Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Highly Rated WW1 and WW11 Reads

April 17, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Highly Rated WW1 and WW11 Reads

*Linking up today with That Artsy Reader Girl for Top Ten Tuesday: Free Choice (check out her post for the top 10 books her mom loves!) If you’ve clicked over from that Artswy Reader Girl, Welcome! Please look around and enjoy your stay.

I read a lot of histfic and one of my favorite sub genres is WW1 and WW11 histfic. Listed below are 10 of my highest rated and favorite histfic reads (1 is nonfiction) that have also received high star ratings on Goodreads. In addition, I included some honorable mention because there are more than 10 reads that are memorable to me for various reasons. Not all titles are reviewed because I read them before writing publishing this blog (in which case I’ve provided the Amazon link).

Listed in order of their Goodreads star rating.

 

The NightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

WW11

 Amazon Information Here

My Rating: 4

Goodreads: 4.56



From Sand and AshFrom Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon

WW11

Full Review Here

My Rating: 5 (a recent favorite!)

Goodreads: 4.41



we were the lucky onesWe Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

WW11

 Full Review Here

My Rating: 5

Goodreads: 4.41



UnbrokenUnbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand

WW11 (nonfiction)

Amazon Information Here

My Rating: 5

Goodreads: 4.39



Salt to the SeaSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

WW11 (YA)

 Brief Review Here (scroll down page)

My Rating: 5

Goodreads: 4.36



Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

 WW11 (YA)

 Amazon Information Here

My Rating: 5

Goodreads: 4.36



Lilac GirlsLilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

WW11

Amazon Information Here

My Rating: 5

Goodreads: 4.3



last christmas in parisLast Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor

WW1

Full Review Here

My Rating: 5

Goodreads: 4.18



The Baker's SecretThe Baker’s Secret by Stephen P Kiernan

WW11

Amazon Information Here

My Rating: 4

Goodreads: 4.04



Orphan's TaleThe Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

WW11

Brief Review Here (scroll down page)

My Rating: 4

Goodreads: 4.01



Honorable Mention
(other favorites that might have been in my top 10 on a different day):

As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner (WW1 time period)

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (post WW11 with flashbacks/memories of war)

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

The Soldier’s Wife by Margaret Leroy

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (WW11 time period)



Happy Reading Bookworms!

“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



A Link I Love:

10 Ways To Woo a Reluctant Reader



Sharing is Caring

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’d love to hear all about what you’re reading!

What are your favorite WW11 hisfic or nonfiction reads?

Have you read any of these titles? Which are your favorites?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From Sand and Ash

April 13, 2018

From Sand and Ash
by Amy Harmon

From Sand and Ash 2

Genre/categories: Historical Fiction, Romance, Jewish, WW11, Spiritual

*Linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy: Quick Lit/April and Words on Wednesday. If you’ve clicked over, Welcome! 

Summary:

From Sand and Ash is engaging historical fiction with generous servings of romance, faith, determination, hope, loyalty, inter-faith relationship struggles, and a violin….A thoughtful story of love, survival, life, death, faith, and sacrifice.

In 1943, Italy’s Jewish population is in imminent danger from the forces of hatred and prejudice. Raised like brother and sister, Eva and Angelo enjoy childhood best friend closeness which later blooms into a romance. Although they are devoted to each other, Eva, an accomplished violinist, is Jewish and Angelo chooses to follow a calling to become a Catholic priest. As the Gestapo arrests Jewish residents of Florence, Angelo convinces Eva to follow him to Rome to hide in a convent under his watchful eye while he serves nearby at the Vatican. Eva discovers that the Catholic Church is hiding hundreds of Jews and facilitating their escape when possible. Angelo has made a promise to Eva’s family and feels a duty to keep her safe, which is complicated by romantic feelings. This page turning story follows Eva and Angelo as they face trials, take risks, and make agonizing choices.  Amazon Rating (April): 4.7 Stars

My Thoughts:

Faith: Unputdownable, From Sand and Ash is a unique and beautifully written story. For me, the most engaging part of the story is the focus on the inter-faith aspect of their relationship. As they navigate their romantic feelings, they also extensively debate the nature of God, the methods and habits of prayer, and the personal importance of his/her individual faith. I found the honest and relevant spiritual content in the book refreshing and realistic. I appreciate knowing about the Catholic Church’s role in saving Jews in Italy and exploring Eva’s and Angelo’s personal crises of faith. Their dialogue and subsequent understanding and acceptance of the other’s faith was thoughtfully written, and this aspect of the story pushed it beyond 4 stars for me.

Romance: Some reviewers have cited a frustration with an over abundance of romance for a histfic selection; however, there is a great deal more to the story than the romance. Typical of histfic, readers find ordinary people doing extraordinary things under incredibly difficult circumstances. Romance is a part of Eva’s and Angelo’s story and deepens the inner conflict and becomes one of many challenges in the midst of overwhelming and impossible circumstances. I view the romance as an integral part of their life experience, and I do not see it distracting or detracting from the story. But be cautioned: there is romance!

Resistance: Both Eva and Angelo chose to resist in small and large ways. Their fear took a back seat to their need to DO something. A recurring and powerful theme in the story is that they could not NOT act.

Resistance’s Companions are Fear and Hope:

“Fear is strange. It settles on chests and seeps through skin, through layers of tissue, muscle, and bone and collects in a soul-sized black home, sucking the joy out of life, the pleasures, the beauty. But not the hope. Somehow hope is the only thing resilient to the fear, and it is that hope that makes the next breath possible, the next step, the next tiny act of rebellion, even if that rebellion is simply staying alive.”

Heartbreaking: Despite warnings, the trusting Italian Jewish people couldn’t believe that the situation could or would escalate. Their desire to believe in good and reject the concept of evil was heartbreaking and sobering. It causes me to wonder at what point my family would take a threat seriously and take action to escape.

The Writing: Throughout the story there is an abundance of beautiful prose and creative writing, with a great deal of attention paid to character development and the advancement of plot. The story reads easily and is told fluidly and it found me busy turning pages quickly! *Reading tip: my husband reports that the audio is excellent!

Themes and Rating: Of course, if you follow my reviews you know that themes are incredibly important for me in determining a final star rating. I’ve already mentioned several important themes such as survival, hatred, loyalty, hope, resistance, fear, determination, resiliency, and faith. In addition, any story and/or characters that I’m still thinking about days and weeks later will likely earn 5 stars from me.

Recommended: Highly recommended for readers of histfic who love a captivating and inspirational story filled with faith discussions and unforgettable characters that causes readers to become personally engaged. You will deeply care about Eva and Angelo.

My Rating: 5 Stars

twinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-star

From Sand and Ash

Buy Here

Meet the Author,
Amy Harmon

Amy HarmonAmy Harmon is a Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and New York Times Bestselling author. Her books have been published in eighteen languages, truly a dream come true for a little country girl from Utah.
Amy Harmon has written thirteen novels, including the USA Today Bestsellers, The Smallest Part, Making Faces, and Running Barefoot, and the #1 Amazon bestselling historical, From Sand and Ash. Her novel, A Different Blue, is a New York Times Bestseller. Her USA Today bestselling fantasy, The Bird and the Sword, was a Goodreads Best Book of 2016 finalist. For updates on upcoming book releases, author posts and more, join Amy at http://www.authoramyharmon.com.



Happy Reading Bookworms!

“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



Extra:
White Rose, Black Forest
by Eoin Dempsey

white rose black forest

What actions would you take to resist an evil regime?

I always find histic interesting because of the different perspectives that each story provides and for the knowledge I gain. In this story, we experience WW11 from the perspective of a German girl (who is a resistor at one time associated with the White Rose resistance organization). As she spends time at her family’s isolated cabin in the Black Forest struggling through some personal losses, she discovers an injured soldier and proceeds to provide urgent medical attention and to determine his true identify. It takes a while to decide if they can completely trust each other. He needs her help, and the end of the story finds them making a desperate escape attempt. While the last part of the book is tension filled and fast paced, the first half is a slow build up…unfortunately the author breaks up the narrative by including long passages that read like history lessons. The story could have included better written character development and dialogue, but overall this is an interesting, engaging, page turner.  My Rating: 3.5 Stars (Amazon Rating: 4.6 Stars)

Favorite Theme: resistance

Favorite Quote:
“It required supernatural strength not to do the Gestapo’s bidding. That was the genius of their system–it took fortitude of an almost unimaginable scale to do the right thing.”

Recommended for hisfic fans who enjoy fast paced thrillers and quick reads.

Buy Here



A Link I Love:

10 Ways To Woo a Reluctant Reader



Looking Ahead:

I plan to read and review The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristin Harmel
(and check it off my Spring TBR).

room on rue Amelie

Amazon Summary and Purchase Information Here



Bummed

This meme fits my current mood!

bah humbug

I am a little distraught to realize (am I late to this party?!) that the movie release date for Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is for the U.K. only. Evidently, the U.S. is getting it via Netflix. (date to be determined) This is disappointing news because I have been looking forward to seeing this on the big screen! I wonder if I can buy it from the UK on DVD or stream it from somewhere before it’s available on Netflix??? Another alternative is to fly to London!?!?!

As a fan of the book. how do you feel?



Sharing is Caring

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’d love to hear all about what you’re reading!

What are your favorite WW11 hisfic reads?

Most Compelling Characters of March

March 30, 2018

March Compelling Character

This month I’m choosing two most compelling characters: Leni from The Great Alone (fiction) and Tara from Educated: A Memoir (nonfiction). Leni and Tara share some similar struggles and challenges. The two stories reminded me at times of The Glass Castle (charismatic yet unpredictable fathers, unstable homes, neglect, poverty) and Hillbilly Elegy (chaotic family life, nurturing grandparents)….a fascinating book club discussion could be centered around discussing the connections between these books and characters.

I’d love to hear which characters you read about this month that were the most memorable for you. I’ve provided a link up or you can leave a comment.

 

Meet Leni and Tara:

For me, memorable characters who grow and change despite the obstacles make all the difference in a good story. Both Leni and Tara are my choices for this month’s most compelling characters because they share some experiences and traits that make them memorable. Both endure emotional and physical abuse (not sexual), yet despite difficult childhoods, they each rise above their circumstances. Surprisingly, they continue to love and show devotion for their parents (this struck me in The Glass Castle, as well). Leni and Tara share a drive to pursue an education and a desire to belong. In addition, they are determined, persistent, courageous, loyal, clever, and brave. Each girl feels threatened (one by her father and the other by her brother) and fears for her safety.  While Leni receives support from her small village community, Tara receives support from one brother, a BYU counselor, and some professors. Each girl is memorable in her grit, her ability to survive,and her drive to strive for something better in her life. These memorable characters allow me to rate both stories 4 Stars and to recommend these reads to others. ***Trigger warnings***

Tara’s words after dance class: “The other girls rarely spoke to me, but I loved being there with them. I loved the sensation of conformity. Learning to dance felt like learning to belong.”

Tara’s words about her abusive brother: “Shawn had more power over me than I could possibly have imagined. He had defined me to myself, and there’s no greater power than that.”

Brief Synopsis and Review of The Stories:

The Great Alone is a story about a dysfunctional family that eventually moves to the harsh wilderness of Alaska to make a fresh start. In this page turner by Kristin Hannah (author of the Nightingale), thirteen-year-old Leni watches her gentle and artistic mother struggle to live a happy and secure life with her father, a Vietnam War vet, who suffers from PTSD.  A survivalist, her father becomes more paranoid and controlling as the story progresses. ***trigger warnings for emotional and physical abuse***  Leni, struggling to stay in school and walking on egg shells around her father, is also concerned about her mother and about their general well-being as the dark winter and isolation of the Alaskan wilderness cause her father’s symptoms to worsen. The first part of the story is slower paced and devoted to establishing a sense of place, character development, and a slow build up of the problem. The last part of the story  unfolds at a rapid pace and there are attempts to escape and confrontations. Some have commented that the ending is tied together easily, quickly, and conveniently. This didn’t bother me too much because rapid emotional plot twists are Kristin Hannah’s style and part of me was eager and relieved to have closure to Leni’s story.  If you’re looking for an engaging page turner with an Alaskan wilderness setting, this is a good selection to meet that criteria. However, The Nightingale remains my favorite work by Kristin Hannah. My Rating for The Great Alone: 4 Stars. (March Amazon Rating  4.6 Stars)

Great Alone

Amazon Summary and Purchase Information Here

Educated is a memoir by Tara Westover.  Tara grew up as one of seven children in a Mormon family making their home in Idaho.  Both parents are devout Mormons; however, her father is an extremist, survivalist, and he isolates the family while stockpiling supplies, avoiding the government, and planning for worst case scenarios. ***Trigger Warnings*** While Tara’s soft-spoken mother makes healing herbs and ointments and practices midwifery, her charismatic father makes a living extracting and selling scrap from his junk yard. To avoid the government, the children do not have birth certificates, are not taken to the doctor, and most of them are home schooled, although according to Tara’s account, Mom’s interest for home schooling waned with the younger ones and to complicate the situation, Dad always needed help in the junk yard.  Tara wished she could go to school, and I didn’t receive the impression that her parents would have kept her from school, it’s that she suffered from not having the right clothes, feelings of not belonging, and often felt pressured to help her father in the junk yard. Over the years she experiences mental and physical abuse from one of her brothers, becomes more dissatisfied with her chaotic home life, and her desire for an education grows. With the encouragement of a brother, she decides to study independently for the ACT and apply to BYU. Thus begins her educational journey, her path of self-realization, healing, and ultimate separation from her family. Tara’s first classroom experience was at age 17. Readers will thoroughly understand and empathize with how difficult and emotional it was for her to  take these steps as she’s a loyal girl who feels a great duty to her family. Tara’s understanding of “education “ is that with it, one is able to gain one’s own perspective on life. Here is Tara’s interview with CNN. If you’re looking for a compelling memoir similar to The Glass Castle, you might enjoy this selection. My Rating for Educated: 4 Stars. (March Amazon Rating: 4.7 Stars).

Educated

Amazon Summary and Purchase Information Here



March’s Most Compelling Character Link Up

Please share your most memorable character from your March reading in the comments or link up your blog post.



Happy Reading Bookworms!

“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

I have several books on hold at the library (I’m #27 for The Force of Nature so that will be a while) and I’m waiting for kindle prices to fall on some new releases……consequently…….next Friday I’ll read and review a book already on my shelf, Eden by Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg (and check it off my winter TBR list).

Eden

Amazon Information Here

What are you reading this week?


Reading Podcasts I Love

Modern Mrs Darcy: What Should I Read Next

Read Aloud Revival (focus on children’s literature)

Reading Women (reviews of books written by women about women)



Extra:
Reading Recommendation For Middle Grade Girls Who Love Science!

Finding WondersFinding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins is a beautifully and creatively written middle grade story exploring the lives of 3 girls who are curious, love questions and the world around them, and are persistent in pursuing their love of science and scientific inquiries. Each woman makes important scientific contributions, and I loved reading about them and the context of their lives. I’m not sure middle grade students will read slowly enough to appreciate the beautiful prose and nuance/subtlety of language, so it might be a good “read together” book.

The author ensures that the girls exhibit some modern feminist thoughts that struck me as the author’s agenda rather than something girls in that era would usually think. However, these thoughts might provoke good conversation starters. For example: “But she hates embroidery, its worth measured by the smallness of stitches. A needle woman trains her eyes to stay cast down while hiding knots and boredom, committing herself to the circumference of a lap.”

An interesting extension read for adults might be The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe, a fictionalized biography of the first African-American woman (passing as white) to attend Vassar (same college where Maria Mitchell in Finding Wonders was a professor).

Finding Wonders is an interesting, creative, and worthwhile read. It makes me eager to read all the untold stories!  My Rating: 4 Stars

Amazon Summary and Purchase Information Here



Sharing is Caring

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’d love to hear all about the most memorable character from your March reading!

We Were the Lucky Ones

….. family …..

March 23, 2018

We Were the Lucky Ones
by Georgia Hunter

we were the lucky ones

Genre/Categories: Historical Fiction, Jewish, Inspirational, WW11, family

Summary:

In the spring of 1939, the extended Kurc family is living a modest and happy life in Radom, Poland. In the midst of joyful family celebrations, however, there is increased talk of the mistreatment of Jews. Soon the entire close-knit Kurc family faces separation, makes attempts to flee, and desperately focuses on safety and survival. Family members share a will to survive and seeing one another again is their greatest goal. Through cleverness, determination, faith, hope, and hardship they endure. Amazon Rating (March): 4.8 Stars

My Thoughts:

Very often when writing a review I change my star rating. This was the case here as I closely reflected on the endearing commitment to family themes. I changed my initial rating of 4 stars to 4.5, finally rounding it to 5. To solidify my thinking I noticed that 84% of the 914 reviewers on Amazon also rated it 5 stars. This is a solid, satisfying, and inspirational read.

What worked:

For me, themes are one of the more compelling elements in literature, and a story with strong themes has a great chance of earning a 4 or 5 from me.  In addition to the story’s harsh themes of survival, fear, prejudice, and hardship, the theme that means the most to me is the importance of family. Even though the children are adults, there is a devotion and commitment to family that is especially joyful, endearing, and inspirational.

In addition, I appreciated the author’s inclusion of religion as an important part of family life and a basis for their hope. Sedars are described and prayers and song lyrics are explicit. It is becoming more rare in contemporary fiction to see religious themes presented in positive ways.

Finally, I enjoyed that this story is closely based on the author’s own family history. That added an element of investment that I felt toward each character. I cared deeply about each one and their survival. Researching and writing this story must have taken the author on quite an emotional journey.

What was difficult:

There were so many characters! I should have kept a character chart with important details in my journal as I read. Because this story is about the survival of a family, I don’t see how the author could have left any one out. Just be prepared to keep track of many individuals!

Recommended?

This is a book that I highly recommend for readers of WW11 historical fiction, for those who love family stories with great themes, and for those who enjoy against-the-odds and inspirational themes. As with any WW11 survival story there are some difficult parts, but it is balanced nicely with humor, hope, and lovely characters. Plus the title is comforting because I kept reminding myself “they will find a way through this situation!” We Were the Lucky Ones is going on my potential favorites of the year list.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars rounded up to 5

twinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-star

we were the lucky ones

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Georgia Hunter

Georgia HunterWhen Georgia Hunter was fifteen years old, she learned that she came from a family of Holocaust survivors. We Were the Lucky Ones was born of her quest to uncover her family’s staggering history. Hunter’s site, http://www.georgiahunterauthor.com, offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the extensive research this project has entailed. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and son.

 



Happy Reading Bookworms!

“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

Friday 3/30 I’ll be offering a March Compelling Character Link Up. Think of a favorite character you’d like to share either in a blog post or a comment.

What are you reading this week?


Links I Love

hash

*Photo credit: Good Cheat Eats

 

My newest favorite recipe, zucchini and sweet potato hash, is from Good Cheap Eats

If you’re looking for an easy, tasty, and healthy side dish (or I could eat this as a main dish), try this recipe! I usually double it, and I’m not a mushroom lover so I leave that out. You can pair this hash with any meat or even top it with an egg for breakfast. Here’s how I’ve been using it: I pop salmon into the oven and while that’s baking, I make the hash. Or if I have left over chicken (or other meat) from a previous meal, I make this and it helps me forget I’m having leftovers. I’m an avocado lover so I always pair it with avocado as in the picture. Below is a pic I snapped as it started cooking. I’m not a great cook and I always look for ways to cut down my kitchen time so that I can spend more time reading….. so this recipe is a win for me because I eagerly look forward to making it and it fits with my need for easy and quick. For gardeners, this would be a great way to use up an abundance of zucchini!

hash 2

Other Links:

Novels and Nonfiction guest posted for The Hungry Bookworm: 12 Memoirs for Nonfiction Newcomers

DefinitelyRA: Thoughts After Seeing The Wrinkle Movie.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society coming to theaters April 20!
(notice the Downton Abby actors!)

If you loved The Book ThiefMarkus Zusak has a new book releasing in October:
Bridge of Clay



Extra: 

Author Panel + Brunch

If you live in Southern California near Corona, you might be interested in an Author Brunch at the Corona Public Library on Saturday morning, April 21. Authors are Susan Meissner, Laura Kamoie, and Michelle Gable. Here’s the flyer:

histfic author brunch



Sharing is Caring

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’d love to hear all about what you are reading (or cooking!) this week!

 

 

 

February’s Most Compelling Character

February 23, 2018

February's Most Compelling Character

Meet two sisters, Evelyn and Maggie Bright

As Bright as Heaven
by Susan Meissner

As Bright as HeavenGenre: Historical Fiction

Summary:

Three events coincide in this story: the Bright family moves to Philadelphia in 1918 for a fresh start, many men go off to fight in the Great War, and the Spanish Flu reaches America. As Pauline Bright and her husband pursue their dream of giving their three daughters a chance at a better life in the big city of Philadelphia, the Spanish Flu and the Great War greatly impact their lives and rearrange their priorities. Told from four perspectives (mother and the three daughters), it’s a story of survival, making difficult choices, facing challenges, and finding hope. Amazon Rating (early reviews): 4.7 Stars

February’s Most Compelling Characters: Evie and Maggie Bright

For me, historical fiction is my favorite genre because in the stories we find ordinary people doing extraordinary things under difficult circumstances.

Evelyn (Evie) and Maggie Bright are the two older sisters in this story and become memorable characters with unique personalities and different strengths and weaknesses. Fifteen and twelve when the story opens, Evie is the oldest sister, smart, inquisitive, and a reader, while Maggie is feisty, opinionated, good-hearted, fearless, and determined. As their father leaves to fulfill his war-time responsibilities and the Flu begins to ravage Philadelphia and affect their family, the girls are forced to take on adult sized responsibilities and concerns. As Evie and Maggie experience love and loss, they are also resilient, courageous in the face of challenges, and make many difficult decisions and choices. Despite dire circumstances, the sisters value family and never lose their ability to love and care for each other. While Evie embraces her role as the eldest and assumes responsibility and leadership, Maggie is a wild card who stubbornly insists on accompanying her mother on errands of mercy to the poorest and most needy population of Philadelphia to deliver food and medicine, bravely seeks to work in the family mortuary business, and one day impulsively makes a heart wrenching discovery that leads her to make a life changing decision that will impact all their lives. Her actions would promote some great book club discussions about taking risks to do the right thing and facing the consequences.

Readers will laugh and cry with these unforgettable characters as well as learn facts about the Spanish Flu and its impact on Philadelphia.

Recommended. As Bright As Heaven is whole heartedly recommended for readers who love reading about strong independent women, for those who love historical fiction and against-the-odds stories, and for those who are looking for a value centered, clean read. It’s a simply written and straight-forward story despite alternating between four perspectives. There is some beautiful language sprinkled throughout, but I would not categorize it as literary fiction.  Its memorable characters  and tragic circumstances make this a solid and unforgettable read.

My Rating: 4 Stars.

twinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-star

As Bright as Heaven

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Susan Meissner

Susan MeissnerI 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



Link Up: February’s Most Memorable Character

Please leave a comment or link up a recent post that includes a memorable character from your February reading. To join the Link Up, enter the URL to your blog post (not your blog), your name, and email (which will remain hidden). Please link back to this post with a text link. In addition, please visit at least one other link. (*please bear with me if there are problems with the link up… I am inexperienced with link ups!)




Happy Reading Bookworms!

“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



Extra

Out of the DustA runner-up for most memorable character in February is fourteen year old Billie Jo from Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. A 1998 Newbery Award winner, this story of dust, poverty, tragedy, and despair is one of the saddest I’ve ever read. I think its free verse format brings some beauty to the story. Set in Oklahoma during the Great Depression and dust storm years, Billie Jo endures significant tragedy, loss, and despair. In the end, her fighting spirit, her hope in the future, and her ability to forgive are truly memorable.  This would be an excellent story to accompany a history lesson of the time period for mature middle school students and is a thoughtful and unforgettable adult read.

 



Looking Ahead:

I’m hoping to finish and review Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser (from my 2018 TBR).

Prairie Fires

Amazon information here

What are you reading this week?


The BUZZ

A Wrinkle in Time coming to theaters on March 9! 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society coming to theaters April 20! 



Sharing is Caring

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!

Have you read other historical selections about the Spanish Flu?
(I know it was briefly mentioned in Last Christmas in Paris.)

Please tell me about the most memorable character from your February reading!

What are you reading this week?

African-American History Month Reading Recommendations

February 2, 2018

As the calendar reveals February’s focus on African-American History Month, I’m eager to recommend some thematic reading! 

Linking up today with Modern Mrs Darcy: Quick Lit February.

The Gilded Years
by Karin Tanabe

Gilded Years

Genre: historical fiction

One title that I read a few years ago that might not be on your radar is The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe.

Summary: This story shares the important and compelling experiences of Anita Hemmings and her dream of attending an exclusive school for women, Vassar College, in the late 1890s. To accomplish this extraordinary feat and pursue her chance for a better life, Anita must pass for white. It is interesting to me how her family and community support her in the implementation of her decision and work to protect her as she lives it out. At first, Anita maintains a distance from her college peers. However, as the years pass and Anita becomes friends with her socialite roommate from a prominent family in New York, the risk of discovery grows greater. Can she maintain her assumed identify? Will she graduate?

The choice: For me, the most interesting part of the story is the tension that develops between Anita and one of her dear friends who decides to live fully as an African-American, embrace her ethnic identity and heritage, and openly fight for equal rights. Which one of the young women has chosen the best path? Both decisions are difficult in their own ways and filled with sacrifices and joys. Through their two stories, the reader is presented with two viewpoints and experiences. What would you or I have done given that choice? Which choice helped further equal treatment for African-Americans? Was Anita’s choice a set back for African Americans? Or did she have every right to think of her own life first? Did her success as a student help the African-American cause by proving that an African-American can compete equally at Vassar?

Bottom Line: Although the story is compelling and emotional, the writing could be better and was the weakest part of my reading experience. For me, a lack of beautiful writing is easily overlooked for a captivating story that addresses strong themes of hope, sacrifice, betrayal, loyalty, family, taking risks, life choices, and friendship. It’s an important, inspiring, and memorable read. It would generate an excellent book club discussion and make a great movie!

Recommended? Highly recommended for readers looking for an inspirational and  interesting read in celebration of African-American History Month, for readers who enjoy compelling stories about strong, brave, independent women, for book clubs, and for readers who enjoy diverse reads and stories written from a different perspective.

Amazon Rating (February): 4.2 Stars

My Rating: 4 stars

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Gilded Years

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Karin Tanabe

Karen TanabeKarin Tanabe is a fiction writer and former Politico reporter whose writing has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, and The Washington Post among many other publications. Before turning to fiction, Karin worked as a journalist covering politics and celebrities. She has made frequent appearances on Entertainment Tonight, Inside Edition and CNN. A graduate of Vassar College, she lives in Washington D.C.

 

 



Additional Reading Recommendations

(links will take you to further information)

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham (historical fiction, YA)

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom (historical fiction)

Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom  (historical fiction)
*This is an interesting story as it also deals with the main character passing as white.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (historical fiction, family saga)

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (historical fiction)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (contemporary fiction, YA)

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult (contemporary fiction)

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M Draper (middle grade historical fiction selection)

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (nonfiction)

We Beat the Street: How a Friendship Pact Led to Success by Sampson Davis  (middle grade, biography/memoir)

There are so many titles; these are a few that I’ve read and can highly recommend. Can you add to these recommendations in the comments?



Happy Reading Book Buddies!

“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



Looking Ahead:

I’m planning a review of this next week:
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI 
by David Grann

Amazon information here

I’m also continuing to read an ARC (advanced reader’s copy) of A Way Out: A Memoir of Conquering Depression and Social Anxiety by Michelle Balge. (review on 2/16)

A Way Out

Amazon information here (2/27/19 release date)

Also, I’m anticipating that I’ll start Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser (from my 2018 TBR) some time in the next two weeks.

Prairie Fires

Amazon information here



My TBR and the BUZZ

I’m noticing lots of buzz (great reviews) lately about two books (both Book of the Month Club selections for February): The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce and The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (author of The Nightingale). I’m adding them to the top of my TBR, so look for a review soon!

Do you belong to Book of the Month Club?

I also just heard that Louise Penny (Inspector Gamache series) will be releasing a new installment in November of this year! (no title or cover yet)
#meetmeinthreepines #threepinesgeek
available for preorder

What are you reading this week?



Links

Modern Mrs Darcy published a list of  25 Must-Read Classics for Women.
How many have you read?

I appreciated this post from The Ardent Biblio: Why It’s Important to Read Diverse Books
Please check it out.

Do you plan to reread Wrinkle in Time before the movie release on March 9?
Will you be seeing the movie?



Sharing is Caring

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!

If you were an African-American, would you have made the decision to pass as white to take advantage of a path to help you pursue your dreams? If you are an African American, would you  have passed as white in the late 1890s? What do you think of individuals who made this choice?

Will you be seeking out a certain book to read during African-American History Month? Or do you have recommendations?

What are you reading this week?

Left Neglected

What is your reaction to the thought: “accommodations equal failure”?

January 19, 2018

Left Neglected
by Lisa Genova

left neglected 2

Genre/categories: fiction, women’s fiction, traumatic brain injury, family life

Summary:

In this compelling story, thirty something Sarah is a career driven, over achieving, competitive type A, and perfectionist mom of three. She and her husband live near Boston and manage a frantic and fast paced life as they each pursue careers and tend to the family’s schedule for soccer practice, piano lessons, parent/teacher conferences, and day care. As they are striving to have it all, a car crash leaves Sarah with a traumatic brain injury called “left neglect.” As the story unfolds, readers journey alongside Sarah as she fights to regain her independence and seeks to answer questions about an uncertain future. While Sarah experiences relinquishing all the control she thought she had to her once absent mother and her physical therapists, she begins to envision a life apart from the world of conference calls and spreadsheets and wonders if a happiness and peace greater than the success she has known is within her grasp.

Amazon Rating (January): 4.5 Stars

My Thoughts:

Readers may recognize Lisa Genova as the author of the best-selling book Still Alice or may have seen the movie based on the book. Genova’s degrees are in biopsychology and neuroscience and her fiction work is focused on writing characters who live with neurological diseases and disorders such as Alzheimer’s, autism, Huntington’s disease, ALS, and traumatic brain injury.

In addition to an unforgettable lesson in NO TEXTING OR PHONE WHILE DRIVING, readers will find an inspiring story of courage and determination in the face of a tragic and devastating traumatic brain injury.

Sarah is left with the disability of “left neglect” which means that she’s unaware of anything on her left. She even has difficulty finding her left hand (In a humorous and light-hearted moment she hints to her husband that a big brilliant diamond for her left hand might better help her to notice and find her hand!).

“The first step in my recovery is to become aware of my unawareness, to constantly and repeatedly remind myself that my brain thinks it’s paying attention to all of everything but in fact, it’s only paying attention to the right half of everything and nothing on the left.”      ~Sarah

As Sarah is able to come home, she begins to reflect about the way she and her husband had been living which up until now had meant not even taking advantage of paid vacations so that they could work more to get ahead. In a conversation with her husband, Sarah thinks:

“Pre-accident me nods, understanding the life-and-death stakes [of his job] completely. He’s doing exactly what I would’ve done. But I’m worried more about him than his job right now and can see what pre-accident me is blind to–that he and his job are, in fact, two separate things.”     ~Sarah

Given the high achieving and perfectionist competitor that Sarah’s always been in life, part of her struggle in therapy is the temptation to equate accommodations with failure. This tension is especially painful as she contemplates the dilemma of giving up skiing or skiing with accommodations.

handicap snowboarding

*photo from the NEHSA website

 

 

 

 

 

NEHSA. I appreciate information shared in the book about the New England Handicapped Sports Association (NEHSA) and the thoughts Sarah has about her experience as it relates to her disability and her therapy.

Themes: If you’ve been reading my reviews you know that the presence of substantial themes is a huge component in my final rating of a book. Important themes in this book include reconciliation, determination, courage, humor, forgiveness, finding peace, and building your best life with a visible or an invisible disability. In addition to interpreting the title on a  literal level (the disability), I began to think of the title in terms of all that had been neglected in Sarah’s life as she chases her vision of success. Perhaps there is  happiness and peace that is greater than the success one can find in competitive cooperate America.

4 or 5 stars? While I like that the author drops readers right into the action of Sarah’s busy life and readers are engaged from the beginning, I think the conclusion could have been more fully developed so that readers could experience it unfolding instead of writing it like a summary.  Perhaps the inciting incident could have been moved ahead in the story (readers understand right away how crazy her life is and some of these details were a bit tedious and could have been edited out) and more time could have been allotted to developing the conclusion. This is a minor concern and falls into the category of personal preference. The overall experience of reading the book is a solid 4 for me, and I appreciate the positive, hopeful, and uplifting closure that the author brings to Sarah’s situation. In addition, I think that reading and understanding more about disabilities is a beneficial pursuit in my reading life.

Recommended? I highly recommend this book for readers who have become acquainted with this author through reading Still Alice, who might be challenged by a thoughtful journey into living with a disability, and who enjoy stories of resiliency, bravery, courage, hope, forgiveness, and determination.

My Rating: 4 Stars
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Left Neglected

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Lisa Genova

Lisa Genova

(from Amazon)
Lisa Genova
graduated from Bates College with a degree in Biopsychology and has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard University. Acclaimed as the Oliver Sacks of fiction and the Michael Crichton of brain science, she is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels STILL ALICE, LEFT NEGLECTED, LOVE ANTHONY, and INSIDE THE O’BRIENS.

Lisa’s writing focuses on people living with neurological diseases and disorders who tend to be ignored, feared, or misunderstood, portrayed within a narrative that is accessible to the general public. Through fiction, she is dedicated to describing with passion and accuracy the journeys of those affected by neurological diseases, thereby educating, demystifying, and inspiring support for care and scientific research. She has written about Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, autism, Huntington’s disease, and ALS.

STILL ALICE was adapted into a film starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, and Hunter Parrish. Julianne Moore won the 2015 Best Actress Oscar for her role as Alice Howland.

In 2015, Lisa was named one of the U.S. Top 50 Influencers in Aging. She received The Pell Center Prize for Story in the Public Square in recognition of “a contemporary storyteller whose work has had a significant impact on the public dialogue,” The Sargent and Eunice Shriver Profiles in Dignity Award, The Global Genes RARE Champions of Hope Award, and The American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Media Award for Informing the Public about Treatment and Ongoing Research in Medical Illness.

In 2016, she received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Bates College, The Alzheimer’s Association’s Rita Hayworth Award, and The Huntington’s Disease Society of America Community Awareness Award.

Her 2017 TED talk, “What You Can Do To Prevent Alzheimer’s,” was seen by over 2.5 million viewers in its first few months.

Her fifth novel, EVERY NOTE PLAYED, is about ALS and will be published March 20, 2018.



Dont-Text-and-Drive-21



Happy Reading Book Buddies!

“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



Extra:

A book that I’d recommend for our protagonist, Sarah, to read next in her journey is Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic For a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist.

present over perfect



Looking Ahead:

This week I’m reading The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy (but it’s a slow read for me), so next week look for a review of Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda (and possibly Library at the Edge of the World if I finish it).

(Amazon information in links above)

What are you reading this week?

 

 



Sharing is Caring!

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!

Have you read Still Alice or Left Neglected?

Do you think it’s beneficial to read books that feature disability topics?

What do you think about Sarah’s concern that “accommodations equal failure”?

Have you read any of Lisa Genova’s other titles?

What are you reading this week?

Wonder

October 27, 2017

You were probably an ordinary kid. Did you ever experience a terrifying first day in a new school?

Consider Auggie. He feels ordinary inside but no one else sees him as ordinary. As he expresses: kids don’t scream and run away if you’re ordinary….they don’t stare.

This is the advice 10-year-old August Pullman receives from his parents on the first day of school:

“There are always going to be jerks in the world, Auggie,” she said, looking at me. “But I really believe, and Daddy really believes, that there are more good people on this earth than bad people, and the good people watch out for each other and take care of each other.”

Because the movie Wonder releases in theaters on November 17, 2017, it seems timely to provide a review of the book.

Movie Trailer here.

Wonder
by R. J. Palacio

Wonder

Genre/categories: Middle grade through adult contemporary fiction,  growing up, difficult discussions, family life, friendship, character traits

Summary:

On the inside, ten-year-old August Pullman feels very ordinary. But as he says, ordinary kids don’t make other kids run away screaming and they don’t get stared at wherever they go. Auggie was born with a rare genetic abnormality that affected the formation of his face. Because of extensive surgeries and an attempt to protect him from cruelties of the outside world, Auggie’s parents have home schooled him. The reader meets 5th grade Auggie as he’s being enrolled in a traditional school for the first time. Will he be accepted? Will he find friends? Will he find a hostile or friendly environment? How will adults in his life support him? The story is told from six perspectives (August, Via–his older sister, Summer–a friendly caring peer, Jack–a student leader who struggles in his role as friend, Miranda–his sister’s best friend and a close family friend, and Justin–Miranda’s boyfriend) plus a bonus chapter from Julian’s point of view (Auggie’s nemesis).  Amazon Rating: (an amazing) 4.9 Stars

My Thoughts:

If you plan to see the movie, don’t miss out on reading the book first!  It’s an easy, engaging, thoughtful, inspirational, and meaningful read with valuable discussion possibilities for the entire family.

As we venture to school with Auggie, we feel his daily apprehension and celebrate his courage and determination. Even though he thinks of himself on the inside as an ordinary kid, we know he doesn’t look ordinary and his severe facial abnormality could cause him to be the object of unkind actions by his peers and to experience bullying.

Throughout the story, the narrative changes perspectives with each chapter. This helps us get a 360 degree understanding of Auggie’s world and also allows us to see the nice circle of people who care for him and support him. In addition, it allows the reader to understand that everyone battles something. Because this is written for a children’s audience, it does have a happy ending where ‘good” people are rewarded and the “bad” get their punishment. I like that there is an epilogue (extra chapter) in the current version of the book that follows Auggie’s nemesis Julian and we see how Julian changes and grows in empathy and compassion

The story takes a dramatic turn when Auggie overhears his friend Jack’s derogatory remarks about him; he is discouraged and devastated, and everything changes as he has to fight to rebuild what he’s lost. Through these authentic middle grade voices, we learn about true friendship, risk, and the importance of kindness.

I especially admire Auggies’s English teacher who each month presents the idea of precepts to live by and encourages students to write their own…an example of a precept he presents is “When given the choice between being right or kind, choose kind.” In an attempt to establish the habit of writing precepts as a lifelong practice, he encourages students to email their precepts to him in the years after graduation. Auggie’s 5th grade  precept is “Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation once in their lives because we all overcometh the world.”

The following is a sampling of the types of quotes you will find from the adults in the story:

“Kinder than necessary,” he repeated. “What a marvelous line, isn’t it? Kinder than is necessary. Because it’s not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed. Why I love that line, that concept is that it reminds me that we carry with us, as human beings, not just the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness. And what does that mean? How is that measured? You can’t use a yardstick. It’s like I was saying just before: it’s not like measuring how much you’ve grown in a year. It’s not exactly quantifiable, is it? How do we know we’ve been kind? What is being kind, anyway?”

“….If every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary–the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.”

“It’s not just the nature of kindness, but the nature of one’s kindness. The power of one’s friendship. The test of one’s character. The strength of one’s courage–” 

Don’t miss out on this inspirational story filled with heart, heroes, and humor and which inspired the Kindness Movement. I expect that Wonder will become a beloved classic in upper grade classrooms and in family libraries. Highly recommended for every reader who believes in the power of teaching through a story and for every family who is in the process of building empathy, compassion, and kindness. I believe good literature can be enjoyed by all ages!

“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, propel us, on occasion, to greatness.”

My rating: 4.5 stars (I tried to read this and rate it from a kid’s perspective. As an adult reader, however, I lowered the rating by half a star because it could have included more beautiful writing and some adults seem stereotypical and could have been more fully developed.)

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Buy Here.

There is an additional book, Auggie & Me. It’s not a sequel, rather a companion read and an extension of Auggie’s world with three additional points of view.

Auggie & Me

More Information about Auggie & Me Here.

The Kindness Movement and Sign the Pledge Here.

The author interviews kids about kindness here.

Movie Trailer here.

 

Meet the Author, R. J. Palacio

R. J. Palacio

R. J. Palacio was born and raised in New York City. She attended the High School of Art and Design and the Parsons School of Design, where she majored in illustration with the hopes of someday following in the footsteps of her favorite childhood author-illustrators, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Maurice Sendak, and the D’Aulaires. She was a graphic designer and art director for many years before writing Wonder. We’re All Wonders, which is based conceptually on the themes of her novel, represents the fulfillment of her dream to write and illustrate her own picture book. R.J. is also the author of Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories and 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts. She lives in Brooklyn, where she is surrounded by magical water towers, with her husband, their two sons, and their two dogs, Bear and Beau. Learn more about her at rjpalacio.com or on Twitter at @RJPalacio.


Happy Reading Bookworms!

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

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

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


Extra:

In my last post, I indicated that I would read and review If the Creek Don’t Rise. I did read it; however, I decided that Wonder would be the primary focus of my review this week so that I can encourage you to read it before the movie releases. Here’s my brief review of If the Creek Don’t Rise.

If the Creek Don't Rise

If the Creek Don’t Rise
by Leah Weiss

Genre/categories: Literary Fiction, historical fiction, small town, rural, Appalachia, hillbilly culture

Summary:

Young Sadie Blue lives in the North Carolina mountain town of Baines Creek and suffers abuse at the hands of her drunken husband, Roy Tupkin. When a new teacher comes to town, Sadie begins to think of finding her voice and of a life that doesn’t include Roy.

Amazon Rating: 4.5 Stars

My Thoughts:

Harsh and hard realities of life in this remote Appalachian community make If the Creek Don’t Rise a gritty and sobering read. Young Sadie Blue is pregnant, abused, mistreated, and struggling to find her voice. Only a few chapters are from Sadie’s POV. The story is told from multiple viewpoints giving readers a good perspective of her life and the hillbilly community. Some characters offer hope and healing while others are despicable. Sadie does find her voice in a way that surprised me (but maybe it shouldn’t have given her situation and the hillbilly culture). As a teacher, I hoped to learn more about the new teacher’s contribution to the youth of the community….I’m always looking for hope and redemption in a story….but after the teacher’s strong introduction, she fades into the background of the story. This is also disappointing because she is important to Sadie. Overall, I enjoyed the read and the excellent writing; however, I hesitate to recommend it because I don’t think it’s a read that everyone would enjoy. It’s gritty and a bit dark but certainly an impressive debut novel. I would encourage you to read additional reviews.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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Buy Here.


Looking Ahead:

My library hold of Young Jane Young finally came in so I think I’ll read and review that for next week. I’m a bit apprehensive because it borders on “chick lit” and that’s not my  usual genre. However, it’s a selected read for my online book club at Modern Mrs. Darcy and will be a good break from some heavier reads.

Young Jane Young

 

 

 

More Information Here.

 


Sharing is Caring!

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 if you’ve read Wonder! Do you have children that have read it? I’d love to hear your (or their) reflection. Do you plan to see the movie? How do you feel about teaching character traits such as empathy and kindness through literature? What are you reading this week?

 

Refugee

October 20, 2017

Trust me: This is a great read!

See us, he thought. Hear us. Help us.

Refugee
by Alan Gratz

Refugee

Genre: Middle Grade through Adult Historical Fiction, global issues

Summary:

Refugee is the story of the refugee experience from three unique perspectives:

  • 12/13-year-old Josef and family are Jewish and attempt to escape Nazi Germany in 1938 aboard a ship bound for a country(Cuba) that will accept them.
  • 12-year-old Isabel and family are Cuban and flee riots and unrest in Cuba in 1994 on a homemade raft pointed toward safety in Miami, Florida.
  • 12-year-old Mahmoud and family are Syrian and seek to escape war-torn Aleppo in 2015 and relocate to Germany.

Even though these families are separated by continents and decades, their stories share certain similarities. Each journey is fraught with harrowing adventures, frustration, courage, resiliency, heartache, injustice, persecution, dangers, children assuming adult roles and responsibility, loss of childhood innocence and joy, and loss of family members. However, the families have hope that drives them forward. Amazon Rating (October): 4.8 Stars (this is a very high rating in which 88% of the stars are in the 5 star category)

My Thoughts:

Refugee is an important story because it gives refugees a face and a name, and the timeliness of the Syrian refugee family is relevant to current events.

I appreciated the tightly woven plot and seamless transitions between points of view. As the author worked to tie the stories together, the reader notices that all three journeys to safety involve a boat and that children are forced to take on adult responsibilities and worries. In addition, the kindness of strangers and glimmers of hope keep them going forward in each story.  Interesting parallels involve Josef fleeing Germany in 1938 and Mahmoud’s family escaping to Germany in 2015; furthermore, Josef’s family tried to gain entry into Cuba in 1938 and Isabel’s family sought to flee Cuba in 1994.

This story is engaging from page one and unputdownable. I never felt like I was reading a middle grade selection except to reflect on how middle grade readers might react to certain parts of the story. Yes, the story has 12-year-old narrators, but it’s the story of families and how they support each other in the most difficult circumstances. Even though adults will enjoy this story, it’s easily accessible for middle school readers (appropriate language, straight forward writing style, and not overly graphic or violent). That being said, the content is difficult at points (some events can be emotional and some historical perspective is probably needed). I recommend this for mature middle graders who are able to read this with a parent or teacher, and it will easily hold an adult’s interest as well and lead to excellent discussion opportunities.

The most powerful parts of the story include the author’s unique structure and smooth transitions between points of view of three refugee families. The POV from innocent children was especially powerful and moving, especially as the oldest children were forced to handle adult responsibilities and make difficult decisions. One powerful idea in the story was Mahmoud’s understanding of being visible or invisible. He learned through his life in Aleppo that being invisible helped him survive and avoid bullies; however, he quickly realized that refugees couldn’t stay invisible if they wanted help from the world. It’s only when people are visible (make waves, rock the boat) that people will notice them and take action. In his own words:

“They only see us when we do something they don’t want us to do,” Mahmoud realized. The thought hit him like a lightning bolt. When they stayed where they were supposed to be–in the ruins of Aleppo or behind the fences of a refuge camp–people could forget about them. But when refugees did something they didn’t want them to do–when they tried to cross the border into their country, or slept on the front stoops of their shops, or jumped in front of their cars, or prayed on decks of their ferries–that’s when people couldn’t ignore them any longer.

Even though some readers might consider the ending slightly contrived as two of the families intersect, I appreciated a somewhat uplifting ending.

Refugee rates as one of my most memorable reads of the year and highly recommended for readers age 12 through adult who are searching for a riveting histfic read, for parents and/or teachers who are looking for diverse reads to build global empathy and understanding of the effects of war and oppression and the refugee crisis, for book club members who are interested in discussing challenging themes.  *Caution: It’s my opinion that even though this is shelved as middle grade (grades 5-8), younger children in this range might find the occasional violence and harsh realities too much for them. It’s actually perfect for high school readers who already have helpful historical knowledge of the events. I would encourage parents to “buddy read” it with their younger children. It might be an especially interesting read for any families who have relatives that came to America as a result of being “sponsored.”

My Rating: 5 Stars

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A book for younger middle grade readers (but also enjoyable for adults) with a similar refugee theme might be Inside Out and Back Again (reviewed here as an “extra” in this post).

Refugee

Buy Here.

Meet the Author, Alan Gratz

Alan Gratz

I’m the author of a number of books for young readers, including Refugee, Ban This Book, Prisoner B-3087, Code of Honor, Projekt 1065, the League of Seven series, and The Brooklyn Nine. I live in the mountains of western North Carolina with my family, where I enjoy reading, playing games, and eating pizza.

 

 

Happy Reading Everyone!

“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


Extras:

Turtles all the Way DownIn last week’s blog post, I indicated that I would review Turtles all the Way Down by John Green this week. I read it, but then I read Refugee after that and loved it so much more that I changed my mind on the blog’s focus this week–because, above all, I’m committed to bringing you recommendations for the best of what I read. I’m including a brief reflection of Turtles All The Way Down here in the extras in case you were looking forward to the review and are a John Green fan!

 

Genre: YA, social and family issues, mental illness, coming of age

Strengths:  This book deals with a very important subject and I’m assuming the author represents an authentic voice…..I appreciate that the reading experience allowed me to gain additional understanding of OCD and I loved Aza and was deeply moved by her thoughts, angst, and experiences. It is important to know that the inspiration for this book came from John Green’s own personal experiences with OCD.

Weaknesses: There is a lot going on—which probably is typical of a teenager’s life and the YA genre (mother/daughter relationship, best friend, school, coming of age, boyfriend, lizard, crime solving, astronomy, abandoned/neglected boys, etc); and the plot was meh because there were too many things happening on multiple fronts and many details that didn’t make sense in the story (e.g. a high school kid gets $50,000 and doesn’t tell her mom?). Other readers have highly rated this book and/or love John Green so I encourage you to read it and form your own opinion.

My Rating: 2.5 Stars rounded to 3 Stars

For the Amazon rating, summary, and purchase information click here.


Reminder: This Christian histfic Kindle book is FREE in the month of October! (*note: I haven’t read it, but it seems interesting … and I have Viking heritage! For free, I’m trying it!)

God’s Daughter
by Heather Day Gilbert

God's DaughterAmazon Rating (October) 4.4 Stars

Amazon Summary: In the tenth century, when pagan holy women rule the Viking lands, Gudrid turns her back on her training as a seeress to embrace Christianity. Clinging to her faith, she joins her husband, Finn, on a journey to North America. But even as Gudrid faces down murderous crewmen, raging sickness, and hostile natives, she realizes her greatest enemy is herself–and the secrets she hides might just tear her marriage apart. Almost five centuries before Columbus, Viking women sailed to North America with their husbands. God’s Daughter, Book One in the Vikings of the New World Saga, offers an expansive yet intimate look into the world of Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir–daughter-in-law of Eirik the Red, and the first documented European woman to have a child in North America. This novel is based heavily on the Icelandic Sagas and is written from a Christian worldview. Get the Kindle version FREE Here.

Looking Ahead:

I have a couple of ideas from recently published titles regarding my next read, but I haven’t finalized my selection. I’m waiting for Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (contemporary chick lit fic) to become available on Overdrive (library app) and I recently bought If the Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss (Appalachia settinh) which looks promising. Subject to change if I find something better! What are you reading this week?

Sharing is Caring!

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’d love to hear in comments if you’re planning to put Refugee on your TBR. Does the topic of refugee crisis interest you? Do you enjoy reading diverse books? Do you seek out titles that differ from your go-to genres? Do you think middle grade and/or YA selections can be appreciated by adults? Or would you rather that I not alert you to outstanding fiction for different ages?

Out of the Easy

October 6, 2017

Have you recently discovered a new favorite author?

Out of the Easy

Genre: YA historical fiction

I first discovered Ruta Sepetys when I read Salt to the Sea earlier this year. I followed that quickly with Between Shades of Gray (her first novel). Both stories deal with similar WWll themes and loosely follow some of the same family members . Recently I read her third novel, Out of the Easy. Although I love all her works, I consider Salt to the Sea my favorite of her novels (review).

Summary of Out of the Easy:

It’s 1950 in the French Quarter of New Orleans when we meet seventeen year old Josie. A high achiever with a great deal of grit and savvy, she is the daughter of an unreliable mother who is a prostitute, enjoys the unlikely mentorship of a tough madam, and is trying to survive in the Big Easy. Although Josie has a plan to get out, she becomes tangled in an investigation that could change her dream of an elite eastern college and her future. Throughout the story, she is tried, tempted, and tested. How will her decisions shape her future? Amazon rating (October): 4.5 Stars

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed this fast paced and engaging story of a girl beating the odds to pursue an education and a fresh start. At first, everything that could go wrong for Josie goes wrong; but her determination, grit, bravery, spunk, perseverance, and quick thinking pull her through some harrowing experiences. The following quote illustrates her attitude:

“I still wanted to believe it was possible, that my Wings, no matter how thin and torn, could still somehow carry me away from a life of lies and perverted men.”

Josie is a memorable character and readers will root for her throughout the story.

Recommended for mature YA and older readers who love a character you can cheer for and a story filled with intrigue and some suspense. In addition, this is an excellent introduction the beautiful writing of Ruta Sepetys.

My rating:  4 Stars

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Out of the Easy

Buy Here.

Meet the Author, Ruta Sepetys

Ruta Sepetys

Ruta Sepetys was born and raised in Michigan in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. The daughter of a refugee, Ruta is drawn to stories of strength through struggle. Her award-winning historical novels are published in over fifty countries. “Between Shades of Gray” was inspired by her family’s history in Lithuania. Her second novel, “Out of the Easy” is set in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1950, and her third novel, “Salt to the Sea, exposes one of the greatest hidden disasters of World War II. Ruta lives with her family in Tennessee.

For more information:
http://www.rutasepetys.com
http://www.facebook.com/rutasepetys
http://www.twitter.com/rutasepetys

Happy Reading Everyone!

“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 spoils you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Extra:

Inside Out and Back Again
by Thanhha Lai

Inside Out and Back Again

 

Are you looking for a diverse multicultural read for your middle grade reader or student?

Told in free verse from the perspective of 10-year-old Ha and inspired by the author’s own experiences, this is a poignant and beautifully written story of a family’s escape from Vietnam before the fall of Saigon to America. This refugee and immigrant story can build feelings of compassion and lead to thoughtful reflection as Ha experiences grief, bullying, learning English, new foods and customs, kindness from a neighbor, finding her voice, family loyalty, and the comfort of old traditions. A perfect read for older elementary or middle grade readers but, as with all good literature, enjoyable for adults too…a diverse read that builds understanding and empathy.

Amazon Rating (October) 4.5 Stars

My rating: 5 Stars

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More Information Here.

Meet the Author, Thanhha Lai

Thanhha Lai Page

 

 

 

Thanhha Lai was born in Vietnam and now lives north of New York City with her family and two dogs.

Looking Ahead:

I. Am. Thrilled. to finally review Little Fires Everywhere next week if you’d like to “buddy read.” It was a Book of the Month selection for September and my library hold became available this week. I dropped everything to read. There’s been a lot of buzz about this book and,  thankfully, it lived up to my expectations!

Little Fires Everywhere

 

 

 

More Information Here.

 

 

Sharing is Caring!

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’d love to hear in comments if you’ve read Ruta Sepetys or if you plan on adding one of her books to your TBR list. Have you already read Little Fires Everywhere? Please stop in and say hello!