Monday, April 30, 2012


Story Description: 

Over five years in the writing, The Dovekeepers is Alice Hoffman’s most ambitious and mesmerizing novel, a tour de force of imagination and research, set in ancient Israel. 

In 70 C.E., nine-hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert.  According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived.  Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman’s novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path.  Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father an expert assassin, never forgave her for that death.  Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her young grandsons, rendered mute by what they have witnessed.  Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and an expert marksman who finds passion with a fellow solider.  Shirah, born in Alexandria, is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power. 

The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege.  All are dovekeepers and all are also keeping secrets about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.  The Dovekeepers is Alice Hoffman’s masterpiece. 

My Review: 

I have read a lot of novels about ancient Jerusalem during this era but I must begin this particular review with one word – WOW!!  I was completely entranced with Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers which took place during the Roman siege during the first century abbreviated as C.E. which stands for Common Era.  Common Era refers to the years counting forward from the birth of Jesus.  C.E. has mostly replaced the old use of A.D. in an effort to appease non-theological references and non-believers. The use of Common Era is a more accepted practice now. 

The Jewish war was written around 75 C.E. by a man named Flavius Josephus who was a Jewish historian. 

Masada was a desert fortress situated at the top of a rock cliff at the western end of the Judean Desert and overlooking the Dead Sea.  Masada is the Hebrew word for fortress. 

Hoffman delivers a breathtaking account of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.  In 73 C.E. the Roman Governor Flavius Silva marched against Masada with the Tenth Legion.  The Romans quickly built camps at the base of Masada in preparation to lay siege to it.  They built massive walls and constructed a rampart, then built a huge ramp, moved the battering ram up the ramp and breached the wall of the fortress. 

The story is told through the voices of four different women: Yael, Revka, Aziza and Shirah.  Each of these women had secrets about where they came from, who they are, who their fathers were, and who they love.  Each of the women’s stories bound them together throughout the novel emotionally and symbolically.  The change in each woman’s story flowed effortlessly and leant to the dynamic retelling of this sad and tragic period in history.  

The dramatic end to this story will rip your heart out and leave tear-stains on your pages as you turn them.  The title The Dovekeepers has a symbolic meaning throughout the story. 

I’ve read a lot of Hoffman’s work and I believe this to be her very best.  I believe this will become a classic in the future and a novel that will be talked about in book groups, people’s living rooms, in the news and will be a bestseller.  I for sure will be touting the merits of this book to anyone and everyone who will listen.  Kudos to you Ms. Hoffman!

Friday, April 27, 2012


Story Description:
Baker Publishing Group | January 1, 2009 | Trade Paperback |ISBN 978-8007-3330-8
It is the summer of 1838 in St. Lawrenceville, Missouri, and Molly McGarvie's life is about to change forever.  When her beloved Samuel succumbs to cholera, Molly is heartbroken but determined to take care of herself and her children.  But when Samuel's unscrupulous brother takes over the family business and leaves Molly to fend for herself, she knows she must head out on her own.  It is a dangerous journey and Molly has to leave her old life behind.  Somehow she must find a way to make a living, keep her family together, and fend off some over-eager suitors.  

Book one in the At Home in Beldon Grove series, The Edge of Light will captivate readers with the true-to-life emotions of one woman's struggle to survive. 
My Review: 

Molly McGarvie and her children: James, Franklin, and Luellen have to stand-by and watch their husband and father, Samuel die of cholera.  Molly is pregnant with their fourth child and this is an extremely stressful time for her. 

After Samuel dies, his own brother kicks Molly and the children out of their own home claiming that he had made arrangements with her husband prior to his death.  Along with losing her home, Molly must also leave behind her black slave, Betsy.  Molly has never thought of Betsy as a slave since they grew up together and were more friends than anything.  Betsy could talk and do whatever she pleased and Molly had taught her to read and write. 

Matthew, Molly’s brother and his friend Dr. Karl Spengler come to take Molly and the children to his home in Beldon Grove.  Molly has the baby and names her Lily.  During their wagon ride to Beldon Grove they must cross the Mississippi River and young Franklin gets lost.  They spend days and days searching for him but he’s never found.  Forced to move on without her son and everyone telling her that he is dead, Molly believes deep down that Franklin is alive somewhere.  

Once in Beldon Grove Molly is forced to make some difficult choices often to the detriment of herself but she’ll do anything to move out of her brother’s home and live on her own, make her own living and raise her children herself. 

Molly also has a few suitors who are all vying for her attention, some I found to be rather unsavoury and personally wouldn’t consider them marriage material.  What will Molly do and how will she ever survive in the year 1838 on her own with four children? 

The Edge of Light was Ann Shorey’s debut novel and I found it to be quite good and will be reading her second novel titled: The Promise of Morning.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Baker Publishing Group| March 1, 2011| Trade Paperback| ISBN # 978-0-8007-3322-3

 Story Description: 

Bathsheba is a woman who longs for love.  With her devout husband away fighting the King's wars for many months at a time, discontent and loneliness dog her steps--and make it frighteningly easy to succumb to King David's charm and attention.  Though she immediately regrets her involvement with the powerful King, the pieces are set in motion that will destroy everything she holds dear.  Can she find forgiveness at the feet of the Almighty?  Or has her sin separated her from God--and David--forever?  With a historian's sharp eye for detail and a novelist's creative spirit, Jill Eileen Smith brings to life the passionate and emotional story of David's most famous--and infamous--wife.  Smith uses her gentle hand to draw out the humanity in her characters, allowing readers to see themselves in the three-dimensional lives and minds of people who are often viewed in starkly moralistic terms.  You will never read the story of David and Bathsheba in the same way again. 

My Review: 

Jerusalem, 994 BC 

Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah have been married for three years are trying to have a baby.  They only had two more days together before, Uriah left again for many months.  On the third night he would sleep in another room, refusing any intimate touch in preparation for war.  This was something about him Bathsheba just couldn’t understand.  The days spent marching to the place of battle should give him plenty of time to become pure in thought.  Why did he have to start before he even left her side? 

Bathsheba couldn’t sleep anymore so she went to the cooking room.  Her servant, Tirzah heard her and came to join her.  She knew Bathsheba was upset so she poured her a glass of wine.  Tirzah knew Bathsheba well as she had looked after her since she was a child and said to her: “I think it’s time for you to be honest.”  Bathsheba replied: “Honest?  You think I would lie to you about something?”  Tirzah answered: “I think you would like to yourself and to your husband. Me, you would avoid…I think you are lonely, perhaps even angry.”  Bathsheba tells her if she is lonely it’s only because Uriah is gone more than he is home, she doesn’t have a child to take his place, and that she doesn’t sleep well when he is away.  She goes on to say that her life and her marriage aren’t worth anything if she can’t give Uriah an heir to carry on the Hittite line and she fears he may take another wife if she doesn’t conceive soon.  

Uriah was an extremely religious man who obeyed the laws, enjoyed the reading of the law, and the reminder of all that God required of a man.  He wondered if his sins were keeping God from granting his wife a child?  Was he paying for them in the loss of his first wife and now the barrenness of his second wife. Or, was Bathsheba’s barrenness her own fault?  The thought bothered him whenever the call to war drew near and her emotions grew frayed. 

A pounding suddenly came at the door of their home.  It was three of King David’s messengers come to request Uriah’s presence at the Palace immediately for King David’s favourite wife, Abigail, had just died giving birth to their third child together.  King David has named her “Abigail” after her mother.  Bathsheba went along too to pay her respects to the King.  He buried her in the tomb that was waiting someday for his body instead of the tomb meant for all the other wives. 

Due to the death and his grief over his beloved wife, Abigail, King David had decided not to go with his men this time to lead them in the war and instead stayed behind in the Palace waiting for daily updates from his army.  One afternoon he went up to the roof of the Palace to be alone with his thoughts and look over the city.  The next roof over from the Palace was that of Bathsheba and Uriah’s.  Bathsheba was also up on her roof at the same time and King David saw how very beautiful she was.  He asked her name and who the lucky man was that was married to such a beauty.  Bathsheba relayed her condolences to the King over his loss of Abigail.  Of course, it didn’t escape her how extremely handsome the King was.  

King David was walking in aimless circles along the perimeter of his palace, stopping every few minutes at the parapet to gaze out over the City of Jerusalem.  He hadn’t been to his roof in three months to avoid his desire to look in the direction of the woman (Bathsheba) he’d met the day his men left for war.  For him to speak with her again would not bode well, or be proper, if others heard of it.  He thought about asking one of his other wives to take a walk in the courtyard with him as a woman can be a great distraction from grief and war, as he’d briefly noticed the day he met his neighbor’s wife.  But the respite had been short-lived.  Abigail’s death had left a deep hole in his heart, and no other woman would ever be able to take her place.  He questioned himself as to why God had taken the one woman who understood him, with whom he could discuss his concerns and share his burdens – the one woman who had stolen his heart. 

Hushai the Archite went to speak with King David about his overwhelming grief over losing Abigail.  He told the King he should find another wife who had as much faith in God as the King himself did.  Hushai reminded David that he had kept all his promises to Abigail but she was gone now and he no longer needed to keep the promise of not taking any more wives.  The King finally relented and told Hushai: “Bring me your choices.” 

Bathsheba was preparing for the new moon feast later that evening and had sent invitations to family members and all had agreed to join her.  Yearning for her family tugged at her to help fight the loneliness she felt with Uriah’s absence.  But if she was honest with herself, it was a glimpse of the King she longed for the most.  Her pulse quickened at the thought, bringing with it a troubling sense of guilt.  Loneliness was the only explanation for the way her mind kept playing their conversation of months before.  And if Uriah had never gone to war she wouldn’t have been on the roof that day and never have spoken one single word to the King.  But every day her gaze traveled to the spot where she’d stood and was a testament to the fact that she missed her husband.  She wondered if the war would ever end?  

Tirzah was just finishing up painting Bathsheba’s hands and feet with henna when there was a loud knock at the door. Tirzah answered and quickly returned to Bathsheba’s bedchamber and told her: “Mistress, you must dress quickly in your best robes and come at once.  Messengers have come from the King.  Your presence at the palace is requested immediately.”  Bathsheba gripped the edge of her bed, her breath growing still.  “The King is asking for me?  What could he possibly want?”  Then it dawned on Bathsheba that perhaps there was some bad news about her husband, Uriah.  A sick feeling and a shudder rushed through her body.  

What did King David want with Bathsheba?  I will say that when I read the rest of the story, my heart bled for Bathsheba.  In my opinion, she didn’t deserve all what happened to her.   I totally fell in love with this story and the book is so well written you’d think you were reading scripture from the Bible.  Some scenes, of course, weren’t explained fully or the book would have been never ending. 

BATHSHEBA concludes the series “The Wives of King David”.  Jill Eileen Smith is one Christian author I will continue to read in the future. 

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Baker Publishing Group|February 1, 2010|Trade Paperback|ISBN 978-0-8007-3321-6

 Story Description: 

Her days are marked by turmoil and faded dreams, Abigail has resigned herself to a life with a man she does not love. But when circumstances offer her a second chance at happiness with the handsome David, she takes a leap of faith to join his wandering tribe.  Still, her struggles are far from over.  How can she share his love with the other women he insists on marrying? 

ABIGAIL follows the bestselling MICHAL and continues Jill Eileen Smith’s rich story of David’s wives. 

My Review: 

Abigail was only two days away from marrying, Nabal and her parents knew she didn’t love him and abhorred the man but they were powerless to stop the wedding from taking place.  This marriage was a childhood betrothal to pay off her father’s debts.  They even thought about taking the matter to the elders and asking for a termination of the agreement but then Abigail would have to live with the stigma and her own father wasn’t wealthy enough to provide for her for the rest of her life. 

Nabal was the brash, deceitful son of Simon of Carmel, the man Abigail’s father owed the debt too.  Nabal was known to have an impulsive, explosive temper, but he was attractive and Abigail hoped she could help him see the error of his ways and teach him how people lose respect for men who are rude or unkind.  She prayed for God to help her. 

The day of the wedding arrived and Nabal came with alcohol on his breath which was sure to make him even more unpredictable.  Nabal even asked Abigail: “You’re not afraid of me are you?”  She only shook her head thanking God for the veil that hid her face.  Once inside the marriage tent, Nabal didn’t even wait for the Priest to arrive to give the final blessing.  He immediately removed Abigail’s veil and wasted no time in lowering his lips to hers.  His fingers dug into her shoulders, and he pulled her close, his mouth pressed against her ear and he said: “Never question me, wife!”  He let her go, then he pushed her from him, she stumbled, reeling from the obvious threat, still tasting alcohol and wine on his breath.  Zahara, a pretty servant whispered to Abigail: “Whatever you do, do nothing to anger him…if you do what he asks, everything will be all right.” 

Daniel, Abigail’s brother was very upset as he wondered to himself: “How could father have allowed Abigail to marry that fool?”  He told himself he would have cut Nabal’s throat for not allowing Abigail to receive the final blessing from the Priest, and she deserved a man who would protect and treasure her, not mistreat and abuse her.  Daniel knew his father felt some misplaced loyalty to Simon and his worthless son, Nabal, but he did not. 

Meanwhile, David the harpist, who had brought down Goliath was on the run and in hiding because King Saul wanted to kill him.  He had his wife with him along with cousins, nephews, other family members and other followers in his tribe. 

Daniel, Abigail’s brother didn’t want to stay at his father’s home and sought out David.  When he found him he told him his name was Daniel ben Judah and that he’d been searching for David in order to join his tribe.  He told David he’d also heard that he allowed men who were in debt or discontented to join forces with him and that women and children were also welcomed and that he’d like to bring his family to help in David’s cause which was to kill King Saul before King Saul killed him.  David asked how many were in Daniel’s family and he told him his wife, Talya, who was pregnant and his parents, if he could convince them to come.  He said he would like to bring his sister, Abigail but she had married a fool.  David asked Daniel why his father would allow his sister to marry such a man and Daniel responded that his father had little choice as his father was forced into service years ago to a wicked man.  Rather than decreasing his debts, Simon of Carmel found ways to defraud his father again and again until finally Simon manipulated his father into giving his sister to his son as his wife.  So now his sister was trapped in a marriage to a fool who abused her.  David said he understood Daniel’s plight and told him to go in peace and bring his family, however, he couldn’t guarantee Daniel that he and his tribe would be in the same place when he returned and he may be forced to search for them again. 

Abigail was being treated terribly by Nabal.  One evening he took her outside and wrestled an olive branch from a tree and beat her within an inch of her life, then stripped all her clothing off, pushed her down into the dirt and left her laying there naked, beaten, and crying. 

Daniel returned to David and his tribe with his pregnant wife and his parents.  They were all relieved to be away from the clutches of Simon.  That same week Nabal had his spies out looking for David and when he was located they threatened him and disrespected him.  David and some of his men were going to Nabal’s house to kill him and every other male living in his home.  The same night they arrived to do their deed, Nabal took fatally ill.  Daniel was worried about his sister, Abigail and what she would do when Nabal died.  David thought Abigail was beautiful and knew that she was as faithful to God as much as he was so he sent three messengers to her house with a proposal of marriage and a promise to protect her all of her life when Nabal died.  Abigail was awestruck for she knew one day David would be King.  She told David’s messengers that she accepted David’s proposal of marriage.  Ten days later, Nabal died and after his burial, Abigail and David were married.  David’s first wife was not happy that he had taken another wife and didn’t treat Abigail too kindly.

Had Abigail made a mistake in marrying, David?  Or, had she married him too quickly after the death of Nabal and not going through the proper mourning period?  What would happen if King Saul was successful in killing David before David killed King Saul?  And, how was she going to cope when David eventually ended up with seven wives?  Abigail was about to enter a life that most of us would never have been able to tolerate. 

I loved this story from the Bible and couldn’t get through the book fast enough.  Don’t miss Jill Eileen Smith’s ABIGAIL you’ll love it! 

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group". 

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Baker Publishing Group|March 1, 2009|Trade Paperback|ISBN 978-0-8007-3320-9

Story Description: 

As the daughter of King Saul, Michal lives a life of privilege--but one that is haunted by her father's unpredictable moods and by competition from her beautiful older sister.  When Michal falls for young David the harpist who plays to calm her father, she has no idea what romance, adventures, and heartache await her.  As readers enter the colorful and unpredictable worlds of King Saul and King David, they will be swept up in this excitiing and romantic story.  Against the backdrop of opulent palace life, raging war, and desert escapes, Jill Eileen Smith takes her readers on an emotional roller-coaster ride as Michal deals with love, loss, and personal transformation as one of the wives of David.  A sweeping tale of passion and drama, readers will love this amazing story. 

My Review: 

Fifteen-year-old, Michal, was the daughter of King Saul.  He had a violent temper and was prone to outbursts of yelling, madness, and cruelty to anyone who was nearby including his wife and daughter.  Michal, her sister, Merab, and her brother knew he wasn’t a good King.  Ever since King Saul had returned from a battle with the Amalekites, he was a changed man who had been shaken to his core and never spoke of the battle.  Michal questioned her brother Jonathan as to why the Lord seemed to have forsaken their father rather than help him? 

King Saul was being tormented by something and his screams could be heard throughout the palace.  The only thing that would calm him was, David, the harpist.  He had already been sent for and everyone in the grand palace was awaiting his arrival so they could gain some peace from the sounds of her father’s raving madness that carried even through the open windows.  David finally arrived and his sweet music and the strings of his harp mimicked the melodic trill of a nightingale.  Michal closed her eyes and pictured a cascading waterfall. King Saul was no longer the crazed man he had been. 

As David played his head lifted and glanced in Michal’s direction, her breath caught as their eyes connected.  Could he tell how her heart yearned for him?  His gaze then moved past her and lingered on her sister, Merab, and Michal saw the look that passed between them, a look that told her more than words could say.  David, the man who had captured Michal’s heart, was in love with her sister! 

Goliath of Gath was a huge man, larger than anyone had seen before.  Goliath was taunting King Saul and his army for someone brave enough to stand up and fight him and try to kill him.  No one was volunteering for the job.  King Saul had promised riches, tax exemptions, and his daughter, Merab’s hand in marriage to the slayer of Goliath.  David, the harpist couldn’t understand the fear in everyone in fighting Goliath.  He said: “What difference did a man height make?  The Lord is on our side, we have nothing to fear”.  The men looked at David as though he had lost his mind.  David retrieved his sling-shot from his pocket and placed a large stone in the sling and fired, hitting Goliath dead centre in the forehead and bringing the large man down to ground where he then beheaded him. 

Determined to not allow Merab to marry David, Michal, unbeknownst to Merab and David, told her father the King, that Merab loved someone else.  The King immediately sought this man out and ordered Merab and Adriel to marry.  Michal had played her cards well, or had she?  She had no idea what heartache awaited her. 

This is a beautiful story from the Bible which you can read the original version of in 1 and 2 Samuel.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Grand Central Publishing | April 1, 2002 | Trade Paperback | ISBN 0-446-67845-7
Story Description: 

Lalita Tademy was a successful corporate vice president at a Fortune 500 company when she decided to embark upon what would become an obsessive odyssey to uncover her family's past.  Through exhaustive research, interviews, and the help of professional genealogists, she would find herself transported back to the early 1800s, to an isolated, close-knit rural community on Louisiana’s Cane River.  Here, Tademy takes historical fact and mingles it with fiction to weave a vivid and dramatic account of what life was like for the four remarkable women who came before her.  Beginning with Tademy’s great-great-great-great grandmother Elisabeth, this is a family saga that sweeps from the early days of slavery through the Civil War into a pre-Civil Rights South’s unique and moving slice of Americas past that will resonate with readers for generations to come. Well-researched and powerfully written, Cane River is just the kind of family portrait that will appeal to the same diverse audience as Alex Haley’s bestselling phenomenon Roots (Dell Books, reissue 1980) and the New York Times bestseller Sally Heming’s (Buccaneer Books, 1992), which sold over one million hardcover copies and inspired the feature film Jefferson in Paris, starring Nick Nolte and Thandie Newton.   

My Review: 

CANE RIVER covers 137 years of Lalita Tademy’s family’s history, written as fiction, but deeply rooted in years of research historical fact, and family lore.  It is a family saga that covers four generations of women born into slavery and searching for freedom.  Every time I read a story like this I am utterly outraged at the treatment that these people endured.  

The story is set on Rosedew Plantation on the Cane River in Louisiana.  The book traces the lives of four women: Elizabeth and her daughter Suzette; Suzette’s daughter, Philomene; and Philomene’s daughter, Emily.  All four of these women had their children by white plantation owners, sometimes by choice, other times by force.  However, each woman grew stronger through their experiences.  The one that seemed to resonate the most with me was, Philomene

Philomene, at age 17 had lost her two baby daughters to yellow fever and her husband, Clement, had been sold to another plantation owner in Virginia far from Cane River.  Her mother, Suzette, had also been sent to another plantation.  Philomene loved Clement, they had a beautiful wedding and two beautiful girls together. 

Philomene had stopped talking, stopped singing, and even stopped humming.  Everything that was dear to her had died or been taken away.  How sad that at the young age of 17 so much pain was a daily part of this girls life.  She herself said that she felt: “…used up”.  Her days were drab and hard, and her nights were full to bursting with the silent grief that her isolation nourished.  Loneliness had become an ugly, open sore that festered instead of healing over.  She drifted on the edge of nothingness from day to day.  Her deep grief was all consuming and she missed Clement so much, they went together like bread and butter and without him, a part of herself was missing.  She was barren and empty, pretending to be human, imitating the things she had done before, long ago.  Each morning when she awoke she was surprised that she hadn’t died of aloneness in the night before.  For Philomene, this was the face of slavery.  To have nothing, and still have something more to lose. 

CANE RIVER was a riveting read at 522 pages and one I will surely tell friends about. 

Monday, April 16, 2012


Story Description: 

Winter at Monte Cassino is a story told by Lieutenant Patricia Hampton, a member of the U.S. Army Photographic Section and a uniquely educated classical historian, who is brought over by her godfather General Mark Clark to create a visual record of his advance north to liberate Rome, Italy in late 1943.

It records the conflict that arises between them, as Patricia comes to realize that though she sees her job as building a faithful photographic history of his progress, he views it only as a means to produce the publicity he needs to get command of the Allied Invasion of France.

In a campaign that goes wrong from the outset, Patricia's experience quickly becomes far less about memorializing any military success, than of wondering whether she ever really knew her godfather for the desperate man he has somehow become. Faced with the increasing likelihood of him authorizing the bombing of Monte Cassino Abbey which blocks his intended line of advance, Patricia is soon
forced to decide whether to believe him when he says it is occupied by Germans, or accept the words of the enemy general who assures everyone it is not.
Having discovered the truth for herself, she must then decide whether to passively watch the impending tragedy, or use her camera to somehow prevent it.
Part coming of age story, this is also an adventure tale, as Patricia survives an assortment of ordeals in her pursuit of the truth. But out of the dreadful tragedy comes at least some redemption, as Patricia seizes her own one chance of being a light in the darkness by trying to rescue as many of the innocent civilians inside the Abbey as she can. And afterwards as she watches that Abbey burn, just like her we are all forced to reconsider our definitions of who some of the heroes in this war really were.

My Review

WINTER AT MONTE CASSINO is perfectly paced, the characters are well-developed, and the story is steeped in truth.  Blair uses his impressive command of the English language well in penning the successes and tragedies of this war. 

There is so much I want to say about this novel but don’t want to give away too much or include any spoilers so I’m finding it a bit difficult in writing this particular review. 

The most indefensible Allied act was the entire land war in Europe with the utter deliberate destruction of the Benedictine Monastery at Monte Cassino in 1944.  The Abbey was the most cherished icon of Catholicism outside of the Vatican.  Originally called “Cassinum” it was renamed “Monte Cassino” and dedicated to John the Baptist.  It was built around five cloistered courtyards by the late 1930’s and grew to more than twice the length of Buckingham Palace! 

I think of the most important questions asked in this novel was simply “why”?  The other most asked question was how many Monks and civilians were in the Abbey when it was needlessly destroyed?  One Italian citizen was reported to have said that as many as twenty-five-hundred refugees were there and after, only the remains of a mere one-hundred were found.  No one has ever come up with an acceptable explanation as to why destroying this beautiful architectural and revered piece of history was ever destroyed in the first place.  To think this most massive structure was reduced to mere chunks of debris in a matter of three days is truly a crime. 

Patricia Hampton who studied architecture and Roman history was also a photographer who was taken to the European front during World War II by her Godfather, General Mark Clark.  She was there to help substantiate his claims as he marched his troops to liberate Rome. 

The Germans had invaded Poland and Britain and France declared war on them.  Patricia had returned to Monte Cassino from the States for a first anniversary celebratory mass for her parents after they were killed in a car wreck.  This, of course, took place before the destruction of Monte Cassino. 

WINTER AT MONTE CASSINO is full of emotion and substance with a solid storyline giving the reader something to really hold onto. 

One quote I liked from Patricia’s memoir was something her father had said to her once:  “You live in a foreign country not to recreate it in your image but to understand it for what it is, and perhaps to appreciate that there are other ways of doing things than your own country’s ways”.  Isn’t that the truth?  Don’t we sometimes go somewhere and try to make it “home” rather than appreciate what is offered to us point blank. 

I thought a lot about this story once I reached the end and couldn’t decide whether to start it over again right then, or let the massive amount of information percolate in my brain for a while first.  I’ve decided to percolate for a wee bit but will definitely re-read this beautifully and impeccably written novel again.  History is an amazing educator and we learn a great deal about people and the times in which they lived.  I for one am happy to be alive in this day and age but had the opportunity to walk with the people of Italy through Blair’s fine writing.  This is one book that will stay with me a long time and one I will read again and again and will be touting its merits to all I see. 

This is simply one of those books that you CANNOT miss.  I guarantee you will be drawn in from the beginning and won't stop turning the pages until the very end. 

Thank you Mr. Blair for providing me with some of the best reading I’ve done in a while and I wish you much success with WINTER AT MONTE CASSINO!

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Grand Central Publishing | March 6, 2012 | Hardcover |ISBN 978-0-446-58385-5

Story Description: 

Every time surgeons operate, they're betting their skills are better than the brain tumor, the faulty heart valve, the fractured femur.  Sometimes, they're wrong.  At Chelsea General, surgeons answer for bad outcomes at the Morbidity and Mortality conference, known as M & M.  This extraordinary peek behind the curtain into what is considered the most secretive meeting in all of medicine is the back drop for the entire book.

Monday Mornings, by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, follows the lives of five surgeons at Chelsea General as they push the limits of their abilities and confront their personal and professional failings, often in front of their peers at M & M.  It is on Monday mornings that reflection and introspection occurs, usually in private.  It is Monday Mornings that provides a unique look at the real method in which surgeons learn - through their mistakes.  It is Monday Mornings when, if you're lucky, you have a chance at redemption.

My Review: 

MONDAY MORNINGS reads like a drama, an adventure, a suspense, a bit of romance all rolled into one.  This fast paced novel keeps you turning page after page. 

Five surgeons from the fictional Chelsea General Hospital take on various patients with various complaints and health conditions.  Some are extremely serious, some not so serious. 

We all seem to forget that doctors and surgeons are humans like us, and humans make mistakes and doctors are no exception.  Each Monday morning the doctors hold an M & M meeting, Mortality and Morbidity where someone is called up on the carpet in front of their peers and must admit their mistakes.  These are closed meetings with no CEO’s, no lawyers, and no other administrators present.  These meetings are strictly for the doctors only to hash out what went wrong and how they can prevent certain mistakes and disasters from ever happening again. 

One particular doctor was responsible for killing a young boy and as anyone who has a conscience would, drove this poor man into a serious state of fear and doubt over his ability to continue as a surgeon.  The meetings are a way for these doctors to learn through their mistakes. 

Although written as fiction, this novel reads like real life and I’m pretty certain what is written in this novel is not too far from the truth of what really does go on.  I can see now why doctors must purchase large and exorbitant amounts of malpractice insurance. 

As Samuel Shem, MD said of Monday Mornings, the novel is “filled with memorable characters and searing moments, written with a surgeon’s deftness and a healer’s heart”. 

Dr. Gupta has done an excellent job and gets two thumbs up from me and I’ll be recommending it to my friends for sure.  Very well done! 

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Baker Publishing Group | April 10, 2012 | Trade Paperback |ISBN 978-0-7642-0977-2

Story Description: 

New from #1 Bestselling Author Beverly Lewis. 

Amelia "Amy" DeVries, a 24-year-old violinist, is disillusioned with life and love after the collapse of her long-running romance.  Weary of endless rehearsals and performances, Amy sets out on a road trip through the Pennsylvania mountains.  She leaves her cell phone behind so life's demands can't intrude on her solitude.  She doesn't know, nor care, where she will end up.  When her car breaks down deep in the mountains, Amy realizes the flaw in her "no cell phone" plan.  She abandons her car and walks the winding roads, searching for help.  Following the smell of woodsmoke and the sound of music, she finds a rustic log cabin. There she meets a young Amishman--and through him a community--that will change her life forever.   

My Review: 

Amelia DeVries is a 24-year-old violinist who wants more out of her life than just performing week after week after week.  Her father has spent his whole life priming her for the stardom she has now achieved but Amelia wants more out of life than just performing.  Unbeknownst to her father, she ends up performing at the Mann one night headlining for Tim McGraw as a “fiddler” and she has an absolute blast!  Her stage name for the “fiddling” Amy is Amy Lee and she’s hoping her father doesn’t find out. 

On her way home she gets lost in a severe rainstorm and ends up with a flat tire and realizes she is going to be stuck in her car, in the dark, all night.  She searches her glove box and finds a flashlight, little consolation to her but better than nothing.  She suddenly sees a light in a window a little ways down the road and decides to get out of the car and  head for the cabin.  When she knocks on the door a handsome, blue-eyed, Amish man named, Michael answers the door.  After exchanging pleasantries and introductions he invites her in.  During that evening Amelia and Michael become friends and really like each other.  The following day Michael takes her into his Amish community where Amelia agrees to stay for the weekend.  She absolutely loves it there but soon realizes she isn’t the only one with plans to change her life. 

Through a cast of characters that you’ll come to love, Amelia finally figures it all out but it might just surprise you want she ultimately decides to do. 

Ms. Lewis has written a touching and heartfelt novel that will keep you turning the pages to the very end.  I’m looking forward to reading Book #2 of this Home to Hickory Hollow Series titled:  The Bridesmaid which will be out September 11, 2012. 

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. 

Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group".