Monday, April 24, 2017

Lincoln's Lieutenants

Lincoln's Lieutenants: The High Command of the Army of the Potomac by [Sears, Stephen W.]

Lincoln's Lieutenants: The High Command of the Army of the Potomac- Stephen W. Sears
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: April 25, 2017

Rating (out of 5)

Synopsis: The high command of the Army of the Potomac was a changeable, often dysfunctional band of brothers, going through the fires of war under seven commanding generals in three years, until Grant came east in 1864. The men in charge all too frequently appeared to be fighting against the administration in Washington instead of for it, increasingly cast as political pawns facing down a vindictive congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War.  President Lincoln oversaw, argued with, and finally tamed his unruly team of generals as the eastern army was stabilized by an unsung supporting cast of corps, division, and brigade generals. 


Lincoln's Lieutenants explores the rocky history of the high command of the Army of the Potomac, from the first shot at Fort Sumter to Lee's surrender at the Appomattox Courthouse.  What starts out as a slightly intimidating, 800 page tome quickly becomes a thrilling read, well-written and researched to provide any history buff a truly fascinating account of the personalities behind the Army of the Potomac.

The Army of the Potomac guarded Washington D.C., fought at the bloody battlefields of Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, First and Second Bull Run, and finally, Petersburg.  They faced Confederate General Robert E. Lee almost from first to last and were led by famous generals like McClellan, Burnside, Hooker, Meade, and Grant.  Sears searched archives from Massachusetts to Wisconsin, the National Archives to the Library of Congress and uses first-hand accounts, diaries, and letters to give the reader an in-depth, on-the-scenes view of events and people. Sears does an excellent job of allowing the words of soldiers, generals, and Lincoln to draw readers in, showing the personalities behind the names history still remembers.

I was amazed to learn how much fighting was done among the Cabinet, Senate, and generals. Nearly all the Potomac's generals found themselves at odds with President Lincoln on how their campaigns should be fought. How they managed to fight a war with all of the in-fighting, back-stabbing, favoritism, and egos dominating every decision is still unclear by the end of the book.  Personalities, politics, and patrons played as much (often more) of a role in who led men into battle as experience and ability.  So many of the lower commanding officers had neither experience nor ability in leading men into battle, so many wrong decisions were made or opportunities lost, that it left me wondering how this army ever managed anything.  Grant finally comes east and, for the first time in the war, has each of the Union armies working together (sort of), as well as being the first Potomac general to have a lasting, good working relationship with Lincoln.  I found it helpful that whenever Sears described a battle decision one of the generals made, he would usually add what was happening on the other side and if the decision was actually a good one or not.  For example, every time McClellan claimed the Confederates had 200,000 men against his army, Sears would provide the actual numbers and some explanation for why McClellan thought the way he did.  It was also rather frightening to discover how personal egos and fears often played  such a large role in causing troops to fail being sent to support what could have otherwise been a winning strategy.              

The one complaint I had with this book was Sears' tendency towards repetition.  I appreciated how, after going through the details of a particular campaign, Sears would provide a summary of the events to help the reader get things set in their minds.  However, Sears tended to give multiple summaries of the same event, or repeat more times than necessary who had fallen in each battle and who had taken over their command.  That detracted a bit from the flow and was, for me, annoying,

Overall, Lincoln's Lieutenants was a fascinating book, focusing more on the men in command than just the events they commanded.  History buffs will appreciate the details and the voices of the men allowed to shine through, often providing well timed ironic and humorous moments.  While Lieutenants might be intimidating for those only casually interested in the topic, anyone looking for a well-researched study on the Army of the Potomac will find a treasure in Stephen Sears' newest Lincoln's Lieutenants.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Dancing in the Rain

Dancing in the Rain by [Jamieson, Kelly]

Dancing in the Rain- Kelly Jamieson
Release Date: April 11, 2017

Rating (out of 5):

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Synopsis: Drew Sellers is drowning in broken dreams and empty beer bottles. Hockey was his world, until a bum knee reduced him from superstar to has-been. Then he learns that, thanks to a one-night-stand back in college, he’s the father of a preteen girl with major issues. Her protective aunt sees right through Drew’s BS, but “Auntie P” is no stereotypical spinster. With her slender curves, toned legs, and luscious lips, she has Drew indulging in fantasies that aren’t exactly family-friendly.

At another point in her life, Peyton Watt would have been all over a cocky alpha male who pushes all her buttons like Drew. Right now, though, she needs to focus on taking care of her niece during her sister’s health crisis, all while holding down a job and keeping her own head above water. Besides, Drew’s clearly no father of the year. He’s unemployed. He drinks too much. And he’s living in the past. But after Peyton gets a glimpse of the genuine man behind his tough-guy faΓ§ade, she’s hooked—and there’s no going back.

Kelly Jamieson, author of several hockey romances including the Aces Hockey series (with Back Check, and Icing) gives fans a little something different with Dancing in the Rain.  Drew Sellers was a Chicago Blackhawks star player until an injured knee ended his career.  He's handling the end of his dreams through excessive amounts of alcohol when he gets another life changing surprise: finding out that a one night stand in college resulted in a daughter.  Chloe is now twelve and dealing with the fact that her mother, Sara, is dying.  Drew knows nothing about kids and is terrified he'll fail Chloe as a dad.  After all, he doesn't have his life together, how can he be there for anyone else?  Chloe's aunt, Peyton, is trying to handle her job, her jerk of a boss, her niece, and her sister's health.  The last thing she needs is a guy like Drew getting involved.  She plans out everything and Drew and her attraction for him are not in those plans.  But could their clashing life styles be exactly what Drew and Peyton- and Chloe- need to get through the hard times?

Dancing in the Rain is a stand alone novel that deals with some heavy issues.  Drew is dealing with not only the loss of his career but an identity crisis and borderline alcoholism as a coping mechanism.  Then comes a surprise daughter and a whole new identity crisis: is he father material?  Peyton may have a career that she loves but she hates her boss- who seems not to know the meaning of the word 'compassion'.  Her job is in New York City, her niece and sister are in Chicago.  She not only has to deal with the very personal fact that her sister is dying, she has to try to be strong for Chloe and figure out what's best for the family. Jamieson does a wonderful job of making the family's situation real and relatable without allowing the story to get bogged down at any time.  She keeps things moving forward and for every step back Drew or Peyton take, they also figure out how to keep going forward.   The reflections both do on their lives and what they want to do with careers, as well as the difficulties they have in figuring out career-life balance, especially touched a chord for me.

Neither Drew nor Peyton are in a place where romance is a good idea and they are both sure that it's a really bad idea to get into a relationship with each other!  But the chemistry between them is undeniable.  I liked how, despite that initial attraction, there was plenty they didn't really like about each other at first.  Eventually the protective walls are lowered and they get to know each other, seeing the person behind the facade.  Peyton and Drew are a lot alike at the core: competitive, stubborn, and loyal.  But they approach those core values in opposite ways and without Chloe they might never have made themselves work out all the differences.

While both Drew and Peyton are great, the character who really stayed with me is Sara.  In the face of any number of obstacles she has pressed on, doing her best for both herself and Chloe.  She faced unexpected pregnancy in college and still not only finished college but got a law degree.  She was aware enough of herself and her priorities that she didn't stay in the corporate rat race but chose to work with a smaller law firm so she could have a better work-life balance with Chloe.  She fought her cancer every step of the way and when it became clear none of the treatments were going to work she set up everything Peyton and Chloe would need after she passed: guardianship, her will, even her funeral.  On meeting Drew, she genuinely understood if he didn't want to be a part of Chloe's life.  Despite all her own trials, she tried to make everything easier for everyone around her.  Sara is probably one of the most caring and unselfish characters I've ever read, and faced everything with strength, courage, dignity and grace that others in her position could only hope to match.  

I'm normally not a fan of books that make me cry, and there were several absolutely tear-jerking, heart-wrenching scenes in Dancing in the Rain.  However this was a book that I couldn't put down: full of truly three-dimensional, realistic characters; and the inspiring life lesson that challenges don't come when you are ready for them but that life is short, and sometimes the most precious moments come just by dancing in the rain.

A deep, wonderful, sad, uplifting, and romantic book, Dancing in the Rain will touch your heart and could change the way you look at life.  A must read!

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.