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
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