The Boat People

August 10, 2018

Refugee or terrorist?

The Boat People by Sharon Bala

Boat People

Genre/Categories: Historical Fiction, Refugee Crisis, Canada, Legal, Cultural Heritage, Sri Lanka, Family Life

Summary:

Refugees or Terrorists? This is the urgent question that faces Canadian officials when a rusty cargo ship carrying five hundred refugees from Sri Lanka appears on Vancouver’s shores. As the “boat people” are thrown into a detention center, rumors circulate that terrorists might be posing as refugees and could create a threat to Canada’s national security. This complex, compelling, and heartfelt story, loosely based on true events from 2010, is told fairly from three perspectives: Mahindan (a refugee), Priya (a lawyer and second generation Sri Lankan Canadian), and Grace (an adjudicator and third generation Japanese Canadian).

My Thoughts:

Relevant, compelling, compassionate, and fair.

What’s at stake: refugees looking for a safe place to start over versus the safety of current citizens. In order to gain asylum, refugees need to prove that their lives are in danger in their home country as well as satisfy the new country that they are not a safety threat. In The Boat People we become acquainted with one refugee, Mahindan, his lawyer, Priya, and an adjudicator, Grace. The adjudicator is torn between compassion and the fear that a refugee (posing as a terrorist) might harm the citizens of Canada. How can one determine if Mahindan is lying or telling the truth? Readers grow to understand and appreciate Grace’s dilemma and wonder about her final ruling in Mahindan’s case.

Mahindan. In this timely story, I think there might be a third choice in labeling Mahindan as a refugee or terrorist, and that would be as a “victim.” Mahindan and his young son are refugees but as their story unfolds, we see that they are also victims of circumstance and war. Mahindan had to make unfortunate choices in Sri Lanka to ensure his survival which come back to haunt him now during the Canadian interrogations. Consider this scenario: if, as a Sri Lankan mechanic, you are forced to service the vehicle of a terrorist who uses that vehicle in a terrorist attack, does this make you a terrorist by association? Mahindan’s life is complicated by war, hunger, fear, violence, desperate people, and uncertainty, and he has to make tragic choices to protect his family. Will he be granted asylum? As a further complication, Mahindan is separated from his young six-year-old son at the detention center, and the story explores the consequences and implications of this decision.

What I liked. I appreciated the opportunity to read this refugee/immigration story from multiple perspectives, and I thought all sides were presented fairly. It’s sobering to consider what refugees are willing to sacrifice as they hang on to hope for a better future. Even though this is fiction, much of it reads like narrative nonfiction as we learn a great deal about the government process of granting asylum. It is certainly an informative,  thought provoking, and timely read in which it’s apparent that immigration issues aren’t as black and white as readers imagine. This is a story that builds empathy, understanding, and compassion.

What could have been better. Although it’s well researched, a compelling read, and a compassionate look at world-wide current events, I thought the author might have attempted to cover too much.  In addition, I would have liked a better resolved ending. Last, I was a bit distracted by the lack of punctuation for dialogue. Is this a new trend? If a reader is reading at a fast rate, it’s difficult to discern the difference between the narrative and a character’s direct words. In fairness, others have read it and reported that they hadn’t even noticed. So consider the punctuation critique as coming from a former 5th grade teacher who tortured children to learn proper punctuation of dialogue and file it under “personal preferences.”

Recommended. I highly recommend The Boat People for fans of compelling historical fiction, for readers who appreciate an in-depth look at a relevant issue in an easily accessed fiction format, and for those who desire to read more diversely. (and for those avant-garde readers who don’t worry about quotations marks!)

My Rating: 4 Stars

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the boat people

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Sharon Bala

sharon BalaSharon Bala’s bestselling debut novel, The Boat People, was a finalist for Canada Reads 2018 and the 2018 Amazon Canada First Novel Award. Published in January 2018, it is available worldwide with forthcoming translations in French, Arabic, and Turkish. The unpublished manuscript won the Percy Janes First Novel Award (May 2015) and was short listed for the Fresh Fish Award (October 2015).

In 2017, Sharon won the Journey Prize and had a second story long-listed in the anthology. A three-time recipient of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Arts and Letters award, she has stories published in Hazlitt, Grain, Maisonneuve, The Dalhousie Review, Riddle Fence, Room, Prism international, The New Quarterly, and in an anthology called Racket: New Writing From Newfoundland (Breakwater Books, Fall 2015).

Sharon was born in Dubai, raised in Ontario, and now lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland with her husband, the mathemagician Tom Baird.



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

“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 I Love

 Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society releases on Netflix today!

1000 Books Before Kindergarten



My Summer TBR

I’ll be updating my Summer TBR list as I complete each read, so check this link often!
(So far I’ve read more than half of the list, some I’ve been more thrilled with than others, and I’ve only abandoned one)



Looking Ahead:

 Needing a change of pace, this week I’m reading Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan and I am eager to bring you a review next Friday.

Tell Me More

Amazon Information Here



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 are you reading this week? Do you enjoy reading diversely?

If you’ve read The Boat People, how did you feel about the ending? Has reading The Boat People changed your thoughts about the refugee crisis?



***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. This money will be used to offset the costs of running a blog and to sponsor giveaways, etc.

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 website.

 

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An American Marriage

August 3, 2018

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage 2

Genre/Categories: Fiction, Women’s Fiction, African-American, Cultural Heritage, Family Life

Summary:

Celestial and Roy are newlyweds living in the New South. While Celestial is an aspiring artist, Roy is a young executive. Early in their marriage, Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime he didn’t commit. Can their marriage survive the tragic circumstances and the separation? Soon after incarceration, Celestial begins to accept comfort and companionship from Andre, her childhood friend and Roy’s best man at their wedding. When Roy is released from prison five years later, he expects to pick up his life where he’s left off, but a great deal has changed. This is a thoughtful and heartfelt story of love, marriage, family, and friendship, of hope and heartbreak, of loss and starting over.  Amazon Rating (August): 4.5 Stars

My Thoughts:

At first I was reluctant to read an Oprah Book Club selection because of the hype and I was concerned that it might be primarily an issues driven book. However, when my IRL book club chose it for our August read and after reading some positive reviews from respected bloggers, I became more interested. An American Marriage is probably the most surprising good read of the year for me …… I’ve been disappointed before by books that don’t live up to their hype. This one has likely earned a spot on my favorites of the year list.

Themes. If you’ve followed my reviews, you know that one element that endears me to a book is its themes. An American Marriage is filled with relevant themes such as the importance of fathers (absent or present), sustaining marriage through difficult times, troubling incarceration rates of young African Americans, women setting aside traditional roles, stigmas attached to women whose husbands are incarcerated, educated middle class young African Americans and their views of community and family, southern traditions, etc. Issues are presented in this story, but it’s not an issue centered read. I appreciate what the author says about her writing:

“My mentor used to tell me, ‘Write about people and their problems. Don’t write about problems and their people.'”

This is what I loved about this story….it’s about people and their problems and not simply a vehicle for the author to promote opinions or agendas.

Characters. This is not a story filled with all likeable characters. Yet they are authentic, realistic, and well developed. We see their positive and negative attributes and understand their motivations as the story progresses. Throughout the reading, I was unable to predict how this story would resolve and this kept me engaged until the last page.

Recommended. I highly recommend this easy reading, engaging, realistic, and heartfelt story for readers who are looking for a contemporary, diverse read with relevant and timely issues. An American Marriage would make an excellent book club selection and I’m eager to hear what my IRL book club thinks next week.

 My Rating: 4.5 Stars.

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An American Marriage

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Tayari Jones

Tayari JonesTayari Jones is the author of the novels Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling, Silver Sparrow, and An American Marriage (Algonquin Books, February 2018). Her writing has appeared in Tin House, The Believer, The New York Times, and Callaloo. A member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, she has also been a recipient of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, Lifetime Achievement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, United States Artist Fellowship, NEA Fellowship and Radcliffe Institute Bunting Fellowship. Silver Sparrow was named a #1 Indie Next Pick by booksellers in 2011, and the NEA added it to its Big Read Library of classics in 2016. Jones is a graduate of Spelman College, University of Iowa, and Arizona State University. An Associate Professor in the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark University, she is spending the 2017-18 academic year as the Shearing Fellow for Distinguished Writers at the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.



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

“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 I Love

Counting the days until Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society releases on Netflix! August 10!

People who read books live longer!



My Summer TBR

I’ll be updating my Summer TBR list as I complete each read, so check this link often!
(So far I’ve read more than half of the list, some I’ve been more thrilled with than others, and I’ve only abandoned one)



Looking Ahead:

 This week I’m reading The Boat People from my Summer TBR and I am eager to bring you a review on Friday.

the boat people

Amazon Information Here



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 are you reading this week? Do you enjoy reading diversely?

If you’ve read An American Marriage, how did you feel about the ending?



***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. This money will be used to offset the costs of running a blog and to sponsor giveaways, etc.

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 website.

A Place For Us

July 13, 2018

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

a place for us 2

Genre/Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Muslim, Family Life, Cultural Heritage

Summary:

A Place For Us shares the story of an Indian-American Muslim family whom we meet as they gather to celebrate a family wedding. Through flashbacks, readers are filled in on the family dynamics, family history, and become acquainted with the parents, Rafiq and Layla, and their three children, Hadia, Huda, and Amar. Told mostly from the perspectives of Layla, Hadia, and Amar, readers begin to appreciate the complexity of family relationships, understand the bonds that draw the family together, and become acquainted with the personalities along with the insecurities and rivalries that cause conflict. In light of the parents’ conservative Muslim faith and living in California, the children must find their way in reconciling the faith of their parents and their traditional ways with the reality of day-to-day lives, and individual hopes and dreams. At the wedding of the oldest daughter, which breaks with tradition and is a union of love and not arranged by parents, Amar, the prodigal son, reunites with his family for the first time in three years. The last part of the story is told from the father’s heartfelt perspective. This is a story of love, identity, parenting, coming of age, faith, and belonging. Amazon Rating (July early reviews): 4.5 Stars

My Thoughts:

This is by far the best story I’ve read this year! It shattered my 5 star rating scale! In addition to being a favorite this year, it will likely end up on my list of lifetime favorites. A Place For Us includes all the elements I really love in a great story; however, I know reading is personal and you may not feel the same.

Why all the love?

  • Two of the elements I love best in a great story are important themes and well drawn characters. This story features well-developed characters, complicated family dynamics, complex relationships, issues of faith, parenting woes and joys, diversity, moral dilemmas, regrets, compassion, grace, loyalty, finding one’s voice, etc. I love that at the end of conflict, misunderstanding, best intentions, and brokenness, there is grace and mercy and love.

What about the themes?

When I first considered the book, I wondered what I would have in common with a Muslim family and ended the read filled with compassion, empathy, and understanding…and thinking that we have more similarities than differences.  Here are some of the themes that were the most thought provoking:

  • Conservative religious values: I was raised in a conservative religious home and I relate to some of the concerns the children experience when reconciling the strict expectation of the parents with the secular culture in which they are growing up.
  • Parenting: worrying about each child for different reasons, striving to make things fair while meeting individual needs, trying one’s best (having good intentions) and still making mistakes, failure, heartache and grief if there’s estrangement, etc.
  • A woman’s independence and voice in a male dominated culture.
  • Parents that are broken by regret and grief.
  • Children seeking parental approval and blessing.
  • Sibling competition, achievement, support, loyalty.
  • A parent’s helplessness and concern over a struggling child.
  • A young adult’s need to differentiate from the family.
  • Fathers that are broken by regret and grief.
  • Traditions.
  • Faith
  • Prodigal son.
  • The immigrant experience causes me to consider what my great grandparents faced as immigrants.

What did I appreciate?

I appreciate the multi faceted, multi layered, kind, insightful, compassionate, and gentle look at family and faith. I find it refreshing that it wasn’t a dysfunctional family….just a real one with authentic and relatable problems. At the end, though, it seems like it’s the son’s story (Amar), and I’d love a sequel!

Favorite Quote:

“Of all my mistakes the greatest, the most dangerous, was not emphasizing the mercy of God.”  ~Rafiq

Recommended:

I highly recommend A Place For Us for readers who love well written, thoughtful, and poignant family drama, for those who desire more diversity in their reading life or for those who are in a Muslim family, and for readers who don’t want to miss out on one of the most talked about and highly rated books of the year.

What I’d like you to know, though, is that the author’s use of flashbacks makes the reader work hard in the beginning to construct understanding as the flashbacks move swiftly from character to character and hop between time periods; one reviewer remarks that it is like looking through a kaleidoscope and every time it turns we see the story change, creating a new picture that allows readers to see different facets that provide a deeper understanding. It was my experience that as the story progressed and I became more comfortable with the author’s style and became better acquainted with the characters, the reading became easier.

My Rating: 5+ Stars

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a place for us

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Fatima Farheen Mirza

fatima farheen mirza

Fatima Farheen Mirza was born in 1991 and raised in California. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship.

 

 



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



My Summer TBR

I’ll be updating my Summer TBR list as I complete each read, so check this link often!
(So far I’ve read a handful, some I’ve been more thrilled with than others, and I’ve only abandoned one)



Two Links I Love:

Castle of Water, a favorite read from last year, as been picked up for a movie!

The Novel Endeavor: Summer Reading Guide For Families: Adoption Stories



Looking Ahead:

 For the remainder of July I’m expecting to review The Widows of Malabar Hill, provide a July wrap up, choose the most compelling character from July reading, and also anticipate my first blogiversary with a give away (tbd).

the widows of malabar hill

Amazon Information Here



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 are some of the most memorable family stories that you’ve read? Do you enjoy or seek out diverse reads?

What are you reading this week?



***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. This money will be used to offset the costs of running a blog and to sponsor giveaways, etc.

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 website.

 

 

A Rec For You, Mom!

May 11, 2018

mom and me mother's day

Here’s a book recommendation I think you’ll like, Mom!

Mom didn’t grow up loving to read, but she always made sure that her three girls were surrounded by library books and read to us when we were little. Mom admits that when she was in high school, she bribed her older sister to write her book reports. After graduation she went to business school in preparation for secretarial work. As a new wife and young mother, she had limited free time as most of her time was spent on labor intensive and time-consuming farm chores (in the days before our modern conveniences). Later when my father became a pastor, she spent her free evenings ironing his white shirts. Finally when her daughters were in high school and she went back to college, she began reading for her own pleasure. After she discovered the joy of reading and found herself with more free time, she was always in the middle of a book and today she reads all of my recommendations; in fact, we share an Amazon kindle account. In addition to a myriad of individual titles, we’ve read and loved the Louise Penny Inspector Gamache series and the Alexander McCall Smith #1 Ladies Detective series. Sharing books is a joy! It’s difficult for me to imagine a time in her life when she didn’t read.

I think you’ll like the title I’m recommending today, Mom!

The Way of Beauty
by Camille Di Maio

the way of beauty 2

Genre/categories: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Family, Romance, New York City, Penn Station

*Linking up today with Words on Wednesday. If you’ve clicked over from there, Welcome!

Summary:

As a child in the early 1900s in New York City, Vera Keller falls in love with a childhood friend who is nine years older than she. Through the years, they remain close. Although Angelo acts like her older brother, Vera is convinced that someday they will marry. One day she is shocked when he introduces her to his fiance, Pearl. Despite her heartbreak, Vera and Pearl become friends and Pearl introduces her to the Suffragette Movement. As Vera becomes entangled in their lives, her love for Angelo never dies. As a result of her love for Angelo and her commitment to Pearl’s cause, Vera has many challenges and difficult choices to make. The latter half of the book is told from Vera’s daughter’s perspective. Her daughter, Alice, enjoys benefits from the Suffragette Movement but also faces her own challenges in caring for her ailing father and in choosing between two men whom she loves. Early Amazon Star Rating (May): 4.8 Stars

My Thoughts:

Do you have fond memories of a certain landmark that you associate with a memorable event in your life? (For my husband and I, it’s In ‘N Out hamburger stands!) Are you old enough to have grieved the demise of certain landmarks or symbols? Have you ever remarked “Remember when…”? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you may find this story especially meaningful.

Although romance plays a large role in this story, there’s so much more. Readers gain historical insight into and appreciation for New York City’s historic Penn Station and for the daring and visionary women who led the Suffragette Movement. At the center of everything, there’s a sweet and heartfelt story of family and individual determination.

In addition to poignant themes of friendship, true love, family loyalty and support, hopes and dreams, class distinctions, privilege, strong and independent women, sacrifice, perseverance, progress, and preservation of the past, you will find lovable and memorable characters and an engaging story line.

Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction and multi generational stories, for those who love descriptive historical perspectives of the time period and architecture, for New Yorkers, and for readers who are looking for an engaging, captivating, unputdownable, and enjoyable read.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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I hope you enjoy this week’s recommendation, Mom!

mothers-day

candle for mom

 

the way of beauty

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Camille Di Maio

camille di maioCamille recently left an award-winning real estate career in San Antonio to become a full-time writer. Along with her husband of twenty years, she enjoys raising their four children. She has a bucket list that is never-ending, and uses her adventures to inspire her writing. She’s lived in Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California, and spends enough time in Hawai’i to feel like a local. She’s traveled to four continents (so far), and met Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. She just about fainted when she had a chance to meet her musical idol, Paul McCartney, too. Camille studied political science in college, but found working on actual campaigns much more fun. She overdoses on goodies at farmers markets (justifying them by her support for local bakeries) and belts out Broadway tunes whenever the moment strikes. There’s almost nothing she wouldn’t try, so long as it doesn’t involve heights, roller skates, or anything illegal. “The Memory of Us” is Camille’s debut novel and is a finalist for the Holt Medallion Award for Literary Excellence. Her second, “Before the Rain Falls” was released in May 2017. Her third, “The Way of Beauty” is available now.



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



Links I Love

The Novel Endeavor: Books for Mom: A Mother’s Day Gift Guide

Love, Peace & Raspberry Cordial: Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me

A Lovely Photography Blog @ A Rosy Note

Recipes and thoughtful reflections from The Thankful Heart



In Case You Missed It…….Last Week’s Post Listing Bookish Gift Ideas For Mom



Looking Ahead:

Next week, I plan to talk about summer reading (in eager anticipation of Modern Mrs Darcy’s 2018 Summer Reading Guide to be released in a few days!). I’m also selecting something from my Spring TBR list to read (still waiting for library holds).



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’d love to hear about your memorable landmarks!

Also, please share what you’ve been reading lately!



Happy Mother’s Day to my followers who are celebrating! 

happy mothers day wreath

candle for mom



***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. This money will be used to offset the costs of running a blog and to sponsor giveaways, etc.

Eden

April 6, 2018

Eden
by Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg

Eden 2

Genre/categories: Fiction, Family Life, Family Saga

*linking up with Words on Wednesday

 

Summary:

Generations of Becca Meister’s family have traditionally spent memorable summers at the family’s estate affectionately known as “Eden” in Long Harbor, Rhode Island (fictionalized setting). This year as the family gathers for the 4th of July holiday, Becca (the family’s 70 year old matriarch) plans to admit to the family that she can no longer afford the upkeep on the estate because her late husband mismanaged their retirement funds. Suddenly, the family is faced with the reality that this might be their last summer at Eden. Because of other personal events happening in Becca’s life, she also concludes that this is the time she must reveal a family secret. In addition to the present day timeline, the story introduces readers to Becca’s childhood and family, we learn the history of Eden (including the hurricane of ’38), and readers come to appreciate what Eden means to the family.

Amazon Rating (April): 4.7 Stars

My Thoughts:

Historical fiction: Although this book isn’t categorized as historical fiction, there are historical elements that some readers may find fascinating.  For instance, life in the 1920s (particularly for women), the stock market crash, the hurricane along the east coast in 1938, lifestyle of the east coast elite and their summer resorts, and the experiences of women in one family over eight decades.

Family saga: I love a multigenerational family saga! Readers follow this family for eight decades and experience their joys, sorrows, challenges, achievements, trials, hopes, dreams, relationships, values, and connectedness (or disconnects)…..in other words, this is a normal family much like our own. Readers will find a myriad of opportunities to relate. In particular, I liked how getting to know the grandparents helped explain Becca’s actions and decisions. I found the focus on mother/daughter relationships throughout the story especially interesting.

Child birth and adoption:  The story’s most fascinating and interesting themes for me were the unwed girls and their unplanned pregnancies story lines. Over the course of eighty years, the author includes stories of three unwed girls: one in the early 1900s, one in the mid 1900s, and one in present day. It was fascinating to trace how each of their pregnancies were handled in the time periods. Early in the century, an unwed girl’s unplanned pregnancy was generally hidden (even from the baby’s father), and the girl was whisked away to deliver the baby and place him/her for adoption. Upon returning home to resume her normal life, no mention was made of the baby and the girl was expected to live with the secret for her entire life. To disclose the situation would have caused the family and the girl a great deal of shame. In the middle of the century, an unwed girl experiencing an unplanned pregnancy was strongly encouraged to marry the father quickly even if  the couple hadn’t planned on a marriage. This attempt to “legitimatize” the baby often resulted in making two mistakes as the marriage arrangements were often made out of necessity and coercion and not out of thoughtful commitments and promises. Finally, unwed girls facing unplanned pregnancies at the end of the century experience having many options and not hiding their pregnancies. While some girls opt to place the baby for adoption, others choose to marry and keep the baby, or choose not to marry and raise the child as a single parent with the help of the extended family. There is no shame and the child is welcomed with love and celebrated. This theme touched me as our family has been blessed by adoption. My aunt who was born in the ’20s was a girl that was whisked away until her baby was born and placed for adoption. My husband was placed for adoption as a baby (at a time when adoptions were not as openly discussed as they are now), and although his adoptive parents weren’t forthcoming with him about the adoption during his early childhood, he was able to meet his birth mother and his biological sister as an older adult a few years ago. When my husband was eventually told about his adoption, his parents cautioned him not to tell anyone that he was adopted…that it was their secret. This caused him to believe that there was something wrong with the process that brought him into the family. In more current times, my nephew was adopted through an open adoption process and had the opportunity to meet his birth mother as soon as he became an adult. Open adoption is probably the scariest for the adoptive mom but I think it’s probably healthiest for the first mom and for the child. I know mothers and adopted children from all three perspectives and these personal connections greatly enrich the story for me.

The title: The first concept that comes to my mind with the title Eden is a paradise….and Eden in this story is a type of paradise, but it’s also a symbol for traditions (locations or experiences) that hold families together for generations. Perhaps we all have that place in mind that evokes warm childhood memories of families gathered, feelings of being loved, and of belonging. For me, it’s visiting the family farms of my childhood in South Dakota.

Themes: If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you know that I love stories with substantial themes. A few themes that I feel would merit some discussion are themes of mother/daughter relationships and expectations, unwed girls facing pregnancies, adoption, privilege, women’s voice and power (or lack of), and family traditions.

The cover: I passed over this book time and time again on my TBR shelf because the gray toned, muted cover wasn’t calling out to me. This is obviously a subjective statement with which others may completely disagree. After reading the story, I can make guesses about why the author chose the cover; however, it wasn’t one that appealed to me. Look beyond the cover!

Lots of characters and jumping between timelines: Thankfully, the author provides a family tree at the beginning of the story because I really needed it! Readers listening on audible might want to jot down names and relationships along the reading journey. Many stories today have alternating timelines and it’s more challenging in some books than others. I felt like I worked hard throughout the story to be fully present in the timeline hops. Frequently, I found that I needed to stop and think about the characters and the situations when jumping to the alternate timeline.

Recommended? Yes! The more I reflect on this story, the richer it becomes. Recommended for readers who enjoy well told family sagas, thought provoking themes, or who might have some familiarity with Rhode Island (or summer beach resort living!).

My Rating: 4 Stars

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Eden

Buy Here

Meet the Author,
Jeanne Blasberg

jeanne blasbergAlways hunting for writerly detail, I’ve been known to stare or eavesdrop on the table next to me.  Call it research or maybe an over-developed sense of empathy; I’m fascinated by human nature.  At heart, I’m really still that only child who played for hours with imaginary friends.  Now my imaginary friends are characters on the page, flawed but honest, people worth spending time with.  My stories may echo timeless struggles, but they are spun with my own peculiar slant.

Jeanne Blasberg is a voracious observer of human nature and has kept a journal since childhood. She has been known to stare at strangers on more than one occasion to the embarrassment of her three children. (Mom, stop staring!)  After graduating from Smith College, she surprised everyone who knew her by embarking on a career in finance, making stops on Wall Street, Macy’s and Harvard Business School, where she worked alongside the preeminent professor of retail and wrote case studies and business articles on all sorts of topics on everything that has to do with…shopping.

A firm believer that you are never too old to change course or topics (in truth, she’s not a big shopper), Jeanne enrolled at Grub Street, one of the country’s great creative writing centers, where she turned her attention to memoir and later fiction, inspired by her childhood journal. Eden is her debut novel.

Now deep into her second novel, Jeanne and her husband split their time between Boston and Westerly, RI. When not writing, Jeanne can be found playing squash, skiing, or taking in the sunset over Little Narragansett Bay, and sometimes simply staring at interesting characters doing uninteresting things.

Jeanne’s writing has appeared in The Sun Literary Magazine’s Reader’s Write, Squash Magazine, Interfaith Family.comDead Darlings.comBreakingMatzo.comThe Huffington Post,  Women Writers Women’s Books, and Adoptimist.com.

jeanneblasberg.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



Looking Ahead

I’m on very long library wait lists for The Force of Nature and The Music Shop….meanwhile I’m waiting for kindle prices to fall and reading other selections. Consequently, next Friday I’ll read and review From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon (a  histfic title from my Goodreads TBR shelf with an average Goodreads rating of 4.41 stars and Amazon rating of 4.7 stars).

From Sand and Ash

Amazon Information Here

What are you reading this week?


Extra:
Reading Recommendation For Middle Grade Readers!

(And for all readers looking for a thought provoking story!)

Crenshaw

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate is a beautifully and creatively written middle grade story exploring poverty, homelessness, and imaginary friends. Because the content of this book builds compassion and the topic of homelessness might worry some readers, I’m recommending it as an excellent “read together” book.

The first reason I loved this story is because of the personal connections I made as a teacher at a Title 1 school where the student population often experienced poverty and homelessness. I could share many stories of how their personal experiences impacted my life and our classroom.

I believe this is a thoughtful story for students who are not in this situation to build empathy, but I wonder how children who are experiencing poverty and homelessness would react to the story without having someone with which to process.

In the story, the main character, Jackson, has an imaginary friend (Crenshaw, as seen on the cover) and I appreciate the author’s subtle message that the imaginary friend appears to help Jackson deal with his stress. In fact, when Jackson questions why Crenshaw is larger than he was when Jackson was little, Crenshaw explains that Jackson needs a bigger imaginary friend now that his problems are different.

I thought a great deal while reading the story about how children process stress. It is interesting that Jackson appears fine to his parents (mom thanks him for being positive and helpful), yet he experiences stress because of not knowing what is going to happen. In addition, he also feels tremendous responsibility for his sister (even giving up his plan to run away in order to take care of her).

“What bothered me most, though, is that I couldn’t fix anything. I couldn’t control anything. It was like driving a bumper car without a steering wheel. I kept getting slammed, and I just had to sit there and hold on tight. Bam! Were we going to have enough to eat tomorrow? Bam! Were we going to have enough to pay the rent? Bam! Would I go to the same school in the fall? Bam!”

This thought impacted me while reading: Children can adapt easily because they desire/need stability, togetherness, love, predictability, family….but adults sometimes don’t realize the stress the child is feeling because they “appear” to be adapting.

Crenshaw is an interesting, creative, thought provoking, and worthwhile read. I’ve heard it described that books can be a door or a mirror. This book is both: a door through which children can build compassion and a mirror for children facing similar situations.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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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 what you’re reading!

How has adoption touched your life?

Do you enjoy hearing about middle grade recommendations? Do you think great literature and wonderful stories can be enjoyed by all ages?

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

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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!

 

 

 

Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers

March 9, 2018

Colorful Hawaii…friendship…loyalty…pies…romance…racism…brave marines…and a lion

Island Of Sweet Pies and Soldiers
by Sara Ackerman

Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers 2

Genre/categories: historical fiction, WW11, family life, military

Thank you to The Loud Library Lady for a free review copy in exchange for my honest opinion. This review of Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers is part of a Reading Train and all opinions are my own.

Summary:

Surrounded by the tropical beauty of Hawaii in 1944, Violet Iverson and her daughter Ella struggle to stabilize their lives after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the disappearance of Violet’s husband and Ella’s father whom some speculate might have been a spy. After Pearl Harbor, prejudice against the Japanese is common on the island, and the fear and mistrust is difficult for Violet to face as many of her close friends and community members are Japanese and suddenly become the feared “them.” Because Violet and her friends desire to make a little money and also wish to support the war effort, they devise a plan to make sweet pies for the soldiers, Meanwhile, Ella is miserable because she’s keeping a secret, is scared, and refuses to talk about it. More complications set in when Violet develops a close relationship with Sergeant Parker Stone. In spite of Violet’s attraction, she feels guilty because her husband’s disappearance has not been resolved. Readers will need to suspend their belief when they find out that a friendly pet lion is the marine mascot and among the cast of characters.  Goodreads Overall Rating: 4.14

My Thoughts:

Recommended

Readers that are looking for a light historical fiction read with a bit of mystery and romance might enjoy Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers. It’s a quick and easy page turner with memorable characters (including a pet lion!). Readers who call or have called Hawaii home might find this an especially interesting read. The author is from Hawaii and her story is based on stories she heard from her grandmother.

What Worked

I enjoyed the Hawaiian perspective of the war, appreciated hearing about the training for the soldiers, and was saddened about the treatment of the Japanese (the only other time I’ve read about the prejudice against the Japanese is in Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet). Also, I appreciated the realistic story line of a single mom trying to hold it together and the heartbreaking descriptions of ten-year-old Ella suffering from severe anxiety and fear.

Themes

Told from two perspectives (Violet’s and Ella’s), readers will enjoy the strong themes of friendship, hope, loyalty, mother/daughter relationship, secrets, heartbreak and tragedy of war, and the power of choosing love in difficult circumstances.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Sara Ackerman

Sara Ackerman

Born and raised in Hawaii, Sara studied journalism and earned graduate degrees in psychology and Chinese medicine. When she’s not writing or practicing acupuncture, you’ll find her in the mountains or in the ocean.

 

 



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

Next week, I’ll review How to Find Love in a Bookshop

How to find love in a bookstore

Amazon information here

What are you reading this week?


Links I Love

Novels and Nonfiction: Top Ten Favorite Classics With Quotes

Top Shelf Text: 50 Books By and About Women of Color
(in celebration of International Women’s Day)

A Wrinkle in Time coming to theaters TODAY 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!

I’d love to hear all about what you are reading this week!

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

March 2, 2018

comprehensive…eye opening…richly researched…real life…resiliency

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder
by Caroline Fraser

Prairie Fires

Genre/Categories: Nonfiction, American History,  Biography, Frontier, Family Life

Summary:

Prairie Fires is a comprehensive look at the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the beloved (and fictionalized) “Little House on the Prairie” books that have been loved by children, teachers, and librarians for decades. Over 600 pages, Prairie Fires goes beyond biography as the author provides extensive American history material including information about westward expansion, the railroad, extreme weather, fires, the Indian Wars, rural communities, and the Dust Bowl.  The author also addresses the controversy surrounding the true authorship of the “Little House” series. Prairie Fires was chosen as one of New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year.

Amazon Rating (March): 4 Stars

My Thoughts:

First, I must mention that this is a long book! It can be tedious in places if you’re not a history fanatic. However, Laura’s true story is rather fascinating in its historical context.

One question that I wanted answered while reading is this: Why did Laura Ingalls Wilder write idyllic, happy, fictionalized stories when her actual living conditions were extremely harsh?

Pa

Through extensive research, the author draws a realistic picture of the struggle, poverty, and transient life style of the Ingalls family. As the true history of Laura’s family is significantly more harsh than is portrayed in the children’s books, I pondered why Laura chose to write the books in the happy, idealized manner that she did (besides the obvious reason that she couldn’t successfully publish the reality of her life for children). As I read, I came to realize how much she adored her Pa in spite of the harsh living conditions and his financial  difficulties. In Laura’s childhood her parents might have normalized the fact that their family moved around as much as they did, or concealed the fact that Pa had difficulty supporting them, or perhaps it was simply the norm that most people were poor and that every member of the family was expected to pitch in. As evidenced by Laura’s poem describing her Pa, she didn’t fault him for failing to provide financially; on the contrary, she remembered him fondly: for his music (violin, singing, dancing, entertaining), for adoring and cherishing his family, for his strength and physical endurance, for his spirited contentment despite the circumstances, for his excellent reputation exemplifying a faithful and loving husband, and for his character which was honest and upright. The person that Pa was to his family and his community greatly overshadowed his financial failures. I know I would have liked him because his children adored him (and that’s always a good recommendation!). In the epilogue, the author states that Wilder’s purpose in writing was “to save her father’s stories from being lost…and…..to promote her parents’ values which were her own: courage, self-reliance, independence, integrity, and helpfulness.” It’s understandable that in her 50s Laura began to write these stories because she adored her Pa and experienced yearning and melancholy for home, her parents and sister, and remembered and appreciated the strong moral teaching she had received. This special relationship she enjoyed with her Pa most certainly was not fictionalized, and I strongly believe that she wrote the “Little House” stories later in her life as a tribute to her dear Pa and his values.

Charles Ingalls reminds me a bit of the father in The Glass Castle as he supplied a bit of “magic” in their difficult lives and he never gave up hope for achieving his dream as he moved from place to place and provided little physical or financial stability for his family. As in Prairie Fires, the children in The Glass Castle could forgive their father of a lot because they felt loved.

Authorship of the “Little House” Series

As well as getting to know the family, the author explores the tumultuous and competitive relationship that Laura had with her own daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, and attempts to clarify the controversy surrounding the true authorship of the stories. It’s true that Rose encouraged her mother to write and provided a great deal of editing assistance; however Rose also manipulated and bullied Laura. In fact, Rose was unstable and probably mentally ill. Some feel that her daughter was a ghost writer; however, the author provides strong evidence that clears this up (at least for me).  I’m choosing not to include that spoiler here.

Traits of Settlers

Coming from the midwest, I’ve been accused of being self-reliant, independent, and stoic. An interesting part of the book for me was the identification of self-reliance as the highest and most held onto value among the settlers coming west. Also interesting was the conversation that Laura and Rose had about stoicism versus apathy. Rose accused the settlers of appearing apathetic in the onslaught of difficult circumstances because of their subdued reactions. Laura explained that when one is faced with difficult circumstances during one’s entire life that one doesn’t overreact to each instance…rather, one takes setbacks in stride (which may seem like apathy to a casual observer). The author is struck by the resilience that the settlers exhibit in facing years and years of difficult times, adversity, and disappointments. She indicates that they just keep on going time after time.

Women

Because I grew up on the prairies of South Dakota as did my mother, grandmothers, and aunt, I can both embrace and am struck by the solitude of the farming lifestyle. Therefore, it affected me to read the author’s descriptions and explanations of the solitude that many women settlers in the mid west faced as they often endured a life of loneliness and isolation in the years before automobiles, radio, television, email, and the internet.

Rating

Why didn’t I give this ambitious and well written work 5 stars? First, I feel that it was a bit too long and too much time was spent on Rose. Also, the author became distracted by providing too many facts about too many historical events….in other words, it was overly comprehensive for me. Bottom line, readers need to know that this is an exhaustive biography and contains a great deal of American history.

I would recommend reading a print or electronic version as the audible version’s narrator is not optimal.  I have a great deal of difficulty with audio books in general and I really struggled with this read. My husband who listens exclusively to audio books gave it a listen and assured me that it would’ve been easier with a better narrator.

My Rating: 4 stars with a tip of the hat to the amount of historical research the author did in compiling this comprehensive look at the life of Wilder.

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Recommended for readers who love history, who love Laura Ingalls Wilder, and who might be looking for a nonfiction historical read.

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Caroline Fraser

Caroline FraserCaroline Fraser is the author of Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution (Metropolitan, 2009) and God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church (Metropolitan, 1999), which was selected as a New York Times Book Review Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Book Review Best Book. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Review of Books, and Outside magazine, among others. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

 

 



Flight Pick

If you’d like to read more about the Dust Bowl, consider Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. It’s a beautifully written fictional account of a Oklahoma girl’s experience in the Dust Bowl. See my brief review here.

Out of the Dust



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



Looking Ahead:

I’m reading Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman for next week’s review.
(…that title and cover though! ….Are you a bit curious?!)

Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers

Amazon information here

What are you reading this week?


The BUZZ

A Wrinkle in Time coming to theaters NEXT WEEK 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!

If you’ve read Prairie Fires, what was the most surprising fact you learned?

Were you a Little House on the Prairie reader or TV fan?

Please tell me about your early reading experiences. What were your favorite childhood reads? My favorites include Nancy Drew, Heidi, The Bobbsey Twins, Penny Nichols and the Black Imp, The Triplets Take Over, etc. My first big book and book hangover was Gone With the Wind. I still have my copy of The Bobbsey Twins!

Bobbsey Twins

 

What are you reading 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.

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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?