5 Reasons I Loved Caroline

CarolineSo, this book is the best book I’ve picked up this year. Yay!

It almost gets a 5-star rating. (But I NEVER give out 5 stars. Well, hardly ever.) And what’s weird is that I was hesitant to even read this book in the first place. But, once I started, well…

So what would I rate this book? 4 1/2 stars. Which is an amazing star-rating from me. Folks, it’s practically 5 stars!

Well, instead of 5 stars, I’ll give 5 reasons why I loved this book…

Caroline // by Sarah Miller

#1 – It’s Faithful to the Old

What makes this such a wonderful book is that it stays true to the original. Sarah Miller’s Caroline is a parallel novel to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie. Miller calls her book a “marriage of fact and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s fiction.” Let’s stick to LIW’s fiction for the time-being. If you are familiar with Wilder’s work, you may know that she fictionalized some of the events from her life… For the sake of story. (Probably with the help of writer/daughter Rose Wilder Lane who helped her edit the books.)

And I agree with her that story trumps history when it comes to novels. And that’s what LIW’s books are: novels. Well-crafted works of fiction. With a wonderful foundation of history.

But Caroline, like the Little House books, also stays true to history. In spite of the fiction, the history of the pioneers shines through.

#2 – …And the New

Which brings me to the “new stuff”. Or the stuff that didn’t make Little House on the Prairie.

The main event in Caroline that stands in contradiction to the original Little House books is the timing of the birth of Baby Carrie. Miller follows the historical record for this one; Carrie Ingalls was indeed born on the Kansas prairie. Which means… Some of the things that happen in the story are all that more amazing when you realize that Caroline was pregnant during this time! Like the building of the house? The event with the well? Talk about strong, pioneer women… Go, Ma!

To tell the truth, one of the most memorable moments in the original book is where Laura demands that her Pa get her the little, black-eyed “Indian” baby to have as her own. Reading this scene in Caroline takes on a whole new meaning. Here’s Laura, about 4-years-old. She knows that her ma just got a baby (out of nowhere). Suddenly, Laura’s desire for a baby of her own makes just that much more sense. And since she has no idea where Baby Carrie came from… well, why not want a baby that is right before you?

#3 – The Difference in POV

It was amazing to read this story, which I know so well, from a different point of view. Instead of experiencing this adventure through the eyes of a little girl, we get to see it all from a mother’s perspective.

And not just any mother, but a pregnant mother, heading away from family and friends. A mother who wants her children to grow up to have a proper education. And they’re moving to a place where there will be no schools! A mother who has her own fears, hopes, and desires.

One of the wonderful examples of the differing POV is the story of Mr. Edwards on Christmas Eve. Again, retold from a mother’s perspective of not having anything to make her children’s Christmas… Powerful.

#4 – It’s a Pioneer How-To

One thing I loved about the original Little House books is all the “how-to” information. Like digging a well, and building a house, and… well, everything. When I first read these books, I ate this stuff up. It made me feel like I could be a pioneer if it came down to it. I could dig my own well, and I wouldn’t make the same mistake as Mr. Scott. No siree!

And the “how-to” of Sarah Miller’s Caroline is also there, albeit in a different way. We don’t just get a rehash of Wilder’s descriptions. While Laura and Mary had plenty of time to shadow their Pa, watching his every move, Caroline doesn’t. She has plenty of her own work to do. And so, the book focuses on her view point. On the bits of how-to that effected her.

Which made by adult heart so happy. And yes, it makes me feel like I could be a pioneer if it ever came down to that.

#5 – No Politically-Correct Revisionism…

Just for the sake of being Politically Correct. And finally, I loved the fact that this book did not fall into some politically-correct retelling. It documents the prejudices of the settlers, warts and all. Now, I love that the book doesn’t condone it (which is a good thing!), but it documents it… like a good historian. Miller does have Caroline struggling and questioning her own fears and reactions. But, ultimately this book remains true to how the Ingalls family (and others like them) saw the world around them. The historian in me was pleased and satisfied with her treatment of the material.

(Mini Rant. I HATE books/movies/etc that attempt to make the people in history as “tolerant” as we are. First off, I have a feeling that we have our own little prejudices for which future generations will mock us. I feel that history should be told as it is. Not that we condone the prejudice. No, I don’t mean that. But when we acknowledge that the past, just as the present, and the future for that matter, isn’t and never will be perfect.)


I love the cover of the book! Although, I will say it reminds me of Caroline as played by Karen Grassle from the television show. The real Caroline would probably have been wearing a sunbonnet!

And finally, a Warning. Yes, this book is a reworking of a famous children’s book, but that doesn’t mean it’s meant for children. It’s meant for adults, folks. There are a couple sex scenes. Of course, we’re talking married sex. If you can get that into your head. (I know. Weird, right? It’s a little hard to go there with characters that are kind of like your own parents.)


Review: Hidden Figures

Hidden FiguresBook: Hidden Figures
Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
Genre: Adult, Non-Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Nonfiction. This is story of the African-American women who worked behind-the-scenes at NASA during the days leading up to and including the Space Race. These women overcame the racism so ingrained in the South to become instrumental in sending American rockets to the moon and bringing the astronauts safely home again.


1) I love this title. And I love how the title has so many meanings behind it.

2) History and space. These topics are a perennial favourite for me. I love the behind-the-scenes peek into what made the space program successful.

3) I love it when I learn something I didn’t already know. Like that Virginia was the original Houston?! We associate the space race with Houston and with Cape Canaveral. But who knew that it actually had its beginnings in Virginia. And of course, the story of these women who made the rockets fly.

4) I wanted to read this book after having seen the movie. Whenever I watch movies like this one, I want to know what’s real and what’s Hollywood. Okay, so there was a bit of Hollywood in the movie. Like the stuff with the “Colored Bathrooms” being a big problem for Katherine Johnson. According to the book, this was not so much a problem for her. Not that it wasn’t an issue, but the story comes from Mary Jackson. I found it interesting that they chose to switch that up a bit for the movie.

5) I loved the Star Trek Uhura story. At first, it seems like it comes out of nowhere, and yet it makes complete sense. (I also happen to like Star Trek!)


1) There are a lot of characters. And some, don’t seem quite as important as others. But, I guess they each had their own stories to tell. And sometimes the women’s stories ran together so I couldn’t remember who was who. This isn’t a major critique. Just a minor one.

2) The cover of the book isn’t the most appealing cover I’ve ever seen. It certainly doesn’t live up to the coolness of the title. (It rather looks like it was designed by a mathematician instead of a graphic designer.)


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Ever since watching the movie, I’ve wanted to find out more about this part of history. I enjoyed learning the true histories of these women. And, thanks to my high school Physics class, I was able to appreciate the difficulty of their amazing work.

ARC Review: Surprise Me

imagesSurprise Me // by Sophie Kinsella
Genre: Adult, Chick Lit
Release Date: February 2018
My Rating: 3 Stars

**Note: I received a free copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Basic Plot: When Sylvie and Dan find out that (medically speaking) they’re going to live into their 100s, they begin to worry about what that will mean for their marriage. In order to combat what they fear will be a life-sentence of boredom, Sylvie comes up with a game where they each try to outdo one another with surprises. But surprises have potential to bring dark secrets into the open…


1) The story is told through first-person narration (the voice of Sylvie). Sophie Kinsella tends to do this quite well and I felt Sylvie comes across as very sympathetic.

2) I love Sylvie’s workplace at the historical society! I love the quirkiness of her boss, and even the nephew who comes in to upset the balance of things. (I’m still not quite sure, though, why she doesn’t want to stay on with them by the end of the book. Why?! This didn’t make sense to me.)

3) Sylvie definitely grows up during the course of the story. She’s so proud of how she and Dan finish each other’s sentences. (Yes, they’re that couple!) But the book is about how she matures. As a person. And I love how this is symbolized by her long “princess hair”.

4) I loved the friendship Sylvie has with her neighbour, Tilda. There was a nice mentor-thing going on there. Tilda warns Sylvie about the whole “Surprise Me” idea. And she’s right. But she doesn’t rub it in when so many of the surprises turn out badly… (Many are quite relate-able, like the one involving the lunch with Claire.)

5) The secrets and surprises revealed in the book definitely keep us reading. I had my suspicions about a few things. Although, there were some twists I didn’t predict.


1) I didn’t understand why Dan and Sylvie keep freaking out about 68 years of marriage. As if the doctor is a fortune teller or something. Why are they worried that they’ll become bored with each other?

2) I didn’t understand the apparent need of the subplot regarding the other neighbour, John. It seemed unnecessary to the story. Like it was thrown in because “you have to have a gay couple in the book.” Why??

3) Warning about the foul language. This is one thing I hate about these types of books. It’s no better/worse than in other Sophie Kinsella books (although, for some reason, I don’t remember this from the Shopaholic books). I just glaze over these words.


My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – Overall, this book is a fun and engaging read. It has some delightful moments. But it also touches on the real need for communication in relationships.

If You Like Russian Fairy Tales

Bear and the NightingaleSo… I recently read The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden.

Everybody is raving about this book. So, what can I say?

Well, I liked it. But…

I probably didn’t like it as much as you. I don’t know why, because I love Russian fairy tales. In fact, that’s the reason I read the book in the first place. I loved the premise. (And the cover of the book. I mean, just look at it. It’s enticing me. Yes, even now. It’s drawing me in…)

So… this book did not make me want to write a review of the book. (I am definitely not inspired to write a review just now. Maybe later? Instead, I decided to come up with a list of books that I recommend for those who did love the book and loved it because of the Russian fairy tale aspect of the book.

Without further adieu, here is that list*:

7973Enchantment // by Orson Scott Card


While he’s probably best known for his sci-fi (Ender’s Game ring a bell?)… Orson Scott Card does a wonderful job with this book. It mixes Russian folklore and fairy tale elements with our modern world. In a sense, it’s a Sleeping Beauty story. The story begins in the modern day with Ivan, who travels to Russia as part of his graduate studies. But then he comes across a woman sleeping in the middle of the forest and… Well, I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t read it.

By the way, I am truly enchanted by this book. It is probably one of my favourite books outside of classic literature and have read it numerous times.

1369831Blood Red, Snow White // by Marcus Sedgwick

This book is broken up into three parts. The first part deals with the events of the Russian Revolution almost as if it were a Russian fairy tale. Actually, it’s very reminiscent of Old Peter’s Russian Tales (see below). The second part introduces us to Arthur, an Englishman who comes to live in Russia. It’s almost like reading a new book, but you begin to see how it connects with the first part. And finally, the third part shifts yet again, this time with first person POV. We continue our story, seeing Russia through the eyes of Arthur.

P.S. The Arthur in the book is based on the real life experiences of the author, Arthur Ransome. (If you don’t know who Arthur Ransome is, he wrote one of my favorite children’s series: the Swallows and Amazons books. And yes, Swallows and Amazons does get a nod in this “fairy tale”.)

old-peters-russian-tales-by-arthur-ransome-fiction-animals-dragons-unicorns-and-mythicalOld Peter’s Russian Tales // by Arthur Ransome

Speaking of Arthur Ransome… He really did live in Russia at the time of the Revolution. And he came to love Russia very much. Part of his infatuation led him to write a collection of Russian fairy tales. He created Maroosia and Vanya who live with their grandfather, Old Peter. It’s Old Peter that brings us the stories “that Russian peasants tell their children and each other.” Beautiful writing. Wonderful stories.

Honourable Mention…

The Crown's GameThe Crown’s Game // by Evelyn Skye
I just finished reading this. So, I’m not sure it even belongs on this list. It has some fairy tale elements, like Enchanters and magic. But it also seems a little like it shouldn’t quite be on the list. Probably because there are no bears mentioned in the book! (Tigers are are mentioned. But I don’t remember any bears!)  In all, I haven’t quite decided if it’s got that Russian Fairy Tale vibe. Anyway,  I liked the book, so I’m going to tag it on here for now.

City of ThievesCity of Thieves // by David Benioff
Again, this one isn’t so much a Russian Fairy Tale. It’s more of a coming-of-age story set in the time of World War II. And it’s been awhile since I’ve read it, but I remember a fair bit. It definitely has that Russian feel. It’s the story of two young men on a quest to find a dozen eggs during the Siege of Leningrad. Maybe it’s the quest that made me give it Honourable Mention status.

*Please note that none of these books are really children’s books. Although for some odd reason Blood Red, Snow White is listed as a children’s book. In my opinion, it is not. (Not that a child couldn’t read it.) In any case, the only book on this list suitable for kids is probably Old Peter’s Russian Tales. Those were meant for children of all ages. Grown-ups, too!

Got any books to add to this list? Please let me know in the comments. Because I love a good Russian fairy tale!

Review: The Madwoman Upstairs

25814154Book: The Madwoman Upstairs
Author: Catherine Lowell
Genre: Adult, Literary Suspense
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Samantha Whipple is the last-known, living relative to the famous literary Brontes. She starts attending Oxford when she suddenly starts to find books in her tower room that once belonged to her (dead) Bronte-obsessed father. She is drawn into a mystery of discovering what the Bronte sisters really meant for her father and what they mean for her.


1) The Brontes. Yep!

2) I really loved all the literary talk in this book… From the flashbacks of Samantha and her father to the tutorials with Orville. I felt like I was back at university, taking one of my lit classes! What FUN to read all the critiques and discussions.

3) I thought the mystery was… okay. It definitely did make me want to keep reading. Which is always a good thing (for the book, if not for my need for sleep!)

4) The romantic aspect of the book was not spectacular, but it was fine. We have a very Jane-Eyre-like relationship between Samantha and her tutor, Orville. And of course, this is no more obvious than in the echoes of Jane Eyre in the Epilogue.

5) I am really drawn to this book cover for some reason. Maybe it’s the feather pens??


1) [SPOILER*] I didn’t really like the implication that Charlotte “stole” some of sister Anne’s best stuff. Really?! (I will admit I am partial to Charlotte’s work, with one of my favourite books being Jane Eyre.) [END SPOILER]

2) I also wasn’t crazy about the idea that [*SPOILER] Heathcliff and Cathy are siblings. As if that has to be the only explanation. Emily didn’t explain it that way and that’s really just conjecture. [END SPOILER]


My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – I actually enjoyed this book… Especially as a Bronte fan. Although I personally think that Samantha was far too obsessed with Anne Bronte’s work. Not that I don’t like Anne Bronte. (I do.) I just don’t quite buy the fact that she was the hidden genius of the family that this book seems to imply.

Quick Pick Reviews #2

I’m on a bit of a non-fiction kick at present. Below are three non-fiction books (for adults) that I finished recently.

Note: Quick Pick books are always recommendations. (If I don’t recommend the book, it’s not a Quick Pick!)

51VgMgGUWCL._SY346_Book: When Books Went to War
Author: Molly Guptill Manning

My Thoughts: If you are a book lover, than you’re in luck. If you are also a lover of history (particularly of the World War II variety), then this is the book for you! This book tells the story behind how the U.S. used books to help bolster the troops during the Second World War. I really enjoyed this book. I also love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and finding out that that book was one of the most sought-after books by the soldiers… well, Bonus! My heart is happy when I hear how books play an important part in people’s lives. 🙂

51XOMTe3NCL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
Author: Mary Roach

My Thoughts: This is a book full of fun-filled facts about all things space. I particularly liked the historic parts that dealt with the Space Race, from the Russian cosmonauts to the Mercury and Apollo astronauts. But the modern stuff is also good. Like the origami-folding tests given to Japanese astronaut hopefuls! Origami? Really?! (How interesting!) Roach also asks questions that most people would be too afraid to ask (like detailing the challenges of using the bathroom in space). I particularly like the story she tells of her own experience to try to “pass the test” to become an astronaut. She’s told she’s going to get a phone call from Europe. The call comes in at something like 3:00 in the morning and she’s quite grumpy at being woken up from a sound sleep. But it’s only later that she realizes that that was part of the test. Oops. Obviously she’s not cut out to be an astronaut!

51+aO13QmWL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation’s Leaders
Author: Brady Carlson

My Thoughts: Carlson takes us on a journey through history with a focus on the various the Presidents of the United States… but it’s all about their deaths. And considering the topic, oddly enough, his voice is quite chipper! In other words, this isn’t a morose read. It’s interesting. One of the more fascinating stories for me was of President Garfield’s death. After he was shot, the doctors couldn’t find the bullet! But they kept poking their unsanitized fingers around his wound; in fact, making him a whole lot worse. Actually, according to the book his death was not due so much to the assassin’s bullet, but due to the care given to him by his medical team! (Poor Garfield. He wasn’t even in office that long. He probably never knew that one of his greatest legacies was to have a cat named after him!)

Review: Apollo 8

Apollo-8-Cover-GalleyCat.jpgBook: Apollo 8
Author: Jeffrey Kluger
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: The true story behind the space mission of Apollo 8… How astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders were the first to orbit the moon in 1968.


1) The subtitle of the book is: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon. For a space mission that really had no mishaps and went off pretty much like clockwork, Kluger somehow does indeed make it a “thrilling story”. What a story-telling gift!

2) This book brought NASA in the Gemini and Apollo eras to life like no other book I’ve read. I finally understand who some of the personalities were and what they actually did during in the space program. People like Chris Kraft and Deke Slayton and Gene Kranz, in addition to the astronauts themselves and their wives. And Kluger made all of them into real people.

3) The story of the Apollo 1 disaster was heartbreaking. Very well-written.

4) I really liked how he handled the Christmas message. He was able to use story-telling to create anticipation for an event that I already knew about!

5) I also like how the tragic events of 1968 (such as the war in Vietnam and the assassinations of MLK and RFK) were juxtaposed against this amazingly optimistic achievement. Especially amazing is how the author ties it all together in the final chapter with a telegram received by one of the astronauts.

6) I loved the cover. Very sleek, yet appropriate. Especially cool is how the lettering looks like a Saturn V rocket.


1) Hmm? Anything? Radio blackout, here. Nothing to report.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I like space books and I enjoyed this one very much! Bonus on the audio book version which has an interview with Frank Borman, the commander of Apollo 8, as well as audio soundbites from the mission itself!

Review: Romancing Miss Bronte

51WvuAc7ByL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Romancing Miss Bronte (a Novel)
Author: Juliet Gael
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: A novelized version of the biography of Charlotte Bronte. The book covers her days at Haworth leading up to becoming an author, along with her sisters, to her untimely death.


1) It’s about Charlotte Bronte. Need I say more?

2) Having studied the life of Charlotte Bronte myself years ago, I can say that the author was able to capture her life amazingly. The book reads like a biography, yet also like a novel. Well done!

3) I loved, loved, loved the stories of the events that led up to the publication of Jane Eyre.

4) I thought she did a good job weaving Arthur into the story. The book begins with his arrival at Haworth, and he keeps popping up throughout. [SPOILER] (Of course, he’s very much the focus in the latter part of the book when he reveals his esteem for Miss Bronte and eventually convinces her to marry him.) [END SPOILER]

5) The passages dealing with Branwell were heartbreaking (in a good, but sad way)… how the sisters have to deal with their brother.


1) [SPOILER] Arthur is no Rochester. I really wanted to root for him and Charlotte as a couple, but I felt something lacking in him as the “hero” of a romance. This may be a casualty of fiction vs. real life? I feel the author tried to somehow morph Arthur into a Rochester-mold towards the end of the book. And yet, I wasn’t fully convinced. Again, it’s hard to put this into words. [END SPOILER]

2) Every so often, the dialogue/narrative would give what I came to realize are nicknames for various people. For example: Emily and Anne call Charlotte “Tally” which threw me a few times before I realized to whom they were speaking. And Elizabeth Gaskell seems to be “Lily Gaskell”? Who’s Lily? Is that Mrs. Gaskell herself or perhaps it’s her daughter??


My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed reading this book. Biographies about my favourite authors are usually a safe bet for me. I liked how she was able to weave the biography part in with the novel part.

Review: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

magicstringsBook: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
Author: Mitch Albom
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Detailing the life of superstar musician, Frankie Presto… his ups and downs… tragedies and triumphs. He travels everywhere with his guitar from his maestro. And then, one day, one of the strings turns blue. That’s when he realizes that his life is affecting those around him.


1) The narrator is “Music”. I liked how Music is able to give us details of the story that even Frankie himself doesn’t know. I also like the musical lingo and refrains. “Everybody joins a band in this life…”

2) Aurora and Frankie. I won’t give out spoilers here.

3) The rogue’s gallery of real-life musicians and performers. In a way, this book reminded me of Forrest Gump. Now I didn’t care too much for that movie, because I felt the coupling of real events with Forrest’s life was forced. I did not feel the same way with this book. Not every event is Frankie “doin’ Elvis”. There was just enough to make it seem real and legit. Well done, Mr. Albom!

4) Lyle and his friends. I wasn’t sure at first about this little thread, but I loved how that turned out. 🙂

5) The Woodstock story interspersed with other stories. I thought it was well done. A nice twist with Aurora that I was not expecting!

6) **SPOILER ALERT: The daughter. I love the connection made later on with regards to his own adopted father and his rejection of him. And then the realization that you can truly love a child who is not biologically yours. As Frankie loves Kai. END SPOILER**

7) El Maestro.


1) **SPOILER ALERT: The final revelation of his death. I felt this was a tiny bit anti-climatic. I was expecting something disastrous and awful, and it wasn’t. Part of me is glad, because I didn’t want him murdered spectacularly, but I still have mixed feelings about the ending. END SPOILER**

2) The aunt in Detroit. I felt this scene was almost unnecessary. Almost. What I didn’t like about it is how quick it is. How does Frankie come to even understand everything she tells him? I feel that in real life, Frankie would need a longer time with them to grasp the reality that there is no way his “father” could be his father.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I really enjoyed this book! The real musicians mixed in with the fiction. I thought it was well done.

Review: How Nancy Drew Saved My Life

41G6qx0cmCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book: How Nancy Drew Saved My Life
Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
My Rating: 1 Star

I’ve had one of those throw-down-the-book-in-disgust moments. The book in question? How Nancy Drew Saved My Life. I had read a short essay by the author and wanted to try one of her novels. I guess I picked it out for sentimental reasons; I loved Nancy Drew as a kid.


1) The cover. It’s whimsical. I like it.

2) The main character (a nanny/governess) is named Charlotte Bell. If you are a real Charlotte Bronte fan, you will realize this is a combination of Bronte’s first name and her pseudonym Currer Bell. Now, I didn’t realize the Jane Eyre influence when I first picked up the book, but it’s there. In fact, the story line has more to do with Jane Eyre than it does with Nancy Drew. I love Jane Eyre! So this was a very pleasant discovery that made me happy.

But that’s where the pleasantness ended. (At least for me.)


1) I found the book to be borderline blasphemous. An example of this was the repeated use of the term WWNDD (What Would Nancy Drew Do). IMHO, that is just clever… in the **wrong** way!

2) Actually, I found myself skimming a lot. The main character spends far too much time in bed (and she’s not alone in bed either). For a character based on Jane Eyre, it goes against everything Jane stands for. Jane would be horrified.

3) SPOILER HERE: By the end of the book, Charlotte’s pregnant (Hmm. That would NEVER have happened to Jane Eyre!). There seem to be no realistic consequences for Charlotte. It’s like the author is saying, “Good for you, Charlotte. This baby will solve all your loneliness issues!” She never even takes into account that she’s single and will have to provide for this baby… in New York City, no less, which is one expensive place to live! And she doesn’t even have her nanny job anymore! (Although the book hints that she may get back together with the baby’s father, even though he’s not yet divorced from his wife). END SPOILER.

4) I couldn’t really tell you how Nancy Drew Saved Her Life.


This book had so much potential. I wanted to like it. But I can only give it 1 Star. And that’s mostly for the cover artwork. 😦