. But around age 12 I stopped writing, and didn't start again till my mid-twenties.

I went to Oxford to study music, at St. Hilda's College. In my twenties I tried all sorts of things - music therapy, play-leading with children with disabilities, work in a toy shop, teaching. I also got married - and divorced. Finally I found work I really enjoyed, as a social worker: I qualified at Leicester University, and worked in psychiatry and then in child protection. It's a reviled profession but I found it fascinating: though, intriguingly, in my writing social workers are more likely to be villains than heroes. Around this time I met Mick, who is now my husband - and I started writing again. I became a full-time(ish) writer after our younger daughter was born.

Monday, November 25, 2013

MRS LINCOLN'S DRESSMAKER by Jennifer Chiaverini

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer ChiaveriniPublisher:  Plume
Release Date:  January 15, 2013
Pages:  352

About the Book:  In Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, novelist Jennifer Chiaverini presents a stunning account of the friendship that blossomed between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Keckley, a former slave who gained her professional reputation in Washington, D.C. by outfitting the city’s elite. Keckley made history by sewing for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln within the White House, a trusted witness to many private moments between the President and his wife, two of the most compelling figures in American history.

In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose Keckley from among a number of applicants to be her personal “modiste,” responsible not only for creating the First Lady’s gowns, but also for dressing Mrs. Lincoln in the beautiful attire Keckley had fashioned. The relationship between the two women quickly evolved, as Keckley was drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, supporting Mary Todd Lincoln in the loss of first her son, and then her husband to the assassination that stunned the nation and the world. 

Keckley saved scraps from the dozens of gowns she made for Mrs. Lincoln, eventually piecing together a tribute known as the Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt. She also saved memories, which she fashioned into a book, Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Upon its publication, Keckley’s memoir created a scandal that compelled Mary Todd Lincoln to sever all ties with her, but in the decades since, Keckley’s story has languished in the archives. In this impeccably researched, engrossing novel, Chiaverini brings history to life in rich, moving style.

Wanda's Review:  Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker is a very informative and wonderful read for historical fiction fans with much detail about the Civil War. I read this book awhile back, but still think about it on occasion - the sign of a good book.

This is the story of Elizabeth Keckley, a Negro slave who purchases her freedom and her son's for twelve hundred dollars. Mrs. Keckley was a strong and modest woman who displayed much compassion throughout the story. She was fortunate to be literate because it was illegal for slaves to read and write, but her former slave owners did not forbid their slaves to learn. 

The story begins in 1860 and Abraham Lincoln has just been elected the sixteenth President of the United States. The new First Lady has a fine taste for fashion and hires Elizabeth Keckley as her dressmaker and the story unfolds. 

The Washington elite begin to snub Mrs. Lincoln and she becomes increasingly lonely. Elizabeth is very sympathetic and soon she is Mrs. Lincoln's confidante and her only true friend. Mary Todd Lincoln begins spending money with unrestrained delight by refurbishing the White House. As necessary as the purchases seem, there is a war going on and many soldiers are going without tents or blankets and it just doesn't look well for the First Lady to be spending money on furnishings for the White House. Mrs. Lincoln was determined to transform the White House into a showplace even though the congressional allowance would not stretch far enough to cover it all. 

Meanwhile ---- Mrs. Keckley is becoming the best-known and most coveted dressmaker in Washington, becoming popular with all the Union women. Elizabeth Keckley has the utmost respect for the President. She has never known another man with such nobility of soul and greatness of heart, but she wonders why Mrs. Lincoln can not see these qualities in the President. He does not always receive the much needed affection from the First Lady. Mrs. Keckley doesn't approve of Mrs. Lincoln's excessive spending and contracting such debts, but she would never allow anyone to disparage Mrs. Lincoln in her presence - she remained her best and kindest friend.

I recommend that you take the time to read this book with many revealing insights about this period of history. You will not be disappointed.

Only one negative comment - the last few chapters seemed to drag on and my interest waned a bit. Because of this I gave the book  4  stars.

Jennifer Chiaverini
About the Author - Jennifer Chiaverini

Jennifer Chiaverini is the author of ten Elm Creek Quilts novels and An Elm Creek Quilts Sampler and An Elm Creek Quilts Album, as well as Elm Creek Quilts and Return to Elm Creek, two collections of quilt projects inspired by the series, and is the designer of the Elm Creek Quilts fabric lines from Red Rooster fabrics. She lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin.

* The Quilter's Apprentice (1999)
* Round Robin (2000)
* The Cross-Country Quilters (2001)
* The Runaway Quilt (2002)
* The Quilter's Legacy (2003)
* The Master Quilter (2004)
* The Sugar Camp Quilt (2005)
* The Christmas Quilt (2005)
* Circle of Quilters (2006)
* The Quilter's Homecoming (2007)
* The New Year's Quilt (2007)
* The Winding Ways Quilt (2008)
* The Quilter's Kitchen (2008) 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

WAKE: A Novel by Anna Hope

Wake by Anna Hope
Author:  Anna Hope
Publisher:  Random House
Expected Release Date:  February 11, 2014
Pages:  304

About the Book:  A brilliant debut for readers of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, in which three women must deal with the aftershocks of WWI and its impact on the men in their lives-a son, a brother and a lover. Their tragic connection is slowly revealed as the book unfolds.

Hettie, a dance instructress at the Palais, lives at home with her mother and her brother, mute and lost after his return from the war. One night, at work, she meets a wealthy, educated man and has reason to think he is as smitten with her as she is with him. Still there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach...Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, more and more estranged from her posh parents, she looks for solace in her adored brother who has not been the same since he returned from the front...Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband of 25 years has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out of work veterans. But when he shows signs of being seriously disturbed-she recognizes the symptoms of "shell shock"-and utters the name of her son she is jolted to the core...

The lives of these three women are braided together, their stories gathering tremendous power as the ties that bind them become clear, and the body of the unknown soldier moves closer and closer to its final resting place.

Wanda's Review:  The stories of three women in London are cleverly woven together in this historical fiction novel. The common denominator was that their lives were all changed by World War I, but they all have a story of their own. The seemingly unrelated threads eventually all come together as the story unfolds over a period of five days and the characters struggle to cope with the difficult realities of grief and the aftermaths of World War I. 

Hettie is a dance instructress at Palais and gives half her weekly wages to her mother and her useless brother, Fred, who has deep seeded problems.  She has her own personal heartaches to get over and problems to resolve.

Evelyn, my favorite character, is from a wealthy family, but works in a pension office. She has a brother, Edward, to whom she was very close at one time, but now they barely speak. The war has hardly seemed to scar Edward and he has a limitless ability to dispense his charm. 

Ada has been married to Jack for 25 years. They have a son who is lost at war, but Ada is convinced he is alive. One day a young man appears on her doorstep selling notions and mentions her son's name, but quickly disappears. Ada also thinks she sees her son on the street.  She is also dealing with marital problems.

There were some interesting historical details brought to light as an unknown warrior is brought to London for burial. This part of the story is well done and really draws you in. 

Unfortunately the three stories are slow to pick up momentum and as a result the storyline fell a bit flat for me, not being as compelling as I had hoped. In many ways the story was touching and poignant, but the stories of the three women felt unnatural - a bit forced. Also, the characters failed to capture my heart and I didn't feel a satisfying conclusion to the storyline - just being lukewarm. But, on a positive note - the author cleverly evoked the flavor of this time in history. 

An interesting storyline, but not one I'd enthusiastically recommend. 3 stars. 
I was given a copy of this book from LibraryThings Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

ELOISE by Judy Finnegan

Eloise by Judy FinniganPublisher:  Redhook
Release Date:  September 17, 2013
Pages:  384

About the Book:  Yesterday I almost saw her.

I was standing on the sun deck, looking out to sea, revelling in the unexpected warmth of the February sun. A butterfly trembled on a nearby buddleia and suddenly I smelled her perfume.

She wasn't there, of course. How could she be when I had seen her lying in her coffin just two weeks ago, the day before she was buried, her casket surrounded by the scented candles she loved?

She lay in Cornish ground now...

She was a daughter, a wife, a mother. She was a friend. But what secrets did Eloise take to her grave? 

Compulsively readable and haunting, this is the Sunday Times bestselling debut novel from Book Club champion, Judy Finnigan.

Wanda's Review:  This story is beautifully woven into a tale of mystery and intrigue that takes place in Cornwall. Cornwall is a beautiful haven for family holidays. 

Forty five year old Eloise is married to Ted and they have beautiful twin daughters. She had been terminally ill with cancer, that had metastasized throughout her body. But, then she seemed so much better. The doctors said she was in remission - a sort of reprieve - and she was full of energy and enjoying her life so much. Suddenly, Eloise was dead, her life snuffed out in an instant. When someone is terminally ill, do they die as if they'd had a heart attack? Did Eloise really die because of the cancer? There were concerns about her death because there was no obvious period of decline - she died so quickly. Her dearest friend, Cathy, and Eloise's mother, Juliana, had questions and anxieties about her death, but the alternative seemed utterly ridiculous. It just didn't make sense. 

Cathy, a wonderfully portrayed character, seemed to be obsessed with Eloise's death. She felt as if Eloise was pulling at her, filling her with dark thoughts and fear. Eloise came to Cathy in her dreams, sometimes in broad daylight, and seemed desperately unhappy and afraid for her children. Was Eloise not at peace? What was Eloise trying to tell Cathy through these ghostly supernatural hallucinations? When Cathy came out of these dreams, she couldn't shake off a feeling of foreboding. She was totally subservient to Eloise's domination of her dreams. Cathy was risking her happiness with her husband and family because of this obsession with a ghost and the story unfolds ---

This book lured me in early with its well constructed plot and eloquent descriptive writing. The storyline was intriguing and slightly eerie, layered with dark secrets. And everything was tied up beautifully with a satisfying conclusion.

 My rating is 4.5 stars. I really enjoyed this book and if you're into paranormal, you'll love this book. 
I received a complimentary copy from NetGalley for an honest review of this book. All opinions shared in this review are solely my responsibility. 

The Author - Judy Finnegan - Judy Finnigan is an author, television presenter and columnist. In 2004, Judy's name became synonymous with discovering and sharing great fiction, through the Richard and Judy Book Club, where authors including Kate Mosse, Rosamund Lupton and Victoria Hislop were championed and brought to the attention of millions of readers. Eloise is her first novel.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


The Light Between Oceans by M.L. StedmanPublisher:  Scribner
Release Date:  July 2012
Pages:  343

About the Book:  After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. 

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them. 

M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss. 

The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel.

Wanda's Review:  You'll really disappear into another place and time with the descriptive writing. The Author does a marvelous job of getting into the hearts and minds of the amazingly real characters as a lot of drama unfolds. 

M L Stedman has a definite style of her own and I found myself enveloped in this book early on - my emotions strongly engaged. This was such a sad and engrossing story that I kept thinking that the storyline would never be resolved satisfactorily for all involved. The ending is powerful, poignant, and soul stirring - an unforgettable story. I highly recommend. Although it's been awhile since I've read this book, it is one of my all time favorites.

About the Author - M L Stedman
M.L. Stedman was born and raised in Western Australia and now lives in London. The Light Between Oceans is her first novel.

A GLORIOUS ARMY: Robert E Lee's Triumph, 1862-1863 by Jeffrey D Wert (Reviewed by WC)

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster
Release Date:  April 5, 2011
Pages:  400

A Glorious Army by Jeffry D. Wert
Book Description:  From the time Robert E. Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia on June 1, 1862, until the Battle of Gettysburg thirteen months later, the Confederate army compiled a record of military achievement almost unparalleled in our nation’s history. How it happened—the relative contributions of Lee, his top command, opposing Union generals, and of course the rebel army itself—is the subject of Civil War historian Jeffry D. Wert’s fascinating new history.

Wert shows how the audacity and aggression that fueled Lee’s victories ultimately proved disastrous at Gettysburg. But, as Wert explains, Lee had little choice: outnumbered by an opponent with superior resources, he had to take the fight to the enemy in order to win. When an equally combative Union general—Ulysses S. Grant—took command of northern forces in 1864, Lee was defeated.
A Glorious Army draws on the latest scholarship to provide fresh assessments of Lee; his top commanders Longstreet, Jackson, and Stuart; and a shrewd battle strategy that still offers lessons to military commanders today.

WC's Review:  The Confederate victories in the Eastern, or Virginian theatre of the American civil war during Lee's initial two years as commander, were an eerie combination of the general's lack of battlefield coordination and the Union's tentative mismanagement. Every major battle of historical Southern significance during the Peninsular Campaign between the York and James River in Virginia, followed by the Fredericksburg fiasco on the Rappahannock in late December 1862 under General Burnside, rebuffed the Union thrust toward the capital of Richmond but were nevertheless considered victories for the forces of Union General George McClelland. Mechanicsville and Gaines's Mills, Malvern Hill, Glendale, and Cedar Mountain are not battle locales that come readily to mind in discussions of major encounters in 1862, but were massive slaughter pens when it came to tallying both Southern and Northern casualties totaling 55,000. Only the Battle of Antietam in Maryland, still called the single bloodiest day of the conflict, is rightly heralded as stifling the Rebel efforts for final victory. 

Significantly, the stalemate at Sharpsburg as the South called Antietam Creek, negated any Confederate acclaim gained at the Second Battle of Bull Run at Manassas Junction nearly a month earlier.

Six months after the shooting gallery humiliation on Mayre's Heights at Fredericksburg, Lee's forces gained a stunning victory a few miles west on the Rappahannock at a one-tavern town called Chancellorsville where Lee and Stonewall Jackson turned the greatest flanking movement in military history while outnumbered easily by 62,000 troops. Lee gambled and won, lost Jackson to friendly fire, and began to think of his veterans as invincible, truly a glorious army.
Gettysburg, of course, changed all that. With victory in hand on the first evening of Wednesday, June 1, Lee did not follow through with orders to General Richard Ewell, who had just arrived from Harrisburg, to take Cemetery Hill, and later, nearby Culp's Hill. Mistake. On the second day, while Ewell and subordinate commanders Early and Johnson pondered and pried Culp's Hill, Lee's "Old War Horse", James Longstreet, failed until late afternoon to initiate the battle plan to wrap up the Union forces on Little Round Top and got involved in bloody miasmas at the Wheatfield, Peach Orchard, and Devil's Den, thanks also in large part to the foolhardy gain-for-glory efforts of Union General Dan Sickles. Another mistake, or mistakes. Surely, Lee still believed, his glorious army would prevail tomorrow.

And, of course, tomorrow came, and if Lee's persistence against the advice of Longstreet had not prevailed, we history buffs and school children would never have heard of George Pickett, whose valiant effort in no-man's land between Seminary and Cemetery ridges on Friday the 3rd, the third day at Gettysburg, were doomed to inglorious failure from the get-go.

We also may never have heard of another Confederate pretty boy in James Ewell Brown Stuart, JEB Stuart, widely regarded as the best cavalry leader ever to ride a horse but who got lost in his mission to guard the right flank of Lee's glorious Army of Northern Virginia in its purpose to end the war this horrible war in Pennsylvania.

This book is truly a glorious read.

About the Author:  Jeffrey D. Wert is the author of eight previous books on Civil War topics, most recently Cavalryman of the Lost Cause and The Sword of Lincoln. His articles and essays on the Civil War have appeared in many publications, including Civil War Times IllustratedAmerican History Illustrated, and Blue and Gray. A former history teacher at Penns Valley High School, he lives in Centre Hall, Pennsylvania, slightly more than one hour from the battlefield at Gettysburg.

Monday, November 18, 2013

THE PRODIGAL: A Ragamuffin Story by Brennan Manning and Greg Garrett

The Prodigal by Brennan Manning
  Publisher:  Zondervan
  Release Date:  November 5, 2013
  Pages:  304

About the Book:  From the inspirational author of The Ragamuffin Gospel comes a powerful contemporary retelling of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Jack Chisholm is 'the people's pastor.' He leads a devoted and growing megachurch, has several best-selling books, and a memorable slogan, 'We have got to do better.' Jack knows how to preach, and he understands how to chastise people into performing. What he doesn't know is anything about grace. This year, when it comes time for the Christmas sermon, the congregation at Grace Cathedral will look to the pulpit, and Jack will not be there. Of course, they will have seen plenty of him already---on the news. After an evening of debauchery that leads to an affair with his beautiful assistant, Jack Chisholm finds himself deserted with chilling swiftness. The church elders remove him from his own pulpit. His publisher withholds the royalties from his books. Worst of all, his wife disappears with their eight-year-old daughter. But just as Jack is hitting bottom, hopeless and penniless, drinking his way to oblivion, who should appear but his long-estranged father, imploring his prodigal son: 'Come home.' A true companion piece to The Ragamuffin Gospel, The Prodigal illustrates the power of grace through the story of a broken man who finally saw Jesus not because he preached his greatest sermon or wrote his most powerful book, but because he failed miserably. Jack Chisholm lost everything---his church, his family, his respect, and his old way of believing---but he found grace. It's the same grace that Brennan Manning devoted his life to sharing: profound in nature and coming from a God who loves us just as we are, and not as we should be. 'A wonderfully written story that is as entertaining as it is thought provoking.' ---Publishers Weekly, starred review '. . . the consummate final tale. What they have created is the Ragamuffin at his best, full of hope, full of love, and finally, full of belief in the goodness of God.' ---Phyllis Tickle, founding editor, Religion Department, Publishers Weekly 'Brennan Manning's last work continues the powerful message of grace and forgiveness that has transformed so many lives. The Prodigal will transform you too.' ---Mark Batterson, New York Times best-selling author of The Circle Maker.

Wanda's Review:  The Prodigal is a story that reveals to us that no matter how bad our sin, we are offered forgiveness. 

From the book - "The gospel of grace announces: Forgiveness precedes repentence. The sinner is accepted before he pleads for mercy. It is already granted. He need only receive it. Total amnesty. Gratuitious pardon." 

Jack Chisholm was the pastor of a mega church. He had been called "the people's pastor" and brought in 4,000 people to worship and even more watching TV. But now he was feeling completely lost. He had failed them all - his wife, daughter, and the church. He loses everything that is important in his life because he commits the sin of adultery with his personal assistant, Sally. She had been the pastor's downfall. 

Tom Chisholm, Jack's father, is terminally ill, and wants to have a relationship with his son. He calls his son home. Jack hasn't talked to his father in a decade and thinking about him only provokes anger. His childhood memories are filled with misery because of his father. And the story unfolds ---

This is a wonderfully written book with a strong message of love, grace, and forgiveness - a story that could shape the hearts and minds of many. 4 star rating and I highly recommend. 

I received a copy of this book from BookSneeze to read and review.

The Author - Brennan Manning
Richard Francis Xavier Manning, known as Brennan Manning (April 27, 1934 – April 12, 2013)was an American author, friar, priest, contemplative and speaker.Born and raised in Depression-era New York City, Manning finished high school, enlisted in the US Marine Corps, and fought in the Korean War. After returning to the United States, he enrolled at Saint Francis University in Loretto, Pennsylvania. Upon his graduation from the seminary in 1963, Manning was ordained a Franciscan priest.[2]

In the late 1960s, Manning joined the Little Brothers of Jesus of Charles de Foucauld, a religious institute committed to an uncloistered, contemplative life among the poor. Manning transported water via donkey, worked as a mason's assistant and a dishwasher in France, was imprisoned (by choice) in Switzerland, and spent six months in a remote cave somewhere in the Zaragoza desert. In the 1970s, Manning returned to the United States and began writing after confronting his alcoholism.
Brennan Manning