Book Review #35: “The Man in the High Castle”

the_man_in_the_high_castle_c4

Image Credit: Catspaw Dynamics

Finally! This is one book that I was hoping to finish a LONG time ago. I almost finished it in the fall, but the two-week window from the library closed so quickly. It was bugging me, for months. I hate not finishing books, unless it was so insufferable that I couldn’t stand to finish it.

This book was not one of those insufferable ones. I got it from the library two Saturdays ago, and I just made the deadline. Hooray!

It was an intriguing book. In a sentence: Imagine if the Allies lost World War II.

Think about that. If Germany, Japan, and Russia had won, what in the world would happen?

Philip K. Dick is (was) a very interesting writer. As I’ve said in previous reviews, I’m not a huge fan of science fiction, but alternate reality has recently captured my attention. I’ve even considered using it in some of my own writing.

Now that I’ve finished the book, I’m excited to see what Amazon has done with their TV series of the same name.

Trying not to give away a lot (The book is only a little over 200 pages), it’s 1962 and the U.S. has been divided into the Greater Nazi Reich and the Japanese Pacific States. Mr. Dick creates multiple characters as they try to live their lives under seemingly oppressive rule and challenging times.

Mr. Dick also creates “a novel within a novel.” This is something that I don’t see very often, but I usually enjoy. The novel within the book shows details of what would happen if the Allies HAD won the war, though it’s different that what actual history has shown. Regardless, it was fascinating. I appreciated how the author carefully wove it into the plot.

In writing this post, I started looking at other books that employ alternate reality or history. One that made me raise my eyebrows was Bring The Jubilee (1953) by Ward Moore, about an alternative Civil War. You can bet I’m adding this one to my TBR.

This was not a hard read, at all, despite my previous reservations / hesitancy about science fiction. It flows easily, and I enjoyed learning about the different characters. Through his words, it was frighteningly easy to imagine what life could like if the Allies had lost and Germany and Japan swiftly took over everything. The characters attempt to make the most of what they have and what they are living with, but I imagine that life would be pretty miserable. I found myself reading at least one chapter per night, unless I was completely exhausted.

This book made me think about how wars affect everyone and everything. Unfortunately, several countries in our world are suffering under dictatorships and oppressive rule, and there’s nothing that anyone can do about it!

Seeing what Mr. Dick created made me shiver. I’m curious to see what else he wrote in his short time on this Earth (He died in 1982 at age 53, from a stroke).

4 1/2 out of 5 stars


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #34: “Music in My Heart: My Journey with Melody”

American Girl Melody Music

Image Credit: American Girl

If you haven’t already, I recommend checking out my previous Melody book reviews before reading this one:


This book was incredible! I’ve been so impressed with how historically accurate Melody’s books have been – I can clearly see the research and attention to detail. Every time, I feel like I’ve been transported to Detroit, Michigan in 1964.

I love how there are previews of the next book at the end of the previous ones – It makes me excited for the next chapter, in a way. This way, I discovered the modern girl in this story has a piano teacher named “Ms. Stricker,” which happens to be my maiden name! I realize this is fictionalized, but I can’t tell you how excited I was to see that! It’s so rare to see something like that!

To me, this book had more adventures than Maryellen’s journey, which I really liked. It was exciting to pick so many paths!

Melody is such a sweet character. It’s one of the things that immediately drew me to her stories when she was introduced in 2016. She’s passionate about her family, music, and the world around her. She wants to do what’s right!

Without giving away a lot of details, I loved everything about this book. Melody and the modern girl both love music, especially the piano and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Because of Melody, our modern girl discovers Motown, and experiences the Civil Rights Movement first-hand. We even meet a few key figures along the way!

This book snatched me up and didn’t let me go! I wanted to keep reading the first night, but I had to break it up over two of them. Getting up so early is a curse sometimes.

I’m keeping Melody’s books forever!

There’s at least one more Melody book out there – A mystery! I’m hoping my library has it! But, if I’m being honest, I’ll probably buy it, at some point.

I’m definitely adding more American Girl books to my TBR!

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #33: “The Devil’s Dozen: 12 Notorious Serial Killers Caught by Cutting-Edge Forensics”

The Devils Dozen

Image Credit: Amazon

Much like the last book I reviewed, I found this book at a bargain price! I actually bought it late last year, but I didn’t pick it up and read it until the last two weeks.

I’ll admit it – I love almost anything that deals with true crime. I saw this title and knew that I wanted to read it.

Or, so I thought.

The one thing that took me aback, and bothered me throughout the book, was how academic it was. I felt like I was reading 12 short research papers. Trust me – That’s not exactly what I want in a book. I certainly appreciated Ramsland’s attention to details and her use of sources, but it was a very dry read.

Other than that issue, reading about these 12 cases was fascinating. There were some cases I had already read / heard about, but there were 5-6 that were completely new to me. I appreciated that Ramsland explored a wide range of cases, both in historical context, and throughout the globe. It was really cool to see how other countries use and have used forensics to accomplish the same goal – Stop these criminals forever. It was also interesting to learn about how these various forensic techniques were developed as early as the late 1800s, and how they were utilized then, and now.

The academic style was the biggest detractor for me, and it was tough to keep reading. But, I’m glad I finished it. If you’re interested in a heavily-research-based series of true crime stories, I recommend it. Ramsland is a talented author and researcher!

3 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #31: “The Da Vinci Code”

davincicode

Image Credit: Wikipedia

In short, I liked this book MUCH better than Angels & Demons. It was significantly shorter in length, and I got through it much faster than the first one.

I actually finished the book at the end of April, but I dove head-first into my next book and basically forgot to write this review!

This installment involving Robert Langdon was centered in Paris, with London thrown in. It was another fascinating thriller. I liked Sophie better than Vittoria, and I wasn’t as turned off. The ending was more satisfying, too.

I felt I was more interested in this story and I wanted to learn more. I wanted to read at least one chapter every night. This book was also less graphic, and it had more adventure!

The Da Vinci Code focused on cryptology, another secret society, a heavier emphasis on religion, and so many fascinating facts. Brown does a good job of balancing facts with action. Having had the opportunity to visit The Louvre, I was thrilled to see it play a big role on paper.

I don’t have a lot of criticism for this book. After my frustration with Angels & Demons, I’ve experienced renewed excitement to see what happens to Robert next. I’m actually excited to pick up book three! I’m ready to dive into The Lost Symbol very soon.

4 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #30: “Angels & Demons”

angels-and-demons

Image Credit: Amazon

I originally thought The Da Vinci Code was the first book to feature Robert Langdon, but I was proven wrong!

This was a HUGE book. I wanted to finish it last week, but it was so dense that it took me until 11:00 p.m. last night to finally finish. It’s 616 pages total!


To be blunt, I have several praises, as well as several criticisms.

I was instantly drawn into Robert Langdon’s world. Brown hooked me within the first few sentences. I was along Langdon’s side from Harvard, to Switzerland, to Vatican City, to Rome. It was a bit of a whirlwind at first, and then you get plunged into the worlds of CERN,  Vatican City, the Catholic Church, history, and symbolism.

Trying to figure out the puzzle that Brown laid out kept me interested. A scientist at CERN is brutally murdered, and he has connections to both the scientific and religious communities.

I liked Vittoria Vetra almost immediately. She’s feisty, gorgeous, and a great addition to Langdon. Langdon is the main character, but there were times that Vittoria was faster, and took control, and I liked it! She’s a smart cookie, and I knew Robert would be attracted to her.

The menagerie of twists and turns made me feel like I was on a high-speed ride through Europe! It was exhilarating. There were several days where I flew through multiple chapters and dozens of pages.

I applaud Brown’s dedication and commitment to historical accuracy, and being totally up front about not fictionalizing any locations, historical figures, or places (There’s a disclaimer in the very beginning). It felt even more real!

However, I had several issues with this book. There were three particular instances where I feel Brown is almost too graphic in his writing. As an aspiring writer of fiction, I know that, at certain times, it’s necessary to be graphic to illustrate and illuminate, But, Brown’s style was too much for this reader. I almost gave up every time. I almost didn’t want to find out what happened next. Some of it almost made me sick.

But, I pressed on.

Toward the end, as the intensity was reaching its peak in Vatican City, where decisions needed to be made quickly – Brown inserted this multiple-page speech by the Camerlengo (papal chamberlain) that just dragged on and on. I got the significance – The man was addressing the cardinals at a critical point in the conclave – but it could have been much shorter! Maybe dedicate a page or two, but not five or six! I felt so impatient during that section. I wanted to skip the entire speech and get just back to the action!

Finally, I hated the ending. It felt abrupt, it felt weird, it left me hanging a bit. It wasn’t a cliffhanger, but I hated how nonchalant it felt. I won’t give it away, but I felt a bit empty when I closed the book.

My first thought was, “That’s it? That’s how you end this ridiculously long book? Wow…”

After sleeping on it, I realized this morning why he ended it the way he did, but I still wasn’t happy about it!

If you’re looking for a thriller that involves conspiracy, mystery, secret societies, art history, exploring historic sections of Europe, and learning a lot about the Catholic Church – This book is for you.

Overall, I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone for this one. I’d heard of the movies, but haven’t seen them. The first few pages of The Da Vinci Code I read about a month ago made me curious about who Robert Langdon is and how he got himself into such a twisted web of history, religion, and murder. It’s an exciting book, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him, and what happens next.

Despite my issues with Angels & Demons, I’m still motivated to read the other books with protagonist Robert Langdon – The Da Vinci Code (2003), The Lost Symbol (2009), Inferno (2013), and Origin (October 2017). Look for these reviews over the next few months.

3 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #28: “The Underground Railroad”

the-underground-railroad

Image Credit: goodreads.com

I first heard about this book when Colson Whitehead was interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air back in August 2016. It’s one of several podcasts that I subscribe to, and I’ve learned about a lot of books, both new and old, in this way.

It took me a long time to finish this book. Not that I was in a hurry, but it was a tough book to read.

Whitehead took one of my childhood thoughts – That the “Underground Railroad” during the time of slavery in the U.S., was a real railroad – and turned it into a fascinating, yet heartbreaking story.

I can’t say much in this review without giving away potential spoilers, so I’ll keep this brief. I enjoyed Whitehead’s world-building, how he created the characters, and how he wove historical accuracy into an alternative reality.

I imagine he researched for a long, long time, to make sure certain parts of this story were as accurate as possible, at least for the time periods that were being viewed.

There’s so much emotion packed into this one book – Fear, anger, sadness, joy, trust, love, to name a few. He weaves horror into relief, courage and bravery into fear, love into disappointment.

There’s a little bit of everything in this book – Pulse-pounding action, a dash of romance, lots of drama, and a bit of thriller.

I look forward to reading more from him, in the future. I need a few days to recover from this amazing, yet horrifying piece of literature.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #27: “The War That Saved My Life”

the-war-that-saved-my-life

Image Credit: books.google.com

“It had been awful, but I hadn’t quit. I had persisted. In battle I had won.”

~Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, The War that Saved My Life


This was another book I picked up at Barnes & Noble recently. I could tell it was historical fiction, and I’ve been itching for more historical fiction to cross my path.

I wasn’t disappointed. This book immersed me into the world of London and the English / British countryside at the beginning of World War II. Seen through the eyes of Ada and her younger brother Jamie, I started to understand how difficult life would have been back then.

This book is technically written for middle-grade readers, but I really enjoyed this one. It was hard to put down at night to go to sleep. The chapters are shorter, but each one had this grip on me that didn’t want to let go. I wanted to see what happened next to Ada, Jamie, their Mam, and the other characters they encounter along the way.

I can’t say too much about this book without spoiling things, but Bradley captured the time period nearly flawlessly. And, to write from a child’s perspective is remarkable in itself. I think she did a great job.

I was very excited to read on the back cover of a sequel to the story. It’s being released in early October, and I can’t wait. I look forward to writing the review of The War I Finally Won later this year.

I also want to read more of Bradley’s books – There was a preview of Jefferson’s Sons: A Founding Father’s Secret Children in the back of this book, and that one is going on my soon-to-be updated TBR.

This is a great book for almost any age.It has a good grasp of history, drama, family, relationships, and compassion. I highly recommend it!

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂