Saturday, March 25, 2017


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Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Although All Different Kinds of Free was published a mere 6 years ago in 2011, it was next to impossible to find a hard copy readily available for purchase in the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area. That probably should have given me an indication of its quality. However, I purchased and dug into the story as it was a book club selection.

The author, Jessica McCann, made an attempt at producing a creative historical fiction novel based on an actual U.S. Supreme Court case (Prigg v. Pennsylvania). There was great opportunity with the U.S. on the cusp of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the Civil War, shortly thereafter. I don't think McCann was successful in advancing a well-rounded story. There were gaps in her story, typos in her copy, and characters that were not fully developed. After plowing through the 267 pages (that felt more like 672 pages), the ending seemed rushed, like McCann was being forced to get her book to publication, resulting in a conclusion that wasn't particularly satisfying nor complete.

The story is set in the 1830s, during a time when the country was becoming more divided on the morality of the institution of slavery. The main character, Margaret Morgan, was living as a free woman with her family in Pennsylvania. Because there is some ambiguity about her freedom status, her former owner takes advantage of this to produce financial gains for herself. Her former owner hires a bounty hunter to kidnap her and her children (one, who was undeniably born free). The Morgans are forced into slavery to help alleviate debts of Margaret's owner.

Meanwhile, McCann offers up the nitty gritty details of the Supreme Court case regurgitating what is probably the court proceeding's transcript, verbatim. I found this section to be informative, but it slowed down the pace of the story a great deal.

I didn't find any redeeming value in this book. Margaret's former owner clearly has a change of heart, but it's too little too late. Margaret's husband sacrifices a great deal trying to get his family back. The lawyer that argued the Supreme Court case to help prove that the kidnapping was illegal wasn't successful and becomes depressed. Margaret's hometown in Pennsylvania experiences violence and riots as a result of the Supreme Court ruling. I think McCann tried to give the reader some hope at the end of the story through Jim Green. However, after so many defeats it's difficult to see that as a true win, especially since the story wasn't developed beyond Jim's heroic actions and the story ended so abruptly.

I understand that slavery is often a central topic in historical fiction. However, this was not the best execution. She would have been better served writing this as a research paper or a literary journalism article, perhaps.

Recommendation: I purchased this ebook because it was not available at my local library nor was it available in hard copy at any bookstores in my area. I wish I could get my money back. Clearly, I am not extending a recommendation to read this book. There is a plethora of stories about slavery. Choose another one to read.

Until next time ... Read on!

Sunday, March 5, 2017


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Rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received an advance copy of The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman from Net Galley. I have not been compensated for this review.

Who says grief can't be funny? In this novel, we meet 34-year old Lilian Girvan (Lili), widowed mother of two daughters - Annabel and Clare, sister to her polar opposite Rachel, and daughter to her brutally honest mother.

Her husband's untimely death, right in front of her on their neighborhood street, understandably emotionally wrecked her life. The book opens after Lilian has a stint in a mental health facility and is back at work as an illustrator for a small publishing company. In an effort to save the business, she's tasked by her boss to attend a six-week gardening class for a related book the company hopes to publish.

Throughout the course of the book, we learn that even though it's been several years since her husband's death Lilian is still grieving. Much of this grieving is self-focused, setting the stage for opportunities of re-evaluation and reconciliation with her family. All the while, she's attending this gardening class where she makes unlikely friends.

I really enjoyed the self-exploration part of this book. I liked how the author developed the main character through the secondary characters. Most of all, I like that the focus was on healing and friendships and not so much about getting a guy to make your life complete. However, there are some romantic elements, but they are not over done. Additionally, there are various "excerpts" about gardening throughout the book, which made it a fun read for this gardening hobbyist. I would have enjoyed the book more if there was a spiritual element to the healing process, but to each his (or her) own!

Recommendation: There are tidbits of goodness in this book with an overall realistic perspective on grief and and healing; however, I felt like some parts were contrived in an effort to create more humor than was necessary. At times the Lilian character was inconsistent and the happily ever after ending tied the story up a little too perfectly for my taste.

Until next time ... Read on!