Smoky Mountain Family Historian

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Oliver, Mary. Upstream: Selected Essays. New York: Penguin Books, 2016.

When I first saw this book, its subtitle was "essays and poems." When I received the book, its subtitle was "selected essays." I love Mary Oliver's poetry so I was curious about her writing in the essay format; however, I really was not that thrilled about the book having very little poetry of hers with a couple of exceptions, introducing the book and perhaps one section. I was, however, pleasantly surprised that many of her essays were almost poetic because of the way she described things. In one section she reflects on the writings of other poets, and parts of their poems are included. I found all of the essays readable, but a few did not quite live up to the poetic characteristic of others. Still, all in all, it is a good collection, even if I was disappointed Oliver's own poetry was not really present. This review is based on an advance review copy received by the publisher through NetGalley for review purposes.



Atwood, Margaret. Hag-Seed. (Hogarth Shakespeare) New York: Hogarth Shakespeare, Crown Publishing, 2016.

Margaret Atwood did a remarkable job re-imagining Shakespeare's The Tempest. Since his release as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Festival, Felix Phillips has been going by the name Mr. Duke and teaching theatre to a group of prisoners at a medium security institution. He calls his group the Fletcher Correctional Players. The class is more than simply theatre, but he uses theatre as a means to teach other material and critical thinking to the inmates. When the person who had him ousted is set to visit the facility in his official governmental role, Felix sees his opportunity for revenge. He decides to perform The Tempest. He chooses the role of Prospero for himself, gets the woman who was to play Miranda before he was ousted to portray her in this version, and assigns the inmates their roles.  This work is certain to please Shakespeare enthusiasts as well as those who love Atwood's writing. I received an electronic copy for review purposes from the publisher through NetGalley.


Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Holy Shakespeare!

Sparks, Maisie. Holy Shakespeare!: 101 Scriptures that Appear in Shakespeare's Plays, Poems, and Sonnets. New York: Faith Words, 2016.

I was looking forward to this book, thinking perhaps the author was using the Scriptures and passages of Shakespeare to create devotional thoughts. I was disappointed when I opened the book to find only the passage from Shakespeare at the top and the Scripture at the bottom with a few pages of short "facts" about Shakespeare or his times scattered in between. This is definitely a marginal purchase for most persons and libraries as other books treat the subject better from both an academic and devotional point of view. The bibliography at the end of the book is probably the most useful aspect of the entire volume. This review is based on an advance uncorrected proof e-galley provided by the publisher for review purposes through NetGalley.

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Napoleon's Last Island

Keneally, Tom. Napoleon's Last Island. New York: Atria, 2016.

Abandoned read. Napoleon was exiled to the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic in 1815. His residence was not fully renovated so he spent time near the Balcombe family home. Betsy Balcombe, in particular, became a friend of Napoleon for the remainder of their lives. Keneally's well-researched novel focuses on the strange relationship between the two. What the novelist failed to do was create anything that engaged me as a reader. I made it approximately one third of the way into the book before deciding to quit reading it. Other persons may find the book more engaging than I did, particularly if they have a strong interest in Napoleon or enjoyed other books by the author. This review is based on an advance reader's e-galley provided by the publisher through Edelweiss for review purposes.


Saturday, October 01, 2016

Crossing the Waters

Fields, Leslie Leyland. Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus Through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt, and the Seas. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2016.

Fields, the author of this volume, resides in Kodiak, Alaska, where she works with her family in the commercial fishing industry. This book relates stories from her own experience. She also travels to Israel where she visits the waters Jesus himself frequented -- the Sea of Galilee and Jordan River. I found the narrative to be fairly rambling, jumping around in locations of the stories, and making the reader question how they got from Alaska to Israel. I felt the narratives needed further editing to really polish them and have the desired impact. The Bible study materials in the appendix were quite good and probably could be used whether Fields' main book was read or not. I received an advance electronic copy of the book through Edelweiss for review purposes.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Return of Sir Percival: Book 1, Guinivere's Prayer

O'Keefe, S. Alexander. The Return of Sir Percival: Book 1, Guinevere's Prayer. Austin, Texas: Greenleaf Book Publishing Group, 2016.

Sequels to classic literary works either work well or fail miserably. Fortunately this one keeps the reader looking forward to the story unfolding. It's ten years after the fall of Camelot. Everyone believes Sir Percival who went in search of the Holy Grail met his death along the way. Guinivere remains in the abbey. Merlin is still around, mainly putting his "magic" to use for medicinal purposes. Sir Galahad is going by the name Lord Aeron and serving the evil Morgana. This is a wonderful revisit with the Knights of the Round Table. O'Keefe does a great job telling his story, and it's certain to please those who love the Arthurian legend. It's one of my top reads this year. This review is based on an electronic galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley for review purposes.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Another Me

Wiseman, Eva. Another Me. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2016.

The setting is 14th century Strasbourg where the Jews are accused of poisoning the well water. Kaspar the butcher and his friends have begun persecuting the Jewish community. A Jewish boy named Natan became fascinated with Elena, the daughter of another draper but one who is fair. When Natan confronts Kaspar's gang about what he saw, he is killed and becomes an "ibbur," residing inside the body of Hans, Elena's father's apprentice. Soon the bubonic plague breaks out in the city, while the persecution continues. I am a huge fan of historical fiction, and this title sounded very promising. However, when the plot took on the "ghostly" element, my enjoyment plunged. To be fair to the author, the concept of the "ibbur" began to take hold in the late 13th century. I just felt it was unnecessary in this plot and the plot would be stronger had she allowed Natan to escape. I found the plot implausible. I enjoyed the historical parts about the persecution of the Jews and about the bubonic plague; however, I felt Wiseman's writing was not all that strong. The book is a bit of a mixed bag with some parts enjoyable and others not and with some parts plausible and others not. I received an electronic e-galley of the book from the publisher through NetGalley for review purposes.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Northwest Coastal Explorer

Steelquist, Robert. The Northwest Coastal Explorer. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 2016.

Author Steelquist examines the habitat along the Pacific Northwestern United States coastline. He shows the diversity of plant and marine life in the region. I was a bit disappointed that the treatment of "places" received so little attention in the book that used that term first in its subtitle. The author generally gives about a page of information per species. A little information that ties it together is included toward the end of the book. The book would be useful for those planning to tour the northwest and are more interested in the natural habitat than the region's history. I received an advance e-galley of the book from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for a review.


Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Kit Kat and Lucy

DuPont, Lonnie Hull. Kit Kat and Lucy: The Country Cats Who Changed a City Girl's World. Grand Rapids: Revell, 2016.

Author Lonnie Hull DuPont relates the story of her move from San Francisco back to her native Michigan. She and her husband purchased an old farm house where a little tortoiseshell kitten that would come to be called Kit Kat adopted them. The author's husband who had severe allergies to cats found he outgrew the allergy so the shots were no longer necessary. It wasn't long until a Russian Blue kitten also found her way to the farm to adopt them. This cat became known as Lucy. She relates the story of getting the two to adjust to one another. Cat owners will see some of their own cats in some of the antics. Kit Kat was misdiagnosed by one vet at an early age. She eventually was diagnosed with FIV. She lived life as full as she could until the owners were forced to put her down. Grab your box of tissues when you get to that chapter. Lucy ends up getting some new playmates and lives a long life. Cat people will enjoy this book which shows how much joy cats bring to owners' lives. This review is based on an e-galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley for review purposes.

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