Category: Book Reviews

The Best Selling Female Fiction Authors Featured Image

The Best Selling Female Fiction Authors

Female storytellers have been vital to the passing down of knowledge from generation to generation for millennia. Although recent history appears to have favored men in its appraisal of “literary masterpieces,” respect for female authors is growing rapidly, as it should and must be. In respect of this necessary evolution, this post focuses on highlighting some of the best selling female fictions authors of all time, as well as sharing links to their most popular work!

Virginia Woolf

the best selling female fiction authors - virginia woolf

Virginia Woolf was born in England in 1882. By all accounts, she was raised in a modest household by two forward-thinking parents. Her first experience as a writer and publisher came as a young girl when she intrepidly started her own family newspaper, which she called the Hyde Park Gate News. She went on to study Latin, Greek, and German at The Ladies’ Department of King’s College London. It was during her collegiate studies that she was first introduced to a number of radical feminists at the leading edge of the educational reforms taking place at the time.

Woolf’s first novel, The Voyage Out, took more than nine years to complete. It was first published in 1915. Two years after publishing her first novel, Woolf and her husband, Leonard, bought a printing press and started their own publishing house, the Hogarth Press. Woolf went on to publish a number of works that have inspired the generations of feminists that have come after her, including A Room of One’s OwnMrs. Dalloway, and To The Lighthouse.

Charlotte Brontë

the best selling female fiction authors - charlotte bronte

Charlotte was born in Yorkshire, England in April of 1816. She had two sisters, Emily and Anne, who were also writers, but most accounts depict Charlotte as the most ambitious of the three. She was raised in a strict Anglican home and, although she and her sister Emily attended the Clergy Daughter’s School at Cowan Bridge for a brief stint, Charlotte was largely educated at home.

Charlotte worked as a teacher and governess before her first foray into publishing, which was a book of poetry on which she collaborated with her sisters. Charlotte published her first novel, the widely known literary classic Jane Eyre, in 1847. This semi-autobiographical novel was originally published under the pseudonym ‘Currer Bell’. She also published several additional novels, including The ProfessorShirley, and Villette, before she passed away in March of 1855.

Jane Austen

the best selling female fiction authors - jane austen

Jane Austen was born in Steventon, England in December of 1775. She was her parent’s second daughter and seventh child overall. Her father was an Oxford-educated rector for a local Anglican parish and Jane’s early childhood environment stressed learning and creative thinking. She and her sister, Cassandra, were sent to a boarding school for more formal education during their early teens, but bouts with typhus cut their stints there short, sending them home to live with the family.

Jane began writing in the early 1790s. Her first published novel was Love and Friendship, which is a romantic parody organized as a series of love letters. The following year, she collaborated with her sister to write the historical parody, The History of England. Austen’s most famous works, of course, are Sense and SensibilityPride and Prejudice, and Emma.

Harper Lee

the best selling female fiction authors - harper lee

Harper Lee (full name ‘Nelle’ Harper Lee) was born in Monroeville, Alabama in April of 1926. She was the youngest of four children and her father was a lawyer, a member of the Alabama state legislature, and a part-owner of the local newspaper. Lee attended the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa for three years but eventually dropped out during her senior year to move to New York and pursue a career in writing.

She moved to the city in 1949 at age 23. She struggled for several years but caught a break when she befriended Broadway composer and lyricist Michael Martin Brown and his wife Joy. In 1956, the Browns told Lee they would financially support her for a full year so she could pursue writing full-time. During this year, Lee set the foundation for the manuscript that would eventually become To Kill a Mockingbird, which was eventually published in 1960.

Margaret Atwood

the best selling female fiction authors - margaret atwood

Margaret Atwood was born in Ontario, Canada in November of 1939. As a child, she split time between her family’s primary residence in Toronto and property in the scarcely populated “bush country” of northern Canada where her father, an entomologist, was conducting research. Her earliest writings date back to age 5, but she resumed more serious efforts in adolescence.

She received a master’s degree in English Literature from Radcliffe College in 1962 and published her earliest poetry collections between 1961 and 1968, including The Circle Game and The Animals in that Country. She has also published a number of novels, with The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin being arguably the two most widely recognized.

Joyce Carol Oates

the best selling female fiction authors - joyce carol oates

Joyce Carol Oates was born in Lockport, New York in June of 1938. She spent much of her early childhood on a rural farm but developed an admiration for writing and literature. In her teens, she received her first typewriter. She graduated valedictorian from Syracuse University in 1960 and went on to receive her master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin a year later. She then took up teaching work at the universities of Detroit, Windsor (in Canada), and Princeton, respectively.

Oates published her first story collection, By The North Gate, in 1963. She published her debut novel, With Shuddering Fall, a year later. She has since enjoyed a prolific writing career and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1978. Some of her other noteworthy novels include themWe Were The Mulvaneys, and The Gravedigger’s Daughter.

J.K. Rowling

the best selling female fiction authors - jk rowling

Joanne (J.K.) Rowling was born in July of 1965. She was living in Edinburgh, Scotland and struggling as a single mom before her first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was published in 1997. The original working title for this book was actually ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, but ‘Philosopher’s’ was changed to ‘Sorcerer’s’ for the American publication.

Rowling followed her first book with six others in the wildly successful Harry Potter series, culminating with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Rowling’s net worth is currently estimated at a whopping $850 million, which makes her (by that estimation) wealthier than even Queen Elizabeth II. Her works outside of the Harry Potter series include The Casual Vacancy and Cuckoo Calling, the latter of which she published under the pen name ‘Robert Galbraith’.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

the best selling female fiction authors - harriet beecher stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in Litchfield, Connecticut in June of 1811. Her family was highly religious and Stowe received a wide-ranging education from an all-girls school. At the age of 21, she moved to Ohio and joined various literary circles, where she became more active and involved in the social issues of the day.

Although perhaps most often remembered for her role in the Underground Railroad, Stowe also used her prolific writing ability to influence public opinion in the years leading up to the Civil War. Her most famous book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is a hauntingly realistic depiction of slavery and its human cost. In an interview with President Lincoln in November of 1862 (shortly after the start of the Civil War), Lincoln exclaimed upon meeting her, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!”

Emily Brontë

the best selling female fiction authors - emily bronte

The middle sister of Charlotte and Anne, Emily Jane Brontë was born in July of 1818. At the age of six, Emily, Charlotte, and their two oldest sisters, Elizabeth and Maria, were sent to the Clergy Daughters’ school at Cowan Bridge. In her early years, Emily collaborated on several novels and books of poetry with her sisters. Their father, Patrick, also published several works during his lifetime.

The Brontë sisters’ first published work was actually a poetry collection called Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. The ‘Bell’ names were the sisters’ respective pseudonyms. Emily’s first and only published novel was Wuthering Heights, which was published in December of 1847 under the pen name Ellis Bell. Only after Emily’s death in December of 1848 did her book gain recognition as a literary masterwork.

Ursula K. Le Guin

the best selling female fiction authors - ursula k le guin

Ursula K. Le Guin was born in Berkeley, California in October of 1929. She was the youngest child and only girl among four siblings. Her mother was a published writer most known for chronicling the life of the final member of the Yahi tribe, Ishi. Her father was a celebrated anthropologist and her early household celebrated art, ideas, and culture. Ursula was introduced to several members of the Native American community from a young age.

After struggling to be noticed for several years, Le Guin published her first novel, Rocannon’s World, in 1966. It is the first in a series of books that are part of the “Hainish Cycle.” The fourth book in the cycle, The Left Hand of Darkness, was published in 1969 and is one of her most widely acclaimed works. Other well-recognized books by Le Guin include those in the Earthsea series, such as A Wizard of EarthseaThe Tombs of Atuan, and Tehanu.

It’s Reading Time!

While I hope you’ve enjoyed these brief bios, I want to stress that this is by no means a complete compilation of all the best selling female fiction authors out there. If you’ve read anything from any of these authors, I’d love to know why you loved, hated, were perplexed, or experienced any other emotion related to their work!

Also, I’d love to hear what other types of books or authors you’d like to see reviewed on this site. I’m always looking for new opportunities to read and review. My only regret is that my reading list tends to grow much faster than I’m able to check items off of it, so if you do leave me a suggestion, I appreciate your patience as I dive into the many books on my shelves!

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Reading!

Tucker Ballister

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Even Cowgirls Get The Blues Featured Image

Review of Even Cowgirls Get The Blues

I have a confession to make. Some months back, I posted an article with my Favorite Quotes from Even Cowgirls Get The Blues. I did so before I had fully read the book in its entirety. To my readers, I am sorry. But now, as I just finished the 365th-page last night, I’m finally getting around to an honest review of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins.

even cowgirls get the blues - front cover

The Summary

This is what the back cover of the book will tell you. “STARRING … Sissy Hankshaw – flawlessly beautiful, almost. A small-town girl with big-time dreams and a quirk to match: hitchhiking her way into your heart, your hopes, and your sleeping bag…[and] FEATURING … Bonanza Jellybean and the smooth-riding Cowgirls of Rubber Rose Ranch. Chink, lascivious guru of yams and yang. Julian, Mohawk by birth, asthmatic aesthete and husband by disposition. Dr. Robbins, preventive psychiatrist and reality instructor … Follow Sissy’s amazing odyssey from Virginia to chic Manhattan to the Dakota Badlands, where FBI agents, cowgirls, and ecstatic whooping cranes explode in a deliciously drawn out climax … ”

Phew! Now that that’s out of the way … what the back cover won’t tell you about is Sissy’s “condition”, Dr. Robbins’ aversion to traditionally-acceptable psychiatric methods, Julian’s need to appease his “high society” friends, and the Countess who (largely) makes the whole story possible. If you want to know more about those things, my friends, you’ll have to find them out for yourself. 

The Themes

What is it all down on paper for? What is good old Mr. Robbins trying to get at anyway? Well, as far as I can tell (and as concisely as I can put it into words), this book is about the nature of time and our relationship to it. It is about our human connection to the natural world. It is about the role that women might play in a healthier, more conscious evolution of humankind. And it is about love, of course (aren’t all of Robbins’ books?)

The Catalyst

Interestingly enough, the catalyst that brings together cowgirls, Chink, Sissy, FBI, and other agents of destruction is these gosh-darned whooping cranes. Known to spend winters in the Aransas Wildlife Refuge in Texas and summers in their Alberta-Northwest Territories nesting grounds, these giant cranes suddenly disappear in the midst of our lovely little tale.

Authorities are vexed, of course, because they are the last surviving flock of whooping cranes on the planet. An endangered species to this day, the whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America and is largely known for its hopping, skipping mating dance. Check out this NatGeo video for a look!

Why You Should Read It

If you haven’t read any of Tom Robbins’ books, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues is a great place to start. I love Robbins’ style because of his comic tone. It is rare to find an author that can make you burst out in audible laughter. It is equally rare to find one that can combine this witty humor with real, tangible insights into the nature of existence. To me, Robbins is a comic and a philosopher, and his storytelling combines these two traits to produce tales that will leave you feeling good and thinking about how you can better relate to (and play in!) the world around you.

Even Cowgirls Get The Blues isn’t a fantasy novel. It is a book set in reality, with a few healthy stretches of the imagination, of course. It is a book that shines a light on some of the ludicrous inner-workings of civilization; the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is a book that will help you contemplate YOUR unique truth.

My Rating

Rating systems are over-rated. Ha! Yes, I said it. Who said that 5 is good and 1 is bad? Who determines that a scale of 1 to 100 is sufficient for measuring the effect that a piece of performance art can have on an individual? And yes, folks, that’s exactly what Even Cowgirls Get The Blues is, a piece of performance art.

So, in the interest of giving you a rating without succumbing to the shortcomings of rating systems, I’ve decided to create my own. In my system, red books are full of blood and gore. Pink books are full of fluffy love metaphors. Green books make you feel like leaving it all behind and living in the woods. Violet books make you lust for something new. Brown books make you fart and stink, but it’s always better out than in (I like to say). Orange books make you feel like eating fruit. Yellow books make you feel slightly queasy. Indigo books only grow an insatiable appetite for more books. And blue books leave you feeling, well, just that: blue.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, it’s time to rate Tom Robbins’ Even Cowgirls Get The Blues. Judges, please reveal your scores.

Judge 1: This is a blue book because we can’t help but feel sad for some of the characters at the end.

Judge 2: This is a yellow book because certain references left us feeling sick to our stomachs.

Judge 3: This is a pink book because it talks about love in ways we’ve never considered.

Judge 4: This is a green book because we sympathize with those characters that leave it all behind.

Judge 5: This is a violet book because it makes us want a new mode of existence.

Judge 6: This is a brown book because some parts of it really do stink.

Judge 7: This is an orange book because what stinks to some is also quite sweet to others.

Judge 8: This is a red book because not all good characters live to see the end.

Judge 9: This is undoubtedly an indigo book because it makes us want to pick up another of Robbins’ brilliant works as soon as we can.

Well folks, there you have it. The results are in. The judges have spoken. Even Cowgirls Get The Blues by Tom Robbins rates as a blue-yellow-pink-green-violet-brown-orange-red-indigo book that you certainly must get your hands on!

even cowgirls get the blues - front cover

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What Are Your Thoughts?

Have you already read Tom Robbins’ Even Cowgirls Get The Blues? If so, are there any lessons you took away that I didn’t mention in this post? If not, are you interested in reading it now? Also, I’d love to know if you ‘ve read any of Robbins’ other works, such as Jitterbug PerfumeStill Life With Woodpecker, or Skinny Legs and All.

I’d love to hear your feedback on this post and I’d also love to start a conversation about the daily habits that you rely on for success! Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above.

I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Reading!

Tucker Ballister

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Lessons From Bird by Bird By Anne Lamott Featured Image

Lessons from Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

My dream of publishing a full-length novel is a dream that’s still sitting somewhere off in the future, waiting for me to finally attain it. I find it so much easier to sit down and write a short blog multiple times a week than to really dive into the multi-year task of writing a full book. I know that creative writing can be a different process for every writer, but I also recognize the value of learning from authors that have been successful in the past. So today I’m going to take some time to share a few of the lessons from Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Read more

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Three Historical Fiction Books for Teens Featured Image

Three Historical Fiction Books for Teens

I’m going to start this post with a grain (or two) of salt. I am not a parent. And while I dream of being one in the future, it’s impossible for me to put myself in any parent’s shoes. All I can think about, for the time being, is how I will raise my children when the time comes. For me, I want reading to be a big part of my kid’s lives. So, if you’re looking to pull your teen away from video games and offer them an alternative (dare I say healthier?) way to spend their downtime, consider these three historical fiction books for teens.

The Outlaws of Sherwood

historical fiction books for teens - the outlaws of sherwood

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The Outlaws of Sherwood is written by New York Times bestselling author Robin McKinley. In this 368-page book, McKinley dives into the classic story of Robin Hood, but she puts her own contemporary spin on the events that we all came to know and love as kids. One of the major areas she explores comes in the form of Maid Marian playing a more prominent role as one of Robin’s best archers.

One of the surprises of this book is that Robin Hood himself doesn’t actually play a prominent role. While you may have deciphered that from the title alone, rest assured that Robin is still the centerpiece of this tale and the figure upon which many of the relationships are built. McKinley, however, does an amazing job moving away from the storybook heroism that underlines so many of the Robin Hood adventures we grew up with. Instead, she presents a much grittier, truer-to-life version of some of the most infamous deeds of The Outlaws of Sherwood.


historical fiction books for teens - troy

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Troy is written by Adéle Geras. While so many of us are familiar with the tale of Troy and its downfall, so much of that history (or dramatization of it) has been shaped by the famous Hollywood movie in which Brad Pitt plays the leading role of Achilles. Although I do love that movie, the degree to which you might call it “historically accurate” is certainly debatable.

In this 358-page book, Geras writes from the perspective of the women of Troy. She pulls from Greek mythology to weave the tale of two sisters who are sent by Aphrodite to put an end to the 10-year Siege of Troy, of which the goddess has tired. The women of Troy are weary of tending the wounded, the men are tired of fighting, and the gods find their usual way of stirring things up. The sisters follow a bloody path to a gut-wrenching truth: “In the fury of war, love strikes the deadliest blows.”

Old Magic

historical fiction books for teens - old magic

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Old Magic is written by Marianne Curley. It is a 317-page novel that features two main characters: Jarrod Thornton and Kate Warren. Kate can’t figure out why she’s so attracted to the new guy. His entrance into this novel is quickly proceeded by the revealing of his supernatural powers. The struggle is, however, that only Kate believes that his powers exist.

But as they grow, Jarrod begins to take Kate’s suggestions more seriously and, at the same time, they’re relationship grows closer. Together, they set out on a journey that tests their connection and unveils secrets about Jarrod’s past; events that have haunted his family for generations.

The teens have to stick together to battle unimaginable forces in an effort to change the past and, ultimately, shape their futures. Curley also weaves time travel into this epic, and magical, story. But fair warning: if you don’t believe, it’ll be hard for you to follow Kate and Jarrod on their mysterious journey.

Why History Is Important

Who says magic isn’t real? Who says that the women of Troy didn’t play the pivotal role in finally ending the war? Who says Marian wasn’t the absolute best archer in Robin Hood’s merry band of outlaws? The authors of these books offer these ideas and many others. But they also back them up with some important pieces of our human history.

History teaches us where we’ve been so that we can forge a better path forward. For our young generations, understanding the mistakes of the past is critical if we are to avoid making them again in the future. I know that I had trouble concentrating on history in school. Memorizing dates and events was monotonous and required more memory power than I wanted to give.

But having history presented to us in the form of a fictional story is a different thing altogether. It allows us to enter a narrative and, often, we don’t even realize how much we’ve picked up about significant historical events. Understanding the events of history will help us build a better, brighter future. And so, books like these three are vital to our healthy progress.

Your Turn!

Now it’s your opportunity to read and digest The Outlaws of Sherwood, Troy, and/or Old Magic for yourself! While I hope you’ve enjoyed the brief reviews of each, I hope you know that they are by no means full summaries of the events and characters contained within each. If you’ve read any of these selections already, I’d love to know your thoughts, feelings, and what you took away from them.

Also, I’d love to hear what other types of books you’d like to see me review on this site. I’m always looking for new books to read and review. My only regret is that my reading list tends to grow much faster than I’m able to check items off of it, so if you do leave me a suggestion, I appreciate your patience as I dive into the many books on my shelves!

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Reading!

Tucker Ballister

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A Slaughterhouse Five Summary Featured Image

A Slaughterhouse Five Summary

My father recommended this book to me some time ago and I had started it but quickly fizzled out. It had actually been serving as a placeholder for a light in the window sill for quite some time before I finally picked it up again recently. Then, I went on a 6-day backpacking trip and read the whole thing pretty much straight through. This is my Slaughterhouse Five summary.

slaughterhouse five summary - front cover
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The Main Character

The main character’s name is Billy Pilgrim. Vonnegut portrays him as quite the feeble character throughout his travels, both on Earth and afar. Billy serves in World War II and comes away quite scarred by the experience, although he doesn’t really allow that to be well-known.

Eventually, Billy attends dental school and becomes a dentist. He marries a rich girl and starts himself up a steady, lucrative dental practice. This, however, is only a small part of Billy’s story. He’s a unique character in that, early in his life, Billy becomes “unstuck” in time. I’ll explain that a little more in a bit.

The Plot Line

Billy’s storyline jumps around in time just like he does (again, more on that momentarily). There’s the time he spends behind enemy lines in the war, trudging through snow with horrendous footwear. Then there’s his capture and subsequent detainment in a POW camp along with several hundred American soldiers.

There’s the time he spent in a work camp in Dresden, Germany, where he witnessed the aftermath of the infamous firebombing of that city. Then there’s his abduction by an alien species and subsequent years spent living as what amounts to a zoo specimen on their planet.

Throughout his travels and escapades, both on Earth and beyond, Billy grapples with questions about the true nature of time and the meaning of existence. Vonnegut’s style embodies his character perfectly. Although this is far from a linear tale, the fact that it does make the frequent jumps that it does serve to hold the readers’ attention and keep us asking, “What could possibly come next?”

More On This Idea of Coming “Unstuck”

So, as I mentioned, and as Vonnegut starts, “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.” This is to say that, Billy’s timeline is far from linear, although it would only be perceived as such by those around him. Billy, though, could be in 1946 at one moment and 1959 at another. He has no control over his “jumps” and his actions in the “past” are fruitless to change the outcome of his “future.”

Billy first came “unstuck” in 1944, as the story goes. As a result of his being “unstuck”, Billy reports to have seen his birth and death many times and to randomly visit all the events in between. His alien abduction, of course, could have had some effect on Billy’s coming “unstuck”, but he reports that his first experience with “time travel” came long before he was kidnapped.

And so, Billy doesn’t know when he’ll change time and he has no control over where he goes. As you might imagine, this can be a difficult thing to deal with, but I’ll let Billy (and probably more accurately, Kurt) fill you in more on the details of this tricky thing.

My Favorite Quotes

1. “People aren’t supposed to look back. I’m certainly not going to do it anymore.”

This quote is included in Chapter One, which serves as Vonnegut’s introduction to a book that he’s certain will be a total failure. We, of course, know that not to be true now. But it’s certainly an interesting statement on the time and energy we spend looking back, both on failures and successes, and whether that time is well-spent or whether we’d be better off focusing (and moving) forward.

2. “There was a soft drink bottle on the windowsill. Its label boasted that it contained no nourishment whatsoever.”

I included this quote (from Chapter 4) because it gives a sense of Vonnegut’s comic style, which I found to be very insightful and timely. I find a sense of humor to be increasingly important to my author selections (Tom Robbins, Edward Abbey, Kurt Vonnegut, to mention a few recents). If a book can’t make you laugh, it sure better make you cry. And ideally, they both make you think.

3. “Everything is all right. And everybody has to do exactly what he does. I learned that on Tralfalmadore.”

I was trying not to mention it, but there it is: the name of the planet to which Billy is kidnapped. The Tralfalmadorians, although not responsible for Billy’s coming unstuck in time, do teach him quite a bit about the nature of time (and existence, for that matter). Vonnegut uses this alien species to send a few powerful messages about who we are and what we’re all doing here.

Final Verdict

slaughterhouse five summary - back cover

I highly recommend reading and digesting this book! It’s only 215 pages in total and once you get going it’s so easy to roll right on through. The spastic nature of Billy (and Vonnegut’s timeline) make it easy for the reader to stay engaged and keep wanting more. This isn’t to mention that Vonnegut will make you think hard about the true nature of time, how precious of a resource it really is, and what our purpose is here on Earth.

By my account, Slaughterhouse Five is a comedic look into the minutia of our lives, a historically significant piece detailing several aspects of World War II, and a commentary on the one thing we can’t get back when we lose it: time. I give it 5 out of 5 stars and recommend buying a paperback version on Amazon or Better World Books.

Your Turn!

Now it’s your opportunity to read and digest Slaughterhouse Five for yourself! While I hope you’ve enjoyed the quotes I pulled from it and highlighted here, this is by no means a complete review. If you’ve read this selection already, I’d love to know your thoughts, feelings, and what you took away from it.

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Reading!

Tucker Ballister





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True North Book Review Featured Image

True North Book Review

Roger Rooney’s bio describes him as a public servant turned comedian turned author. He served as the Senior Researcher for a time for the Refugee Review Tribunal, where he sat on the China and South-East Asia desk. What is clear in reading his first book is that he spent years researching the background of the story in question in order to provide you (the reader) with the most accurate picture possible. I hope you enjoy this True North book review!

true north book review - front cover

Brief Overview

True North is set in 1962 during one of the heaviest periods of conflict in the Vietnam War. It follows leading characters on both sides of the fight and details the roles of several governments, “revolution” groups, and certain shadowy figures with questionable allegiances.

It is also a story of an unlikely love story developing in a region that’s otherwise embroiled in death, tragedy, and instability. I particularly enjoyed Rooney’s portrayal of the war from both sides and his ability to make you remember that “good” and “bad” are often not so far apart as we are sometimes led to believe.

Main Characters

The leading male character in the book is Australian Army Adviser Lieutenant Jack Burns. His marching orders at the beginning of the book are to train soldiers from the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) to fight more effectively against the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) forces. He realizes, as time passes, that the distinction between the two is not so clear-cut.

The leading female character is Tran. She is a recruited soldier in the NVA and has joined the “communist cause” along with her brother. Although she joins with enthusiasm to defend Vietnam against “foreign invaders”, she often has doubts about the tactics of her commanding officers and fears for the life of her brother, as well as her own.

The Love Story

As Jack trains his soldiers and Tran struggles with her place amongst her fellow soldiers, a battle is brewing. The bulk of the military fighting in True North culminates at the Battle of Ap Bac, where Tran’s unit elects to vie for a stronghold in a village that had previously been under the South’s Strategic Hamlet program. Jack is fighting on the front lines for ARVN and witnessing firsthand the chaos and lack of organization.

Despite the NVA’s entrenched position at Ap Bac and heavy casualties suffered by ARVN, Jack’s side winds up calling in the air strike that essentially puts an end to the battle. In the immediate aftermath, however, our star-crossed lovers meet for the first time when Jack captures a young, pretty NVA POW.

Their initial meeting is short-lived, however, as an unexpected turn dramatically changes their involvement in the rest of the war. As readers, we find ourselves searching for a way to reunite them as other events and turmoil spread throughout Saigon.

My Favorite Quotes

It’s one of my habits to highlight passages that stand out to me whenever I’m reading a new book. These are three of my favorite quotes from True North:

1. “He knew that in WWII it took 5000 rounds of ammo to kill one person. Few soldiers actually killed anyone. Fewer had even lined a man up in their gunsights. In Vietnam, the fighting would be done up close and everyone would be a killer. Tonight had been his initiation.”

The paragraph that preceded this quote hit me because it really gave a clear picture of what the fighting might have been like in the Vietnam War. I had also never really considered the fact (although it’s obvious now) that every war is fought differently and, as such, war veterans from different eras most likely have many different experiences to overcome when they return home.

2. “She had become part of a machine that had set its sights on toppling the southern government by stripping down its people, all in the name of progress. Modernity would be the new feudalism.”

Feudalism (as defined by Merriam-Webster) is “the system of political organization prevailing in Europe from the 9th to about the 15th centuries having as its basis the relation of lord to vassal with all land held in fee and as chief characteristics homage, the service of tenants under arms and in court, wardship, and forfeiture.”

For me, this quote (from Tran) highlights the dangers of how organizations and systems created by humans can, in turn, become quite controlling of humans. Tran recognizes that it is a machine that will not cease to exist until it has achieved its end, or it has been completely destroyed.

3. “The cycle of ying and yang is not to be celebrated. It is an eternal progression — virtue turns into benevolence, which inevitably grows into righteousness. Confucian rituals demand unthinking loyalty and trust. And blind trust is the beginning of disorder.”

I love that Rooney chose to pull from some of Alan Watts’ teachings when creating his Coconut Monk character. Although the Coconut Monk plays only a small role in the overall plot of the book, many parts of the chapter introducing him stood out to me, with this quote rising to the top. It speaks for itself, and it challenges the reader to think about the ways in which blind trust are affecting our world today.

My Rating

Overall, Roger Rooney’s True North receives a solid 4 out of 5 stars. It took me a while to get into the storyline, I’ll admit, but once I did, it certainly was a page-turner. I found myself eager to learn the dramatic conclusion to Tran and Jack’s love story, and every time I thought I had a beat on how things were going to shake out, I was thrown for another twist. As a fan of mystery, romance, and history, this story checked all of those boxes and I only wished for an alternative ending, despite the fact that I know this is a selfish wish. Alas, as readers I think we often turn to books to immerse ourselves in the imaginations of others and I certainly enjoyed the journey of True North.

true north book review - front cover

Your Turn!

Now it’s your opportunity to read and digest True North for yourself! While I hope you’ve enjoyed the quotes I pulled from it and highlighted here, this is by no means a complete review. If you’ve read this selection already, I’d love to know your thoughts, feelings, and what you took away from it.

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Finally, I’d like to note that I am extremely humbled to have been contacted by the author of True North and gifted a free digital version of his book to review. If you have a book that you’d like me to read and review, please don’t hesitate to reach out! I’m always on the lookout for new and exciting stories.

Happy Reading!

Tucker Ballister

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