1. "Girl Runner" by Carrie Snyder
Completed: January 2, 2015
Review: Fiction story inspired by the 1928 Summer Olympics in which women were first allowed to compete. Wasn't quite what I thought it would be.
Reading Challenge Goal Met: Book by an author you've never read; A book by a female author
2. "The Book of Negroes" by Lawrence Hill
Completed: January 14, 2015
Review: Inspired by the actual Book of Negroes penned in Manhattan in which names were listed of former and current slaves who had helped the British during the Revolutionary war and who were qualified to board ship to travel to a new life in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Aminata Diallo was only 12 years old when she was abducted by slave traders from her home in West Africa. Forced to walk for 3 months in chains until they reached the sea, she is then shipped to America where she is sold in South Carolina to an indigo plantation. Having the skills of a midwife passed onto to her from her mother she uses those skills to survive and help other slaves by "catching" their babies. Knowing she must learn all she can to survive she secretly is taught to read by the black women who takes her under her wing at the plantation and when she is sold to a Jewish indigo inspector, she is more than willing to learn to work with numbers and ledgers when he wants her to. Befriended by his wife, Aminata continues to expand her knowledge of the white man's world and ways and when opportunity arises for her to make her escape she ends up in Manhattan living in a colony of other ex-slaves. Her reading and writing skills come to the attention of the British military who then "hire" her with the promise of her own name being added to write the "Book of Negroes" a historic British military ledger that allowed Black loyalists passage on ships to Nova Scotia where there were promised land and freedom. With the desire in her heart to someday return to her beloved African village of Bayo, Aminata agrees, seeing it as one step towards that dream. But her losses keep adding up. When the opportunity finally arrives to return, and with no more family ties in North America, she takes her chance and arrives in Freetown, Sierra Leone, a British colony created for returning slaves. Will her losses and disappointments finally end now that she is back in her homeland? Now all of a sudden unsure, Aminata risks her life to travel back to her village not knowing if she will even see it still standing or if anyone will remember her.
It was hard to put this book down once I started. Epic in it's scope the story starts with an aged Aminata in Britain then travels back to about 40 years earlier to Africa to America to Canada, back to Africa and finally settles itself in Britain. I was amazed that the author, a male, had written such a strong female character, and that, in a first person point of view. I really liked all his research into the historical aspects of the British military and abolitionists role in the actual Book of Negroes and returning slaves to Africa. The Book of Negroes is the largest single document about black people in North America until the end of the 18th century according to the author's research. 3000 names of men, women and children were recorded, those who had served the British in some capacity during the revolutionary war and then promised a new life, so to speak, in Nova Scotia. It was interesting to read his chapter at the end entitled "A word on history" and should not be skipped as it gels the story together.
The hardships Aminata endured from her capture right until her move to Britain were horrendous and yet her drive for survival and keeping her character never left. There were times in the story, though, when I thought her strength and backbone would have landed her in way more trouble than the story unfolded and she seemed to walk away from a lot of horrible consequences other slaves might not have and lived a proportionately better life than was the status quo of her peers. But totally free of horrors she was not. Physical, mental and emotional abuse followed her throughout her life. It was heart-rending to read of all her losses throughout her life, yet refreshing to also read of her overcoming them and never losing her character or the will to survive within her. Mentioned in the beginning was the fact that her father was a Muslim and taught her to pray but it is not delved into much further within the story. A reunion of a loved one in the end seemed to happen a little too conveniently for it to be quite believable and was unnecessary to the story but didn't detract from the power of the story. It was a brave life that she had the courage to step beyond her pain, losses and disappointments, beyond letting hatred consume her and allow herself to work with the white British abolitionists for the removal of slavery even after being disillusioned with them also. If nothing else the Book of Negroes and the story of Aminata should speak to us of hanging onto our hope and courage in the hardest of times
Worthy to mention is the fact that there is some sexual content. Too descriptive for my liking it had me skipping a few paragraphs but it is fairly moderate in today's adult book standards but deserves the mention that there is some in the context of the story.
Reading Challenge Goal Met: Book with more than 500 pages (slight cheat coming in at 474); Book that made me cry; Book by an author you've never read; A book you own but have never read; A Book based on or turned into a tv show.
3. "Hansi - The Girl Who Loved the Swastika" by Maria Anne Hirschmann
Completed: January 25, 2015
Review: This is the true story of Maria Anne who as a young Chechoslovakian teenager in 1940 won a scholarship to a Nazi school in Prague. Maria Anne's mother died when she was very young and her father gave her away to another family to raise but would never give them permission to adopt her yet had nothing to do with her. This made her foster father never quite accept her as one of his own, though her foster mother loved her deeply and treated her with love and taught her how to pray and love God. However, Maria Anne always felt the deep rejection of her foster father and her real father and therefore when the chance to get away from the home life and poverty she knew through the scholarship she jumped at the chance. She was thrilled that she could have an education for free and was honored to have passed the tests and been chosen out of all the participants. At fourteen, as her train pulled away, her tearful foster mother's words "Don't ever forget Jesus" went with her. But once at the school Maria Anne went on a years long journey of learning atheism and blind devotion to Hitler and the Nazi system. Through years of war and hardship she vehemently stuck up for what she thought was a better Germany coming. When she finally came to have her eyes opened to what Hitler and his regime had actually done and the cowardice of Hitler's suicide, totally disillusioned, she made a frightening escape across the Communist border into West Germany and into a renewal with her relationship with Jesus. After being treated kindly by the American soldiers after her escape, Maria Anne always had a desire to move to America . Eventually the opportunity presented itself and she and her family moved to NewYork. But things were not as they had imagined it to be at first and they were overwhelmed with their own poverty trying to establish themselves and with their observance of careless affluence of others in America. But as they worked to find their footing in this new land with all it's new customs and ways the one thing they took to heart was the freedom they had to make of themselves what they dreamed and the freedom to talk about and teach their deepest Christian convictions.
This was an old book from the '70's that I picked up some years ago. I thought it sounded like an interesting story and I wondered at the author's perception of being right inside the Nazi youth. Her life makes quite the story in everything she saw and experienced as she was immersed and deceived into the culture of the Nazi's reign. What really spoke to me in the story was how this family has taken their freedom here in America and truly appreciate it and revel in it. The wonder that they have in being able to share their faith is fresh and inspirational. Coming from freedom my whole life sometimes I feel I slip into an almost apathetic place in truly realizing what I have. But this book really made me more aware of that. It was also very interesting reading someone's story who had been right smack in the middle of Europe during World War II getting caught up in Hitler's Germany. It was a great testament to God's forgiving power and ability to totally change a life.
Reading Challenge Goal Met: A Book by a female author; non-fiction; a book set in another country; a book based on a true story; a memoir; a book at the bottom of your to read list
4. "Miracle on Voodoo Mountain" by Megan Boudreaux
Completed: January 30, 2015
Review: To say this memoir is inspirational is an understatement. To say that it was totally convicting to my own life and that it was perfect timing is not an exaggeration. I don't believe it was a co-incidence that this true story came across my radar. From the first paragraphs Megan's story grabbed my heart and didn't let up. The book is a very easy read and almost reads like a novel. From her dreams of a lone tamarind tree on a mountain in Haiti, to packing up her whole American life and moving to Haiti with no plan just a deep conviction that that is what God wanted her to do, to finding out the mountain that was in her dreams was actually a place of voodoo worship and sacrifice, to God opening her eyes to the horrendous situation of child slavery that so many children of Haiti live under, to confronting voodoo priests and sham orphanages, it was all a new experience for 24 year old Megan Boudreaux. And she takes you along on that crazy adventure of faith and obedience with her book. That she went with no real plans and not knowing anyone there or the language boggles my mind. Everyone thought she was crazy, but she knew she had to be obedient to the call of God. What she has accomplished with the Lord guiding her in three short years is truly a miracle. Starting with a Saturday feeding program because she noticed so many of the children were literally starving she wondered why so many children were dressed in rags and hauling water instead of being in school. As she came to realize the ugly truth of Haiti's child slave culture she set out to bring change by helping to get some of these children to a school they could attend for free. It evolved into a two room school which they quickly outgrew. Establishing the non-profit organization Respire Haiti with literally no knowledge of how to do it or how to run it, Megan now has bought land on the mountain which in the past has been the biggest area where voodoo priests have performed their rituals and has built a school which currently has 500 students, a medical center, and a feeding program and a community center, library and church are in the works. Yet, when Megan has someone say to her "I could never do what you do", her response is "Don't we serve the same God? And doesn't He give us all the courage, strength, and boldness we need to do His work?" For anyone, young and old alike, highly educated or not, this book serves as a great encouragement to exactly that, taking the step to be obedient to what God has showed each individual and then watching Him work the miracle. Respire (which means to breathe in and out; to breathe easily again, as after a period of exertion or trouble) Haiti's mission statement is "to encourage, educate, and empower restaveks (child slaves), orpahns and vulnerable children."
Reading Challenge Goal Met: a memoir, a book published this year, a book written by someone under 30, a book by a female author, a book set in a different country, a non-fiction, a book based on a true story,
5. "The Hundred Foot Journey" by Richard C. Morais
Completed: February 7, 2015
Review: Young Hassan Haji grew up learning about the love of food and cooking from his mother. Surrounded by spicy Indian foods cooked in their restaurant and the food markets of Mumbai his mother passed on her love of trying new foods and gourmet outing on to her son. But when tragedy strikes the family, their father takes the family on a journey out of India, all across Europe and finally settles in England. But when again circumstances dictate a move the family ends up in a small picturesque village in France called Lumiere. When purchasing the mansion across the street from a very high class inn and restaurant, the family opens up their own Indian quisine restaurant, Madame Mallory, the Michelin award winning chef of that restaurant must face her own issues of fear, mistrust and entitlement. As they wage culinary wars against each other, young Hassan is still drawn to the French way of cooking and Madame Mallory realizes that he is a truly gifted chef. When yet another tragedy strikes, Madame Mallory at last gives in to what she knows she must do, and that is to train Hassan in the art of French cuisine knowing he will make his mark in the world with his gift. Hassan leaves his family and crosses the hundred feet across the road to become a student of Miss Mallory leaving his Indian way of life and cooking behind.
First off, I must qualify that I saw and fell in love with this movie before I read the book. The movie, to me was wonderful, with incredible scenery and food photography. It gave you a real sense of the love and beauty of "real" food and the wonder of preparing it, both French and Indian. I loved the love story line, the friendship story line, the story of overcoming prejudice and fear. I loved how Hassan, his father and Madame Mallory changed and grew in the movie.
Now the book. In a very rare case for me, I did not like the book as much as the movie. This is the second time this has happened to me in a story that featured cooking and food, the first being Julie and Julia reviewed here #27. While I guess this story was an ok read, it covered a much longer time period in Hassan's life than did the movie, which is only natural. But the thing that I found so different, and it took me a long time of thinking about it and pin-pointing it, was that the book was missing the sweetness and the charm that the movie had. The movie story veered off the book in a lot of places and I found that I liked the changes and liberties that Steven Knight, the movie screenplay writer, had taken. While the movie brought out the beauty of food, I found the book actually grossed me out in a lot places. The father was written as a man of less than charming characteristics who didn't seem to change a whole lot like he did in the movie. There was descriptions of some things about him that really were useless to the story, in my opinion, but left a yuck image to me, the reader. Madame Mallory was a much more unlikeable character than even the movie portrayed and I found I mistrusted her true motives at the end even though she did take young Hassan under her wing. The book got into some of France's ins and outs of owning restaurants that may or may not have interested me so much. And I didn't like the character of Hassan in the book as much as I liked him in the movie, he didn't have that air of innocence that the movie gave him. So in this case, I hate to say but I know I will rewatch the movie over and over but I will take a pass at reading the book again, though I guess it was good to read it to find out the original way the author intended the story to be.
Reading Challenge Goal Met: A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit, a book by an author you've never read before, a book that became a movie, a book with a number in the title, a book set in a different country,
6. "You Are Here - Around the World in 92 Minutes" by Chris Hadfield
Completed: February 8, 2015
Review: Chris Hadfield is a Canadian astronaut and icon. During his last space mission on the International Space Station from December 2012 to May 2013, he inspired generations of children and adults as he tweeted from space, sang and played guitar in space and had classroom conferences with school children in live time from space. He lit a fire for science and exploration that I'm sure we'll still see the results of as this generation of children grow and turn into adults and choose their careers. As he orbited the earth every 92 minutes and as the earth also was rotating he took about 45,000 photographs. These are his favourites. Grouped into countries, it's a visual wonder looking at his photographs and reading his short descriptions. It's a view of our planet and landmarks from a whole other perspective. Not wanting the photos to just look like a satellite image, he took them with an human element and point of view in mind. They are amazing. How different parts of a map look like a whole other 3D thing as it's seen whizzing by, the differences in continents and actual recognition of divisions of countries, the beauty of cities and the incredible actions of nature are described by Hadfield in sometimes a very witty way. Totally enjoyed this book. A treat visually and descriptively.
Reading Challenge Goal Met: A book you can finish in a day, a non-fiction
7. " Laura Ingalls Wilder Country - the people and places behind Laura Ingalls Wilder's Life and books" by William Anderson
Completed: February 10, 2015
Review: I picked this book up for Stray Thoughts Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge. I really enjoyed this "real life" peak and tour into Laura's life. Filled with historical photos and drawings of Laura and her family, family artifacts and pictures of the prairies and homes or replicas thereof where they lived and an engaging commentary. You saw the creek, the farms and landscapes of Laura's life. There were lots of little tidbits that I had never known before that made for a very interesting read. I also found the U.S. map co-ordinated with the different locations of major events of Laura and her families lives very interesting. It really opened my eyes to how much she really did move over her lifetime. Perfect for anyone who has read Laura's books or even watched the tv series to see a real life perspective in photos.
Reading Challenge Goal Met: partipated in Laura Ingalls Wilder reading challenge, non-fiction
8. Seagrass Pier by Colleen Coble - Hope Beach Novel Book 3
Completed: February 19, 2015
Review: Elin Summerall has had a lot on her plate in the last while. After catching a virus that ruined her heart she was lucky to have received a heart transplant and a second chance at life. A young widow and mother she was also caring for her mom who was dealing with early dementia in her 50's. But ever since Elin received her new heart she has been having dreams of being strangled that wake her up in a cold sweat. Knowing that her heart donor had been murdered these dreams are leaving her very unsettled and with unwanted attention from the press and from the donor's murderer. With the police skeptical of any connection between her dreams and her donors murderer, she moves her family to a quiet remote location in Seagrass Pier she hopes the dreams will stop, her family can be safe and she can finish healing physically in peace. But the dreams and the strange occurrences follow her. And now she must work with Marc Everton, an FBI agent and man from her past whom she had never wanted to run into again.
I really enjoyed this story though am finding it hard to write a review because there was a lot going on it. There were sub-plots running that connected back to other stories and characters as this was the 3rd in a series. I had read the second one, Rosemary Cottage, and really enjoyed it but it was a while ago and I didn't quite remember the characters. But this book was great as a stand alone read without having to know the details from the first stories.
The cell memory aspect of the story, where Elin has memories of the donor's murder was interesting. It certainly would be totally unsettling and weird. Though that was the main plot, there were also several story lines revealed throughout the story. A historical connection with the former owner of the house brings it's own mystery and adds to Elin's troubles. It made for many twists and turns in the plot and caused it to be a real page turner. You just never knew what was going to be revealed next and I never guessed the ending. The love story was clean and sweet which is always a plus in my books. I did find a bit of how Elin insists and throws herself into the investigation by the FBI agent a little bit unrealistic. I can understand working with him, but him allowing her into some of the dangerous situations rang a little untrue for me, even if he was off-duty and not acting in an official capacity. Without wanting to give away anything in the story, I won't go into more detail than that. Everything was tied together well in the end without anything that left me scratching my head. I really enjoy Colleen Coble's books and this one didn't disappoint in the suspense/romance genre.
Reading Goals Met: A book by a female author; a mystery or thriller
Too many f-bombs started to be dropped, could not get engaged in the story
9. Gathering Shadows by Nancy Mehl - Finding Sanctuary Book 1
Completed: February 24, 2015
Review: Wynter Evans is a reporter with her eye on the anchor seat at a St. Louis television station. But when she sees a picture of a Mennonite teenager she thinks she has spotted her brother who had been abducted at the age of 7, eleven years earlier. At twelve, Wynter felt the deep ache of loss of her brother and was well aware of how it affected her family. The subsequent divorce of her parents devasted her teenage years and it seemed the pain would never go away. But she always felt deep inside that her brother was alive somewhere so when she sees the picture of the Mennonite boy she heads to where the picture was taken, the small town of Santuary. Convincing her station boss to do a story of the interesting things in small towns in Missouri, she is able to arrive in town under the guise of putting together a story. The mayor though is a bit skeptical and very protective of the people in his town. But he agrees to help line up some people Wynter can talk to. But when Wynter and her camera man start to dig too deep and start unearthing secrets, someone wants them either scared off or dead. As they get closer to finding the Mennonite young man, Wynter's estranged father all of a sudden comes into town and the truth may just change everything she thought she knew of her family.
This is my first book by this author and I thought it was a great suspense story. It is full of intrigue and layers of secrets. Sanctuary is an interesting town and being a place as it's name implies, it is part Mennonite town and part a place where people go who are looking for a place of sanctuary. That made for some interesting characters involved in the story. Being under the romance suspense genre, the story was light on the romance which I thought that was in line with the main gist of the story. Wynter was there on a mission of finding her brother, nothing was more important and I thought the whole thing was woven together nicely with the romance not being foremost and taking over the story.
Reading Challenge Goals Met: book by a female author; mystery or thriller, new to me author
10. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Completed: February 25, 2015
Review: Little House in the Big Woods is the first in this classic children's literature series of homesteading and early prairie life by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I have not read this book since I was a kid. None of my own children had interest in the series, much to my disappointment, so I thought I would jump on board with Barbara at Stray Thoughts and her Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge which happens in February.
It was fun to revisit the story, but one thing I was struck by rereading as an adult was how "elementary" the writing was. Of course, I didn't remember something like that from reading it as a child. Laura's story in this book scans about a year of her life from the age of 4. There were a few things that stood out to me reading it this time around. Even though I watched the Little House on the Prairie series, again as a young person, and had a somewhat accurate visual, I was still struck by how difficult and filled with hard work the pioneer life really was. Just a few of the things from the book that jumped out was how disciplined the children for the most in the story were and how hard they actually helped out with different aspects around the house that was really hard work at such a young age. I think of kids nowadays at that age and how easy their lives for the most are now in North America. I really enjoyed the descriptions of how they had to prepare foods for the winter. We take so much for granted with grocery stores having all our foods readily available without the hard work. The simpleness of their existence in terms of things they had was also something that really stood out. We have so much stuff nowadays that we think are so essential to our survival, when it's really for our comfort. The sheer isolation of life on the prairies back then boggled my mind. That's something I never really thought about before. Being a bit more of a extrovert than introvert I wonder how I would take to something like that. All I can say about the homesteading life of that time is that I'm sure glad that God knew what he was doing and put me into this time as I don't know how I would have survived all that the prairie life required.
Reading Challenge Goals Met: A book from my childhood, a popular author's first book, a book based on or turned into a tv show
11. Lethal Beauty by Lis Whiel
Completed: March 3, 2015
Review: Lethal Beauty is the third installment of the Mia Quinn Mystery series by this author. In this story Mia is prosecuting what would seem to be an open and shut murder case of a young Chinese girl. But she watches in frustration as a key witness goes missing and one member of the jury she helped choose becomes disengaged during the trial. And now another young Chinese person is found murdered. But are they all connected? The more she and homicide detective dig into things the more shocking of a story they unearth. And now can they ever get any new evidence to get the proof they need to convince Mia's boss to take the young girl's case back to trial? With all this on her plate and trying to juggle her family after her husband's sudden death, Mia has her hands full. How do you intermingle a high profile job and a young family as a single parent and not have them interfere with each other? Tough decisions need to be made. Gabe, her teenage son, is struggling trying to take on helping his Mom in roles that really should belong to his Dad and with his role at school. When the opportunity to "improve" himself and become more manly comes along, he makes a decision that could change his life forever. But was it the right one? He seems to think so according to his own research until things start happening that he never could have imagined.
This was another fast paced murder mystery by this author. Though third in the series, it can easily be a stand alone read. I enjoyed it as it kept me engaged without slowing down and I read through in a few days, always being kept on my toes and turning the pages to find out what happens. The author has taken on some interesting issues as the base of the story. The main issue is that of human trafficking and modern day slavery in America. That was an eye opener for me. I have read and thought about human trafficking but never connected it to a modern day slavery in America. It was, in my mind, a horrible thing that was going on elsewhere in the world. It is something that is hard to grasp as happening in this day and age in North American society. And the second is of drugs marketed to teens to help them with normal everyday issues. Both lines of the story were well written and informative, making me think, while being woven into the lives of the characters and the consequences they were having. Of particular note, is the Reading Group Guide which asked great questions to really make you think.
Reading Challenge Goals Met: A book with a love triangle, a book published this year, a mystery or thriller,
12. "Betrayed" by Lisa Scottoline
Completed: March 9, 2015
Review: This book is part of the Rosato and DiNunzio series. It focuses on Judy Carrier who is an associate at the all woman firm. After being handed a damages case where she would have to defend the company Judy is not too happy with her boss. The case will take an enormous amount of her time and energy. And right at the same time, she receives news that her beloved Aunt has breast cancer, has had chemo and now needs surgery. Taking the weekend she immediately goes to see her aunt before her surgery. When she arrives, however, she discovers her mother already there. Already on tense footing with her, the stress of the situation amplifies when her mother makes it clear that her Aunt Barb's Mexican friend Iris is not someone her mom approves of. When Iris turns up dead in her vehicle, Barb cannot come to grips with it being the heart attack that the police are saying it was. Suspecting foul play and out of compassion for her distraught aunt, Judy starts to poke around and discovers huge amounts of money in Iris's gardening tote at her aunt's home. As she starts to try to figure out how that kind of money could come to an illegal immigrant, Judy starts to uncover all manner of mystery about the woman's life and death. And to top it all off, things aren't going so well back at work or in her relationship with her live in boyfriend.
I love mysteries by Lisa Scottoline but I have to say this wasn't a favourite. It had it's highs and it's lows for me. For starters, I don't know if I was sold on the main character of Judy. There was just some things that didn't mesh for me. Just for a few examples without giving away story: She was desiring to eventually want to make partner in the firm yet was trying everything she could to get out of the work her boss was putting on her to do. She seemed to not know about some things in the storyline that I thought was odd, for example, for an educated woman she didn't know what surgical drains were, for a lawyer she seemed to have no clue what ICE was which is Immigration and Customs Enforcement. I thought that was odd. She may not have specialized in that but as a lawyer you'd think she would know the term. She put herself in not just extremely dangerous situations, but to me, foolishly dangerous situations... again for an educated woman? Anyway that could have just been the way I viewed things. Maybe because it involved her precious aunt she lost sight of what was totally and foolishly unsafe in lieu of finding the answers. There was also the issue of too much. Between family illness, family relational breakdowns, love relational issues, work issues, and now a big old mystery on her hands, there just seemed to be too much going on in this girl's life all at the same time. I wondered how on earth she got herself up and going with everything happening to her. I did, however, enjoy the actual mystery. It was a page turner and I couldn't put it down. I had to see what was going to happen and how it all played out. I also liked how through the characters of Iris and her immigrant friends, I learned a bit about the difficulties of illegal immigrants in the U.S. That was interesting for me.
So in all, this particular one was an average read for me, didn't hate it but I didn't love it either. But it won't stop me from reading other books from this author.
Reading Challenge Goals Met: A book with a one word title; a mystery, a book from an author you love but haven't read yet;
13. Esther - Royal Beauty by Angela Hunt
Completed: March 20, 2015
Review: Based on the biblical story of Esther. As a young Jewess living in Persia, young Haddasah finds herself a bit torn. She is drawn to the "romantic" notions of being royalty after she has an encounter with Queen Vashti. Her and her young Persian best friend daydream of belonging to the courts and possibly being queen. But it is in direct conflict with the teachings she received from her cousin Mordecai, who raised her. But when Vashti is stripped of her crown and the King of Persia issues a call for the collection of beautiful young women to become part of his harem, Haddasah is forcibly taken and she finds herself thrown into the courts she dreamed of when younger. But it is not as she and her friend have imagined. Changing her name to Esther to protect her heritage, she undergoes months of preparation in the hopes that the king might call upon her. Call her he does, and becomes so smitten with her he makes her queen. But as years pass, the king's attention is taken up with an evil man who's ambitions are second only to his hatred of the Jewish people. When his plans to kill the Jewish people are granted by the king, Esther must gather all her courage and violate a Persian law that could see her dead before she has a chance to put her request to save her people before the king.
I've always loved a good biblical historical novel. And yes, I know that not everything that most authors write in these stories is true and some are indeed quite liberal with their embellishments but it helps me to envision what it would have been like to go through what they did. Angela Hunt has taken the biblical story of Esther and give a wonderful fresh perspective while taking great care in remaining true to historical and biblical fact. According to her author's notes, nearly every event in the novel comes from historical record. The biblical account is loyal and then it is completed with writing from a Greek chronicler named Herodotus to fill in Persian history.
The story is written from two viewpoints: that of Haddasah (Esther) and that of Harbonah, the king's eunich chamberlain. The use of these two viewpoints brought a really wonderful context to the story. Seeing what Harbonah would see from being so close to the king and serving him on a daily basis for many years was a great addition and made for an interesting way of bringing in many aspects of historical fact of the life of King Xerxes and the Persian courts of that time, including the decrowning of Vashti. I loved Hunt's take on Haddasah not being a perfect girl, but with everyday desires and insecurities that didn't necessarily line up with what Mordecai was trying to teach her. That she was torn between her Jewish roots and traditions and yet finding herself being drawn to what life in the palace would be like sounds so much like what a teenager would go through. That Haddasah would have been a teenager when taken had not really sunk into me until I read this story and so the whole relationship between her and the approximately 40 year old king kinda made me squirm. But I loved how she went from being naive to infatuated to love and finally looking beyond her selfish self even if it meant going against her worldly love; going from immature young teenager to a brave, wise still young woman fulfilling the call of God on her life. The way the author put feelings and flesh to the characters of the story of Esther and yet remained true to the biblical and historical account made this book one that I just could not put down and will probably read again! It was so interesting. Can't wait for the next two in this "Dangerous Beauty Series".
Reading Challenge Goals Met: Book from an author I love but haven't read yet; book by a female author; A book set in a different country; A book based on a true story;
14. The Song by Chris Fabry (based on the movie by Richard L. Ramsey)
Completed: April 1, 2015
Review: "When even the wisest of men is a fool for love, can true love persevere?"
Jed King is a young singer songwriter who feels called to write music that points people to God. But he is living under the shadow of his famous father, David King who also was a singer songwriter who had made it big in the music world. Though his Dad seemed to have everything this world has to offer, fame, money, and prestige, he also had made huge mistakes and Jed still lives with the consequences of those in his own life. Not getting past a certain point in his career, his manager wants him to forget the God stuff in his songs, but Jed holds his ground. In a career slump, Jed agrees to sing at a wine festival that a vineyard hosts. There he meets Rose, the vineyard owners daughter and finds an instant connection with her. Smitten and inspired by her he sings an off the cuff song, made up while on the stage at the microphone. The song has an emotional impact with the crowd and and gets his career on the path to stardom he has been working for. But more than the fame he wants Rose and he must pass the approval of her strict Christian father. Rose feels she's found the man of her dreams and she is fully supportive of Jed's career when she marries him. But her highly held standards of family priority start to clash with the touring of Jed's band that is required especially when Rose conceives soon after being married. When Jed's manager pairs him up with an opening band who has a very worldy and beautiful lead singer, the same temptation and sins that caused his father to stumble and fall starts to visit the son. As "The Song" takes Jed to Europe both Rose and Jed will come face to face with failure, loss, deep pain and hurt and Rose must take a stand she never imagined she would have to take. But will the built up hurts and past be too much to overcome on both their parts or will love be enough to conquer it all?
Chris Fabry is one of my favourite authors so when I saw this new book come out I snapped it up right away not realizing that it was a novelization of a movie. "The Song" was written by Kyle Idleman (author of "Not a Fan" and a pastor) and his team. They wanted to bring a modern adaptation of Solomon's life and story through Song of Songs and Ecclesiates to a wider audience. It started as the movie and church resources and now, has been made into a novel by Chris Fabry. I have to make the disclosure that I have not seen the movie so my review will be totally on what I read in the novel without any comparisons.
While I'm not a huge fan of novelizations, this was a pretty good read. Not quite in the flavour that I am used to with a novel from this author, I thought Chris Fabry did a fine job in keeping the novel flowing and moving without any moments of confusion on the part of me, the reader. I find that sometimes novelizations have gaping holes that unless you watched the movie, the reader is left scratching their head wondering how it jumped to that. I did not find that with this book. I thought he did a good job of bringing out the feelings and issues the characters were facing and feeling. The present day setting of the story was interesting and not stale. The very relatable temptations and failures made this a story for the every person throughout the ages. You don't have to have a music career to run into the temptations that Jed faced, you can have any job, career, or position. The writer of the movie wanted this novel "to provide wisdom on issues of committed love, true beauty and finding satisfaction in relationships" (from the foreword). The underlying message is one of being aware, of overcoming, hope, not giving up and giving God the broken pieces.
I loved the little nuanced references and parallels to David and Solomon in the bible such as the father's name being David King (King David) and Jedediah being the son of the father's 2nd wife with whom he'd had the affair in parallel with the David of the bible. The fact that David King was a musican and singer as was King David in the bible, the name of the girl in the opening act at Jed's concerts was Shelby Bales, making reference to the "baals" or idols that some of Solomon allowed some of his wives to keep. There were more that the reader can pick up if they know the story from the bible but it is not imperative to know these to make the story understood.
Though sometime's Rose and Jed's story was hard to read, I think I'd probably read this again at some point just to pick up more of the subtlties that this story contains.
Reading Challenge Goals Met: A book by an author I love but haven't read yet; a book that became a move twisted (a movie that became a book :)
15. The Inn at Ocean's Edge by Colleen Coble (Sunset Cove series #1)
Completed: April 12, 2015
Suspense, twists and turns, a bit of romance, family lies, deception, murder. These are the ingredients that make up this newest novel from Colleen Coble. When Claire shows up at the Hotel Tourmaline unannounced to help her father with a company merger, she has a confusing panic attack right in the hotel lobby. This sets off a whole series of events that has her witnessing a murder nobody believes happened, memories surfacing from her childhood and a mult-layered mystery that involves not only her family but that of Luke Rocco, whose mother went missing from the same area when he was just a small child. As Claire starts having flashbacks that confuse her someone is trying to keep her permanently quiet. Together her and Luke work on putting the pieces together and in the process find an attraction to each other. Add to the mix a young woman named Kate who is bent on meeting up with her father who disengaged from her life when she was just a child. Though her mom begs her to leave things be because it would change their lives she is determined to find and confront the man who blatantly walked away from her and left her life in confusion. All things conspire to bring these individuals together in a mystery that threatens to overtake them all unless Claire and Luke manage to unscramble her past.
I really enjoyed this book. It grabbed me from the beginning pages where a young girl witnesses a man in confrontation with a woman and runs to hide and then through the rest of the story as the many layers of lies are revealed. I never really guessed until the very end what the full story was. Just when I thought maybe I had an idea another twist or revealed lie would surface. The story is complex with two families lives being laid out, both involving mysteries of missing persons but it was never confusing, mysterious yes, but not confusing. In the author's notes, she explains she wanted to explore family, both blood ties and other connections that make someone feel like family. The trials and how they reacted to them shaped the people in this book, some for the better and some for the worse, and that is explored through the story. The only thing that stood out to me as a negative in the story was the familiarity of the usage of the term "Honey" that Luke would call Claire very early on in their relationship, even while they were yet just acquaintances. It just struck me as odd and pretentious and every time he said it it annoyed me. Other than that small detail, I really enjoyed this page turner and am looking forward the next in the series. Recommended.
16. Traces of Mercy by Michael Landon, Jr. and Cindy Kelley
Completed: April 18, 2015
Review: After waking up in a doctor's office as the civil war ends, a young woman grapples with the fact that she has no memory of her past or who she is, nor how she was injured or how she came to be at the doctor's office. With no clues to go by, the doctor takes her to live with a group of nuns in the hopes that eventually her memory will return, at least enough to get her home. But as time passes and still no return of any of her memory, the nuns name the young woman Mercy because of a mercy medallion that was around her neck. Mercy lives her days longing for her memory to return so that she can know who she is. But after meeting a handsome young Yankee bachelor from a prominent family who wants to have a future with her she puts her reservations and hope of knowing her past life aside and instead agrees to marry him. Her life becomes a whirlwind of learning the proper etiquette and behavior, none of which she naturally remembers, and of planning her wedding. There is so much to look forward to until a stranger she meets at her engagement party threatens to destroy everything. He knows something of her past and gives her an ultimatum of telling her fiance by a certain date or he will. Though Mercy remembers none of what he tells her she did, she is thrown into a panic of what it will do to the life she is now trying to build and decides to take matters into her own hands. But her choices can take her down an even more devastating path.
Though it took me until chapter 2 to really get into the story, once at that point I was hooked. The first chapter is written in a way where no given names are used so I think that is why I found it a bit difficult to just get on board with the story right away. (And that is all I can say so that I don't reveal the story). Once chapter two hits, however, all that falls into place and the story really just takes off. I found the way it was written was really absorbing. The struggles Mercy faces between wanting to know her past and wanting to choose the wonderful future placed before her really drew me. I could almost feel her confusion and how she was torn at times. The innocent and sweet young lady she is is direct contrast to who this stranger claims she is and you feel her pain and panic as she tries to make sense of it all. The contradictions of her actions had me either cheering for her or going No what are you doing? It was relatable though in the sense that we all do stupid things when in a panic and threatened with losing what we consider precious that makes us shake our heads later. I loved this story and couldn't wait to get into the 2nd book of the series.
Reading Challenge Goals Met: Book I own but have never read; Book by an author I love but have never read
17. Finding Mercy by Michael Landon Jr. and Cindy Kelley
Completed: April 25, 2015
Review: Book Two in this story starts with bounty hunters chasing Mercy as she still tries to figure out her past. Heading south to where she believes she might have come from she is having to dodge not only the bounty hunters but try to pick up clues as to who she might be. After running across a portrait of a military man something in her memory is finally sparked and she goes in search of who it might be. Finally a clue that leads her to a large rice plantation has her meeting her family but still not recognizing them or knowing them. But even as she tries to fit into her past life more questions arise as to who and what kind of person she really was. And then there is still the nasty little detail about the bounty hunters that just won't give up.
As Mercy is thrown back into her life with a party being thrown for her return by her family, the confusion and mystery continues for her. The black woman who raised her and whom she was supposedly very close to can barely tolerate being in the same room with her and Mercy doesn't know why. She is appalled by the treatment and living quarters of the newly freed slaves who are now employees of the plantation. The attitude of her brother and step Mom towards the black servants saddens her and yet on the flip side they are surprised that she is not harder on the staff. As the young woman she was slowly comes to light, Mercy must reconcile the unrecognizable person she was with the person she is now. Does she want to go back to being that young woman from before the war and reclaim her old life or will she take steps to right the wrongs of the past and embrace who she is now?
Loved the sequel to Traces to Mercy. What a great story these two books were. I appreciated how the story wove the story of the north and the south viewpoints into it. The immediate results of the civil war on both the plantation owners and the freed slaves was something that this book really brought out to me. I hadn't really paused to think of what those newly freed people would do when on paper they were free but the attitudes were still the same towards them. I thought that the inner struggles that Mercy was having were very well written and felt myself hoping for the best for her and wishing she would quit making impulsive choices. I rooted for her through the set of two books and couldn't wait to see how it all played out for her. This and the first in the series, Traces of Mercy, was an excellent read. It'll be a keeper on my bookshelf.
Reading Challenge Goals Met: Book I own but haven't read yet; Book by an author I love but haven't read yet
18. Wonders Never Cease by Phil Callaway
Completed: May 11, 2015
Review: This is the sequel to The Edge of the World (Chronicles of Grace series) and continues Terry Anderson's story. Terry is now 18 and in his senior year of high school. He is struggling with his parent's faith and has pretty much decided to leave it behind though he hasn't told them that. He can hardly wait to get out of church going small town Grace and start "living". But as graduation nears his boring life is once again thrown into turmoil. Just when he's deciding he doesn't believe his atheist friend is starting to ask all sorts of questions about faith which he is compelled to come up with answers to. His mother's illness from Huntington's disease has caused her to have to take to her bed 24/7 for all intents and purposes stealing her from her family. His brother Ben has secretly returned and now someone is looking for him. And now to top it all off it would have to be him that comes across a dead body and once again he is faced with what to keep secret.
Although I did like the first installment of this series (reviewed in 2014, #21) a bit better I thought this a good read. Terry is struggling with his faith and is in full fledged rebellion. But the amusing part of it is that his friend (from the previous book) who's father is the town atheist and has raised him that way, is all of a sudden asking all sorts of questions which is forcing Terry to answer and revisit the faith of his own upbringing. I found that part of the story quite appealing and realistic as a lot of teenagers face rebellion and questioning and finding their way in making faith their own and not just their parent's. Secrets are coming to light in the town of Grace and once again Terry is faced with doing the right thing or keep more secrets. With what happened to him when a youngster you'd think the decision would be automatic but it gets more complicated. And once again, Terry finds himself choosing to keep something that isn't his and seeing his whole life turning upside down for it. I found Terry's 18 year old character a bit immature in his thinking and actions. I had to remind myself that his character was actually 18 and about to graduate quite a few times throughout the story. I literally wanted to tell him to grow up at times. I did enjoy the narration of the story through his perspective, though. His mother's story was heartbreaking and you could see the confusion such an illness brings into the family. It was a good exploration of young faith, legalism, facing illness, and broken trusts and finding grace in unexpected places.
19. GI Brides - The Wartime Girls Who Crossed te Atlantic for Love by Duncan Barrett & Nuala Calvi
Completed May 21, 2015
Review: During WWII American GI's were stationed all throughout the UK. Over 70,000 of these GI's met and fell in love with the British girls, married them and brought them home to America after the war was over. GI Brides is the true account of 4 of these young British women who met and married American GI's and bravely crossed the ocean leaving everything behind to be with the soldiers they loved.
I found this story quite fascinating. One of the authors is actually the grand-daughter of one of the women featured and the other three were picked from interviewing about 60 other GI brides. These stories are not always happy ones. These four women did not have the fairy tale lives that they thought they would when they left all behind to follow the men that they loved. I thought the authors did a great job in describing England during the time of war and the fear and oppression they lived under. The hardships that came during wartime: the hard rationing, the danger, the trauma of being constantly bombed are set against the backdrop of meeting the handsome GI's, falling in love and the lure of a better life in golden America. It was interesting to read of the women's trip across the ocean and how they were treated on the boats and how they were treated in America. In Britain the GI's were disliked and resented because they were taking the British girls from the British guys but in America the brides were resented because they had taken the available men. The language barrier was at times funny. Even though they spoke English, it was not the English of America and what meant something overseas certainly did not translate across in America bringing embarrassment. The lives the women dreamed of did not necessarily translate into reality, either. Three of the four did not end up having happy lives and the other suffered through polio and in-law interference.
The book was written in such a way that each chapter was dedicated to a different woman and rotated and followed the order through out the book. This at times, especially in the beginning when I was just starting to know the characters, was a bit confusing. I kept having to refer back to the characters pictures in the middle of the book and sometimes even scanning back into the chapters to remind myself of whose story was whose. It made each chapter sort of like a mini cliff hanger that you didn't come back to until you finished another chapter of each of the other 3 women's stories. It definitely made it suspenseful so that I didn't want to put the book down but at the same time I can't help but think I would have slowed the reading a bit and would have been able to be more invested into each of their stories if I could have just read them in order. But then the suspense wouldn't have been there in quite the same way, I guess. All in all I love reading people's stories and how they deal with what is dealt them in life and this book didn't disappoint. I really enjoyed the read.