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Archive for August, 2011

Romance Review – The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011


The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O’Connor McNees

Review by Brenna B. (demiducky25)


I think what initially drew me to this book was the word “summer” in the title since I was looking for a book to just get lost in on a recent hot summer day, and this was certainly a book that one can get lost in!  Once you start it, it will be hard to put it down.

Anyone that knows the story of Little Women knows of the special kind of love between Jo and her Laurie, and anyone who knows even a little bit about Louisa May Alcott knows that she remained single her entire life and had a habit of destroying letters and portions of her journals.  So it is little wonder that generation after generation questions where she got romantic inspiration for her most famous work.  Enter Kelly O’Connor McNees and her story The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott where she blends fact with fiction to imagine a mostly undocumented summer in Louisa May Alcott’s life.

Set against the backdrop of New England in 1855, first time author Kelly O’Connor McNees clearly paints a lush setting for this story.  It is really easy to visualize everything that’s going on in the story because her descriptions are so detailed.  I really wanted walk outside my door and see everything that she described.  In terms of the characters, what impressed me is that the Alcott sisters are not complete copycats of their Little Women counterparts.  It would have been easy for O’Connor McNees to make them exactly like the March sisters since it is known that Louisa May Alcott based them on her own family.  But O’Connor McNees manages to take the characteristics of each sister and make them a bit different from their classical literature doppelganger.  This makes it possible to enjoy the Alcott characters without constantly comparing them to the Marches to see how they measure up.  In conjunction, I found the portrayal of the Alcott parents to be an interesting contrast to the March parents since they felt a bit more realistic.  For instance, O’Connor McNees’ “Marmee” was still someone the sisters idolized as the backbone of the family, but she is also portrayed as being a flawed human who could at times give into anger.  Also, “Father Alcott” seems much less likable than “Father March” since his life of poverty seems to be more of a choice than out of circumstances beyond his immediate control.  It is not necessary to have read Little Women to enjoy reading this book; however, I felt that having that knowledge did add a little more dimension to the story.

Since romance is a big part of this book, I have to say something about that, but I don’t want to say too much and risk giving something away.  I can safely say that at the beginning of the book, the character of Louisa May Alcott has a very strong opinion on what love is and what marriage is and how in her mind true love cannot exist in a marriage.  In fact, she doesn’t seem to think true love can exist at all, especially not for a woman with the goal of having a career.  However, it is very difficult to write about something that you don’t have any knowledge of, and knowing that the real life Louisa May Alcott remained single yet still created two characters in Little Women with such a unique and special kind of love, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott gives a pretty convincing tale on how love could have come into Louisa May Alcott’s life at one point.

Some books need time to build and others are easy to get into right at the beginning.  This one falls into the latter category.  It starts off strong by drawing the reader in.  Then it holds the reader’s attention for the duration of the story, and by the end of the book you really wish that this was ripped directly from the destroyed letters and diaries of Louisa May Alcott since it just seems to make a lot of sense.  It is as if there really couldn’t have been another way for Little Women to have been born or for Alcott to have lived her life.  All in all, I give this book 4 ½ out of 5 stars.


Non-Fiction Review – The Diary of Lucy Blue

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011


The Diary of Lucy Blue: A Puppy Mill Survivor’s Story by Janice Mitchell

Review by McGuffyAnn M. (nightprose)


I was attracted to this book for several reasons. I love animals and am an animal advocate. I have almost always had dogs, including Shelties, and cannot imagine buying from a puppy mill.


Lucy Blue was rescued from a puppy mill. She was taken in by Second Chance Sheltie Rescue. From there, Janice Mitchell took Lucy Blue as a foster dog. So began Lucy Blue’s road to recovery and that of a normal life.


This book is so much more than just a diary. It tells of the experiences with Lucy Blue and her rehabilitation and healing process. We learn of the methods Janice uses for Lucy Blue and the reasoning behind the methods. We learn what works for these special dogs and why. We are given access to a proven process and see the results. We see Lucy Blue’s growth and healing, of both her body and her spirit.


The book will make you cry and it will make you think. Lucy Blue made it out of a puppy mill, but there are many who do not. I wish everyone could and would read this book. We need to put an end to puppy mills and those who support them.

Mystery Monday – Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor

Monday, August 22nd, 2011


Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, Being the First Jane Austen Mystery

by Stephanie Barron

Review by Joy L. (vintagejoy)

This is an excellent book! A great blending of a cozy mystery and Jane Austen.

The premise reminds me of Susan Wittig Albert‘s “Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter.” In that series, Beatrix is the mystery solver and it is written in the time frame she lived in, as this series is.

Here in the first novel we find Jane at Scargrave Manor, invited by her dear friend, Isobel, newly married to the Earl of Scargrave, to attend a ball given in her Isobel’s honor by her husband on their return home from a three month long honeymoon.

Here Jane witnesses a tragedy, the death of the Earl from a mysterious and agonizing illness. In time, Isobel and the Earl’s nephew are charged with not only adultery, but of the murder of the Earl as well.

Isobel begs Jane to help her, and so Jane embarks on the investigation.

I enjoyed this novel, the plot is well done, the characters are introduced well, and it includes many twists and turns throughout.

An important part in the novel is Jane’s introduction to Lord Harold Trowbridge, a gentleman rogue who plays a great part in subsequent books.

Jane perseveres in her quest to find the murderer of the Earl of Scargrave to clear her good friend Isobel.

There is a lot of action going on, and to me the ending was not at all what I thought it would be.

I love that the author explains certain words, customs, lifestyles, etc. for the time period (1802) throughout the book as they come up.

I will definitely be continuing on with the series.

Author Spotlight – Clive Cussler

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

Clive Cussler, Author Extraordinaire!

By Jade K. (Jade4142)


Action, adventure, oceans, foreign lands, beautiful women, and a man who just will do the right thing.

Clive Cussler was born in 1931 and started writing in 1965.  He was 34 years old when he started his phenomenal writing career.  If there are errors in his books, regarding geography, anything maritime or anything having to do with food or drinks, I haven’t found them.  His research must be voluminous.  He writes mostly fiction, and every single book of his that I’ve read has been one of those you don’t want to start at 9:00 p.m., or you’ll be up all night reading. Only your knowledge that there are more books in the series can convince you as you read that your hero is going to live through this book; he must live, since there’s another one about him, but it certainly doesn’t look that way right now.

That hero, in my view, is Dirk Pitt.  Pitt works for NUMA, the National Underwater and Marine Agency, as Special Projects Director. NUMA researches the ocean, its construction, its occupants, and its habits.  They also raise lost ships.  Pitt is an extraordinary NUMA member.  He is a man who will do the right thing, whether his boss, Admiral James Sandecker, agrees or not.  If the official route won’t get the right thing done, Pitt will do it anyway.  And, of course, Mr. Pitt always succeeds.  He shuts down a Chinese slave trade ring, raises the Titanic, finds a missing treaty that can change the entire future of the North American continent, and finds the nerve gas that can kill everyone in the world in minutes.  His life is always in danger, and he’s often seriously injured.  But Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt just won’t quit.  If someone is hurting someone else, Pitt will stop it.

Cussler uses one device in his books that I don’t much like, but I guess when you’re something of the Grand Master of the action novel, you can do what you want.  Cussler himself shows up in several of the Pitt books to rescue Pitt when he’s written Pitt into a corner he can’t get out of unless Cussler arrives in his catamaran to rescue him.

There are so far 21 Dirk Pitt books, and I own them all.  I’m reading them in order this time, since each book refers to a previous book, and I want to have it all tidy.  I will tell you, though, that Mr. Cussler didn’t release the books in exactly chronological order.  He released Mediterranean Caper in 1973.  That is not, however, the first book in the series.  Pacific Vortex, published in 1983 but written before Mediterranean Caper, is actually the first book in the series.   So if you want to read all 21 in chronological order according to the story, you have to start with Pacific Vortex.

Dirk Pitt

Pacific Vortex (1983), Mediterranean Caper (1973), Iceberg (1975)

Raise the Titanic (1976), Vixen 03 (1978), Night Probe (1981), Deep Six (1984), Cyclops (1986)

Treasure (1988), Dragon (1990), Sahara (1992), Inca Gold (1994), Shockwave (1996),

Flood Tide (1997), Atlantis Found (1999)

Valhalla Rising (2001), Trojan Odyssey (2003), Black Wind (2004),

Treasure of Khan (2006), Arctic Drift (2008)

Crescent Dawn (11‐16‐2010)

Cussler has written other action/adventures series as well, and I am in the process of collecting those. I have to have them all before I start reading them, so I can read them in order.  He of course has a website and these lists can be found there, too. www.clive‐cussler‐books.com


The NUMA Files

Serpent (1999), Blue Gold (2000), Fire Ice (2002), White Death (2003)

Lost City (2004), Polar Shift (2005), The Navigator (2007), Medusa (06/2009)


Isaac Bell – Detective Series

The Chase (2007), The Wrecker (11/2009), The Spy (06/2010), The Race (09/06/2011)


The Fargo Series

Spartan Gold (09/2009), Lost Empire (08/31/2010), The Kingdom (06/06/2011)


The Oregon Files

Golden Buddha (2003), Sacred Stone (2004), Dark Watch (2005)

Skeleton Coast (2006), Plague Ship (2008), Corsair (03/2009)

The Silent Sea (03/2010), The Jungle (03/2011)


Cussler is much more than the grand master of the action/adventure novel.  He actually is the director of a real-life NUMA.  His NUMA researchers and volunteers focus on American maritime and naval history, and they do recover sunken ships.  They have brought up the C.S.S. Hunley, the first submarine to sink a ship in battle; the Housatonic, the ship the Hunley sank; the U-20, the U-boat that sank the Lusitania; the Cumberland, sunk by the famous Merrimack; the Confederate raider Florida; the Navy airship, Akron; the Republic of Texas Navy warship, Zavala, found under a parking lot in Galveston, Texas; and the remains of the Carpathia, the ship that braved icebergs to rescue the survivors of the Titanic.  When they bring these ships up, they donate the rights to them to various non-profits, universities and governments.  Cussler takes us with him on some of those adventures in The Sea Hunters and The Sea Hunters II. (http://www.numa.net/clive_cussler.html)

Cussler is an antique car collector, knowledge he imparts to Mr. Pitt, of course.  He has his cars in a museum in Golden, Colorado.  He lives part time in the mountains of Colorado and part-time in Arizona.  He has a son named Dirk who has co-authored some the Dirk Pitt books, and you can see Cussler and his son on some of those book covers, with some of his antique cars.

Cussler’s books have been published in more than 40 languages, in more than 100 countries.  He has about 125 million avid fans, and I’m one of them.  One small voice in the wilderness, but avid in my admiration for this extraordinary man who creates extraordinary novels and devotes his life and resources to America’s maritime history.

Fantasy Friday – The Magicians

Friday, August 19th, 2011


The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Review by Bowden P. (Trey)


The Magicians is frequently pitched as “Harry Potter with college age kids, alcohol and sex.” And like so many elevator pitches, its accurate on the surface, but not once you actually settle down and read it. I also think that because of this pitch it inspires such strong feelings to either love it or hate it. What’s it about? Its about Quentin Coldwater, a kid from Brooklyn who’s been the smartest in his class for years, likely the most miserable as well, and his going to a magical college called Brakebills for five years.  And, yes it does involve self discovery, alcohol and magic. Outside of the surface similarities to a college age Harry Potter, it quickly diverges.

Quentin is a brilliant, if miserable, Brooklynite given the opportunity to take an entrance exam for a magical college for Brakebills when his interviewer for a scholarship dies. The exam is grueling, long and pretty fantastical in and of itself with animated drawings, created languages and on and on. Needless to say, Quentin gets in. Unlike Harry, magic does not make him happy – in fact it seems to make him more miserable. He keeps expecting something bad to happen and take it all away from him, or to be found out as a fraud and on and on.

Magic is also very different. No faux Latin incantations here. Magic is demanding – it requires incredible hand and finger motions, mastering various dead languages and knowing hundreds or thousands of various modifications depending on an equal number of variable circumstances that fill volumes. Sometimes its easier to just drive a nail using a hammer instead of using a spell. Getting all of these on a gut level is a demanding process of memorization and an exercise no one tells others about. Its also dangerous. One miscast spell in a lecture results in the summoning of The Beast, which stands off the combined efforts of the Brakebills faculty and eats one of the students.

Quentin’s time at Brakebills is interesting, but not the totality of the of the story. To me, the story only begins to get moving once the he graduates and moves to New York City with his friends. There an old acquaintance from school seeks them out with an opportunity to travel to Fillory, a imaginary land that has all but obsessed Quentin from childhood.

Now, while its been described as Harry Potter goes to college, The Magicians isn’t. Its a deconstruction of two series: Harry Potter (the obvious) and the Narnia books (Fillory). It takes them apart and doesn’t use anesthetic in the process. Fans of the two series will not be pleased in many cases. Its also meta-fictionally aware – the characters know about Harry and Narnia and all the rest and act accordingly. So, if you love those two series, beware.

Quentin is almost an anti-Harry. Magic doesn’t free him, but complicates his life immensely. He’s also more than a bit annoying – smug and miserable at the same time, frequently able to choose the worst thing to do. I’d be lying to say I don’t recognize him in the mirror some days.

Brakebills seems a bit like Hogwarts at first, drawing from a similar background, but more impersonal. The faculty seldom intrude on the students’ lives  and when they do, they’re more like forces of nature.

Quentin’s fellow students are a pretty cold lot as well. They’re the best and brightest the U.S. has to offer, all chucked together with relatively little supervision and growing power. Its not Lord of the Flies, but it is the situation at Brakebills. The only ones with screen time are Quentin, Elliott, Penny, Alice and Janet, and they’re all pieces of work that I wouldn’t befriend.

Unlike most other modern and urban fantasies, Lev Grossman asks one big question that others are afraid to ask – what do magicians do? And the answer seems to be, not a lot. Some try to improve the world with public and government service, but it seems a lot are at loose ends with all that power and esoteric knowledge. Its not a pretty picture.

Was the book worth it? Yest. I enjoyed it and may even read the sequel, The Magician Kings.

Likes: Brakebills; How to get to Fillory; Causality and all its problems; The mechanics of magic; What do magicians do when they graduate; The complexity of the situation in Fillory; Occasionally Quentin; The shout outs in the novel; Characters meta-fictional awareness.

Dislikes: Most of the characters; The fact that no matter what they did, they always screwed it up; The shout outs in the novel (because when you’re reduced to looking for Easter eggs, well…); Characters meta-fictional awareness.

Suggested for: Fans of Narnia and Harry Potter that can take the two series taking a hit; Fans of coming of age stories that aren’t always pretty and fans of the occasional parody.

Story Time with Soldiers 2011, the Tale of a Book

Thursday, August 18th, 2011


Dear PaperBackSwap members,

For those who donated to our 2011 Books for Soldiers Campaign, this little story is for you.

The next wave of your donated books is currently being shipped out to United Through Reading destinations all over the world. We thought you might enjoy seeing things from your book’s perspective…

This is the tale of a book. A book for children, with shiny pictures and warm words that make the story come to life. Wouldn’t it be great to be a children’s book that could go on the high seas or across the sea to the desert to join a deployed parent? I am proud to be that book, a United Through Reading Book, one that was donated by a member of PaperBackSwap.com to make this amazing journey.

I started in the author’s mind, a small idea growing to a full- fledged story. I was published and bound in colorful bindings and then waited patiently for my destination to call me….

At the same time, a military command was preparing for deployment. All the service members were anxiously preparing themselves and their families for their departure. Those with children were thinking about ways they could stay connected to them while they are gone. They knew security often prohibits the use of social media and Skype, which are great ways to connect. Email can be sporadic and letters can take such a long time to reach their home. The service members were thrilled when they heard about the United Through Reading program. They could take a video camera into the theater with DVDs to record themselves reading bedtime stories, and then send the DVDs home to their families.

I was excited as I waited with all my other book friends inside the cardboard box in the warehouse, as I had never really traveled far before. I wondered where I might end up. I knew I could be sent from the warehouse directly to a command overseas or even stay on the seas on a huge ship! After what seemed a very long time, at last our box was chosen to go! I had a very long and bumpy ride on a truck, then had to take a bus, and then a plane (from which I dropped!) right on to the deck of a ship in the middle of the ocean . Finally, I was about to be in the hands of the active duty military person who wanted to read a bedtime story to their son or daughter.  My destiny was close!

My box traveled all the way across the world to Iraq and I arrived at my command in the sand. I was so hot as I sat on the shelf in a tent, waiting for my first reading. I could hear tanks rumbling by outside, and the voices of Soldiers talking, too. Once I heard someone whistling as they walked by. I patiently waited for three days on that shelf…hoping, wishing a Soldier would come and choose me.

Then, all the sudden I saw him coming toward me, all dressed in uniform, and I knew he was the one. He took his time and looked at several books, but I hoped and hoped  he was going to pick me…and he did! I saw the smile when he opened my crisp, new pages and started to record himself while imagining the delight on his daughter’s face when she heard this story and saw him on DVD. I was so ready and excited to tell my story.

My best buddy in the book box was put in the backpack of a Marine who took United Through Reading Mobile into dangerous territory. Another buddy stayed on the ship for the sailors.In all of these places, we saw the great patriotism and sacrifice these Soldiers make for their families and yours every day. It is an honor to be their book. Thanks to PaperBackSwap members and United Through Reading we made a difference!

Musings, Memories and Miscellany from our MoM’s

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Amanda S. (ABCatHome) was named our Member of the Month for July 2011.


Several years ago…September of 2005, to be exact…I finally became disgusted with the book choices from my local small-town library. I’d read most every book in the genres that I liked and then found out they would charge me money for each book I requested through inter-library loan. Knowing that would add up to be several dollars a month, I quickly began searching for a way to trade books with other book-lovers. After a quick search, PaperbackSwap came up in my results. I browsed the site for just a short time before I knew this was the site I wanted to be a part of. And thus began my addiction…

I honestly don’t remember the specific date that I became a Tour Guide, or when I was asked to be a Tour Guide Assistant Coordinator…I just know that I wanted to help this site grow and become the best book-swapping site that it could be, so every chance I had I stepped up. I also wanted to help other members navigate and learn how to use the site to its fullest potential for them. When the Team approached me about being the Book Bazaar Czar, I wanted to instantly say yes. But knowing that I was expecting our third child and how that would change my life, I wanted to be sure I could truly be committed to doing a good job. It didn’t take me long to realize I would make it work, no matter what.  Being a part of PBS is one area of my life that has stayed constant…no matter what I do, I always have PBS because it joins two of my favorite things in life: books and helping people!

I love to read books…and have enjoyed reading for as long as I can remember. My goal is to instill in my children the love for books, reading, and writing that I have. They get SO excited when they know they’ve ordered a book from PBS and they see that package come through the door…they can’t wait to open it and start reading their new books. As a homeschooling family, we gain a great deal of our knowledge from reading.

My husband, Terry, says that he needs to build me my own library to house all the books I’ve accumulated through swaps and games here at PBS. I’ve gotten very creative with how (and where) to store my books that are waiting to be read. But beyond the books, PBS is an extended family. The Tour Guides have shown me such love and encouragement in the gifts and cards they sent me when my daughter was born. And when my daughter’s birth started a year-long health battle for me, the Tour Guides and members alike showed their concern and their love through cards, PMs, emails, and more. Through the swap games in the  Games Forum I’ve found some great friendships, shared many laughs, and prayed with many members. So while I give back to PBS, the members here have given greatly to me as well.

My favorite set of books growing up was the Anne of Green Gables set by L.M. Montgomery. What a fabulous story of love and acceptance!!

As an adult, Francine Rivers has had a huge impact on me and my reading preferences. Her book, Redeeming Love, is a book all about forgiveness and love. I’ve read it 3 times now and pick it up to read at least once every couple of years. Truthfully, anything by Francine Rivers is a good read!

Other authors I love are Mary Connealy, Miralee Ferrell, Kim Vogel Sawyer, Lauraine Snelling, Debbie Macomber, and Charles Martin just to name a few. And while I truly enjoy Christian Fiction the most, I also read Contemporary Fiction and Chick Lit.

Right now, I’m working my way through the Sons of Encouragement series by Francine Rivers and Bringing up Boys by Dr James Dobson.





If you have any nominations for Member of the Month, submit them to us here.  Your nomination will not “expire”–anyone you nominate will have a chance at getting Member of the Month if enough nominations accumulate over time. Each month the person who has the most votes accumulated when the Newsletter goes to press gets to be Member of the Month and gets a newsletter mention and a nifty MoM icon to wear on profile and forum posts with pride.  So go for it! Tell us who’s helped you in the Forums, who’s been a great swapper, who in your opinion is a credit to PBS.  We are keeping a list of all the nominated members.  Who knows–one of them might be YOU!