January Reading Wrap Up

January 31, 2019

January Reading Wrap Up

january reading wrap up

What is the best book you read this month?

*This post contains affiliate links.

In January, I finished eight books, abandoned two, and I started two that I will finish in February.

My January reads are listed below in order of my Star Rating (titles are Amazon affiliate links):


Learning to See by Elise Hooper

Genre: Historical Fiction, Biographical
4.5 Stars
Full Review Here


The Beautiful Strangers by Camille Di Maio

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction
4 Stars

Goodreads Review Here
ARC: Available March 5, 2019


Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson

Genre: Women’s Fiction
4 Stars

Full Review Here


Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Genre: Middle Grade Fiction (#ownvoices)
3.5 Stars

Goodreads Review Here


Late Bloomers’ Club by Louise Miller

Genre: Women’s Fiction
3.5 Stars

Brief Review Here


Glory Road by Lauren K Denton

Genre: Southern Women’s Fiction
3.5 Stars

Goodreads Review Here
ARC: Available March 19, 2019


Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris

Genre: Historical Fiction
3.5 Stars

Goodreads Review Here


The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

Genre: Classic, Women’s Fiction
3 Stars
Brief Review Here



Share your best January read in comments!


 

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Holocaust Remembrance Day

January 27, 2019

January 27th is International
Holocaust Remembrance Day

holocaust remembrance day

Meme from theisraelproject.org.  In addition to the six million Jews, there were approximately five million others killed by the Nazis – gypsies, homosexuals, people with mental or physical disabilities, Jehovah’s Witnesses, resistance fighters, Poles and other Slavic peoples.

Those of us who read WW11 Historical Fiction have stories of the Holocaust burned into our hearts. On this day of remembrance, here are a few of the WW11 books I’ve read (titles are links to my blog or goodreads reviews or affiliate Amazon links):

From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan

The Baker’s Secret by Stephen P Kierman

The Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

The Soldier’s Wife by Margaret Leroy

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristin Harmel

White Rose, Black Forest by Eoin Dempsey

 

candles



What titles can you add? I thought of adding Sarah’s Key, but I didn’t actually read it because I saw the movie. I know it’s a favorite for many histfic readers.

Do you see any favorite titles?



***Blogs posts may contain affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I can earn a small percentage of your purchase price.

The Enchanted April and The Late Bloomers’ Club: Reviews and Comparisons

*this post contains affiliate links

January 25, 2019

I read back-to-back light women’s fiction books (chick lit) in recent days, unusual and interesting for me since chick lit isn’t my preferred genre. The Enchanted April was originally published in the 1920s, and The Late Bloomers’ Club is contemporary. As I read them, I couldn’t resist a comparison.

Girls decide to take a girls’ trip to Italy…..does this sound modern?…..it happened in 1920!

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

enchanted april original cover

Collector’s edition (in box)

Genre/Categories: Women’s Fiction, Classics, Romance, Italy

Summary:

Set in the 1920s, two women (strangers at this point) sitting near each other in a woman’s club strike up a conversation about an advertisement they see to rent a medieval castle in Italy. Both women are lonely and are in marriages that are less than satisfactory. One of the women, Mrs. Wilkins, inspires the other and soon they are making plans to rent the castle. Each has a nest egg that she can use, and they decide to embark on this adventure without sharing their exact plans with their husbands. While making plans, they come to the conclusion that since it’s a huge castle with eight beds, that it would be a good idea to find two more women so that four of them are sharing the cost to rent the Italian castle for one month. The four lonely strangers, all miserable in their own ways, converge on the castle and each one of their lives is changed because of the almost magical experience. (more…)

The Wartime Sisters: A Review

January 22, 2019

Sisters…resentment…jealousy…misunderstanding…competition…secrets…

The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman

wartime sisters

Genre/Categories: Historical Fiction, WW11, Jewish, Siblings, Friendship, Family Dynamics

Thank you to @netgalley and @stmartinspress for the advanced free copy of #TheWartimeSisters in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Summary:

In the early days of WW11, two estranged sisters are reunited at the Springfield, Massachusetts Armory. Ruth is the older sister and an officer’s wife and the younger sister Millie is a single mom who, in desperation, seeks refuge in her sister’s home and takes a position in the Armory factories as a “soldier of production.” This living arrangement isn’t ideal, but the younger sister has no other family after the death of their parents and the disappearance of her abusive husband. The relationship between the sisters is tense and filled with resentment, jealousy, misunderstanding, competition, and secrets.

My Thoughts:

Sisters and Friends Who Are Like Sisters. Although the story is set during WW11 and interesting details are given about the time period, the armory, and wartime efforts, I think this story of the “war between sisters” could have taken place in any time period and any setting. I appreciate the effort the author gives in this mostly character driven story in creating a complex and believable relationship between two sisters. Their rivalry is completely understandable, believable, and tragic. The support they receive from two other women in the story makes for a dynamic and well-developed cast of characters. It would be easy to see this as a movie.

Plot. Although mostly character driven, a plot twist towards the end provides compelling tension and action. Overall, this poignant, well written story told from the alternating perspectives of four strong women (two sisters and two friends) and from dual timelines is a solid read. It could be categorized as women’s fiction set in war time as well as the historical fiction designation.

Themes. Thoughtful themes addressed include parental favoritism and expectations, family dynamics, sibling loyalty and rivalry, complex relationships, reconciliation, roles of women in the 30s and 40s, and strong and brave women supporting each other.

Recommended for readers who appreciate well drawn and realistic characterizations of resilient, determined women and compelling stories that explore complicated family dynamics.

My Rating: 4 Poignant Stars

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the wartime sisters

The Wartime Sisters

Meet the Author, Lynda Cohen Loigman

lynda cohen loigmanLynda Cohen Loigman grew up in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. She received a B.A. in English and American Literature from Harvard College and a law degree from Columbia Law School. Lynda practiced trusts and estates law in New York City for eight years before moving out of the city to raise her two children with her husband. She wrote The Two-Family House while she was a student of the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. The Two-Family House was chosen by Goodreads as a best book of the month for March, 2016, and was a nominee for the Goodreads 2016 Choice Awards in Historical Fiction. Her second novel, The Wartime Sisters, will be published on January 22, 2019.



Let’s Discuss!

Have you read Loigman’s first novel, The Two-Family House?

 Can you relate to a story of sibling rivalry?



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



Links

This is important information! Why getting lost in a book is so good for you according to science!

I’ll be updating my Winter TBR as I read and review selections. So check back often!

Don’t miss my Most Memorable Reads of 2018 post here.



In Movie News….

For Fredrik Backman fans, Britt-Marie Was Here will be a movie!

Reese Witherspoon to produce “Where the Crawdads Sing” and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

And….here’s the trailer for Where’d You Go Bernadette starring Cate Blanchette.

(You might consider adding these four books to your ‘want to read list’ in preparation!)



Sharing is Caring

Thank you for reading today! I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.



***Blogs posts may contain affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I can earn a small percentage of your purchase price.

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.

Just Mercy Review: In Honor of MLK Jr and His Work

*this post contains affiliate links

January 21, 2019

Today, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr (MLK) and his work, I’m reposting a review of Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson from my September 14, 2018 post …..



September 14, 2018

An inspirational memoir of courage ….. determination ….. vision …..

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

just mercy 2

Genre/Categories: Nonfiction, Memoir, African-American, Judicial System, Criminal Procedure, Politics and Social Sciences

Summary:

Named one of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times • The Washington Post • The Boston Globe • The Seattle Times • Esquire • Time

In this compelling and engaging memoir, Bryan Stevenson shares true stories about founding the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice established to defend those most desperate and in need (the underrepresented, poor, wrongly condemned, women, and youth trapped for life in the criminal justice system). In addition to detailing his experience as a young lawyer confronting political machines, fighting prejudice, and accepting challenging cases, Stevenson works determinedly and thinks deeply about mercy, true justice, and compassion.

Listen to Bryan Stevenson summarize his ideas in his own words: Bryan Stevenson Ted Talk

Just Mercy movie: filming in Montgomery.

Amazon Rating (September): 4.8

My Thoughts:

Compelling. Just Mercy is a compelling and engaging read in that it’s inspirational to read about real people and their life work. Even though some of the legal jargon and proceedings are unfamiliar to me, I am mesmerized by the overall story of Bryan Stevenson and his lifelong passion for championing the legal defense of the most underrepresented and most desperate prisoners. Despite great personal hardship, he persisted.

Controversial. Some readers might feel they need to agree with everything an author writes to read the work. Sometimes, I feel that way if it’s a topic that I have strong feelings about and am committed to my position. Other times, as in this case, it’s thought-provoking to see issues from an involved person’s perspective (especially from an authentic voice) and to consider issues that don’t usually affect my life.

Memorable. I have the highest admiration for Bryan Stevenson and others like him who have sacrificed and served in areas in which I’m incapable of affecting change. The only thing I can do from the sidelines is to listen and support. Sometimes when I read, the experience is like looking into a mirror and other times it’s like looking through a window.  This is a definite window read for me. I’m here to learn.

Thoughtful Quote. Although a difficult read on many levels, Just Mercy is one of those books I can say I’m glad I’ve read. I appreciate the focus on children who commit crimes (not to excuse them but to bring compassion and understanding into the situation):

“When these basic deficits that burden all children are combined with the environments that some poor children experience–environments marked by abuse, violence, dysfunction, neglect, and the absence of a loving caretaker–adolescence can leave kids vulnerable to the sort of extremely poor decision making that results in violence.”

As a teacher, this quote reminds me of how important mental health services and intervention programs are to all school children (especially starting with elementary aged children).

Recommended. Even though Just Mercy has been on the best seller list for a couple of years, it’s a worthy read I’m urging you not to miss. Recommended for readers who are interested in social justice, for those serving in legal or social services professions, for readers who enjoy books about current issues (such as incarceration rates of African-American youth, the death penalty, etc.), and for all who are challenged by reading issue-centered books about thought-provoking topics from an insider’s perspective and an authentic voice. Bryan Stevenson is someone I’d like you to meet because he is an influential, courageous, inspirational, determined, and visionary person that will be celebrated, respected, and honored for years to come.

Your Voice. I’d like to invite reviewers to leave a review link for Just Mercy in the comments if you are a POC or Own Voices reviewer.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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Just Mercy

Meet the Author, Bryan Stevenson

bryan stevensonBryan Stevenson is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, and a professor of law at New York University Law School. He has won relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, argued five times before the Supreme Court, and won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color. He has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant.

Bryan Stevenson Ted Talk

Just Mercy movie in the works

Bryan Stevenson Wikipedia

Meet Me at the Museum: A Review

*this post contains affiliate links

January 18, 2019

Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson

What is the chance that a letter to a stranger will lead to a deep friendship?

meet me at the museum cover

Genre/Categories: Women’s Fiction, Literary Fiction, Epistolary, Friendship, England, Denmark, Archeology

Summary:

Told in epistolary form, the story in Meet Me at the Museum unfolds from alternating viewpoints as we meet the two main characters through their letters. Tina is a hard-working, loyal, and duty bound English farmer’s wife, mother, and grandmother, and she is also grieving the recent loss of her best friend, Bella. In thinking of the past, she remembers the promise that she and Bella made to each other to visit the Silkeborg Museum in Denmark to see the mummified Tolland Man from the Iron Age. Life intervened and now Tina is in her 60s and her friend is gone. She is inspired to write to Professor Glob, author of The Bog People, who mentions school children in the dedication of his book (our fictional Tina is one of the school children). Tina isn’t aware that Glob has died, so quiet, kind, and introspective Anders, curator of the Denmark museum, writes back to Tina. Tina and Anders begin a thoughtful and heartfelt correspondence. Anders is grieving the recent loss of his wife and through letters, Anders and Tina share intimate details of their lives with each other and express thoughts that they have difficulty sharing with anyone else. As they discuss archeology, the Tolland Man, their philosophies of life, grief, and their families, they develop an endearing and unique friendship that could possibly lead to more.

Amazon Rating: 4.4 Stars

My Thoughts:

Letter writing: “holding onto the softness and elegance” of the old ways.

I happen to love epistolary novels and Meet Me at the Museum is in the tradition of Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, 84, Charing Cross Road, and Last Christmas in Paris with the tenderness of finding a soul mate later in life as in Our Souls at Night. Even though the story unfolds in letters, we become interested and invested in their lives as they each navigate an unexpected crisis.

Youngson’s writing is poignant, beautiful, reflective, and thoughtful. Meet Me at the Museum is character driven and meant to be savored. The depth of friendship (hope of love?) that develops through old-fashioned letter writing is heartwarming and inspirational. The author does an exemplary job of reminding us of the traditional joys and art of letter writing and how it serves a purpose that can’t be replaced by email or text messages.

As a bonus, I also learned a great deal about The Tolland Man from the Iron Age.

tolland man

 

Themes. Meet Me at the Museum has some thoughtful themes including: sacrifice, choices, regret, meaning and purpose, grief, loneliness, second chances, friendship, listening, encouragement, gentle advice, and “holding onto the softness and elegance” of the old ways. Book clubs might enjoy discussion topics such as:

  • Do you think everyone finds a soul mate?
  • Does a biological father have a right to know about the birth of a child?
  • Is it ever too late to pursue a lifelong dream?
  • Do you believe in second chances?
  • In what ways have you experienced the beautiful craft of letter writing?
  • What can be learned from older characters (60+)?
  • How would you apply the raspberry metaphor to your life?
  • Realistically, what is the likelihood of two strangers who have never seen each other and live hundreds of miles apart finding comfort, understanding, and friendship solely through the written word?

Recommended. Fans of character driven stories, literary fiction, and reflective writing will find Meet Me at the Museum an enjoyable read. Book clubs might find some thoughtful discussion topics, and, of course, if you enjoy the art of letter writing this is a must read. If you’re looking for a fast paced, page turner filled with suspense and lots of action or if you know you don’t enjoy epistolary format, you might want to skip this one. Meet Me at the Museum is more than the ‘women’s fiction’ category suggests. I tend to associate women’s fiction with ‘chick lit,’ and I assure you it’s not that. It’s a read that grew on me and one that I enjoyed more and more as I delved deeper into the story, their lives, and their relationship. It’s a quiet story and perfect for reading in front of the fire on a winter night or on a porch swing on a lazy summer day.

An interview with the author, Anne Youngson.

Host Tip: Book Clubs will want to serve raspberries for dessert!

My Rating: 4 Stars

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meet me at the museum

Meet Me at the Museum

Meet the Author, Anne Youngson

anne youngson

Anne Youngson had a long and successful career in the motor industry after finishing a degree in English from Birmingham. Now, Anne Youngson is retired, lives in Oxfordshire, and is studying for a PhD at Oxford Brookes. She has two children and three grandchildren to date. Meet Me at the Museum is her first novel and was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award.

 

*It brings me the greatest joy to read, review, and support debut authors!



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



Looking Ahead:

Next week, I’ll post a review of a lighter book, The Late Bloomers’ Club by Louise Miller.

late bloomers club

I’m also reading Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin (a work in progress and review date TBD)

leadership in turbulent times



Links

A beautifully written piece on Black Coffee With White Friends: Black and Lovely

This is important! Why getting lost in a book is so good for you according to science!

Check out Hillsdale College Free Online Courses

I’ll be updating my Winter TBR as I read and review selections. So check back often!

Don’t miss my Most Memorable Reads of 2018 post here.



In Movie News….

For Fredrik Backman fans, Britt-Marie Was Here will be a movie!

Reese Witherspoon to produce “Where the Crawdads Sing” and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

And….here’s the trailer for Where’d You Go Bernadette starring Cate Blanchette.

(You might want to put these four books on your ‘want to read list’ in preparation!)



Sharing is Caring

Thank you for reading today! I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.



 Let’s Discuss

I’m curious….are you a fan of the epistolary format? If yes, which have been your favorites?



***Blogs posts may contain affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I can earn a small percentage of your purchase price.

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.

How I Write a Fiction Book Review

*this post contains affiliate links

January 12, 2019

How I Write a Fiction Book Review

how i write a book review

Have you written a book review?

Do you write reviews for Goodreads? Instagram? Or occasional blog reviews?

If you’ve never written a review, would you like you to try?

Even if you are an avid reader and are not interested in writing reviews, you might be interested to know how I approach writing a review because it might enhance your reading experience. If you don’t write a review, you might tell a friend what you like about a book or give a video review in Instagram stories, and that involves some of the same thinking and communication skills as a written review. Here’s a behind the scenes look at my process for writing a fiction book review. Usually for a review, I will choose a few of these elements to build my review….it depends on the reading and what impressed me.

My Intent. In sharing my thoughts, I need to stress that I am a definite work in progress. Readers have vastly different opinions on books and reviews, and writing a review feels like walking through a mine field at times. I want to provide honest reviews, but I don’t want to offend anyone either or be overly critical of an author. Even though I rewrite and thoughtfully edit my reviews, I realize they can be improved. It’s also helpful to read and learn from the reviews of others. What I’m offering here are steps to begin your thinking process and to explore the planning stage of writing a review.

1

First…

writie a reading review

Photo by Tracy Adams on Unsplash

…and this is not meant to scare you, but… I usually think about how I’m going to take notes. I’ve found that when a thought strikes me while I’m reading that it’s best to write it down. Otherwise, the book takes my mind in so many different directions that I can’t always remember the specific moments that make the most impact. I also like to note at least one quote for my review. For me, it’s convenient to make notes right in the notes section of my iPad as I’m reading because I complete the majority of my reading in the Kindle app on my iPad. You could keep a small notebook or even a scrap of paper that doubles as a bookmark. It doesn’t matter what the note taking process looks like for you. I find that looking at my notes gives me a great starting point for my review. Recently, I read a physical copy of a book and decided that I would simply flag certain passages with little flag post its. Well….my five year old grandson picked up my book one day and little hands removed a few of my post its! Sometimes there are hazards involved with note taking.

Next is the reading…..and I’m considering the following elements:

2

Setting

Using my five senses, can I envision a place? The time period? The atmosphere? The season? When I close my eyes and stop to think about the story, can I place myself in the story? What do I see, hear, touch, feel, taste, smell? What details do I notice? If I’m having difficulty in answering these questions, this might mean a low rating for this element of the story. How important is the setting to the story? Is the setting an important aspect of the story or could the story have taken place in any location or in any time period? Sometimes the setting can be as important in a story as a character. An example of this is Where the Crawdads Sing.

3

Main Characters/Narrator/Point of View

Are main characters well developed? I’m hoping not to find stereotypes (this lowers my star rating). I’m watching for diversity, point of view, and I’m looking intently for character traits. Sometimes there are too many characters and keeping them straight is confusing. Who’s the narrator of the story? Is the story told from multiple perspectives or only one? Are the characters children, young adults, or adults? Or is this a story of family dynamics? Interestingly, the story in The Book Thief is told by Death. That’s an interesting detail for a review!

4

Plot/Pacing

Do the events of the story move the story forward at a nice pace? Or are there places where the story drags? At the story’s end, are you left with unanswered questions and disappointed with dangling story lines? Is the story predictable? (this is something that readers tend to either like or dislike) Does it bother you if you are able to consistently guess what is going to happen before it happens? Honestly, predictability takes a bit of the enjoyment out of the story for me and I usually give those stories three stars. Is the story engaging? Is it a page turner? Is it a happily ever after (HEA)? Is it unputdownable? Is the story character driven or plot driven? An example of character driven is A Gentleman in Moscow, and an example of plot driven is The Great Alone.

5

Important Themes

Themes are the most enjoyable part of my reading experience and my favorite aspect of writing a review. I love a great theme! A story that doesn’t have a few good themes won’t be earning four or five stars from me. I always include themes in my reviews. Common themes include family dynamics (parent/child, siblings), faith, friendship, loyalty, ambition, bravery, determination, survival, pursuing a dream or goal, loss, achievement, overcoming obstacles, grief, etc., etc.

6

The Writing

Does the writing flow? Or are you confused and find yourself rereading for clarification or understanding? Is it evident that the writer excels at her or his craft? With certain authors like Fredrik Backman, I need to stop often and simply reflect on how beautifully the sentence was constructed or how uniquely the thought was expressed (Beartown).  I notice gorgeous and creative figurative language, descriptive details, and a unique turn of phrase (Virgil Wander). The recent trend of not punctuating dialogue (The Boat People) seriously annoys me and slows down my reading pace. Even though the author has a specific artistic reason for using this style (which I appreciate), it still creates a more difficult than necessary reading experience. Personally, I like short chapters. I have a difficult time stopping mid chapter, so I appreciate having frequent opportunities for taking a pause. In addition, short paragraphs lend itself to easier reading. This might be a good place to note that I love reading books by “own voices” authors (e.g. Inside Out and Back Again or The Hate U Give). This is an interesting fact to point out in a review. Some of what I mention in this section consists of personal preferences and will be a small consideration in your rating.

7

Enjoyability Factor

This is one of the most important elements in a book review. Potential readers want to know if you enjoy the book and why or why not. I ask myself: Would I reread this? Does it earn a place on my “forever shelf”? Am I tempted to carry it with me where ever I go? Do I find myself wanting to pull it out and read at stop signs? Would I save it in a fire? Is it unputdownable? Did I read the entire book in one day or one sitting? (Castle of Water) Did I neglect everything else in my life to read this book? Or did I purposefully stretch it out to savor it? Recently, I lent a book to my mother and her complaint about it was that she wasn’t getting her housework done because she was constantly tempted to pick up the book (The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter) to find out what happened next! Do I recommend this book to everyone I see? How many significant connections with characters and/or circumstances have I made with the story? My favorite read of last year (A Place For Us) earned five stars from me mostly because of the emotional connections I felt with the characters. It outweighed every other element of the story. Ultimately, reading is a subjective and emotional experience and no two people read the same book. Does the book give me a reading hangover? That is, do I still think about the story and the characters days and weeks or even years later? This enjoyability factor sometimes determines the difference between a four and a five star read for me. Five star reads MUST meet many aspects of the enjoyability factor. The enjoyability factor will be evident in your review and your enthusiasm will be the part of your review that causes other readers to pick up the book. It’s a good thing to let your enthusiasm for a book show! If I don’t sense a reviewer’s enthusiasm, I think that she/he must not be recommending it despite all the other wonderful points being made. (Some reviewers do not believe in leaving negative reviews, so I’ve learned to read between the lines!)

8

Recommendation

I typically end my review with a recommendation (e.g. “recommended for readers of historical fiction”). You can recommend the genre, the style of writing, the topic, the author, read-a-likes, etc. This is something I look for in a review because it helps me decide if this story is one for me or if it eliminates me. If I write that a book is recommended for readers who love paranormal, what I’m also saying is you might not want to read this if you don’t like the genre. Bottom line, there are kind ways of saying negative things. I’ve developed a few tricks for writing reviews for books that haven’t been the best reads for me. It’s amazing what can be communicated by creating a recommendation statement.

9

Star Ratings

The Five Star Rating System is a fairly subjective and highly discussed rating system. I happen to love when reviewers give me a star rating….it provides a great deal of information at a glance. However, some reviewers avoid the star rating system completely. Goodreads has a guideline for the 5 star system and you can find my complete explanation of my five star scale here. This is a brief explanation of mine: 5=it’s going on my lifetime favorites list; 4=very good read; 3=OK, satisfactory; 2=didn’t like it for several reasons; 1=DNF, not recommended. If you decide to use the 5 star system, I would encourage you to spend some time reflecting on the categories and developing what the stars mean to you and then apply it consistently. I will warn you that it is rather disconcerting to see that someone has awarded 1 star to your 5 star read!

10

Other Considerations

The Hook: It’s always good writing technique to begin your review with a hook. Three ideas for frequently used hooks: create a question (based on a theme or conflict from the story), consider a bold statement (a fact from the story), or find a quote (from your notes!).

Genre: You want to mention the genre in your review. If you’re not sure, check sites like Amazon (looking to see where it’s been shelved is helpful). Keep the genre in mind when writing your review. Does the story accomplish what the genre typically  sets out to do? I try not to rate the story down for standards I would apply to another genre. For example, a YA selection is likely to include teenage angst, so I take that into consideration even though I might not have enjoyed it. Chic Lit is going to be light, predictable, and perhaps filled with stereotypes. Memoirs are going to be focused on self. Science fiction might need a suspension of belief. I need to remind myself frequently to keep the genre in mind. Let the reader know if the book is a genre that you don’t typically read so that your comments are taken in context. Others that prefer that genre might really enjoy the read.

Triggers: It’s always appropriate and considerate of readers to let them know about possible trigger warnings in a way that allows them to make their own reading decision (offensive language, steamy romance, graphic violence, sensitive subjects, etc.). Often, if I feel a need to include a trigger warning, I will place it as a simple *starred note at the end of my review. Here’s an example.

Be Specific: Do not say “I liked it.” Include specific examples of what you liked (using ideas from your notes). When we were in school, we learned Point + Example for expository writing. This is a good model for writing a review, too.

Tone: Is it suspenseful? Thrilling? Melancholy? Reflective? Humorous? Pedantic? Agenda driven? Heartfelt? Informative? Atmospheric? Romantic? These are examples of descriptive words you can add into your review that gives readers more insight into what to expect from the reading experience.

Summaries/Spoilers: Although it’s common to begin a review with a brief summary, it’s not absolutely necessary (official summaries are readily available on Amazon or Goodreads). I like to start a review with a general summary (in my own words) because it provides context for the remainder of my review. Be careful not to reveal spoilers. Sometimes, I refer to the synopsis on the back cover when writing my summary, but I find that it can also include spoilers. It’s forgivable to reveal small inconsequential spoilers, but please avoid spoiling the main resolution or final outcome. If you know your review will include spoilers, you can warn readers at the beginning that the review includes spoilers (Goodreads has a spoiler alert function as part of writing a review).

Author’s Note: I hope you always read the author’s note (if provided). It can greatly enhance your reading experience and provide an important perspective. I remember when I read We Were the Lucky Ones, I was struck by the author’s note that the story was really her family history, and it made the story even more meaningful for me and I was sure to include that information in my review.

Extra Resources: Sometimes authors will include extra resources like maps, illustrations, links, photos (especially if it’s a fictionalized biography). Specifics like this might be nice to mention in a review. It’s also interesting and helpful to include links to outside sources in your review if available. For example, I recently reviewed a fictionalized biography about Dorothea Lange and I included three links to YouTube video clips about her life.

Length: Reviews can be short or more detailed. For a blog post, I will write a longer review than what I write for Goodreads. You can pick one of the above elements as your focus or select a few elements. Sometimes it helps to develop a template (e.g. one sentence summary+a sentence about characters or plot or theme+a sentence about what you enjoyed most about the story+a sentence about recommending the read).

Proofread: I always read my review several times to proof for spelling, punctuation, word usage, verb tense agreement (I like to write book reviews in present tense), sentence structure, clarity,  clear communication of ideas, etc. I also consider if there is a kinder way to say something if I’m being critical.

Do I Need to Write a Review? First, writing a review is a perfect way to support an author and authors greatly appreciate reviews. If you tag them on Instagram, many of them will respond with a “like” or a comment. Out of consideration, I only tag authors when I write very positive reviews. If you start writing reviews, keep in mind that you are not required to write a review for every book you read! Sometimes I simply give it a Star rating on Goodreads and leave it at that with no explanation. Or if it’s a book that I really dislike, I will shelve it as a DNF on Goodreads with no review or star rating. If I can’t say one good thing about the book, I usually won’t write a review. Although if I do review a book I dislike, I’ll start off with a statement of what I appreciate about the book and then add statements about what “I wish…” would have been different. For an example of one of the most negative reviews I’ve written read here. For an example of a recent book I felt meh about read here. If I can’t give a book a 4 or 5 star rating, I usually won’t feature it on the blog. Occasionally, a 3.5 will be featured. When you see a book review on this blog, I want you to be able to trust that I’m sincerely and wholeheartedly recommending it (even though you may end up with a different opinion).

Criticism: Your reviews are public so be prepared for a variety of responses. Most commenters are kind and will make comments like “I enjoyed it.” Very rarely you might receive a negative comment such as “I do not agree at all.” If I disagree with a reviewer, I usually do not write a comment. If I comment, I relate it to something positive she/he said in their review. (practice “eye roll and scroll” and “let it be” as the kind response)



Let’s Discuss!

I hope this gives you some ideas and encouragement for writing reviews! If you have specific questions, I’d be happy to address them in comments.
*TIP: Start in Goodreads with giving a Star rating and writing a one sentence review!
Which of these elements is easiest or most difficult for you to address in a review?
If you’ve never written a review, I hope this information is an encouragement for you.
If you’re an experienced reviewer, what tips or ideas can you add?


#writeareviewandsupportanauthor


 

Learning To See: A Review

*this post contains affiliate links

January 11, 2019

Learning To See by Elise Hooper

learning to see 2

Genre/Categories: Historical Fiction, Fictionalized Biography, Photography, Internment Camps

Thanks to #WilliamMorrowPB #WilliamMorrowBooks #HarperCollins for my free copy of #LearningtoSee by Elise Hooper in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

“It takes a lot of practice to see things are they are, not as you want them to be.”
(P 121)

Summary:

Learning to See is a fictionalized biography inspired by real life photographer, Dorothea Lange. We first meet twenty-two year old Dorothea Nutzhorn in 1918 as she arrives in San Francisco with her best friend. Through wit and a determination to create her own life far from her home in the Northeast, Dorothea changes her name to Dorothea Lange, takes a risk in opening a portrait studio, and marries an older established artist, Maynard Dixon. Dorothea’s portrait studio enjoys success and it provides a steady and dependable income for their growing family of two children. When the economy collapses in the 1930s, economic troubles place tremendous strain on an already fragile marriage and Dorothea desperately seeks out ways to support her two young sons and a drunken, disillusioned, and out-of-work husband. As Dorothea’s portrait business declines in the economy, she begins to take pictures of the poor and desperate people on the streets of San Francisco. In addition, she travels throughout California and the Southwest documenting labor conditions on farms, gradually realizing that these pictures are more meaningful than what she produces in her portrait studio because her pictures from the streets and fields tell a true story of the economic hardships that people are facing. Later, the United States enters WW11 and Dorothea accepts a government job photographing the internment camps into which the Japanese have been placed. Not everyone appreciates seeing the truth of these pictures and she is censored, threatened, and discouraged. This doesn’t deter Dorothea from her travels, her photographs, or her purpose. There’s a dual timeline running through the story which allows the reader to know Dorothea at the end of her life.

My Thoughts:

Writing. Historical fiction fans will be eager to read Elise Hooper’s new work exploring the life of photographer, Dorothea Lange. The extensive research that went into the telling of this story is evident (the author also includes a few of Lange’s photographs at the end of the book). Not only is there an abundance of historical facts and descriptive details which enable readers to feel like they are experiencing life in the 20s, 30s, and 40s, but the author also puts a great deal of effort and thought into building a case for the possible motives that inspire Dorothea to take certain actions. I had a difficult time accepting the decision Dorothea made for the care of her children, but the details in the story left me with a reasonable ability to understand Dorothea’s choices.

Themes. Certainly, some important themes include the plight of working mothers in that time, the hardships of the depression, marriage to someone who is not a full or dependable partner, loyal friendship and support from other women, making difficult decisions to follow your dreams/passions and accepting the consequences of that decision, taking risks, the effects of childhood experiences on adults, and character traits of pioneers.

More Than an Artist. Dorothea Lange is remembered today for her photography work and her indomitable spirit and determination. I think you’ll enjoy the historical setting and this imagined story of her life behind the facts. Throughout the story, the title of Learning to See takes on multiple meanings. As an artist, Dorothea is not afraid to photograph what she actually sees and not what others want or expect to see. As a mother and wife, Dorothea sees (or intuits) the emotional help her troubled son needs, and she also sees the truth of her marriage to Maynard. Dorothea sees injustice and has a vision for meaningful work, and she is willing to take the risks to follow her passion despite the sacrifices. She is not afraid of hard work or activism, and perseveres in spite of obstacles.

“I was a photographer of people–men, women, and children who worked, suffered, rested, and loved. …. I lived for the moment when time slowed, when I could capture an expression or gesture that communicated everything. I needed more of those moments. If I was going to give up my family, every second needed to count. The sacrifice had to be worth something bigger than me.” (p 179)

Recommended. I love stories of real women, and even though Dorothea might not be the most well liked person, I’m highly recommending Learning to See for fans of well written and extensively researched historical fiction, for readers who are looking for a story of a strong, independent, and pioneering woman, and for those who want an engaging page turner. Learning to See is nicely paced with well drawn characters, and some readers might want to know that it includes some romantic details. It would make a good book club selection because of interesting discussion topics.

If you might enjoy reading more histfic about Japanese Internment Camps, I suggest The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.

Additional Information. The following links are a sampling of what’s available about Dorothea Lange on YouTube:

Dorothea Lange: A Visual Life

American Masters: Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange Biography

My Rating: 4.5 Stars (rounded to 5 stars on Goodreads)

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Learning to See

Learning to See

Pub Date: January 22, 2019

For my review of Elise Hooper’s first book, The Other Alcott, click here.

Meet the Author, Elise Hooper

Elise Hooper

Although a New Englander by birth (and at heart), Elise now lives with her husband and two young daughters within stone-skipping distance of the Pacific Northwest’s Puget Sound. When she’s not writing, she’s in her classroom making American history and literature interesting for high school students.

She’s drawn to historical figures, especially women, who linger in the footnotes of history books yet have fascinating stories waiting to be told.

Please learn more: http://www.elisehooper.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elisehooperauthor/
Instagram: elisehooper
Twitter: @elisehooper



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



Looking Ahead:

Next week, I’ll post a review of Meet Me At the Museum by Anne Youngson.

meet me at the museum

I’m also reading Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin (a work in progress and review date TBD)

leadership in turbulent times



Links

Check out Hillsdale College Free Online Courses

I’ll be updating my Winter TBR as I read and review selections. So check back often!

Don’t miss my Most Memorable Reads of 2018 post here.



In Movie News….

Reese Witherspoon to produce “Where the Crawdads Sing” and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

And….here’s the trailer for Where’d You Go Bernadette starring Cate Blanchette.

(You might want to put these three books on your winter to read list in preparation!)



Sharing is Caring

Thank you for reading today! I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.



 Let’s Discuss

Tell me about your reading preference. Do you appreciate a fictionalized biography or would you rather read a narrative non fiction account of a person’s life?



***Blogs posts may contain affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I can earn a small percentage of your purchase price.

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.

The Last Year of the War: A Review

*this post contains affiliate links

January 4, 2019

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

Last Year of the War 2

Genre/Categories: Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Internment Camps, Germany

Thanks #NetGalley and #BerkleyPublishing for a free copy of #TheLastYearoftheWar by @susanmeissner in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Summary:

The Last Year of the War is a WW11 story told from a unique perspective, and is a heartfelt story about two typical teenage girls in America whose parents are immigrants from Germany and Japan. When WW11 breaks out, their families are sent to an internment camp in Texas and from there repatriated back to their home countries. The girls, Elise and Mariko, meet at the camp and in a short time become best friends. The cruelties of war separate them, cause great hardships for their families, and threaten their friendship.

My Thoughts:

Well Written. Susan Meissner, author of As Bright as Heaven, offers readers solid, well written historical fiction stories, and The Last Year of the War follows in that tradition. The writing style in this story is similar to narrative non fiction. In fact, I stopped reading at one point to check the author’s note to see if this was a story of a real person. Historical fictions fans will be thrilled with this well researched, fictionalized story that includes an abundance of historical facts and vivid, detailed descriptions. The part of the story after the war years is a bit rushed as a great portion of her life is covered in a brief amount of time.

Themes. In addition to the historical setting and events, the story includes thoughtful themes of family, friendship, loyalty, bravery, determination, sacrifice, commitment, and the cruelties of war. Especially poignant for me is the story of Elise’s father and his ongoing and determined struggle to do the right thing for his family and to make the best decisions to keep them safe. Who could have predicted the dire and heart breaking outcomes to his best intentions. I think this resonates with every parent….we hope we’re making the right decisions for our family but only the future reveals the truth.

Issues of war, immigration, racism, deportation, and wrongful treatment are prevalent in the story and we are aware of the author’s viewpoints as the story unfolds.

Favorite Quote:

“We decide who and what we will love and who and what we will hate. We decide what we will do with the love and hate. Every day we decide. It was this that revealed who we were, not the color of our flesh or the shape of our eyes or the language we spoke.”

Protagonist. Elise is our feisty and independent main character and we follow her life from a young girl to her senior adult years. We learn how she survives the last year of the war and holds tight to dreams for a bright future. She becomes real to us as we root for her and feels like a friend by story’s end.

Discussion. Sometimes it’s interesting when girls in the 40s reflect modern thinking of girls in 2018. There is one instance in the story of this when the young girls decide that the heroine in their pretend story doesn’t need to be rescued by anyone…she can rescue herself. Even though the girls were able to articulate this idea, they found themselves in some situations throughout their actual lives where they didn’t rescue themselves. This would be an interesting book club discussion.

Recommended. The Last Year of the War is highly recommended for fans of Susan Meissner’s work, for readers who appreciate well written historical fiction, and for those who enjoy a compelling story of a strong and independent girl. It’s also a book that would be suitable for YA readers. In addition, I think this would make an excellent selection for book club because of many discussion possibilities. For readers who are concerned about reading stories that include the horrors of WW11, I can reassure you that this is a mild read. I hope you pick it up when it releases March 19, 2019 and enjoy it as much as I did! It might make a thoughtful Mother’s Day gift for mothers who love to read in this genre.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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Last Year of the War

The Last Year of the War

Meet the Author, Susan Meissner

Susan Meissner

 

I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t driven to write. I attribute this passion to a creative God and to parents who love books and more particularly to a dad who majored in English and passed on a passion for writing.

I was born in 1961 in San Diego, California, and am the second of three daughters. I spent my very average childhood in just two houses. I attended Point Loma College in San Diego, majoring in education, but I would have been smarter to major in English with a concentration in writing. The advice I give now to anyone wondering what to major in is follow your heart and choose a vocation you are already in love with.

I’m happy and humbled to say that I’ve had 17 books published in the last dozen years, including The Shape of Mercy, which was named one of the 100 Best Books in 2008 by Publishers Weekly, and the ECPA’s Fiction Book of the Year, a Carol Award winner, and a RITA finalist. I teach at writers’ conferences from time to time and I’ve a background in community journalism.

I’m also a pastor’s wife and a mother of four young adults. When I’m not at work on a new novel, I write small group curriculum for my San Diego church. Visit me at my website: http//:susanmeissner.com on Twitter at @SusanMeissner or at http://www.facebook.com/susan.meissner



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



Looking Ahead:

Next week, I’ll post a review of the ARC Learning to See by Elise Hooper.
(Pub Date: January 22, 2019)

Learning to See



Links

I’ll be updating my Winter TBR as I read and review selections. So check back often!

Don’t miss my Most Memorable Reads of 2018 post here.

I attended an Author Brunch once where Susan Meissner was a panelist!
Have you met an author? (share in comments) It’s thrilling to hear authors speak about their work, and I encourage you to take the opportunity!



In Movie News….

Reese Witherspoon to produce “Where the Crawdads Sing” and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

And….here’s the trailer for Where’d You Go Bernadette starring Cate Blanchette.

(You might want to put these three books on your winter to read list in preparation!)



Sharing is Caring

Thank you for reading today! I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.



 Let’s Discuss

What is your first read of 2019?

Susan Meissner can be counted on for solid, well written, non offensive historical fiction stories. Are you a Susan Meissner fan?



***Blogs posts may contain affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I can earn a small percentage of your purchase price.

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.