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Monday, June 26, 2017

Review: The Pinks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**I received a digital copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**


The Pinks is a book about the women that worked for Allan Pinkerton and his Pinkerton Detective Agency in the years before, during, and after the American Civil War. The author makes it very clear that in hiring these women, especially Kate Warne, Pinkerton was far ahead of his time. Kate Warne led the Pinkerton women - or "Pinks" - and was a master of disguise and espionage. Her actions, as well as those of the women in her network, saved thousands of lives in the war and paved the way for women in the police force (although that would not truly become commonplace for over 100 years later).

The story

Kate Warne had gumption, initiative, and courage. She was resourceful, creative, and perhaps just the right amount of crazy. She fit right in with the Pinkerton Detective Agency, despite being the first woman on the payroll. Her disguises and acting abilities were masterful and crucial to Pinkerton cases involving everything form murder and robbery to espionage and conspiracy. Allan Pinkerton credits her efforts with saving thousands of lives during the Civil War, as well as solving many high-stakes cases. This book provides the harrowing detail of some of the most notorious cases of the Pinkerton ladies. Kate had her hand in all of them, although there were other women, some of whom paid for their efforts with their lives. This is an illuminating tale of one of the parts of history that deserves more of our attention and respect.

Literary analysis

This book was very well written with only a couple of very minor grammatical errors. It has been very well edited for form and grammar. In that respect it is a joy to read.

This book is also very well researched, relying in large part on the personal recollections of Allan Pinkerton himself, among others. Each chapter is a unique story, and as such each chapter has it's own bibliography. This can make the book feel a bit disjointed, but goes to show how thorough the author was in their research.

The biggest criticism I have for this book is the ending. It's far too abrupt! The author seems to make an attempt at a summarization ending in the final story. It could, however, benefit from an epilogue of some sort. The ending feels rushed, as though the author wasn't quite sure how to end so they just included the summarization with the final story. It was a quick read, but one might think a bit too quick.


This is a fascinating and quick read! It is well-written, thoroughly researched, and certainly worth your time. I recommend this book!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Review: MacArthur's Spies: The Soldier, the Singer, and the Spymaster Who Defied the Japanese in World War II

MacArthur's Spies: The Soldier, the Singer, and the Spymaster Who Defied the Japanese in World War II MacArthur's Spies: The Soldier, the Singer, and the Spymaster Who Defied the Japanese in World War II by Peter Eisner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**I received a digital copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**


MacArthur's Spies is a harrowing tale of heroism and espionage in the Philippines during World War II. The author chose to focus on the people and events surrounding three main players: Claire (the primary character and the "Singer" in the title), Boone (the "Soldier"), and Chick Parsons (the "Spymaster"). It is broken into five parts: 1) Claire's life before WWII and the Philippines leading into war with Japan; 2) war in the Philippines and the US surrender; 3) life in the Philippines under Japanese occupation; 4) liberation by the US and life immediately following the war; and finally 5) Claire's life in her later years and her battle to get compensation from the US government.

The story

I call myself a World War II history nut, but I have a shameful confession - I am one of those who focuses mostly on the European theater, especially the Holocaust. I know very little about the Pacific theater, especially other than Pearl Harbor. Shameful, I know! I chose to read this book in an effort to remedy that and I'm sure glad I did. Despite the somewhat misleading title, the book mostly focuses on Claire - her life, her relationships, her many aliases, and her contributions to the resistance efforts. She was a woman of many mysteries, having married at least four times and somehow adopted a little Filipino girl along the way. Though she aspired to be a performer, she wasn't successful until she opened a nightclub in Manila during the Japanese occupation. At that point she became "Madame Tsubaki," and one of the leaders of the efforts to surreptitiously support both the American POWs interred on the islands and the guerrillas hiding in the densely forested hills. Boone was her contact with the guerrillas. He had escaped capture during the US surrender and led a large contingent of American and Filipino fighters. He was in direct contact with General MacArthur himself via the spymaster, Chick Parsons. Chick had originally escaped imprisonment by masquerading as a somewhat-legitimate diplomat. After his escape, he asked to return and be put to work in the efforts to recapture the Philippines. Without spoiling too many details, we know the historical outcome - MacArthur did indeed return in resounding triumph to liberate the Philippines and vanquish the evil (in this instance) Japanese. He credited much of the success of his campaign to the intelligence gathered by Claire, Boone, Parsons, and their extended network. Many American POWs and guerrillas also owed their lives to Claire and others who provided supplies and money whenever possible. Claire returned to the US a hero. She even wrote a book and had a movie made, although both suffered from the Hollywood effect of an over-eager ghost writer. She spent years trying to get compensation from the US government for all of the money she spent of her own funds to help the guerrillas and POWs. Due to many factors, including the incredible number of people making similar claims, Claire only received a fraction of what she spent. The Filipino people honored her sacrifice after her death by memorializing her in the capitol building in Manila.

Literary analysis

This book was written by a reporter, and as such it carries with it that style. It is fast-paced and filled with facts expounded by conjecture. Mr. Eisner did a ton of research, even dusting off the court documents from Claire's claim. He is to be commended for his hard work in being thorough, even traveling to the Philippines and interviewing family members and survivors. Claire was a mysterious character and given what little is truly known about her identity, Mr. Eisner did a wonderful job of making her an intriguing character. I only wish he'd been able to expound more on Boone and his troops, or on Chick Parson's harrowing experiences being spirited back and forth behind enemy lines on submarines. There's no doubt that Claire was a hero in her own right; I just would have liked to know more about the other heroes listed in the title (namely Boone and Parsons).

The format in the digital version was all over the place and at times this made it difficult to read. However, I have a feeling this is due to it being an advanced copy adapted for Kindle (similar to a PDF) and is not the fault of the publisher or author.

There were also times that sentences and/or phrases were awkwardly repeated, or the editing wasn't complete so that the sentence structure was clumsy. Again, with a final edit I'm sure this will be corrected. It in no way detracted from the story itself.

My only other criticism is that I would have like to have seen any photos that survived. The author mentions a specific photo - that of Peggy in front of the Tsubaki Club - several times. Why wasn't it included? Again, this might be due to the nature of this particular digital format. Still, I might have to google that photo as well as others of Claire, Boone, etc. They're such intriguing characters!


While I still maintain that the title is a little misleading (this is really a book about Claire, with asides about her "supporting cast" and "costars"), the book itself is very enlightening. I had no idea that the Philippines were so crucial in the Pacific war, let alone how much the American POWs and Filipinos suffered (aside from the Bataan Death March - everyone knows about Bataan...I hope...). I would definitely recommend this book for it's educational value alone, let alone the heroism of the people it portrays. I will always have the utmost respect for "The Greatest Generation," especially after reading accounts such as this. I am grateful to Mr. Eisner for highlighting these international heroes!

View all my reviews

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Man Brag Blog, 2d Edition

It's been a long time since I've taken the time to brag on my sweet husband. What better time than Father's day? I like to take every opportunity to brag on my husband and tell the world what a wonderful person he is. I'm not as good at doing it in person, but I've been working on that and that is a blog post for another day. Today I want to share a few of the beautiful things my husband has built, as well as the wonderful ways in which he has built me up as a wife and loved on our small family.

First up are my absolute favorites: my new bookshelves. Aren't they gorgeous?! They're solid wood and he took so much time tending to every angle and detail. Side note - the bookshelves are straight and level, but our floor isn't, so if they seem to lean, it's the floor! They're almost full of books already and I've been teasing him that I may need more soon. Mostly I just love them and would be happy to have a whole room full of them! He did such a good job!

Next is this gorgeous cradle he made for our daughter. We knew having a new baby brother would be an adjustment for her, so he wanted her to have a little baby doll of her own to love. She loves this cradle, although admittedly her stuffed Mickey gets more "nap time" than any of her baby dolls. I love the gentle curves on this and the way that it rocks sweetly so that she can rock her baby dolls. Even my daughter herself has tried to take a nap in it more than once. haha Now I just need to get the little foam mattress and blanket finished...(Obviously my husband is so much better at prioritizing and finishing projects than I am...)

He also completed this sweet little airplane toy. Isn't it adorable?! He used several different models as inspiration, but the final product is of his own imagination. My daughter loves airplanes, pointing out every single one that flies overhead. This toy is the beginning of my husband's foray into toy making, and I hope to have more photos of more toys next time. For now, this one is our favorite (well, my daughter's and mine anyway), and maybe she'll be willing to share this very special little airplane with her brother someday. Maybe. haha

Along the same line, we decided to decorate our little boy's room in the theme of airplanes and flying high among the clouds. For this, my husband made the most precious little airplane mobile and even cut clouds out of composite wood (the letters are from Hobby Lobby). I will do a short post on this nursery at a later date, but for now I just want to share these shots of my husband's hard work. I'm so excited about this room; it's the cutest room for a little boy!

The next little project actually started out as an antique dresser that was given to me by my parents when I was in middle school. It was such a cute little dresser, but being n antique, it didn't survive our many moves very well and has started to literally fall to pieces. My husband is working on repairing it in stages - the first of which was this mirror topper. I couldn't bring myself to get rid of the dresser or the topper, so my husband had the brilliant idea to repurpose the topper as an entryway piece. We're going to add hooks on either side of the cubby holes so small children can hang their jackets, but otherwise it is perfect for our small entryway. And I love that I get to keep such a special piece! 

Last but not least is this cool little iPhone/Apple Watch charging station. My husband and I share a hatred of clutter, and cords are no exception. Thus my ingenious hubby came up with this solution after taking inspiration from none other than Pinterest. The final design is all his own, and it's awesome! He said he'll actually be disappointed the next time he upgrades his phone, but it'll give him another chance to innovate. 

I don't want to give the impression that this is all he's done since the last Man Brag Blog - quite the opposite! My husband is constantly working on projects around the house as well as these very special things. We have a wonderful new fence around the backyard, a swing for our toddler in the garage (for those rainy days when the park isn't an option - awesome, right?!), and numerous other things.

On top of that, we have a well-maintained home that reflects the loving care of a diligent husband and father. He spoils us, really he does, and we love him all the more for it. He can't be with us this Father's Day, but I didn't want to miss the opportunity to recognize his hard work. I also wanted to publicly thank him for everything he does. We are blessed beyond measure to have him as the head of our family, a beloved husband and Daddy, and the favorite parent if we're honest. haha We love him so!

Until next time I'm...
Hapless but hopeful,

Friday, June 9, 2017

Review: Love in a Time of Hate: The Story of Magda and Andre Trocme and the Village That Said No to the Nazis

Love in a Time of Hate: The Story of Magda and Andre Trocme and the Village That Said No to the Nazis Love in a Time of Hate: The Story of Magda and Andre Trocme and the Village That Said No to the Nazis by Hanna Schott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**I received a digital copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Love in a Time of Hate is the fascinating story of Andre and Magda Trocme. It is divided into six chronological parts, starting with the childhood of Magda (Part I), the childhood of Andre (Part II), young adulthood/marriage/early ministry of the Trocmes (Part III), the early days of the Trocme's ministry in Le Chambon before the Nazi invasion (Part IV), their ministry, pacifism, and involvement with the underground resistance during the Vichy government (Part V), and their final days as France was liberated and their ministry spread across the globe (Part VI).

The story
Although I was eager to get to the meat of the Trocme's work during World War II, I was pleasantly surprised by Parts I-III. As is true for most of us, the individual upbringing of Magda and Andre was crucial to shaping their personal beliefs later in life. Magda's childhood was strict, motherless, and fraught with inner spiritual turmoil all played out in northern Italy. In contrast, Andre's childhood was one of privilege and strict Protestantism in northern France, although his mother also died when he was ten. By the time they met in the U.S., Andre had been called into ministry as a Reformed Pastor, and Magda dreamed of becoming a social worker.

These roles complimented each other later as they ministered to the farming communities and desperate refugees in Southern France. Their ministry began in northern France, but family health issues took them to southern France, despite the distrust of the French Reformed church. Andre frequently butted heads with the church leadership due to his pacifist beliefs, which he had developed while serving in the military. He was passionate about pacifism and tried to influence his congregations, to the annoyance of the underground resistance movement during the War. Even after the war, both Magda and Andre traveled the world spreading the message of peace and pacifism. Andre died after complications from a surgery, but Magda continued his work until her death a decade later.

The most fascinating parts of the book detail the Trocme's courageous work hiding and moving Jewish refugees during World War II. Jewish children in particular found refuge on the high plateau of Le Chambon. Thousands of children and sometimes entire families filtered through, receiving care and education at the school founded by the Trocmes - Ecole Nouvelle Cevenole - which was the only school of its kind in the entire region. Andre and his ministerial staff were imprisoned for their work, but were released mere days before the prison at which they were interred was closed and the prisoners sent to their deaths in Poland. Andre eventually had to go into hiding as the Germans had put a bounty on his head. He narrowly escaped being caught at one point, and credited his escape to an incident with his son and God's timing. Le Chambon was ultimately liberated and Andre was able to return to his family, but not before they suffered several tragic losses.

Literary analysis
This book was well written and thoroughly researched. I did find numerous grammatical and typographical errors that may have been due to its translation (the author is German). I believe, however, that these would be easily corrected with one more quick editorial review. In no way did any of the errors detract from the story.

The language is concise but engaging. I was just as interested reading the early biographical information as I was engrossed by the details of their work during World War II. I felt that the tempo of the book was just right, easily following the chronology of their lives and not drawing out any particular period for longer than the reader could endure.

The only criticisms I have are that I would love to see photos (which, to be fair, may be included in the print copies; I only had a Kindle copy), and I wish that specific data was available as to the extent of the Trocme's impact during World War II. How many children did they help? How many families? How many lives were saved, families reunited? How many children attended the Ecole Nouvelle Cevenole by the time it closed in 2014? Perhaps specific data is not available, or the author determined it would not add value to the story itself. Still, it would be interesting to know the full extent of the global impact of these two extraordinary people.

I had never heard of the Trocme family before requesting this book through Netgalley. Now I will share their story as often as possible! I love reading the courageous stories that come out of times of extreme oppression. This is one such story, and it is amazing. I would definitely recommend this book!

View all my reviews

Monday, June 5, 2017

Grace: Set Apart

Have you ever been so lonely, you just wanted to be left alone to wallow in your loneliness? Call it a pity party, call it laziness, call it antisocial - whatever you deem it, it's miserable and not of God. And yet, that's where I've been. Perhaps it's still where I am, to some extent, although admitting it and dwelling on it in prayer these past few weeks is the first step to pulling out of it. Let me back up a bit and explain before you get the "abandon hope all ye who enter here" vibe. 

I've had a cutesy post about Christian community percolating for weeks now. I've written and rewritten it. I've sat down to do final edits and post, only to ditch the whole thing and walk away in frustration. I've tried to post it for almost six weeks now. Something held me back every time, sometimes with my finger literally hovering over the return key. 

I wanted to talk about how I just finished a Bible study with a women's group at my church entitled, "Believing Jesus: A Journey Through the Book of Acts," by Lisa Harper and Annie Downs. I'll be honest - I've never studied Acts in-depth, so I was curious to see what it contains and how it would change my walk with God. If you're not familiar with Acts, it was written by "Doctor Luke" (as Lisa calls him), the same man who wrote the Gospel of Luke. It is an action-packed account of the early days of the Christian church immediately following the ascension of Christ. The book is wonderful and really hit home for me. The longest I have ever lived in one place was four years, and I have been privileged to live and travel all over the world. Everywhere I've been, I've managed to find a wonderful church home that became as dear to me as extended family. And within that family, there were always those select few women who became dear sisters.

You know the type - the kind of women who hold you accountable but also hold you as you sob; the kind of women who encourage you, strengthen you, but also tell you when you're being selfish. These are the women to whom you bare your soul, second only to your husband (and God of course). Everywhere I've lived, I've been blessed to find at least one such woman and I still keep in touch with most of them today. They know my heart, they've loved me as only sisters in Christ can love. 

For some reason, five years ago this part of my life just froze in place. I had just moved to a new location, excited to be in a serious relationship and growing what seemed to be the beginning of a successful career. The next year was the single most miserable year of my life. There were certainly some very bright moments, such as when the man who is now my husband proposed and we were legally married a month later. But we didn't live in the same state, let alone the same house. I was miserable at work. I moved again within a year and had a beautiful wedding. But I almost immediately deployed for six months, thereby missing out on the opportunity once gain to develop any deep friendships. We moved again less than a year after my return. I was eight months pregnant, in a new state, freshly separated from the military (read: unemployed by choice to be a stay-at-home mom), and still practically newlywed. I was desperate for connections. 

Since then I've joined several Bible studies, toddler groups, spouse groups...I've reached out, volunteered, prayed earnestly...nothing. For the first time in years, I recently had time to sit down and really take stock of my life and the tremendous changes we had endured in just a few short years. Please don't misunderstand me - I adore my husband and trust him implicitly. No one knows me like he does. But I craved that deep, sisterly, Christian fellowship like I'd had in the past. It still hasn't materialized and I've implored God, in tears at times. The days drag on as I do my best to balance our now two children, my husband's frequent absences (due to work), finishing my Master's, staying involved in our church and community...I've been drowning in the everyday stresses of the mundane.

But just in the last few days, God has started to gently reveal to me the reason for this perceived loneliness. I've always thrown myself into every relationship, priding myself on being a "people person" and an "extrovert." I always refused to ever say no to anyone and relied on others at the cost of my personal relationship with God. I was putting others above God. It was putting a strain not only on my relationship with God, but also my home life. My husband, and even my mother, have always been quick to point out my seeming inability to tell anyone no. But I still didn't see how I was basically relegating God to the backseat. 

So this is a tremendously painful moment of grace in my life - God's grace in revealing this to me and forgiving me for my selfishness and pride; grace from my husband and family for not focusing on them as much as I should; and finally, grace in allowing myself time to pray, grow, and persevere. "Grace" is my word for 2017. I never could have known in January just how fitting that would be. It is even more amazing to me that God chose a book called Glimpses of Grace, by Gloria Furman, to show this to me. I wrote a review of this book on Goodreads and posted it to the blog in May. It has completely changed my life and the way I see my role in my family. I have a new focus now - learning to live the Gospel out in my home and allow God to work through me. As I do this, everything else will fall into place. And my loneliness will subside as I fill my heart and my home with the grace and love of Christ. I know it sounds idealistic, but it's the overarching truth that should be (WILL be) the focal point of our home. I also know it won't be easy and making such a commitment puts us directly in the crosshairs spiritually. Despite the inherent threat and effort involved, I need to put extra effort into ensuring God is at the center of my life and my home, at all costs. This is the only way we will have peace and live within the grace of God. 

Lysa Terkeurst mentions three encouraging thoughts about spiritual loneliness that really resonated with me:

  1. Look for the gift of being humbled - look for the opportunities for God to humble your heart and prepare you for life.
  2. Look for the gift of being lonely - chances are you aren't alone; use this opportunity to reach out to others who may be struggling in similar ways.
  3. Look for the gift of silence - it is often in the moments of silence that we hear God's voice. Lysa says: "I’m trying to weave more silence into the rhythm of my life now so I can whisper, 'God what might You want to say to me right now? I’m listening.'"

Being lonely may be painful at times, but it give me ample opportunities to grow closer to God. Instead of praying for God to provide a confidant, I now pray for God to help me feel satisfied in Him.

I've been learning a lot of other things as well as God has given me the time, desire, and resources to read voraciously. I'll be sharing these other lessons in the coming weeks as I continue to heal and learn to delight in the Lord. 

Won't you join me? 

Hapless but hopeful,