Word by Word

Creating myself one word at a time.

ElizaHamiltonPop culture is a funny thing. You never know what will take off and become the “new” thing. Once it does, you see it everywhere. Books, movies, music, social media. The story of Alexander Hamilton is the “it” thing right now. You’d have to be living under a rock not to know this. Early American history and the stories of the Founding Fathers have always been popular. Think John Adams and the story David McCullough told.

The interesting trend lately is giving voice to the women who were influential in the lives of the Founding Fathers. They were forces in their own rights–even within the boundaries polite society erected for them. Wives, daughters, mothers, sisters who held down the fort during war and the early days of a fledgling country.

Not too long ago, I read America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie. There are a lot of similarities between these two books and I would imagine a lot of books that are, in essence, fictional historical biographies. If you like this genre, then you’ll like I, Eliza Hamilton.

First, a quick synopsis:

Elizabeth Schuyler was raised in upper New York during the pre-Revolutionary days by a family of Dutch descent. Her father was a decorated general and wealthy man of Albany. Her mother a formidable soul who bore children well into her late 40s and early 50s. Eliza, as she was called, was the second child and spent much of her time helping her mother to run the household and care for her young siblings. That was the case, until she met a young colonel named Alexander Hamilton who was the aide-de-camp to General George Washington. It was chance meeting at her parent’s home and she never forgot him from that day. It wasn’t until two years later, in Morristown, the two spent time together and fell in love. Even though Alexander was known to be without a father and had little money to his name, Eliza talked her family into allowing their marriage. What follows are the ups and downs of any married life, with the notable backdrop of a man and woman in the middle of building a new nation. Through pregnancies, financial problems and the nation’s first sex scandal. So, really, like no marriage I know.

The struggle with fictional historical biography is that we all know how it ends. Nobody walked into Titanic thinking the ship might just make it. So, I knew, in the end, Alexander Hamilton’s life would end abruptly. It is no easy feat to create a novel based on such well-known history and, especially, for a much maligned character like Alexander. Yet, Scott created a character in Eliza Hamilton that made me feel the desperation of the early years of the nation when we were just a collection of states with no strong federal government. She made me feel the outright indignation of the attacks Hamilton endured, and Eliza as well, from those who did not like him or his ideas. She also made me so angry at Alexander Hamilton at moments.

Scott also captured the close relationship between Eliza and Hamilton. She was his sounding board, his confidante and often the person to pen his final drafts of important documents. In addition, she kept a mercurial personality grounded. She was the backbone of their marriage and spent her life making his dreams of government service possible. I can’t imagine the strength this takes.

I, Eliza Hamilton is a great fictional historical biography. As with many in this genre, the book covers a long timeline and can, at moments, feel slow or weighed down by required historical detail. However, if you like this genre, this is a great addition to your book shelves.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me an early copy for a fair and honest review.

DarkDarkWoodSometimes those algorithm recommendations work out for the best. After listening to Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10, Audible decided that I would be a fan of her other books. Notably, In a Dark, Dark Wood. So, when I had my next credit I downloaded it. I loved Imogen Church’s narration with Cabin 10 and was pleased to see she was also the narrator for this thriller.

So, before I hop into my quick take, here is short synopsis.


Leonora, aka Leo, aka Le, aka Nora, is now a famous writer of crime novels. She lives in a small flat and doesn’t have many friends. But, there was a time when she had friends back in school and she’s been running from them ever since. That’s why she’s shocked when she gets an email for the “hen weekend” for an old friend from that time period. Her friend, Claire, is getting married and has invited her and a small group of friends to a very hidden country home. And Claire has news for Nora about the man she’s marrying. Another figure from their shared past. Flash forward 48 hours later and she wakes up in the hospital with little memory of what happened and has to work to remember. What happened between her arrival to the dark, glass home and her hospital bed? That’s what In a Dark, Dark Wood explores through alternating chapters.   


What I loved: Just like with Cabin 10, Ware is able to create a claustrophobic setting that made me feel uncomfortable. Cabin 10 was on a boat, but In a Dark, Dark Wood is a dark house out in the woods that is made of glass. Slowly, the connections to the outside world are severed. Cell reception is non-existent. A snow storm comes through and cuts off phone lines. One of the guests, a new mother, decides she’s had enough time away from her baby and leaves making Nora feel like she can’t up and leave. In addition to the setting, the other characters feel like too much personality in a small space. Flo, the hostess, is obsessed with the perfect party and snaps at others who might dare ruin it for Claire. Claire’s overwhelming discomfort with her guests and the tension between her and Nora when the secret of the groom is revealed. Ware is able to tie the setting, characters and plot together, so that it feels like an ever tightening vise.


“The night was drawing in, and the house felt more and more like a glass cage, blasting its light blindly out into the dusk, like a lantern in the dark. I imagined a thousand moths circling and shivering, drawn inexorably to its glow, only to perish against the cold inhospitable glass.” –Ruth Ware, In a Dark, Dark Wood


Would I recommend?: I would. With a couple of caveats. There are some holes in the plot. I won’t go too much into detail because I don’t want to give away too much. There were moments when I would wonder about the motivation of Nora for taking certain actions. Why go on a party weekend for a girl you haven’t spoken to in several years? Isn’t it a red flag that you were invited to this and not the wedding? However, if you can not poke too hard, it’s an engaging read. You can certainly tell this was one of her first books. Cabin 10’s plot was certainly tighter. I’m eager to read her newest book The Lying Game.


Backlist bonus: The claustrophobic feeling is this book reminds me of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. They both had a feeling of the house slowly closing in on you. Plus, Rebecca is a classic!

TheWonderBookWhen I was young, there was this story a missionary told my youth group. As a young girl in Africa, she was sitting under a tree in the yard where her family lived and served. Her father came out of the house and called to her. He told her to slowly get up and walk toward him and not to make any sudden movements. She did as she was told with no questions asked. When she made it across the yard, she looked back to where she sat and there was a very large, poisonous snake in the tree.

As I listened to this story, I knew even then that I would have died. I would have asked all kinds of questions. Why? What’s wrong? What’s going on? That snake would have eaten me alive…assuming the snake was going to strike at all.

I believe the story was meant to be an illustration for faith in God and believing when he talks to us. As I read The Wonder, this story came to mind. Does God play an active role in the world? More than that, are miracles possible? Can a young girl live on nothing but “manna from heaven” and water?

Emma Donoghue’s book explores the mystical world of miracles and the struggles of faith. Here’s a quick synopsis:

It’s the middle of the 19th century and there are only so many options for a woman, if she isn’t married. Florence Nightingale’s work in the Crimea allowed many young woman to work as nurses. Those who worked under her and were trained by her, known as the Nightingales, were highly sought after. Lib Wright, a Nightingale, has taken a new position as a private nurse in Ireland for two weeks. Lib has struggled to find her place in the world since the war. When she arrives in a very small Irish village, she learns that she, a woman of science and nursing, will be observing a young girl who claims she hasn’t eaten in four months. Not since the day she turned 11 years-old. Lib, along with a Sister of Mercy, will keep watch over the girl for 24 hours a day to determine if the girl, is in fact, living on nothing as she claims. What begins as a job Lib sees as a waste of time, takes many turns as she learns more about the girl, her family, the village and the Roman Catholic  people around her.  


While I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, when I reached the 55 to 60% mark in the book, it took a turn or two I hadn’t expected. What started as story I thought would be a personal story of Lib exploring her faith, became a mystery, thriller and family drama I didn’t see coming.

There are many layers to this book. The career and life choices available to a woman in the mid-eighteenth century. The potato famine that decimated a generation in Ireland. The political corruption, which kept the poor poor and the rich rich. The burgeoning medical profession. There is a lot in this book to unpack.

The part I was most fascinated by was the question of faith. Faith in God and faith in people. Lib had little of either when she came to the village. In fact, she was ready to show Anna, the girl, for the lying, conniving child she believed her to be. She began to pick away at the poor family and look for the way they were helping Anna to get away with the sham of not eating for four months.

Through the first part of the book, though, Lib is drawn into conversation with the girl. Though they aren’t friends, Lib slowly learns more about her and her family. She makes notes in her nursing journal, attempting to keep the observation as “by the book” as she can. Through the interior monologue Lib keeps up as the narrator of the book, she peels back her own history. The added perspective of a newspaperman who befriends Lib allows her to further reveal her own story.


In childhood, Lib remembered, family seemed as necessary and inescapable as a ring of mountains. One never imagined that as the decades went by, one might drift into an unbounded country. It struck Lib now how alone in the world she was. –Emma Donoghue, The Wonder


Donoghue has crafted a story that weaves the story of a lonely nurse, the pain and longing of an 11 year-old girl and the need for a miracle of a nation still mourning the loss of a generation to starvation. The tapestry Donoghue has created in The Wonder is wondrous. It will leave you thinking long after you’ve turned the final page. It’s one of those “stay with you” kind of books.

booksNo matter how busy I get, I always try to find time to read. It’s funny, though, the kind of books I need to read at different times of my life or the time of year. When life gets really busy, I want to escape. Easy reads with engaging characters, fun settings and clear plots. That’s what I’ve been craving lately. You’ll see this trend reflected in the reads from the last week. I’d love to hear if you’ve found the same trend in your reading life? Do life situations impact the books you crave?

Here’s what I’ve been up to this week.


What I was reading this week:

On audio-                                                                                         On ebook-

LastTraintoIstanbul                                                         ElizaHamilton


In hardback-



On the blog this week:

Quick Take: River Road by Carol Goodman


Stuff I’m loving right now:

Happy Reading!

downloadUpstate New York. University campus. Death of a young female student. Professor of some sort of liberal arts subject. Large amounts of water imagery. You can bet it’s a Carol Goodman novel. River Road is no exception.

I’ve read about seven of her novels so far, thanks to my friend, Niki. I’ve enjoyed many of them, but River Road was a bit of a departure in some way.


Short synopsis first:

Nan Lewis is afloat and untethered. It’s been years since the death of her child and the departure of her husband, yet she’s not coping much better. We enter the story of River Road as Nan takes another blow, only this one is in her professional life. She she drives home from a faculty party gone wrong, Nan hits a deer. After leaving her damaged car at the base of her steep drive, she passes out. The next morning she rises to learn she’s a suspect in the hit-and-run death of one of her favorite students. There are eerie similarities between the death of her own daughter who was hit by a car and the death of Leia, her student. Nan has to find out the truth. Did she hit her student? What really happened that night? Is she drinking too much? What was Leia hiding? 


What I loved: There are many aspects of Goodman’s books that I love. My friend and I joke about that list of items I started this post with, but she is always able to mix them up in new and inventive ways. River Road had elements of her other stories, but it was also a little different. It was different in a new and fresh way. This book really was a good psychological thriller. While there were some elements of the supernatural, they took the form of urban legend in the town and just added atmosphere to the story. Nan was a highly sympathetic character. I can’t begin to imagine losing a child and trying to claw your way back from that loss. The supporting characters were also interesting. They were all flawed, so you could never be sure of the motives. I think that always makes for an interesting thriller.


I opened my eyes and she was there, her face lit up from within, blond braids held back by pink barrettes, breath that smelled like cherry Chapstick.–Carol Goodman, River Road


Would I recommend?: Absolutely. There are some content warnings for those who might be sensitive to suicide and drug use. While I kind of saw aspects of the ending coming, there were plenty of threads that needed to be sewn up in the end. Overall, this book was a great suspense read with some real heart as Nan tries to see past her grief and paralysis. I was oddly uplifted at the end, even with all of the death.


Backlist bonus: All the other Carol Goodman books, like Arcadia Falls. There were also aspects of this that reminded me of Melinda Leigh. You can read more about her here.

My mom has been talking about these movies she’s been watching while she works at her desk or putters around the house. Over the last couple of months, she’s told me a little about some plots and the characters. Come to find out, she’s been watching some Hallmark’s Movies and Mysteries channel and their films based on popular cozy mystery book series.

Now, when my TV is on, I tend to be pretty predictable about what I watch. If it isn’t the latest series I’m watching on Netflix or Amazon, it is probably reruns of Friends. I can listen to those while I fold laundry or clean up the living room.

The other night I decided to venture out of my norm and watch the first movie in the “Murder, She Baked” series that is based on Joanne Fluke’s Hanna Swensen novels. And boy howdy was that a mistake. My productivity ha


s taken a nose dive! I’ve DVR’d all the movies I can get and I’m now reading the series. So, I thought this would be a great installment for my “Books to Screen” posts.


Overall Ratings (1 to 5 starts):

  • Books: 4 to 5 stars based on the one I’m reading.
  • Movies: 4 stars
  • Adaptation: 4 stars


The Similarities (and the differences):

I was really curious about the books after I watched my second movie in this series. How were they similar? Did they have the same charm as the movies? What liberties did they take with the plot to make it work for a 90 minute movie?

I’m not too proud to admit that I ran right out to my Kindle and bought the first book in the series and began reading then and there. Never mind, that I had a book sitting on my bedside table.

The basic premise for the books and movies are the same. Hannah Swensen owns her own bakery in a small town in Minnesota. She is single with a mother pushing her into the arms of any man, but especially Norman Rhodes, the new dentist in town. Like the books, the movies have a very fun and engaging cast of characters. The number and depth that you get to know them is curtailed in the movies, understandably for time’s sake.

As with the book series, there is Hannah’s mother and sister, Andrea, who keep her life a little crazy. However, the book series makes Hannah one of three sisters, so we don’t get to meet the youngest sister Michelle in the movies. There are also two suitors for Hannah’s romantic attentions, Norman and Mike, the new detective from Minneapolis.

While the movies bring Mike in early in the first film, the books ease you into this love triangle, if you want to call it that. This gives the movies that Hallmark touch of romance, but I really love the slow burn Fluke creates in her books. While I’m only on book four, there are more than 20, so I’m okay with Hannah taking her time.

The movies made by Hallmark have also come out in a different order than the books and they carry different names, at least after the third one. If I had to guess, that’s because they are a little out-of-order. But, after reading a few of the books I can tell the basic plot framework is there. The details are just reworked to fit the movie medium.

If you’re a sucker for detail, the adaptations might irritate you. I’ll admit the Hannah in my head doesn’t look the same as Alison Sweeney in the movies. I have a sneaking suspicion that as I continue to read the series, the Hannah of the books will become my mental image. The movies will be just a fun way to lose myself in Lake Eden a little more!

If you can, escape a little with both the movies and series. They’ll leave you hungry for more Hannah and the amazing cookie recipes in the books!





What a week! Between work, kids, extracurricular and books, I was exhausted by Saturday morning. It didn’t help that I had a couple of books keeping me up past my bedtime! You know how that goes.


What I was reading this week:


On audio-




On e-book-


BurialRites      WhiteFur


On the blog this week:

Book Review of Say You’re Sorry by Melinda Leigh

Memoirs and the Art of Memory


I got a couple of new books on NetGalley this week. I’m very excited about them both!

ElizaHamilton                     AsYouWish


Happy Reading!

downloadIt seems like there are more and more memoirs being published every day. Everyone from politicians to movie stars to scientists to moguls are writing them. I don’t remember there ever being so many, but it could also be that age-old problem of I just wasn’t paying attention. There is something ironic about my not being able to remember so many memoirs being published and the topic I’m about to explore.

Two years ago I wasn’t much of an audio book person. I liked my books in my hands, not my ears. However, I developed friendships with those who are avid listeners. My adventure into audio began with a simple desire to get through my TBR faster. Driving for a work trip? No problem. I can still get that book read. Weeding the garden and need something to keep me motivated? Plug in those ear buds and get to weeding. Really, I was amazed at the number of tasks that allowed me to keep working on that TBR.

What I found, though, was a vibrant audio book community and reasons I never expected to listen to audio books. One of the discoveries I made was that some books are actually better in the audio format. Twenty-five year-old me would be appalled, but it is true. And one of those genres, for me, is memoir.

Memory is a funny thing. Mine is a murky thing, as well. I don’t remember in the crisp detail that others seem to remember their past. I have hazy memories of my childhood. Obviously, the ones from my late teens and twenties are clearer than those from elementary and junior high days. My memory is built on pictures from those days and the stories the adults from those times tell.

I say all of this because I find those who have crisp memory fascinating. The Sheldon Coopers of the world amaze me with their recall of what a person was wearing, who ate what and who was in the room when an event took place. I can’t remember what I wore two days ago. What did I eat for breakfast? Was I in the room when that happened? What’s my name? Just kidding!

The memoir genre has become a new fascination for me because of this very thing. I’m sure those who write them would prefer I be interested in what they did and how they did it. And I am, but I’m more interested in hearing them sketch out the scene. Recall the detail. Outline the personalities of those around them.

I’ve recently listened to Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. They were good. Noah’s dealt with heavier topics and felt more substantial, but Kendrick’s was fun and entertaining. They are both younger than I. Some reviews have shared that they prefer to read memoirs from those who have lived longer and have more experience to share.

I’m of the opinion that it’s good they put their memories down on paper now. They’ve sketched them all out where they will remember. They’ve shared them in an act of community. As one who has a hazy memory, the act of community is an important part of having memory live-on. So, I’ve learned to join the memoir community. I’m still very picky about which I choose to read. I have a list going, though, of the ones recommended by people I trust.

Listening or reading as they sketch the outline of a memory and begin to shade it in with nuance. It’s encouraged me to be more diligent about my own daily records and being sure to add a little more detail. You never know when you might need to write your own memoir!

Do you have a favorite memoir you’d recommend I read? Or maybe one that’s a great listen? I’m all ears!

SayYoureSorryI’ll just get the obvious out-of-the-way. I LOVE Melinda Leigh’s books. Honestly, I can’t even remember how I stumbled upon her Midnight series, but I quickly devoured the first three, which were the only ones available at the time. I now pre-order her books as soon as they are available. I highly recommend all that I’ve read. Now, thus ends the general fan girl moment.

I’ve read books from two series, so far. The three books from the Midnight series: Midnight Exposure, Midnight Sacrifice and Midnight Betrayal. And the three books from the Scarlet Falls series: Hour of Need, Minutes to Kill and Seconds to Live. Each of these series if structured around a family of people. Each book follows one person and their story. It’s fun to read about them and see them pop back up in the other books.

With the fourth book in the Midnight series (Midnight Obsession) and this book, Say You’re Sorry, which is the first book in the Morgan Dane series, Leigh is making a departure from what I’ve read so far. She revisits the same two central characters from a previous book. And I’m really excited about it!

Say You’re Sorry is the first in a planned series that will follow lawyer Morgan Dane and her adventures in Scarlet Falls. Leigh takes us back to this upstate New York town where we first met the Barrett family. This time she takes us into the Dane family. We briefly met them in Seconds to Live. I love already knowing the peripheral characters! Here’s the premise of Say You’re Sorry.


Morgan Dane has spent the last two years raising her three daughters and mourning the loss of her husband, John, to an explosion in Iraq. In another time, she was a district attorney who put criminals behind bars. Now, she lives with her grandfather in her home town. Morgan has decided it’s time to head back to work and is interviewing for the assistant DA position in Scarlet Falls. Then, one night, her girl-next-door babysitter is found murdered by the lake. The prime suspect? Morgan’s neighbor boy, Nick. He’s spent time playing with her girls, mowing her lawn and playing chess with her grandfather. Morgan watches as the police chief, her new DA boss and the mayor throw Nick in jail. His only hope may be Morgan if he wants to prove his innocence. Morgan and the local PI, Lance Kruger, who is healing from an injury when he was on the police force. Did Nick kill Tessa? If he didn’t, who did? 


The layered characters Leigh introduces with this series were great. Morgan’s grief still feels real, but Leigh shows a woman waking up and realizing it’s time to show her girls what it’s like to really live life and not just float through it. As she works Nick’s case and draws the attention of the police and criminals, you see a woman breaking free from the waves of grief. Morgan also finds a new path she wasn’t expecting, but I’ll let you read to discover her new calling in life.


She would never forget him or the love they had, but it was time to let him go. It was time to live.–Melinda Leigh, Say You’re Sorry


Leigh also draws in a former minor character from the Scarlet Falls series, Lance Kruger. He was shot in the leg in the prior books and is still recovering from the fallout of that injury. Now, he works for a retired policeman turned PI doing all kinds of work that comes their way. In addition, we get to learn more about his own troubled past without a father and with a mother who struggles with mental illness. At the start of the book, all Lance wants is to make it back to the force. With a little more recovery, it’s a real possibility. Yet, he’s really good at the PI work and the case Morgan brings him show that maybe his plan isn’t what he really wants.

With such layered characters, the main story of Say You’re Sorry felt nuanced and in-depth without being slow or heavy-handed. Leigh hops from perspective to perspective, so you get bits and pieces from the various parties. We start with the terror of Tessa’s last minutes on earth, so if some trigger warnings for those who don’t like violence.

Leigh also takes us into the mind of the killer. This is something she’s done in her other books and I find it really interesting. Seeing the crime and the world from their distorted worldview adds an interesting layer to the story. It also heightens tension in Say You’re Sorry, as Morgan discovers new clues in her investigation.

While Leigh wraps up the main conflict from Say You’re Sorry at the end, she leaves plenty open for the second in her series. I’m eager to dig in to Her Last Goodbye when it comes out in September. As you know, I’ve already pre-ordered, so I’ll be eagerly awaiting book mail!

51P3outSH8LOn a vacation whim, I picked up what I think is Mary Kubica’s very first book from 2014. I was intrigued by the cover, but I’ve also seen her latest book, Every Last Lie, everywhere! I was on vacation, so I thought I should be spontaneous. I was rewarded with a fun read while hanging out on family vacation.

When I marked the book as “read” on Goodreads there were a lot of reviews that mentioned being disappointed with the book because they were expecting a Gone Girl experience. I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t read Gone Girl, but I’ve found it often isn’t fair to compare books to other bestsellers. Someone will always be disappointed.


I know how betrayal and disillusionment feel, when someone who could give you the world refuses even a tiny piece of it.–Mary Kubica, The Good Girl


So, the story is told in two timelines. The events leading up to and the events right after the kidnapping of Mia Dennett. The story is told from multiple points-of-view. Detective Gabe Hoffman is investigating the kidnapping. Eve Dennett, the stay-at-home wife and mother to the Dennett family. Colin Thatcher, the rough-around-the-edges kidnapper. And, of course, Mia. She meets Colin in a bar one night and goes home with him. That decision leads to a months long captivity in the icy tundra of northern Minnesota. Through the various POVs and time hops, Kubica peels back the layers of the various players. There are various twists and turns that guide you toward a shocking ending that I won’t share here. No spoilers!


What I loved: I wasn’t sure about the moving timelines and points-of-view when I first began, but I ended up loving the way information was slowly revealed. I also ended up really loving the perspectives of the various characters. Just as you began to really see things from one perspective there was a shift and you realized there were multiple sides to the story. I was also really impressed with Kubica’s portrayal of post-kidnapping Mia and the deep shock she experienced. You could feel the total frustration for Eve as she attempted to help her daughter. You could also feel the intense horror of Mia. It was also fun to read a book set in freezing temperatures when it is so hot outside.


Would I recommend?: I would totally recommend this book. In fact, I’ve already handed off my book to a friend. I would caution readers to go in with just the expectation that this is a thriller with a dash of family dysfunction. I’m not going to tell you that it’s the next Gone Girl or Girl on the Train. It’s just a well-crafted thriller with intriguing characters and some fun twists.


Backlist bonus: Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson would be a great read for someone who like this book or psychological thrillers.

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