What I’ve Been Reading Lately

September 21, 2018

3 arcs

For today’s post, I have reviews of three ARCS (advanced readers copies) that I’ve read recently. Thank you to #NetGalley #ackermanbooks #harpercollins #atlanticmonthlypress #shewritespress for the free advance copies of #hardcider #virgilwander and #thelieutenantsnurse in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. Reviews listed in order of release date.

hard ciderHard Cider by Barbara Stark-Nemon

Have you faithfully cared for your family, enjoyed a fulfilling career, and now your nest is empty? Is it finally time to focus on something for YOU? Is this the time to realize YOUR lifelong dream? To pursue YOUR goals?

Meet Abbie Rose Stone: a retired teacher, a creative, supportive, understanding, and seasoned mom, a loyal, attentive, and caring wife, a hard worker and an ambitious dreamer.

Is it possible for Abbie Rose who has enjoyed raising three children, trying her best to meet their unique challenges and understand their different needs and personalities, to follow her heart and establish her own hard cider business without her husband’s or children’s full support? Just as Abbie Rose finds the courage to make her decision, a stranger presents information that will affect her family’s future and complicate their lives.

When is it a good time for Abbie Rose to pursue her dreams?

Barbara Stark-Nemon creates the memorable character of Abbie Rose, provides an exquisite sense of place as readers can easily envision life along the northern shores of Lake Michigan, pulls us into complicated family dynamics, and describes what the production of hard cider involves.

Readers will appreciate strong and thoughtful themes including infertility, adoption, determination, persistence, compassion, parenting adult children, mature marriage, following a dream, and drawing a wider circle.

The story lines that most affect me include how a woman manages to follow her dream while continuing to creatively and thoughtfully handle complex family issues, how adoption affects children and families, and how compassion and acceptance allow us to draw a wider circle of inclusiveness. One story line I couldn’t relate to is the guidance that Abbie Rose seeks from the Tarot Card reader because I look to God for my spiritual guidance. However, this is a small aspect of the story.

Recommended for readers who are fans of beautifully written stories filled with family dynamics, for those who enjoy an inspirational and motivational story of a woman following her dreams while also caring for her family, for readers who are familiar with the northern shores of Lake Michigan, and for readers of women’s contemporary fiction.

Publication Date: September 18, 2018

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

My Star Rating: 4 Stars

virgil wanderVirgil Wander by Leif Enger (author of Peace Like a River)

Kite flying … nostalgic film references … film reels …. small town independent theaters …. Lake Superior …. a midwest town down on its luck …. quirky characters …. splashes of humor … and a touch of magical realism make Virgil Wander a remarkable and memorable story.

Leif Enger’s devoted fans have long anticipated his new release, Virgil Wander, as it’s been several years since Enger’s well-known 2002 title, Peace Like a River. Enger is an exquisite writer, and he fills this well written, quiet, character driven story with an eclectic mix of quirky characters and an astounding assortment of vocabulary (a great deal of which I had to look up!). Since I’m a fast reader, I had to slow my pace in order to savor the writing and ponder the phrases. Virgil Wander is not a book to power through. Because every sentence is packed with meaning, I found that it worked best for me to read it in chunks and then set it aside for an hour or an evening and pick it up fresh.

Enger creates an amazing sense of place as readers are introduced to a small, upper midwestern town on the shores of Lake Superior, north of Duluth, Minnesota as well as its various, colorful characters. The town, Greenstone, and the main character, Virgil Wander, are both struggling. Greenstone is on the decline and has experienced so much tough luck that it eventually creates a festival called “Hard Luck Days.” The story opens one snowy afternoon with Virgil’s rescue after he drives accidentally (?) off a cliff and submerges his car into Lake Superior. Virgil, surviving with a mild brain injury, returns to his former life feeling like a tenant and lives above the decrepit Empress theater which he owns and manages. Virgil’s life begins to change when Rune, a friendly Norwegian man, comes to town with his creative and extravagant kites. He has “a hundred merry crinkles at his eyes and a long-haul sadness in his shoulders.” Rune seeks to reconcile his grief over a son he never knew who has mysteriously disappeared while Virgil attempts to regain his memory, his equilibrium, and his vocabulary, and suffers silently with romantic feelings towards Rune’s son’s beautiful widow, Nadine. Rune and Virgil become friends and affect some positive changes in the town and help many of the town folk. Virgil finds joy in flying Rune’s kites:

“As a kid I’d enjoyed kites, but only in the usual way of kids, losing interest once they were airborne and manageable. Now I thought of flying daily, hourly. I didn’t hold the string so much as comb it, and once flying I felt small and unencumbered, as if the moving sky were home and I’d been misplaced down here. Maybe I wanted the broad reach, as Lou Chandler had said. That great wide open.”

Many sentimental moments involve Rune and Virgil rewatching old classic movies at the Empress theater, also providing an accepting and comforting gathering place for an assortment of their friends. There are too many sub plots to address in a review, but many of the story lines involve the reinvention of the town and Virgil.

A masterful writer, Enger includes themes such as loss, rebuilding a life (and a town), taking a risk (“[The kite] broke the line and caught the next gust out of town. A perilous beautiful move, choosing to throw yourself at the future, even if it means one day coming down in the sea.”), friendship, finding yourself (“For a man named Wander I’d spent a long time in one place.”), family, love, community, and drawing a wider circle (“Your tribe is always bigger than you think.”). Greenstone, the town’s name, is symbolic and thematic, too: (Wikipedia) “Greenstone is the state gem of Michigan, found along Lake Superior. It is a mineral found in basalt, a volcanic rock. The Ely greenstone found in MN is basalt that has been metamorphosed; that is, volcanic rock which under pressure has been changed into a new form.”

Recommended for fans of literary fiction and for fans of sentences like these:

“This he stated in a flattened voice like a wall build hastily to conceal ruins.”


“He had the heartening build of the aging athlete defeated by pastry.”

Recommended for readers who love character driven stories, important themes, and the insightful descriptions of ordinary people and their circumstances, for all who are searching for thoughtful content, for vocabulary enthusiasts, and, of course, for devoted fans of Peace Like a River.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

Genre/Categories: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Small Town, Rural

Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

lieutenant's nurseThe Lieutenant’s Nurse by Sara Ackerman (author of Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers…full review here)

Pearl Harbor … war … romance … intrigue … cover ups … friendship … heroic nurses are elements that make this a memorable story.

November, 1941 finds Eva Cassidy, a newly enlisted Army Corps nurse, on board the steamship SS Lurline on her way to her first assignment in Hawaii. Even though she’s engaged and her fiance is waiting for her in Hawaii, her voyage holds an interesting distraction: Lt. Clark Spencer, a handsome navy intelligence officer. Complications arise as Eva and Clark are drawn to each other and Eva desperately hides a secret from her past. Later, amidst the chaos of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Eva courageously bands together with her fellow nurses to tend to the American wounded, reconnects with Lt. Spencer, and is faced with questions of whom to trust and a desire to protect the ones she loves.

During the voyage to Hawaii, the story quietly builds as readers become acquainted with portions of Eva’s back story and make the acquaintance of Lt. Clark Spencer. Upon arrival at the island, the story picks up the pace as Pearl Harbor is bombed, medical personnel scramble to save lives, and there are rumors of a government cover up. This is the most engaging part of the story. I appreciate a good page turner and this aspect of the story delivers!

Readers cheer for Eva, a determined, adventurous, and independent woman, as she begins a new career as an army nurse, grapples with her past, feels responsibility for her polio stricken sister, bravely asserts herself into the medical crisis at Pearl Harbor, finds courage to state her opinions to authoritarian doctors, defends the man she truly loves, confronts danger, and embraces her intuition that recovering soldiers could benefit from a therapy dog.

Recommended for fans of Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers, for readers who are interested in the fictionalized account of the attack on Pearl Harbor, for medical professionals who might be interested in the nursing aspect of the story, and for those looking for an engaging histfic read.

Publication Date: March 5, 2019

Genre/Categories: Historical Fiction, WW11, Women’s Fiction

Star Rating: 4 Stars

Happy Reading Book Worms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection!
Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text

My Fall TBR

I’ll be updating my Fall TBR list as I complete each read, so check this link often!

Looking Ahead:

I’m thrilled to be reading Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and eager to bring my review next week. (*Spoiler: I’m almost certain it will earn a place on my best of 2018 list)

where the crawdads sing

A Link I Love

Are you a Minimalist?
Novels and NonFiction: Titles I Found Most Helpful In My Minimalist Journey

Sharing is Caring

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 Let’s Discuss

What are you reading this week?

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Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.

Book Cover and author photo are credited to Amazon or an author’s (or publisher’s) website.


  1. Hi – I’m very interested in the Sarah Ackerman book.  Did you get it from netgalley or Edelweiss?  I am going to try to chase a copy down and thought I’d check with you first.  Thanks lots  Sue

  2. Hi Carol — I can’t possibly keep up reading all the books you get through!! So I’m showing a little self discipline and just adding the Leif Enger book to my list!! Love your content filled posts! xo

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