Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Rebel Sisters by Marita Conlon-McKenna Review and GIVEAWAY! (TLC Book Tours)

At the heart of the rebellion against Britain in Ireland, lies the tragic and compelling story of three sisters.  The Gifford sisters were beautiful sisters born into privilege and educated beyond what many women could expect in the early twentieth century.  They also rebelled against their Protestant pro-England background to become important contributors in the Irish fight for freedom much to their family’s dismay.

Muriel trains to become a nurse, and meets the romantic teacher and writer, Thomas MacDonagh.  As a Catholic and poor teacher, he at first doesn’t meet her parents approval, but he soon works his way into the family’s heart.  Grace is a trained artist and a master cartoonist that struggles to find a place for her work.  When she meets MacDonagh’s friend Joe Plunkett, she meets someone that shares her deepest thoughts and also encourages a religious side of her that explores the Catholic faith.  Nellie trains as a cook and teaches new cooking methods to women across the country.  When Countess Markievicz inspires her on the rights of the Irish people, Nellie joins the Citizen Army. Isabelle is a mother who wants her children to love God in the Protestant Church and the English rulers, but although her six sons follow the family line, her six daughters all are inspired to help the cause of Irish freedom.  As events lead to the Easter Monday Rising of 1916, tragedy looms near for the entire family.

I found this entire book to be intriguing and I learned a lot a about Irish history.  I’ll admit that as I read it, I thought that the sisters were fiction characters existing in a historical setting.  I discovered in the afterward that they were all real historical figures and I was amazed.  I then spent a lot of time online trying to learn all I could about their later lives (the author does give a brief synopsis of each in the afterward as well) and the Rising in general and I was fascinated.  It is an amazing part of history and they were amazing women in their own right.

I loved this quote in the novel as it illustrated the sad fact that Irish children were raised to not learn anything of their own heritage.  I equate this to what was done in the United States to Native American children.

“There was a large map of Ireland and its counties, showing its rivers, mountains, and roads.  As they had had only a map of Britain in her school, Muriel knew its rivers, counties, and countryside far better than those of her own country, she was ashamed to say.”

A large part of the novel was actually about labor strikes that were going on in the 1912 and 1913 time period.  I found these very interesting as there were also labor strikes going on at the same time in the United States in the copper mines of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and in the coal mines of Appalachia.  I didn’t realize that the labor unrest was worldwide with the working class wanting to have more of their fair share when at that time the rich were living at such a high level as compared to the common working person.  I thought this quote illustrated that:

“A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work is all the workers want,” Connolly complained angrily.

I also found it interesting that the Irish Rebellion started during WWI, which was also when the communist revolution was happening in Russia.  This time period was a powder keg for world change.  From a strategic point of view, this was also a good time for a rebellion with the British deeply invested in the war on the Continent.

Overall, Rebel Sisters is a great historical fiction story with wonderful real life characters that are finally getting their story told.  The setting of turn of the century Dublin was fascinating as was the revolution as it unfolded.  I loved the characters stories, their coming into their own as well as their romances.  I highly recommend this novel.

Book Source:  I received a copy of Rebel Sisters for Review as a part of the TLC Book Tours.  Thank-you!  For more great reviews of this novel, check out the full list of tour participants at: 

More great links about this book:


 One lucky winner will receive a copy of  Rebel Sisters by Marita Conlon-McKenna.  If you would like to win Rebel Sisters, please leave a comment on why it sounds interesting.
As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner. 
For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using random.org (or a Monte Carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments. 
This contest is only open worldwide.
The deadline for entry is midnight on Friday June 10th!
Please make sure to check the week of June 13th to see if you are a winner. I send emails to the winner, but lately I've been put in their "junk mail" folder instead of their inbox.
Good luck!

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea is a short novella by Ernest Hemingway that focuses on one man’s battle against nature and a mythical giant fish.  This was Hemingway’s last major published work and helped him to win the Nobel Prize for literature.  I’ve read many of Hemingway’s novels, but I had never read The Old Man and the Sea so I thought it was a perfect book to add to my Classics Club list.

The Old Man and the Sea is a simplistic story that basically only includes the old nameless man, his friend a young boy, and the old man’s epic fishing adventure at sea.  I loved the bond between the old man and the boy who wanted to learn his craft, but was forced to work with another fisherman by his parents after the old man had a string of bad luck.  I also loved the old man’s determination that his luck would change and his prowess at fishing.  It was inspiring.

I will admit that I was frankly troubled when the old man caught, killed with a club, and ate a dolphin.  I try to tell myself that maybe during this time period, humans didn’t realize how intelligent dolphins were and that killing and eating them is wrong, But there is also a passage about how the old man in the past also caught a female marlin and clubbed it to death with the boy while its mate a male marlin jumped over the boat in splendor to try to find his mate.  I may be getting soft in my old age, but I found this to be very disturbing.  There is a lot of fish death in the story including the big fish of legend and many, many sharks.

Luckily Hemingway must have realized my moral quandary and had a couple of great quotes near the end that explained it and helped me to rationalize it:

“I am sorry that I killed the fish though, he thought. Now the bad time is coming and I do not even have a harpoon.  The dentuso is cruel and able and strong and intelligent.  But I was more intelligent than he was.  Perhaps not, he thought.  Perhaps I was only better armed.”

And my favorite quote:

“I have no understanding of it and I am not sure that I believe in it.  Perhaps it was a sin to kill the fish.  I suppose it was even though I did it to keep me alive and feed many people.  But then everything is a sin:  Do not think about sin.  It is much too late for that and there are people who are paid to do it.  Let them think about it.  You were born to be a fisherman as the fish was born to be a fish.”

That helped me with my troubled thoughts.  The old man is a born fisherman and it is his job and his survival to kill fish.  I can be distressed about the death of the dolphin, but it was a causality of this man’s survival against nature.

Another quote I liked was “No one should be alone in their old age, he thought.  But it is unavoidable.”  Hemingway was aging as he wrote this, I wonder if this was something he pondered on.

I feel a little sad as this is one of my husband’s favorite books and I did not enjoy it as much as him.  It was a good story and straightforward.  It was not my favorite Hemingway, which would be For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Moveable Feast.  What are your favorite Hemingway novels?

Overall, The Old Man and the Sea is a powerful novel of one man’s struggle against the sea, but not my favorite of Hemingway’s novels.

Book Source:  Purchased from The Peninsula Bookman in Fish Creek in lovely Door County Wisconsin.

The Cay by Theodore Taylor

The Cay is an epic adventure set in the Caribbean during WWII that involves a torpedoed boat, being stranded on a tiny dot of an island, and racism.  Phillip is a young boy living on the Caribbean island of Curacao.  At the start of WWII, it is exciting to him that German submarines have been spotted around the island.  Phillip’s mother freaks out about the submarines and wants to return to Virginia with Phillip leaving his father on Curacao to work in the oil industry.  As my ten-year old son Kile said, “That is a bad idea to leave on a boat when there is a submarine sinking ships lingering around the island.”

It was a bad idea as not too long after they leave the island, their boat is torpedoed and Phillip finds himself on a raft with an old West Indian Man, Timothy, and the cook’s cat, Stew Cat.  Phillip is blinded in the sinking and depends on Timothy for his survival.  Phillip’s mother has told him that black people “are different, and they live differently,” but Phillip soon realizes that people are people that Timothy is an exceptional person.
For some reason my eight-year old wasn’t very interested in this story (maybe because it was too much above his level), but ten-year old Kile really enjoyed this story.  We took turns reading it out loud so that his brother could listen, but Kile would often keep reading for pages as he was so caught up in the story.  They read this book for the Youth Book Club hosted at the Kewaunee Public Library.

Kile was almost brought to tears at the story’s conclusion, but what saved him was the survival of Stew Cat.  Knowing that Phillip wasn’t alone and at least had a cat cheered Kile up immensely.

Kile rates this book as “good” and I quite enjoyed it as well.  It was a great adventure story, but also a great story of learning to not judge people by their appearance.  The one problem we had was reading Timothy’s West Indian accent.  Kile had never read a book like that before, but soon caught the hang of it.

Book Source:  The Kewaunee Public Library

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery

Jenny Colgan’s novels are unique, fun, reads that lift my spirits.  Her heroines are able to make their way through the tough times of life through their own ingenuity and love of baking.

Polly Waterford has made the Little Beach Street Bakery a success on the small island of Mount Polbearne off the coast of Cornwall.  She has purchased the lighthouse and is living there happily with her American boyfriend Huckle, and their pet puffin, Neil.

All good things are not meant to last and Polly, Huckle, and Neil find themselves in a series of crises that threatens to separate them.  Will Polly be able to save her bakery and keep the flame of love burning with Huckle?  Will Neil find his way back home?

I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, but I loved it.  I loved the many points of crisis, but more importantly, I loved Polly’s pluck and determination.  She has her low moments, but she is able to think through new ideas and try new things to make it through.   I also love her love of cooking.  Reading this novel really made me want to eat some newly baked bread or pastry.  There are some tasty recipes included at the end of the novel.

I love Polly’s pet puffin Neil.  I wasn’t really sure what a puffin looked like so I looked on Google.  They sure are cute!  I soon found myself looking at all sorts of puffin pictures and watching puffin videos with my kids. They are addicting, as is Neil.  Neil wandered into Polly’s life in Little Beach Street Bakery.  He is a wild bird and shouldn’t be a pet, but his love for Polly brings him back to her after she puts him in a puffin sanctuary.  Polly loves Neil and the entire island loves him as well.  After his life is put in peril, Polly realizes that she may need to let Neil go again for his happiness and well-being.

Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery as wonderful unique characters.  I feel like I would love to just hang out with them eating fish and chips on the island.  From the hard working fishermen, to bakery workers Jayden and Flora, to rich and brash Reuben and his new bride Kerensa, I love them all.

I also love the setting. Mount Polbearne is based on the real island of St. Michael's Mount.  It is a tidal island that you can only access two times of the day by a causeway.  I would love to visit this island – it looks beautiful.


I read Little Beach Street Bakery a year or so ago, but this novel could stand on its own.  There is a handy “A Word from Jenny” at the start of the novel that gets you up to speed with what happened in the previous novel.  There is also a first chapter of Little Beach Street Bakery included at the end of the book.

Overall, Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery is a great summer read with wonderful characters, a great setting, and lots of tasty food.  I highly recommend this book – it got me through the stress of grading during finals week!

As a Game of Thrones fan which I was religiously with my husband, I loved the following quote in this novel:

"Don't take this the wrong way," she said.

"Uh-oh," said Huckle.  "Are you going to watch Game of Thrones without me?"
"No!" said Polly, horrified.  "God, I would never do that to you!  The betrayal!"

Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow – Thanks!