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Melinda Ott has commented on (175) products.

The Virgin's Daughter: A Tudor Legacy Novel by Laura Andersen
The Virgin's Daughter: A Tudor Legacy Novel

Melinda Ott, May 29, 2015

When I heard that Laura Andersen was coming out with a new trilogy, I jumped at it. I loved her Boleyn Trilogy (The Boleyn King, The Boleyn Deceit, and The Boleyn Reckoning) and couldn't wait to see what she had in store next. The answer: more of the same.

Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing--after all, I truly enjoyed her first trilogy. However, this book is like the 4th book in a trilogy. The 3 books of the Boleyn Trilogy read like a trilogy--they worked together as a whole and came to a satisfying ending. Now, we have a continuation of the story with Dominic and Minuette's children and Elizabeth's daughter (in Andersen's alternate universe, Elizabeth was married to Philip of Spain). Is this a problem? Not really, except that you really need to read the original trilogy before starting this book. Seriously. I can't see how anyone who had not read the first 3 books would have any clue what is going on here.

On a petty side note, I feel like I have to mention the cover art. The first three books had very nicely designed covers and I wish the designers had carried that through to this book. Frankly, I find the cover of this book a bit tawdry.

Okay, back to the bones. So, this book is called The Virgin's Daughter but, it isn't about Elizabeth's daughter. Princess Anne Isabel (called Anabel), who is the daughter of Elizabeth and Philip of Spain, is a character in the book, but she is secondary at best. Instead, this book is about the oldest daughter of Dominic and Minuette, Lucette, who was born in the last book of the previous trilogy.

Lucette was a fun, if not realistic, character. Elizabeth basically uses her as a spy, which would never have happened in the "real" Elizabethan England, but in this one--sure, why not? Lucette is, of course, smart and beautiful--but not too smart, and I think that is what I liked most about her. She made mistakes and she misread things. Basically, she wasn't perfect. She is sent to visit (er, spy) the home of her family's friend, Renaud LeClerc (a character in the first trilogy) to sniff out a possible conspiracy to assassinate Queen Elizabeth. There she meets up with the two LeClerc brothers, who themselves are estranged.

There are a cast of supporting characters, both historical and fictional. In this book, Andersen uses more fictional than historical characters, which is change from her first trilogy. Among the "real" people, we have Elizabeth I, Philip of Spain, Sir Francis Walsingham, Dr. John Dee, and Mary, Queen of Scots. The rest of the characters are of Andersen's creation, which makes this one more step removed from fact. I say this only because some people (okay, I am one of them) are sort of sticklers for historical accuracy, so they need to keep in the forefront of their mind that this is "alternate" history.

I hope that the next two books more deeply explore the younger set in these books. This is Lucette's book, but will the next be Anabel's or Pippa's (Lucette's younger sister, who I found very interesting)? We can only wait and see, but Andersen has set up some interesting possibilities for the coming books.

I found the plot of this book to be fast moving and fun, but Andersen's writing didn't seem quite as tight as it did in her first trilogy. I'm willing to forgive that because I do think she has an interesting story here. While I'm still trying to figure out if I'm reading a new trilogy or an installment of a series, I would recommend Andersen's books. I would strongly, strongly urge any reader to start with The Boleyn King and go from there but, if you've already read her Boleyn "trilogy" and enjoyed it, this would be a "must read" for you.
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Pieces of My Mother: A Memoir by Melissa Cistaro
Pieces of My Mother: A Memoir

Melinda Ott, May 28, 2015

Oh my, where to start. Anyone can tell from reading the summary of this book that it is going to be heart-wrenching. I am lucky in that I can't personally relate to Cistaro's story, yet I was still deeply affected by this book. I can only imagine how someone who can relate to Cistaro's story would experience this.

I enjoyed Cistaro's writing quite a bit and she wasn't afraid to go all in. I suspect it can be hard to articulate the feelings that Cistaro had to go through in her life and I applaud her for that. In fact, this book reminds me of another well-known memoir of a woman coming to terms with her mother's death and I think readers of that novel (you know what book I'm talking about!) may be interested in this book.

I will admit, though, that I did have some problems with the pacing of this book I felt that Cistaro did a fabulous job of digging deep and explaining her feelings, but I also felt that most of this book was stuck in neutral. I never felt that Cistaro was getting closer to making peace with her feelings about her mother until, well, she had made peace. I wish that there had been more of a forward-motion in the narrative throughout the book.

Would I recommend this book to others? Yes, although not universally. I don't think this is a book for just anyone and a reader needs to be in a certain "head space" for it. But, for some, this is an excellent memoir.
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Under the Same Blue Sky by Pamela Schoenewaldt
Under the Same Blue Sky

Melinda Ott, May 26, 2015

Folks, I'm scratching my head over this one. There are definitely some wonderful things about this book, and I enjoyed the experience of reading it, but there were issues that I just can't overlook.

I'll start with the positive. This is my second book by Pamela Schoenewaldt (Swimming in the Moon was the first) and, once again, I was drawn in by the language in this book. It is not overly verbose, but the prose is still lovely and completely readable.

I was immediately attracted to Hazel as a character. She is a young woman very much at a crossroads in her life. As is typical among young people of that age, she is restless and then she discovers a family secret that leads her to question her life as she knows it. I liked that while Hazel was a proactive character, Shoenewaldt still gave her time to process these things that go on in her life.

The real draw for me with this book is how well Schoenewaldt draws America during World War I. I've read a fair amount of WWI fiction, but I think it was all from a European viewpoint. The United States had a unique experience with the war--while we didn't join in until late in the game, the war was fought by citizens on the streets of America. Schoenewaldt captures this expertly and, for that alone, I would recommend this book.

But, as I said, there were things that just didn't work. My biggest problem is that it seemed like Schoenewaldt took 3 passes at this before settling on a plot, but the first 2 possible plots are still included, but never finished. The first of these is Hazel's family secret, which is introduced, ignored for a bit, and then brought up briefly before being dropped for the rest of the book. The second story line involves some magic realism. It is not that I don't like magic realism--I actually quite like it when done well--but I do believe that it is something that an author needs to commit to and carry through the entire work. Schoenewaldt does not do this. It happens in only one part of the book and then is dropped again. Throughout the rest of this book, I kept hoping I'd see a return, or at least an explanation, of the magic realism, but it never happened. Because of this, I felt like I was reading 3 distinct stories (or 2 beginnings of stories and one complete story) instead of one cohesive novel.

I really think that a but more editing and the removal of "story stumps" would have greatly improved this novel. But, I cannot discount the beautiful language and Schoenewaldt's description of WWI-era America. Even with its flaws, I would still recommend this book.
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The Martian by Andy Weir
The Martian

Melinda Ott, May 21, 2015

Once again, I'm probably the last person around to read this. However, this time at least, there is a good reason for it. It was the selection for my book club this month and I try to read the selections within a month of the meeting. So, I've owned a copy of this book for months but had to wait (well, made myself wait) until just recently to read it.

The big question is: does it live up to the hype? Yes, yes it does. I was actually a little wary of this book going in. From what I had heard about it, I was afraid it would be a Castaway scenario where it would be one character talking to himself (or to an inanimate object). Thankfully, that is not the case. Yes, the bulk of the book is Mark Watney trying to survive on Mars, but there are also scenes with NASA and with Watney's crew as they travel away from him. And Mark never talks to a soccer ball, or personifies any other non-living thing, so that is a plus.

There is a a staggering amount of science in this book, but don't let that scare you off. I do not have a scientific mind at all and I was able to get through it. I will say I did better when Mark was going through the science than when the people from NASA or the Hermes crew were relaying it. Weir created a great voice with Mark, which is necessary since the bulk of the book is in his voice. He has a great sense of humor and even the driest science monologue was entertaining when it was coming from him. However, I am kind of amazed at how much chemical engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering he knows as a botanist (yes, I know everyone had multiple roles but...wow....)

The movie version will be out later this year and I am in now way making a dig at the book when I say I think it will make a great movie. It does have a very linear plot which translates well to film but doesn't always work on the page. Here, however, is an exception. The fact that Weir has directed everything in this book to one point is truly effective and I think that, if he had deviated at all from that, the whole narrative may have fallen apart.

I read this book in one day, which I am rarely able to do these days. Once I picked it up, I just couldn't put it down and I'm pretty sure that most people would have the same experience.
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Love and Miss Communication by Elyssa Friedland
Love and Miss Communication

Melinda Ott, May 13, 2015

Let's start with the good--and there is a lot of good here. I guess the proper review format would be to save my "bottom line" for the end of this, but I'm going to be a rebel and start with it. I really enjoyed this book and it was exactly what I needed when I read it.

Friedland's writing style is exceptionally good for this type of book in that there seems to be a fair amount depth to her writing and she fleshes out the main character of Evie quite nicely.The secondary characters are more one-dimensional, but since the novel is so focused on Evie, it isn't really an issue.

The premise of this book is both unique and timely. If you are reading this review, you are plugged in. Evie goes completely off the grid. Like, she won't even look at a computer screen (at least not when it is turned on). I know I couldn't do it and I doubt many others could either. I kept thinking there was no way she would be able to function in life without the internet, but she makes it and it is pretty awe-inspiring. Honestly, I would recommend this book on the premise alone.

Now, the critical part. Before I go on, let me reiterate that I did enjoy this book. It is on the lighter side, and I knew that going into it, so even though I have these criticisms, they were not big issues for me.

First off, I knew exactly what was going to happen in this book. There was nothing that caught me by surprise and I knew pretty much from the start how the book would end. However, this book could fall under the "chick lit" umbrella and such books usually follow the same formula, so the fact that this book was not surprising is not surprising.

I also wish Friedland had spent more time on what Evie went through the first few days and weeks of going off-line. Did she go through the typical withdrawal symptoms? Did she eat all the chocolate in the world? I don't know, because Friedland never really went into that. It seemed like giving up the internet was just as easy as deciding to do so and I really, really, really doubt that.

My final little criticism is that the epilogue of this book just doesn't fit with the rest of the book. You could just skip it and not miss anything but, if you choose to read it, you might be scratching your head, trying to figure out how it relates to anything. Epilogue should tie up loose strings, this one just tangles up a whole other ball of yarn.

Still, this was an enjoyable read for me and one I'd recommend to anyone looking for a beach read where they don't get WiFi.
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