Friday, June 22, 2018

Review: The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines

The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines
Release date: July 19, 2011
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Pages: 352
Reading level: Young adult
Genre: Historical fiction/mystery
Series: Book 1
Source: Gift
Links: Author Goodreads Amazon 

Overall: 3 out of 5 stars 

Iris Anderson is only 15, but she's quickly mastering the art of deception in this YA novel for fans of Veronica Mars.
It's the Fall of 1942 and Iris's world is rapidly changing. Her Pop is back from the war with a missing leg, limiting his ability to do the physically grueling part of his detective work. Iris is dying to help, especially when she discovers that one of Pop's cases involves a boy at her school. Now, instead of sitting at home watching Deanna Durbin movies, Iris is sneaking out of the house, double crossing her friends, and dancing at the Savoy till all hours of the night. There's certainly never a dull moment in the private eye business.


This book has been sitting on my shelf for years and I am surprised at that. I love mysteries and historical fiction, plus the cover is very alluring. I can't say for sure whether I would have enjoyed this more if I had read it when I was 15, but I felt that it had a lot of promise that didn't ultimately deliver. THE GIRL IS MURDER is supposedly the first in a series, but I think this could have been a standalone. At 15, Iris lives alone with her father in New York and longs to be involved in his private detecting work. He forbids her, but Mr. Anderson's war injury combined with the fact that his latest case involves a missing student from her daughter's school, makes it hard for him to completely keep his daughter uninvolved. What follows is a quick read that involves Iris sneaking out and immersing herself in the case all while trying to help her dad without his knowledge.

The plot seemed promising and I loved the idea of a mystery set in Manhattan in the early 1940s. The author seemed intent on clearly defining the setting with a lot of slang and other references to the time. Iris did seem to want to actually help her dad, but it seems she might have been more helpful if she wasn't always sneaking out and lying to him and her friend(s). I can't imagine how difficult it was for Iris to know her father was struggling financially and thinking his only option was her help. Iris was adventurous and an entertaining main character, but the plot often fell flat. I wasn't particularly invested in learning what happened to the missing boy, Tom, and the ending also seemed a bit too easy, while definitely not what I was expecting.

There were a multitude of supporting characters and I enjoyed reading about what they did for fun and hearing the slang they used. All in all, this was a fast paced and entertaining mystery that doesn't get too in-depth. Iris was sweet in her dedication to solving the mystery and helping her family, but beyond that I do not think I will be picking up the sequel. Reviews do mention that it was much more plot driven than this one so that is a bit appealing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Review: America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie

America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Release date: March 1, 2016
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 606
Reading level: Adult
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased
Links: AuthorsGoodreadsAmazon

Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars 
From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France.
It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father’s troubling liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age. Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé William Short, a staunch abolitionist and ambitious diplomat. Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions whether she can choose a life as William’s wife and still be a devoted daughter.
Her choice will follow her in the years to come, to Virginia farmland, Monticello, and even the White House. And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father's reputation, in the process defining not just his political legacy, but that of the nation he founded.


I loved this! Historical fiction has always been one of my favorite genres particularly when it's about someone/something I don't know too much about. What most impressed me was how much detail went into AMERICA'S FIRST DAUGHTER. This book followed Thomas Jefferson's daughter, Patsy, for her entire life. Of course even in 600 pages that isn't enough to cover every important moment, but I still felt I learned a lot about both Patsy and her father. Thomas Jefferson has always been a fascinating figure to me and I liked getting to see this more intimate side of him. Patsy and her father had an incredible relationship and she was present for some of the most important moments in history.

Patsy was born in Virginia and eventually followed her father from Monticello to Paris to the White House. After her mother died, Patsy became the one her father confided in and relied on. It truly makes you wonder what exactly her impact was on our nation's history. The author's utilized letters and journals to provide as much accuracy as they could to this story of Patsy Jefferson. They were fairly liberal with their creation of her relationship with William Short and relied quite heavily on the fact that Thomas Jefferson may have had a serious relationship with Sally Hemmings. Still, these are rumors that many feel have substance and it was interesting to see how these situations affected Patsy and shaped her life. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for Patsy to maintain her strength and composure when her father was such a public figure. She did her best to protect him and seemed to be one of his only confidants.

Thomas Jefferson is one of our most well-known presidents and shapers of our nation. While we do get to see a more personal side of this legendary man, what I most liked about this book was learning about Patsy's life and how her father's actions shaped her own life. What a life it was. Patsy had some incredible adventures and experiences early in life, but unfortunately married a man who struggled with drinking and bad temper. It was awful to see how much Patsy and her father struggled at the end.

AMERICA'S FIRST DAUGHTER is a lengthy read and packed full of information. The authors do discuss what liberties they took at the end and I also did some of my own research on Patsy and her family after I finished reading. There are so many "hidden figures" in our nation's history and I am excited to read Dray and Kamoie's next book on Alexander Hamilton's wife, Eliza. In the early days of the United States women are often left in the background, yet they often made such a significant impact. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in historical fiction.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: My Summer TBR List

Book 1: MY DEAR HAMILTON by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie - I recently read AMERICA's FIRST DAUGHTER and loved getting immersed into the world of Patsy and Thomas Jefferson. In August I am going to see Hamilton in Washington, DC so I figure I should get as much background on the famous man and his family as I can! 

Book 2: WHAT ALICE FORGOT by Liane Moriarty - I've really enjoyed the books by Liane Moriarty that I've read so far. At a used bookstore recently I was able to pick this one up and it seems like the perfect book to read by the pool. 

Book 3: THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah - THE NIGHTINGALE was one of my recent favorites, so I am excited to purchase this one for my summer TBR pile. I haven't read too many books about Alaska (if any?) so this should be interesting.

Book 4: TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN by John Green - I am definitely slow to get to this one, but I recently ordered it from Barnes and Noble and am eager to dive into it this week or next. I am not an avid John Green reader, I have only read LOOKING FOR ALASKA and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, but that isn't by choice, I just have so much in my TBR pile I haven't gotten through all of his. Hopefully TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN lives up to the positive reviews I've been seeing.

Book 5: THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY by Ruth Ware - Ruth Ware's previous releases have all sounded right up my alley, I love dark and mysterious thrillers. I've only read one, THE WOMAN IN CABIN TEN, and while the book had a lot of promise I was ultimately let down by it. Still, I'm always up for giving an author a second chance and this sounds like the perfect creepy summer read.

Book 6: IT by Stephen King - Ever since watching the new IT movie several months back, I have been eager to tackle this huge book. Not only because the movie only covered part of the story, but because I really need to read more Stephen King! I've only read CARRIE so far, so this summer seems like the perfect time to start working my way through this huge classic.

Book 7: SAVE THE DATE by Morgan Matson - I adored AMY AND ROGER'S EPIC DETOUR and this one seems like another one I would enjoy. Family shenanigans and weddings, perfect for the summer! I haven't picked this one up yet, but plan on it next time I visit the bookstore.

Book 8: FORCE OF NATURE by Jane Harper - I was a big fan of THE DRY, the first book in the Aaron Falk series, so I definitely need to read this one. THE DRY was a unique and exciting thriller and while this one looks completely different plot wise, I am eager to see what's next for Aaron.

Book 9: THE SUMMER WIVES by Beatriz Williams - Beatriz Williams writes very enjoyable historical fiction and they are usually dramatic, romantic, and fast paced. Plus, the title definitely screams summer. I've read two of Beatriz's previous books and have several others on my TBR pile.

Book 10: THE HIGH SEASON by Judy Blundell - The Goodreads summary calls this one "the ultimate summer read". I remember liking her young adult novel WHAT I SAW AND HOW I LIED, so I am eager to try one of her adult books. I also have not purchased this one yet, but it seems perfect to read while it's boiling hot outside and I don't necessarily want something super heavy.


What books are you looking forward to reading this summer?

Top Ten Tuesday Is Hosted By: The Artsy Reader Girl 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Review: The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore
Release date: May 2, 2017
Publisher: Sourcebooks 
Pages: 480
Genre: Historical Nonfiction 
Source: Purchased 
Links: Author • Goodreads • Amazon 

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars 
The Curies' newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.
Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these "shining girls" are the luckiest alive — until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.
But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women's cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America's early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers' rights that will echo for centuries to come.

This was a challenging read. Wow. I had no idea this had happened and was continuously shocked by the awful experiences these "radium girls" had. During World War I, factories across the United States worked with radium to produce a multitude of products. One example is painting the dials on watches with radium so they will glow in the dark. This process is performed by young girls for hours every day. While they are at first excited by this new opportunity, the lack of knowledge on radium and then eventual undisclosed knowledge on the dangers of radium, leads to horrendous health problems and even death for many of these workers. 

RADIUM GIRLS follows several different, real, women who worked in these radium factories in New Jersey, Illinois, and Connecticut. Kate Moore did an incredible job of bringing these girls to life and I can't even begin to imagine what they went through. At first, many of the girls were excited to be working with this mysterious new element. They had a nice job, were earning money, and made fast friends with their coworkers during the long hours of sitting at the factory. 

Let me just say that when things got bad, they got bad. The girls were not simply in the room, working withe radium, they were putting it in their mouths. They were taught to wet the paintbrush, that they were using on the watch faces, in their mouths because it was supposedly faster and more efficient. Even when the factory owner and senior employees started to wonder if that was safe and offered cups of water instead, no one enforced it or told the girls to seriously stop putting the radium covered brushes in their mouths. You can only imagine, with what we know now, how horrible this was. 

The girls started to get sick one after the other. They were losing teeth, their jaw bones were falling apart, they couldn't walk, death was imminent for many of the radium girls. But yet, doctors were not connecting these symptoms with the radium work their patients did. So, many of the ill girls kept working with the radium and the rest of the girls at the factories continued with the "lip painting" without knowing they could or would be next. Just writing this review is making me emotional! These poor young women were dying off and no one understood it. 

I don't want to get too much into how the story progressed, even though it is history so you can research this on your own. THE RADIUM GIRLS was incredible at putting a face to this dark time in history and I would highly, highly recommend it. It is horrifying to me that these women were allowed to work in these dangerous conditions and then did not have any support. It took a long time before anyone was on their side and by then, for many of them, it was too late. A truly heartbreaking story and one I was completely unfamiliar with. At times gruesome, this is an important story for everyone to read. These girls deserve to have their stories heard and I am thankful Kate Moore has done that. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday: The War Outside by Monica Hesse

The War Outside by Monica Hesse 
Release date: September 25, 2018
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 
Reading level: Young Adult
Genre: Historical fiction
Links: Author • Goodreads • Amazon 
It's 1944, and World War II is raging across Europe and the Pacific. The war seemed far away from Margot in Iowa and Haruko in Colorado--until they were uprooted to dusty Texas, all because of the places their parents once called home: Germany and Japan.
Haruko and Margot meet at the high school in Crystal City, a "family internment camp" for those accused of colluding with the enemy. The teens discover that they are polar opposites in so many ways, except for one that seems to override all the others: the camp is changing them, day by day and piece by piece. Haruko finds herself consumed by fear for her soldier brother and distrust of her father, who she knows is keeping something from her. And Margot is doing everything she can to keep her family whole as her mother's health deteriorates and her rational, patriotic father becomes a man who distrusts America and fraternizes with Nazis.
With everything around them falling apart, Margot and Haruko find solace in their growing, secret friendship. But in a prison the government has deemed full of spies, can they trust anyone--even each other?

I love historical fiction, especially when it tackles a time in history that might not be as well known. It's important for people to understand what happened with the Japanese in the United States during World War II and I am eager to see how Monica Hesse handles this difficult subject. All of the early reviews I have seen have been fantastic, so I am eager to read this myself!
Waiting on Wednesday Is Hosted By: Breaking the Spine

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Review: Educated by Tara Westover

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
Release date: February 20, 2018
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 352
Reading level: Adult
Genre: Autobiography
Source: Goodreads giveaway
Links: Author Goodreads • Amazon 

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars 

Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag.” In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.
Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.
Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.


Wow, this was an incredible story- if I didn't know better I would think it had to be fictitious. Tara's life was one crazy event after the next. I loved THE GLASS CASTLE and was wondering if this would be similar. It had a similar darkness to it and it was inspiring to see how both Tara and Jeanette Walls escaped. Tara's escape seemed to be a bit more lucky because she was very intelligent and able to get high test scores without ever going to school. Her parents were survivalists and lived in the middle of nowhere. They did not trust the government and, thus, kept their kids out of school and never worked real jobs. The danger came from not only the kids' lack of education, but also their lack of access to hospitals or any other help. Tara and her family members had some terrifying injuries and I can't believe they were never brought to the hospital. Tara's mother also practiced as a midwife and the women who came for her help would not go to hospitals either. It's incredible that people like this are still out there and it was incredible to see all Tara has done with herself since leaving her childhood home, and family, behind.

I flew through EDUCATED. Not only was it incredibly engaging, but I was eager to see how things would turn out for Tara and her family. I wonder if some people might be turned away from the cover thinking this book is just a memoir preaching about education and Ivy league experiences. That's far from it. The early parts of the book are truly brutal to get through, particularly the scenes of abuse and lack of intervention when truly dangerous and life threatening things are happening. I can't believe that Tara was able to be accepted into college by teaching herself math and other subjects just when she decides to go to college. She was lucky to have a natural affinity for learning. I can't imagine many others would be able to get out of that kind of situation on their own without the help of a teacher or parent to assist with their education.

Tara's siblings all faired differently as they grew older still under their parent's control. Not many of them were able to get out and recover like Tara did. She was lucky to have support at BYU that resulted in her getting a PhD from Harvard and starting a completely new life. College was an adjustment for me and I had attended a traditional school, I can only imagine how difficult it was for Tara. She probably could not even put into words all of the struggles and personal anxieties she faced in such a new environment. Her family was not only against any kind of government involvement, but they also were strict about dressing, entertainment, friends, and considered the "men" more valuable than the women in the family. Excessive drinking and abuse were commonplace in the Westover home.

Beyond the similarities in "untraditional" upbringings I wouldn't necessarily compare this to THE GLASS CASTLE. EDUCATED stands on its own and is an engaging story about a woman who changed her life.